The bargain-hungry tourists who throng Bangkok's sprawling and chaotic Chatuchak flea market every weekend aren't just missing the boat. They are missing the banquet. Just across Kamphaeng Phet Road, the Marketing Organization for Farmers Market (MOF, or aor tor kor, as locals pronounce the acronym) is a comparatively clean, serene showcase of Thailand's seasonal fruits and highly seasoned curries.
Pride, as much as wares, is on exhibit by every hawker and charcoal griller under the market's sweep of corrugated tin. That's because the MOF, begun under the auspices of Thailand's Ministry of Agriculture in 1971, features 600 vendors approved by provincial agricultural officials for their ability to get the goods from field to stall in top condition. Amid wide aisles of white tiles, they provide a rich palette of quintessentially Thai ingredients, available without undue haggling or heat. While tourist English is spoken, there's no watering down of authenticity, especially at the crowded lunch counters where diners select from immense vats of coconut-creamed stews.
This is the place to find, among other delights: stuffed baby crabs, young mangoes the size of quail eggs, fresh tamarind pods, a full array of khanom (traditional desserts), candied catfish skin, plus an equatorial bounty of mangosteen, rambutan and pungent durian. (Warning: the latter is not allowed on the subway, which has a stop located nearby.)
Open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the place may seem a bit too tidy to fans of Asia's funkier wet markets, who may miss the acrid scents, the pointy elbows of pushy housewives, the ankle-deep floods of fish detritus and the dank corners one dares not scan for scurrying critters. But Bangkok's MOF proves that authentic Asian fare doesn't have to come with extra helpings of grit and grime.
by John Krich