Buying Western Food in Thailand
Published 27 April 2019
Last updated: 8 May 2019
Not everybody adapts to eating Thai or Isan style food all or even any of the time and finding suppliers of western alternatives becomes the challenge. I will give you some choices in this post, which are geared towards us farang living in the northeast but will have some relevance to others. I have also based this post on my budgetary restraints, which will be similar to many readers. If I had unlimited funds, or certainly a bigger income than I do, I could just do a monthly shop at Tops or Villa Mart (explained later) and life would be simpler. If you are counting the baht then this post will be helpful.
Skip the Introduction
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Even though this is a little off topic, to start let’s clarify the three options available when we talk about food alternatives. There are Thai, Isan and western choices and each one is totally different from the other. Thai is the food you will mainly find in takeaway and Thai restaurants in the western world. It is more likely to include a sauce and is served with steamed rice. The green curry cooked in coconut milk you get takeaway to celebrate Friday after work, is a Thai recipe.
This is very much a Thai menu selection.
I am generalising but Isan food tends to be less sophisticated with a more limited range of ingredients and it often combines sour, bitter and a lot of hot flavours with the use of chilli being a given. It is always served with sticky rice. I don’t need to explain western food.
I have met farang across the spectrum when it comes to their ability and enjoyment of eating as a local would. There are those lucky (few?) who totally get into eating as their partner or Thai family do and this both makes food shopping so cheap and the cooking and clean-up so easy. One wok and a rice steamer and you’re pretty well done. If you follow Facebook you might come across photos published by these expats who have adapted better to the food choices here and show the meals they enjoy but wouldn’t rock my boat (no offence intended as I totally believe in each to their own).
And then you get people like me. I don’t mind Thai food but Isan dishes just aren’t my thing. Even Thai meals aren’t an everyday for me as they might be for others. I just don’t get an appetite for eating local as I would for a western meal, although my level of hunger here for whatever reason is pretty well zero.
Funnily having just posted this story Gaun and Peng were tucking into some real Isan food for dinner while I was polar opposite. It illustrates perfectly what I have been talking about.
Gaun was excited to have this choice of Isan food. A long bean salad with ‘fish dead long time’ sauce and a touch of chillies, bamboo shoots in a bitter sauce with ant eggs (thanks Yuan) and some chicken wings. Sticky rice in the basket of course.
I was excited to have lamb shanks, slow cooked with bacon and vegetables in red wine with mashed potatoes and a glass of Aussie red (thanks Ian and Parisa). Which would be your choice? Let me know in the comments.
Peng and Gaun wanted to watch TV so in true Isan style it was dinner on the floor! Why did I buy a dining table and chairs? Love my family 🙂
Major outlet shopping options
For obvious reasons my food shopping experience is limited to my immediate area in the northeast comprising the urban areas of Si Bun Ruang, Nong Bua Lamphu and Udon Thani and it’s the choices I have discovered in this region that I talk about in this section. If anyone has alternatives in my area or on a wider scale please add them to the comments below.
The first obvious and everyday shopping places are the local supermarkets such as 7/11 and Tesco Lotus and they do a decent job at providing us expats with a lot of the basic groceries. Milk, butter, bread, jam, breakfast cereal, juices, limited cheeses and bacon (basic) for example. Locals will know that Tesco come in three convenient sizes 🙂 The express Tescos are the corner store equivalent but still stock farang basics. The medium sized stand-alone Tescos, like the one in Si Bun Ruang, is a larger version selling fresh meat and vegetables and then we have the large Tesco shopping complexes which are combined with other shops and a cinema. These Tescos include non-food sections such as bedding, electronics and hardware.
Makro supermarkets are ever expanding. We have one in Nong Bua Lamphu, which is 30 minutes drive from us and a smallish rural town, capital of the province of the same name (they all are). Makro fills in some of those empty spots on your shopping list of farang essentials. Salmon, cream (only UHT as I have never seen real fresh cream in Thailand), a more extensive range of cheeses including Farmland, a brand that will be familiar to Aussie readers, smoked ham and bacon, baked beans, olives, pasta sauces, olive oil, a huge range of herbs and spices and a limited selection of ‘normal’ meat.
I have bought Australian beef mince here (A$12.00 a kilo) and they sometimes have a small freezer area with New Zealand lamb products, leg, rack and shanks. Our Makro has more recently included a tiny selection of Australian beef products but that may not be a general thing. The prices are excellent for the lamb – half what expats places like Villa Mart and Tops charge. I bought two NZ lamb shanks recently at just over a kilo for 275 baht or $12.00, which is probably cheaper than back ‘home’.
Makro are mainly geared towards small shopkeepers who on-sell or eating places (I struggle to call them restaurants!) so they are more focussed on bulk sales. They have a massive frozen food section for example but some of the selection available is definitely for locals only and wouldn’t be on my dinner table.
Udon Thani being a major centre increases the choice and as well as the options I have described above they also have a couple of Big C supermarkets, which have large food sections, Villa Mart and Tops both of which are largely geared for farang and more affluent Thais. If you feel the urge for a piece of Australian Wagyu beef it’s at either of these places you can pick up a slab at 2,500 baht a kilo (A$110.00). Villa Mart in Udon has one of the best wine selections I have seen in Thailand (not that I have seen too many) although it isn’t much use to me as apart from a few cheapies the prices start at around 700 baht and head upwards. I personally never shop at Tops because it is located in Central Plaza, a multistory temple to overpriced clothes, accessories and just about everything else you don’t really need. Villa mart is a lot easier to park and it’s a few steps to the entrance.
