The Locals Buffet

We were the first ones there. The staff were still shovelling hot coals into the tiny tabletop grills and staring at the strange group of foreigners that had somehow managed to find the giant Sukotha buffet hall hidden away from the main road behind huge apartment buildings.
Slowly the place filled with Thai locals and Chinese tourists, piling their plates high with raw meat and leafy greens to cook in the iron hotpots distributed on every table. Our students Boom, Toi and Nuna showed us how best to cook our thin slices of chicken and fish on the iron cone above the hotpot’s coals.
Suddenly Oy pushes pastel coloured baskets into our hands shouting ‘Hurry, hurry!’ Utterly bemused we hurried behind this tiny Thai lady to the gathering crowd in the centre of the hall, where we discover a man distributing handfuls of fresh king prawns from an esky. We ran back through the tables to the big BBQs out the back to cook them. A giant tray of cockles was also laid out for you to boil your own. Huge trays of roasted meat and glutinous mushroom soup was carried out of the kitchens and set next to desserts that were so perfectly shaped and coloured they looked as if they’d jumped straight out of a cartoon.
Then Nuna scared us all by telling us we had to pay 20B for every item we didn’t eat, 10B for sauces. Rachael laughed hysterically in shock and Sam stood horrified over the numerous bowls sauces she’d collected. Nuna greatly enjoyed our naïveté and made us believe for nearly an hour that the piles of prawns and broccoli we had leftover would cost us all the money in our wallets!
For all the warnings I get back at home telling me to stay away from street food and only eat in restaurants where other westerners are or you’ll die of salmonella is not only total bollocks, but very bad advice. The only time I’ve had food issues in Thailand is when I’ve eaten from restaurants with no locals, or from ice made from tap water. If you see a crowd of Thai people around a noodle cart in the street, odds are it’s going to be some of the best food you’ve ever tasted. My advice would be avoid ice if possible (usually if it has a hole in it it’s made from tap water anyway) and make sure whatever you’re eating is cooked fresh rather than sitting waiting to be dished out. Follow the locals – they know how to eat!!

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