Top 5 Things I Discovered About Food While Travelling India and Thailand

 

Are you trying to eat healthy but noticing that your eating routine feels plain or is missing rich, exciting flavours? Or you want to eat fresh and raw foods but find it time-consuming to make meals from scratch every day? When trying to eat healthy, even if you do have variety and you do have the time, sometimes it is simply hard to follow a healthy eating plan what with all the organic produce and expensive ingredients you need to keep buying.

I felt the same way. Being a foodie in a Western country, I am immensely curious about how different foods contribute to health. I want to eat healthy and therefore try to have home made (instead of processed) food whenever possible.

Spices (anise, cinnamon, cloves, red peppers) in bulk at Chiang Mai Sunday Market, Thailand.

Preparing all these fresh meals costs me a lot of time. If I’d take-away, it’d be from up-scale, healthy places – and then it’d cost me a lot of money. Even when buying groceries, in my discovery of healthier foods, I was no stranger to cashing out for expensive organic products promising to “make you healthy”.

This all changed when I visited India and Thailand.  In India (Tamil Nadu region, east coast) and Thailand (city and island hopping), I discovered fantastic new things about food that probably forever changed the way I look at eating.

We have so many options in the Western world, but in India and Thailand I realised that there are ways of eating completely different to my own: much cheaper, less time-consuming, no fuss and – most of all –  completely and utterly DELICIOUS.

Here are the top 5 things I learned about food while travelling India and Thailand.

 

1. Food doesn’t have to be organic to be healthy

There’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story here.

Before: I am buying organic fruits and veggies whenever possible (especially the dirty dozen), and I don’t eat dairy or meat unless it’s organic.

After: I haven’t had organic food in India or Thailand, there weren’t even options to get any, and guess what – I survived. Except for the rare occasional organic food bar, there is no organic food available. You eat what you can and when you can – usually a full meal, home cooked, chock full with greens.

Greens are automatically a part of your diet, and you are grateful for their flavours, nutritional value, textures and freshness.

Food is cheap, because salaries are low. Organic is a luxury you just can’t afford.

Coconut and bananas food stand at an expo in the middle of the luxury Siang Shopping Mall, Bangkok, Thailand.

The currency also rates much lower than the euro. You suddenly realise how expensive everything is in The Netherlands and start laughing at the idea that you would be wasting your precious money on buying exclusively organic fruits and veg.

There are several things that are much more important for your health than whether or not your food is organic, so you don’t have to worry that eating less organic will make you less healthy:

  • Are you eating a lot of greens, fruits and vegetables in general?
  • Is your food freshly made or home cooked, are you avoiding processed foods?
  • Do you take time to sit down for and enjoy your meals, preferably with friends and/or family members?

If yes, then you’re good! You don’t need organic to eat healthy.

 

2. Food doesn’t have to be different each meal

Variety is important, they say, and if you’re like me and take that to mean you need to be preparing fresh food three times a day then you will know that preparing all that food takes a lot of time.

Moreover, Dutch people have this thing where they love eating meals from other cultures. You find yourself making Italian food one day and Mexican the next, then Indonesian after etc (making it practically impossible to re-use ingredients).

My typical meals looked like this: in the morning, I’d cook my oatmeal, then I’d make a fresh salad for lunch, prepare snacks for the afternoon and then in the evening I’d cook again – something Italian/Indonesian/Indian/Mexican, different each day.

Pad Thai noodles with fresh coconut juice, at Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Then I got to India and Thailand, and realised they have yesterday’s leftovers as today’s breakfast, that lunch is a fresh coconut juice and a nap in the shade of a palm tree, and dinner is always home cooked and chock full of seasonal ingredients, noodles, rice and legumes (leftovers are again eaten for breakfast).

And they eat like this. every. day.

No fuss. You just eat what you have, and you enjoy it.

So, I tried doing the same at home. Leftovers became breakfast (= delicious, see point 4.) and dinners became simplified – always based on rice, vegetables or legumes, full of flavours and satisfying to make (the aromas filling your house when you make Indian dishes are to die for). This makes it very easy to re-use ingredients and make use of food before it goes bad.

And anyway, what bad thing is going to happen if I have tortellini or fried rice for breakfast? Actually, no bad thing. Just a feeling of satiety that lasts way longer than any commercial breakfast cereal could ever give.

