Markets in Nakhon Si Thammarat run to a strict time schedule. The morning market, right next to my hotel, certainly isn’t lying. Kicking off before the sun, this fluorescent cavernous concrete box is all but tapped out by the time it’s too hot. It’s got more than enough to hold interest: tropical fruits bothered by ants, a rainbow of vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, mini mountains of curry pastes. Around the edges is where you’ll find the prepared food, styrofoam containers of sweet treats, pyramidal packages of leaves filled with sticky rice and pork. There are drink carts serving up coffees double-sweetened with sugar and condensed milk, and orange Thai tea. An array of rice and noodle soups are available, as well as prepared curries and salads to sit down and eat with rice, or to be packed into air-filled plastic bags and taken away. Every morning during my short stay I wandered over, sleep still in my eyes and woke up while walking up and down the aisles, always something new to see.
One sunny afternoon we drove to the edge of town to buy supplies for a home cooked meal, and visited what became my favorite market in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Set up on concrete and grass, underneath big umbrellas, this place was relaxed and friendly despite the fact that it was on an army base. The market actually surrounds the PX. Here, the highlights were steamed and ready to eat red corn, unidentified succulents and a huge range of take-away prepared food. We bought steamed beans, ferns and tiny eggplants with a fishy dip from a display of softened vegetables and plastic bagged sauces, ready to accompany any meal. Fish fresh from the grill, sweet sticky rice desserts and the freshest morning glory. For snacking there was a twist of crunchy fried chicken skin and a stick of eggs (top picture). These eggs have had their insides carefully removed and whipped up with spices before being put back inside the shell for cooking. They turn out a little bouncy, eggy and lightly flavoured in the most unexpected way.
Toomtam took those ingredients back to a balcony-turned-kitchen and turned them into a feast. Much in the way I always wish to do when I’m on holidays, but lack the knowledge and equipment. I continue to content myself with merely wandering the markets, buying what I can and enjoying the atmosphere and experience. Thankful that these markets have survived and hopeful that they’ll continue to resist the allure of modernity, a death knell for markets across Asia.
On my last day in NST, after a final breakfast in the morning market, Toomtam handed me one of those leaf-wrapped parcels, a snack for later. Later that afternoon I sat in Suvarnabhumi airport, amongst the fast food and duty free shops and carefully ate the fatty stewed pork and sticky rice. It tasted wholesome and delicious, a wonderful, though short-lived souvenir.