The first time I was in Thailand
was in 1988. I was in the U.S. Navy
, on our way home from a tour in the Persian Gulf
. We were stopping in Thailand for five days of rest and relaxation.
We were on a small ship, also known as a 'Tin Can'. Since we were not traveling with a fleet, we could stop by the small ports. Instead of Pattya Beach, we headed to Phuket, a small tropical paradise frequented by tanned, topless Australian women and newlyweds from Japan.
I make it a point to try eating the local cuisine. What is the use of traveling to a foreign country just to eat McDonald's burgers? My shipmates trundled off to the bars and I searched for a restaurant. I found a beautiful open-air establishment right off of the beach.
I sat down and was immediately attended to by two waiters. I ordered a Coca-Cola and started reading the menu. One waiter went off for my drink. Since I had never been in Thailand before, I was a bit confused about the prices. The menu had items that cost about $1US. I assumed that the items on the menu were appetizers, so I began to order.
"One Tiger Prawn in Thai sauce, please." The waiter started writing the order and began to walk away.
"And..." The waiter stopped and came back. "...I'll also have squid in garlic and butter sauce." He started smiling and headed towards the kitchen.
"And..." He stopped and returned again. "...I'll try these mussels in black bean sauce." He smiled more, and this time stayed there. "And I'll also try the sweet-and-sour lobster with pineapples." He was just looking at me. "OK, that's all, thank you," I said. He went off shaking his head.
A few busboys came out and added three chairs to my table. They thought I was ordering for a party. After a few minutes, the chef came out to see me. He smiled, said hello, then returned to the kitchen.
Well, I was very mistaken. The prices were for full meals. I ended up with a table covered with a large squid, sixty mussels, ten tiger prawns the size of a lobster and a lobster the size of a cat. Bowls of rice, sauces, soups and vegetables helped to cover the table in food. The waiter looked at me as though I was going to yell or claim he had made a mistake, but it was my own assumptions that were incorrect. I smiled at him and the owner and chef, who had come out from the back to see this big American who ordered enough for a family of four.
I am not a wasteful person. I don't drink, and I certainly had nothing better to do, so I sat there for four hours until I had packed most of the food away. The Thai sauce was ungodly hot and spicy, so I choked down many bottles of Coke between tiger prawns. The food was exceptional. The chef sat down with me and chatted because I kept raving about the food. The owner said he had never seen one human eat so much food at one sitting. I told him I had ordered too much by mistake, but the food was so well prepared I could not help finishing it off. This pleased the chef, who was grateful that I was praising his work to his boss.
I had dinner there two other times. Both times I brought along six or seven hungry sailors. I made sure I tipped the entire staff well. The prices were so ridiculously low, I would have felt like I was stealing from them. The Thai are very gracious people, and overly generous. If you have the opportunity to have Dinner in Thailand, make sure you know what you're ordering. You may get more than you bargained for, and you'll love every minute of it.