Chat Chai Market is an enormous labyrinth where one can spend hours exploring, often winding back to where they
began yet still only scratching the surface of all there is to offer.
This market has everything from fresh fruit to flowers. From sea creatures big and small to all cuts of pork and beef. From souvenirs for tourists to household essentials for locals. But it is best known for the abundance of curry pastes and dried spices. The most typical curry pastes in Thailand are red and green. Red curry paste tends to be the most versatile, lending itself equally well to coconut milk-based curries and water-based curries. Green curry tends to be the most coveted as it is so different to other curry pastes from around the world. Yellow curry is a mellow, spicy and sweet blend with turmeric playing a key role.
Orange curry (also known as sour curry) is made with just five ingredients (red chillies, shallots, sea salt, turmeric and shrimp paste) and goes best with fish dishes. There are many variations of these curry pastes on display at Chat Chai Market. It may take some sampling to really start to tell the difference between the different blends, but speak to the proprietors as they make and sell their curries every day – they really are experts in their field. Common ingredients used in most Thai curry pastes include shrimp paste (fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt), chillies, onions or shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, and coriander.
Depending on the type of curry paste, other ingredients are then added such as tumeric, pepper, coriander seeds, cardamon pods, cumin, fermented fish, or finger root (Chinese ginger). Traditionally the ingredients are ground together with a mortar and pestle (or non-traditionally with a food processor). The curry paste is then formed into domes before being put out on display for sale. Dried spices are also available in abundance. Long peppers, cloves, nutmeg, sesame seeds, cinnamon, dried chilies, black pepper, white pepper, kaffir lime leaves, star anise and many other spices that don’t have English translatable words.
Again, experimentation is the best way to try an unfamiliar spice. Chat Chai Market is an old and renowned market, built in 1926 during Rama VII’s reign. It is designed with 7 adjacent semicircular roofs as a symbol that it was built during this period. Although renovated many times, the featured 7 roofs have always remained. An undercover market (there is a roof), Chat Chai also specialises in fresh and inexpensive produce – many locals shop here each day. Early morning is certainly the busiest time, and one can often witness orange-clad monks wandering the street receiving alms from the stall owners. Inside, the aisles are narrow and motorcycles traverse the market delivering ice-packed buckets amongst other things – it is best to keep on your toes and not linger in the middle of the aisles. Chat Chai Market is located in the centre of Hua Hin on Petchkasem Road, between Soi 70 and 72, and is open daily from 5am to about 3pm.