Choose one or two cuisines you love, and you’ll be able to rotate and re-se your favorite ingredients for your favorite meals all the time.

3. If you eat with the seasons, your diet will already be varied enough

You might be thinking – noodles, rice and legumes every day? What about variety?

However, I found the food in India and Thailand to be greatly varied. Each dish contains several amazing ingredients, making it a powerhouse of nutrients and a source of satiety that will keep you feeling full for hoooours.

Eating Indian yellow curry (spicy).

In India there would often be curries with potatoes, squash, spinach, lentils, chickpeas – or dhals with peppers, lentils, onions, ginger etc. Served with rice and delicious chapattis or idlis.

Simple vegetarian dishes with greens and a serving of white steamed rice at one of the many family owned small restaurants in Bangkok.

In Thailand, it was noodles and rice, always with a load of vegetables (bok choy, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli), and completed with scallions, ginger, lime, koriander or thai basil, peanuts. This is a combination of flavors that just won’t quit. Not to mention delicious broths and soups with noodles and veggies.

If you just vary your fruits and vegetables based on the season, you will already be eating varied enough. You don’t need to have three different meals with all different ingredients each day, day in and day out, to eat a varied diet. Eating one type of fruits and vegetable one week, and another the next, is also perfectly fine!

 

4. Savory breakfasts are epic

Seriously, the feeling of waking up with a serving of pad-thai (Thai style noodles) is epic. You should try it.

Make pad thai for dinner the evening before (I got a great little authentic Thai cook book in an expat bookstore in Chiang Mei, and will hopefully be putting up a recipe soon), and get ready for an epic morning with leftovers the day after!

 

5. Rice, rice and more rice

Everyone knows that Asians eat a lot of rice. You’d think that eating all that rice during my trip would have made me sick of rice. But actually, the opposite has happened. I’ve grown to love and appreciate rice even more.

Did you know how much effort it takes to grow rice?

You have the rice seed, which you first let germinate. When it has, you have to re-plant it into a wet field. When soil and sunshine do its work in making the plant grow, you wait for the harvest and then – by manual labor – pick up all the rice grass from wet fields (filled with bugs and mosquitos). Only then can you obtain rice from this grass, which is then processed to give white rice.

Rice being cooked in bulk at one of the many food stands at the Chiang Mai Sunday Market, Thailand.

Rice is a food that feeds nations

Rice is a side-dish to every meal I have had in India, and a staple in Thailand too. Think steamed white rice, steamed brown rice, fried rice with egg and scallions, fried rice with tamarind and red onion, black sticky rice in savory or sweet dishes, dessert rice – with mango or in warmed coconut milk.

Rice snacks: the cakes on the left are made from white rice, the pancake on the right is made of black rice.

And I love it! Not unimportantly, rice is one of the cheapest ingredients you can buy for your healthy diet – especially if you buy brown rice in bulk packaging at exotic food stores. Any rice type (other than white rice which has its outer shell removed), is a source of B vitamins.

 

Take-home message

While travelling India and Thailand, I discovered a way of eating completely different to my own – much cheaper, less time consuming and absolutely delicious. It comes down to eating healthy in a simple, non-over-complicated way.

  1. Food doesn’t have to be organic to be healthy. When it comes to health, it’s more important to eat fresh fruits and veggies than whether they are organic or not. If you want to invest in organic, try to do so mostly with fruits and veggies from the list of dirty dozen (most sprayed). But, if buying non-organic fits your budget better – go for it, you can still be healthy!
  2. Food doesn’t have to be different each meal. Choose one or two cuisines you love and you’ll be able to rotate and re-use your favorite ingredients for your favorite meals all the time.
  3. Eating with the seasons will make your diet varied enough. It’s okay to eat one or two types of fruit and veg throughout the week, and switch them up the week after. You don’t have to get a whole new array of groceries every day.
  4. Savory breakfasts are epic. Enjoy leftovers with a big appetite and a grin on your face!
  5. Rice, rice and more rice. Rice is a cheap, nutritious and versatile food, discover it and use it!

Final note: take time for eating meals and to enjoy company of your friends and family while dining. When it comes to health, this social aspect of eating is almost equally important as the rest. Talk a little, laugh a little.. and the rest is history 😊.

 

 

Opinions and endorsements are my own and 100% genuine.
All the images are from my private collection so please ask permission if you wish to use them.

 

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