Stuff Thai People Like: Makro!

It’s time for another addition of stuff Thai people like! I’m going to apologize in advance for the photos in this one – they contain neither me nor my more studly other half. I’m sure you’re all deeply disappointed.

For some reason,* when I moved to Bangkok, I expected that most people would do the bulk of their grocery shopping in cute’n’tiny markets. While markets are popular (see, for example, this post), massive North American-style grocery stores are ubiquitous. I have easy access to the Thai equivalents of Safeway, Superstore, and Walmart. Sometimes their offerings are a little different than in the west (an entire aisle of fish balls, for example), but the concept is the same.

In spite of the massive stores right in front of my eyes, my brain still harboured doubt – “They may have duplicated Safeway, but surely Thailand does not contain a Costco clone.” Costco was our dear friend and neighbour in Calgary – there’s some part of me that always wants to prepare for a potential famine. By now, though, you know where this tale is going. I was forced to abandon my doubts when I was introduced to the joys of Makro (thanks, Tut and Erin), Asia’s answer to Costco. When a new location was built directly across the street from our local grocery store, we knew that we would never again have to go without enough food to feed an army in wartime. While they operate on the same principle of largesse, Makro is uniquely Asian, so I thought I’d give you a tour.

Starting off with the outside: Makro is built right next to a massive temple. I feel that this is particularly appropriate for Thailand, because shopping is pretty much its national religion.

The orange roof in the background is part of the temple, but really, it could be part of the store.

And the inside. Concrete is de rigueur, as in all Costco-esque stores. It just screams “bulk!” It also has an appliance section that is pretty straightforward, although it’s heavy on the rice cookers and electric food steamers.

And washing machines and salespeople and bad lighting.

It starts to get a little more intriguing when you head to the meat section. Thais are less squeamish than Canucks when it comes to acknowledging the deadness of their animal protein sources.

“Pick me! Pick me!”

“Pick us! Pick us!”

And in true Thai style, multiple freezers full of tentacles.

Because who doesn’t like a good frozen brick of suction cups?

The fruit and veggie aisle is fairly similar to Costco, although you won’t find these in Costco:

The bland-but-beautiful dragon fruit. Sort of like a pretty girl with no brain.

Plus the produce workers wear nifty rubber boots and enjoy hacking up fruit with large cleavers.

They also like wearing hats.

The spice centre is full of fun. It’s here that you can finally buy enough powdered chillies to satisfy your family’s needs. Nothing but options and choices, folks.

The most important section in the store.

You can also pick up a heapin’ helpin’ of goji berries, which are apparently a super food. You’d never guess that based on the price – $5 for a couple of pounds.

The alcohol section is smaller than Costco’s, and demonstrates the Thai penchant for random bluntness:

Apparently they want you to chug the sickly sweet wine coolers on the spot?

And finally we come to the bakery, which I have to say, contains a lot of pretty mediocre baking. Thailand does a lot of foodie things incredibly well, but the baked goods still need work.

White, white, white, blah, blah, blah….

And that sums up the highlights. The rest of the store is an interesting mix of ingredients that I find exciting and useful (20lb bags of peanuts for homemade peanut butter), and stuff that I just don’t get (how does anyone need an entire aisle of oyster sauce or instant coffee?).

Either way, I’m relieved that Makro has arrived, because the one thing that was really missing from my new Thai life was massive massive quantities of random food items that I do not necessarily need.

*ignorance/stereotypes/being dumb

Foodie Friday: Fruity Friday! Part 1

I may criticize Thailand’s obsession with sugar, but I have to admit that I like to hit the proverbial sugar cube pretty hard, too. I just happen to prefer my sugar hit in the form of fructose (read: fruit), because I can convince myself that I’m being “healthy.” Whether this is “true” or a “lie,” no country does brilliant, fruity abundance like Thailand. In fact, they produce such a variety of fruit that I couldn’t fit it all in one blog post. Instead, I narrowed the fruit field using a painstaking method that is typical of my careful nature: I opened my fridge and took pictures of the fruit that was already there. All you mangosteen lovers will just have to sit tight.

Demonstrating how to “sit tight.” Todd never did realize that I was holding “mistletoe”

I’m going to organize my fruity fact finding in a highly scientific fashion: we’ll start with fruit that is “normal” in my opinion, and move on to fruit that is more “freakish”/weird.

Bananas

Bananas grow all over the place in Thailand. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I can see some banana trees (?) growing in the sludgy canal next to my balcony. There are many different varieties available, but overall, they tend to be smaller than what is typically sold in the west. Maybe we just haven’t hit our stride yet, but I can’t say that I’m in love with Thai bananas – I find them a bit tough.

Pineapple

Thai pineapple is the stuff that dreams are made of. I have never tasted better pineapple in my life – it leaves the fabled Hawaiian pineapple in the dust. It’s so sweet that it makes my braces ache. I usually buy it from street vendors, because it’s already cut up, but sometimes, I’ll get really ambitious, and buy a whole pineapple. We all know who actually ends up cutting it…

Longan

Longan fruit is similar to lichi. It’s a jelly-like fruit with a pit in the centre, and it’s sweet and bland. It looks like a cow’s eyeball (in my imagination, at least), and feels about the same. Todd is addicted to these.

Don’t hold back, Todd. You’ve hardly eaten any.

Passion Fruit

I had tasted passion fruit in drinks before I moved to Thailand, but I had no idea what the fruit actually looked like. It is a little underwhelming, on the outside at least. It looks like the ugly purple potatoes my parents used to grow in their garden. The inside is much more interesting – the colours are intense, and the texture is intriguing, if a little off-putting (think mucus). The flavour is tropical (how is that for a descriptor) and sour.

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is the opposite of passion fruit – the outside is fascinating, but the inside is a little bland. They are the same shade as Bangkok taxis – impossibly pink. The white, speckled inside is the edible part. It is pleasant, if a little bland (sort of like Canadian culture ;)). I like to put chunks of this in my porridge, and sometimes I can’t even tell it’s there.

Snake Fruit

And last, but definitely not least, snake fruit. This is in close contention with mangosteen for the tremendous honour of being my favourite new fruit. The outside of the fruit is spiky and threatening – I still have slivers from my last over-indulgence. The inside tastes like ambrosia from heaven. Or to provide a more relatable metaphor, like Starburst candy. The fruit has a big pit in it, but even that tiny piece of flesh is worth the painful peeling process.

I think Thailand has a few culinary sins to atone for (sugar, *ahem*), but their wondrous fruit goes a long way in making amends.