Tops supermarket in Udon Thani.
Small Streetfront Options
Leaving the big brand stores to one side I can only curently point to one Udon Thani specialist shop in this case selling meat. I am going to ask for other suggestions from the local online sites to see what else others suggest. Maybe this post will generate some ideas.
Udon Tap – added 29 Apr. The only online information about them focusses on their beer and bar food aspect. However, unless things have changed I believe they have a separate meat shop with imported supplies and maybe a limited grocery. We have to visit Udon next month and I will advise unless someone else does in the meantime. Their Facebook page is HERE Google Maps HERE and their webpage HERE
What’s available online?
So for the everyday supplies we are very lucky with the selection and ease of finding a lot of the food we want. So where does online shopping fit in? There are two levels of online shoppers, those who need to source Russian caviar and those who are hoping to find homestyle goodies at an affordable cost 🙂 I will start with the type of person I will become once the lottery pays out and then quickly move to more realistic options that I suspect will be of more interest local readers.
For Bangkok residents this blog page is very helpful HERE. A few of the places listed will ship countrywide like PassionDelivery and I have added a few photos just to wet your appetite and empty your wallet. Here’s another Bangkok orientated list of options HERE
I won’t put more effort into this section because it’s not the theme of this post.
Tony’s Realistic List
So let’s finally get stuck into some of the more realistic options for budget minded expats. Before you get too excited there’s not much here yet. A couple of decent options and not much else. Before you despair I will be working on expanding this range so keep in touch (if you care).
Firstly let me say that I haven’t used most of the following so they are not recommendations. I am doing the research for you and you can make your own decision on whether these businesses will work for your needs. Many are really smalltime with super limited stocks that come and go but I have also included a few places that have more extensive options.
Western Foods. A good range of meats including some imported and pies. Homemade oferings. I have ordered from them and Terry and Joy are easy to deal with and efficient in delivery. At the upper end of my budget but at least the beef is edible unlike most Thai grown beef I have tried. Their Facebook page is HERE and their webpage with all the products available HERE.
8 May 2019: I have to say, having just packed up another piece of meat from my last Western Food order to give to the dog, that I have lost confidence in Thailand’s ability to produce anything I would regard as edible beef. I paid decent money for the steak I had this evening and it was tasteless and even after a couple hours of papaya tenderiser, I found it tough and chewy. Frustrating in the extreme.
Download Western Foods PDF
An online store called Nookie’s Delight 🙂 Paul is an English guy and he has a large range of grocery supplies, mainly geared to UK delights but lots else, as well as meats and pies. I am going to give Paul a try soon and will report back.
Their website is HERE and I have given you a download link for their extensive (9 pages) product list below. Just to give you a taste of the range available:
Golden Harvest sliced peaches 410 gram 65 baht
Robertson’s thick cut marmalade 454 grams 90 baht
T-Bone 350 gram 145 baht (Thai I presume)
Australian beef tenderloin 2 kg 620 baht
Chicken Korma curry 450 pack 145 baht
Beef Cottage pie 340 grams 70 baht
Download Nookie's PDF
Isaan Expat Foods. Very small time by the look of it but maybe they have the exact thing you are looking for in stock. Salmon at the moment. Their Facebok page is HERE
They also have a website HERE, but work in progress would be the kindest description of it so far and I don’t know if it reflects what’s actually available.
Buriram Pieman – added 29 Apr. Their introduction reads:
Buriram Pie Man and Star Foods Buriram. Suppliers of quality, frozen, western and Indian food.
We have a vast product range including meat pies, fruit pies and crumbles, pasties, Scotch eggs, sausages, bacon, ham, sliced meat, lasagne, chilli con carne, beef stew, Indian curries, pickles and cheeses.
We provide a comprehensive delivery service. Local deliveries in and around Buriram are free. Delivery to other provinces may incur a small delivery charge.
Download Buriram Pieman's PDF
Download Prime Food Service PDF
Paleo Robbie – added 8 May. Way outside my price range but I like the idea of ordering bulk meals from a daily menu that are already prepared By western takeaway standards the prices aren’t too bad, but I no longer have the western salary to pay for it!
Anyway, they say they will ship anywhere so this is an option for those of you who have the baht.
Paleo Robbie’s website is HERE
PW Nature Farmers – added 1 May. A small selection of health based products very reasonably priced. I haven’t used them but I know Peter will arrange delivery:
Apple cider vinegar 500ml
Apple cider vinegar 250ml
Natural health tonic
Organic olive oil 500ml
Organic olive oil 250ml
Raw honey 750ml
Raw honey 500ml
Organic coconut oil 300ml
Himalayan salt 300g
Bray Park Ostrich Farm – added 29 Apr. Now I know I am heading into pretty specialised food here but who doesn’t like a nice ostrich burger???? Anyway I came across this today and it is food so here you are. Bray Farm’s Facebok page is HERE
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please leave a comment. It makes my day. Once again if you have any food suppliers you want to share let us all know in the comment section.