The busy provincial town of Trat, where you may find yourself stopping a evening or two whilst en route to the islands or Cambodia, has two markets – the indoor day market which we have previously covered and the open air food market.
This market, located just a little further along from the covered one right in the centre of town, runs down a single walking street, with shops on one side and an open square on the other. The stalls themselves are crammed between in three rows, with all the foot traffic single file only, the whole place bustling with activity. It kicks off nice and early with a morning shift at which the fresh produce is on offer, fish, meat, vegetables but once this has wound up at around 11.00am and the area has been hosed down, there is a brief lull before the night shift arrives at 3.00pm. Locals come from all over the town and surrounding area having spent the earlier part of the day prepping and cooking and then one by one lay out their dishes in large metal trays on the trestle tables, ready for the punters.
Curries are everywhere you look from familiar ones such as Massaman, often made with sweet potatoes rather than the normal spud, to the tourist favourite of Green Curry, round and pea aubergines, kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil and coconut through to less familiar ones such as Jungle Curry, a rich mix of catfish, those Thai aubergines again, lesser ginger and young green peppercorns. More traditional local curries fill tray after tray, wild boar, deer, duck, buffalo, chicken offal, combined with a strong paste and either pineapple or coconut stalks, stalks which resemble bamboo shoots but have a completely different taste. These are wonderfully spicy affairs, authentic street food which smells as delicious as it tastes.
Of course, no food market would be complete without freshly cooked fish and mini bbqs, densely packed with catfish and little tunny, give off a fabulous smoky aroma, whilst tilapia baked in salt or another bright red variety steamed to perfection vie for your attention. Or what about snapper fried in very hot oil to create a crispy skin, a simple red curry sauce dribbled all over – the main problem with this market is deciding what to choose. There’s seafood too, squid piled up to form little mountain peaks, prawns with morning glory in a sour orange curry and shellfish, to which you struggle to put an English name, wallowing in deeply enticing sauces, clams with flecks of sweet basil and just plain old tasty mussels, cleaned and ready to eat.
Really, that’s only scratching the surface, what with the vegetable dishes, son-in-law eggs, fruit stalls, crabs, dressed or not, local leaves, mostly bitter, eaten like a salad and the dessert stands, rows of delightful little colourful sweets or pumpkins oozing an egg custard, all ridiculously sugary. Everything is bagged up for takeaway at 20bt to 30bt, you can find rice too and it’s no surprise to find most Thais will come here, see what they fancy and then take it home rather than cook.
The square itself does have tables and chairs and as the market continues on into the evening, it becomes a fun spot to enjoy a bowl of noodles, maybe some fried chicken, a dessert or a fruit shake. It’s also a great time to practise your Thai as the most popular places have all the ingredients laid out in front on a bed of ice and you choose what you would like, whether it be meat, seafood, tofu, whatever and get the stall owner to prepare it how you want. They won’t mind either if you bring other bags of food over from elsewhere.
So if you’re a foodie, curious or just plain hungry and you find yourself in Trat, make a beeline for the night market. Thai food and local life doesn’t get more authentic than this.