Every evening I go for a walk near the university of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Most of the students don’t cook much, first because almost none of the apartments here have kitchens. And second, you can buy food very easily and cheaply right on the street.
There is a wonderful little juice place where I get my daily fix of fresh squeezed orange juice and carrot juice. Every day when I show up, they start pouring the juice for me. I don’t even have to ask. Then they give me a little stool to sit on and I watch the students getting their food and drinks.
This has been my routine for months. I drink my 100 % fresh squeezed juices with nothing added. But in all those months I have been the only one drinking the actual juice. Not once did I see any of the students order a glass of juice. I asked the vendor why that was, and he informed me that the Thais never drink the fresh juice.
They order a concoction of juice mixed with ice and sugar and salt and syrup and flavoring. I could never understand that. But it is a common scenario. There are quite a few juice places in town. Chiang Mai is a major tourist spot and most of the foreigners demand juice without sugar, water, salt or anything else added. Therefore many juice stalls display signs “no sugar, no water”.
But the Thais prefer the sugary and watery and syrupy and colored solution. Junk food is a huge hit in Thailand and is slowly crowding out the traditional healthy diet, especially for the young generation. It is a strange phenomenon that we, the foreigners, brought the junk food culture to Thailand. Now we, the foreigners, are sick of our junk food, and we are looking for the healthiest food and drinks here.
Many juice stalls offer the 100 percent version for the foreign clientele, and the watered down (and cheaper) version for the Thais. Many times a juice vendor apologized to me when the oranges were not as sweet in the off-season. But they came to accept that foreigners are a strange bunch. They rather drink a slightly sour and pure orange juice instead of tricking their taste buds with the added sweeteners.
Some Thais are coming around to the good stuff, the 100 percent juices which are offered because the foreigners demand it. It is our belated gift to the Thais, our small token of healthfulness in the wake of an explosion of western junk food outlets all over Thailand.
Chiang Mai is a juice paradise. It is so easy and cheap to buy orange juice, carrot juice, mango juice, and other varieties. However if you go to most other towns or especially villages in Thailand, you will be hard pressed to find any trace of 100 percent fresh squeezed and pure juices.
I remember ordering an orange juice in a restaurant in a national park in Thailand. I specified ‘no water and no sugar’. They brought me the sugary kind anyway and I sent it back. After making it clear that I did not want any sugar in my orange juice, they brought me another glass, this time with salt in it. They just could not understand how anyone would want to drink the orange juice the way it comes out of the orange.
Luckily I live in Thailand’s juice and health food Mecca of Chiang Mai where I can indulge in my strange habits without any problems.