Right off Prachanukhro street, near the area of southern Patong, is a market with carts that grill fresh fish for you to order – you wait 5 – 10 minutes, possibly browsing the market for some new treat to accompany your snapper, crab, giant prawn, lobster, shark, catfish; or the variety of chicken, grilled in a sweet marinade or fried in a crunchy bread batter, pad thai, papaya salad, or fruit shakes made to order. Maybe you pick up some fried grasshopper or cricket to snack on later, or a fresh coconut to sip on while you wait. This market is no nonsense – you don’t wait in lines, you stop at every stall in awe of the selection, diversity, and alien nature of at least one thing you’v never seen before and certainly would never have thought of eating.
You never know what you might find at these markets, but if it’s there then it’s ready for you to point at or pick up and hand to the cook who will prepare it for you, possibly asking “spicy or no spicy” based on the color of your skin and the roundness of your eyes. We’ve learned to say three or four peppers; the locals take four to six peppers; the farang generally get one pepper. Sometimes curiosity tempts me to try the most outrageous thing I see – a large slug slug or possible snail was about to be my next experience, but I decided against it. Tempted as I was by the desire to say “alright, I can say I’ve tried that before.” Eventually those meals result in me saying “if I’m going to get sick on this trip, this would be a good candidate.”
I had to try the grilled baby octopus. I’ve had the large tentacles from mature octopus or squid on a grill with some chili sauce – it’s quite good, and you can’t define it as tasting like chicken, a rarity among odd things to eat. It has a body and flavor all its own, and a lot of it is in how it allows you to appreciate the result of a charcoal grill. Don’t like fish? Plenty of duck and duck eggs available for those who desire a fatty bird that’s not a chicken and have had their fill of chicken butts (some call them bottoms). A chicken butt is a nugget of chicken fat wrapped in chicken skin (also fat), all naturally available at the rate of one per chicken. You don’t even know….
The local market is a nice change and better alternative from the other restaurants in the area where you’ll pay 300 or more for the same fish, often already grilled and simply waiting to be warmed up. Similar food of possibly better quality but not usually, offering more dramatic ambiance and presentation charge twice, three times, and even four times the price for the same fish. We decided to feast – total cost, under $10. A skewer of octopus, a skewer of snapper filet, fried chicken legs and large chunks of fried chicken breast, three little barbecue chicken thighs (the kind you find along with buffalo-style wings) in a sweet, spicy, tangy sauce, some jackfruit, passion fruit, and Pad Thai. As I said, we feasted.
I hope these local spots don’t fade away with visions of riches, the little carts moving into the more tourist populated areas to exploit the farang along the beaches. I purchased a banana pancake, normally 50 – 70 Baht, for 160 Baht off Patong beach. I didn’t ask the cost in advance – even if I pad over price I should never have paid more then 100 Baht. But 160 Baht? My jaw dropped. The thing is, they can get away with it. But that is not the value commonly accepted by the indigenous people. That’s what we, the tourist, have allowed. This is how we are changing the face of life here; economically, socially, environmentally, and in ways we don’t yet know. My jaw dropped. I had gotten too comfortable and blurred the lines between being at home in Phuket and the knowledge that Phuket, and primarily Patong, are a backpacker Disneyland; a Las Vegas that’s a little more in your face and without the grand facades – you’re here to get drunk, have sex, get stoned or be tripping out of your mind, get some sun and some water, and continue to party till you have no choice but to nurse the hangover, possibly with a beer or two. You’re here because convenience is cheap, and though standards possibly lower than back home, necessities are also extremely cheap. Hopefully these markets don’t change, because if we fear inflation in one of our favorite destinations, imagine how the locals are experiencing it. The fruits of paradise are more than abundant, but inaccessible to them because we, the foreign invaders, are willing and able to pay more.
It’s nice to know these markets exist. For now. Hopefully it never fades. We simply have to find them, and support them. And hen we see they are changing as a result of our presence, we have to go find another market that does not see us as unequal. One that is not inflating the local economy and creating a cast system where the indigenous work in an industry that serves the needs of we, the seekers of escape and paradise. We need to stop being seen as opportunity. We need to stop being opportunity. This comes from being a traveler and not a tourist. This is what bohemian travel means to us. This is local.