I’ve written in these pages in the past about how the retail industry in poor and developing nations is very informal, with stores often being run out of peoples’ homes, and put together on a very low budget. Now I’d like to tell you about how the restaurant business works in rural Thailand.
There are different types of restaurants throughout Thailand, ranging from five-star tourist destinations with the finest international cuisine, to very informal “footpath restaurants” that are set up along the sidewalk, and everything in between. In most of Thailand, you’ll see these footpath restaurants everywhere. What does it take to become a restaurateur in Thailand? You could of course, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a high-end destination, bring in one of the finest French chefs from Paris, and cater to rich tourists. But of course, if you’re like most people there, you don’t have that kind of money. In fact, you probably don’t have any money at all. But launching your own footpath restaurant isn’t a capital-intensive venture. You buy some cheap plastic tables and chairs, a wok and a propane tank, throw it in the back of your old pickup truck, and find a spot on the sidewalk. Make a few signs. Unload your paraphernalia and start cooking. Voila, you’re a restaurateur! If only it were so easy in the U.S. and Canada!
Tourists are often afraid to eat at these places, because the food tends to be very local and unfamiliar, and English is less likely to be spoken. Many are skittish about eating food that is being cooked out in the open. But it’s a great experience, and I recommend it highly if you ever have the chance to travel to Southeast Asia. You’ll get the real experience—real Thai food that the locals eat—and get to interact with some of the most friendly and interesting people in the world. The first time I ate at one of these places, I was with my Thai friend who ordered for us. I had no idea what was in store, but the food was wonderful, savory and fresh, and lunch for both of us cost 150 baht—about four U.S. dollars. I have to admit, I ate some things I probably wouldn’t have ordinarily ordered, but the fried fish maw was a lot tastier than I ever would have imagined. We ordered an exceptionally spicy Tom Yum Goong soup, and cooled off with a wonderful dessert of mango and sticky rice.
Everywhere in the country, from Hat Yai to Chiang Mai, these food stalls provide good food at cheap prices to locals and tourists alike. But the biggest miracle is the opportunities these small food stalls present to people with few options at hand. Twenty-six year old Noi learned how to make pad thai noodles from her grandma. Grandma had a reputation for making the best noodles in the neighborhood when Noi was a little girl, and Noi always paid special attention when Grandma was cooking in her traditional outdoor cooking area.
A year ago Noi, having lost her job at a small retail store, decided she’d like to open up her own footpath noodle stall near her modest apartment in Nonthaburi, a bustling suburb of Bangkok. With the help of a microloan, she was able to get the equipment she needed, an initial supply of ingredients, and some signage. She already had the most important part—the lessons and inspiration her grandmother had given her years ago as a little girl.
Today, Noi makes twice as much as she ever did as a retail clerk (minimum wage in Thailand is about fifty cents an hour), and she’s fast gaining a reputation as the “Noodle Lady of Nonthaburi”.
We’re always so pleased when we here at Club Asteria hear about people like Noi, whose lives have been transformed for the better, with just a little help from some unknown friends. Join our group today and help us in our effort to promote microlending around the world.Tags: international cuisine, thai food, restaurant business, tourist destinations, business loans, tables and chairs, rich tourists