City Within a City

James Oseland

The casual visitor to Bangkok, Thailand, might get the impression that its residents do nothing but shop for food. This metropolis of 6 million people is home to dozens of open-air markets, many of them huge, each of them splendid in its own way. I've been going to Thailand since the early 1980s, but it wasn't until a visit last fall that I made a trip to the granddaddy of Bangkok markets, Talaad Thai (31 Moo 9; Phaholyothin Road). Comprising roughly a dozen hangarlike buildings on the city's northern edge, Talaad Thai (whose name simply means Thai Market) feels like a city unto itself. As with most markets, distinct sections are dedicated to different foods: one building for meats, another for fish, another for vegetables, and also a section for food stalls where workers can have a meal (and where I ate a delicious green-mango salad, see ** Thai Green Mango Salad**). No sooner had I begun to grasp the hugeness of the fruit section, filled with pallets of rambutans and mangosteens as far as the eye could see, than I caught a glimpse of an equally large building next door. Walking into the soaring space, I saw a striking sight: countless bundles of lemongrass stalks neatly stacked atop one another, creating, literally, a wall of lemongrass—I walked for five minutes and saw nothing but these lemongrass barricades. There were giant piles of ginger, room-size stacks of Kaffir lime leaves, and overstuffed bags of galangal. What impressed me the most, though, wasn't the visual spectacle. It was the fact that, while Talaad Thai is technically a wholesale market catering to restaurateurs and vendors from other city markets, there were families shopping here: mothers trailing children, picking out the ingredients for a meal they'd likely cook at home later that day.