There is no limit to the ways in which people can invest their money and through every historical period Thais have been ready to take a risk for the chance of a big profit. Some investments are made based on economic theory, others randomly and without any plan. There are as many failures as successful investments.
WINNING RECIPE: A plate of pork steak, chips and salad bought at a local food market.
If there is a big industrial estate nearby, and these days they can be found everywhere, both in the Bangkok suburbs and in the provinces, one investment generally considered foolproof is an apartment building. In the suburbs around Bangkok, another sure-fire money-maker is a market.
There are stiff requirements for investing in a market, though. Plenty of capital is needed, and a big plot of land adjoining a major road. The market has to be made according to a master plan to include a section that sells fresh produce, meat and fish, an area where prepared foods are sold and an open area where vendors selling clothes and inexpensive household items can have stalls at weekends to form an informal market. There should also be rentable shophouses surrounding the market and, of course, a 7-Eleven.
A project like that is a good option for an investor who has the needed location and capital at hand. Merchants further down the economic scale who have a certain amount of money to invest may choose to rent one of the shophouses around the market and sell groceries, electrical equipment, mobile phones or perhaps open a motorcycle parts shop or sell cooking gas.
Those with very little money to invest can set up a stall in the market offering fresh food to workers and other low-income customers. They might stock kitchen garden standards such as cabbage, Chinese broccoli, Chinese radishes and lettuce, but it is more important to have regional vegetables from Isan. All of these products are tied with rubber bands into bunches that are sold at three for 10 baht. The price cannot be higher than that.
Pork, chicken and beef must also be available, but if there are fish they have to be freshwater types such as pla nin, pla tubtim, snakeheads, catfish and eels. More expensive varieties such as sheatfish, carp and the local species called pla kot and pla sawai may be stocked to provide a choice for customers. As for sea fish, most vendors will not take the risk of selling them.
Prepared food stalls should offer different kinds of curries, grilled catfish or salt-covered pla nin, grilled chicken on bamboo skewers and fried snakehead, pla nin and pla salit. There will be the sour-spicy salad-like dishes called yam, various nam prik (chilli dip sauces), boiled vegetables, and duck and pork prepared as a pha lo (stewed with Chinese five spice). Grilled duck will be absent, however, because of the price _ it could not be sold inexpensively.
Boiled white rice or steamed sticky rice will be sold packaged in plastic bags.
Prepared foods sold in markets also include Northern and Southern regional dishes, with the Northern ones usually selling better.
These are a few examples of investments ranging from apartment complexes down through markets and the stalls that operate in them. They are all familiar and can be found everywhere.
Another feature of neighbourhoods near industrial parks and apartment buildings is the restaurant. There are many different kinds _ restaurants that cook dishes to order, Isan restaurants, noodle or curry and rice shops, and bakeries that serve pastries with coffee. Nowadays there is a new trend among workers in business districts that has opened a new door for prospective restaurant owners _ a taste for Western food. It isn't pizza or hamburgers that this clientele wants to eat, however, but steak. The restaurants that serve it do not have to be big or elegantly decorated, but tend to be ordinary-looking in a way that doesn't arouse any anxieties about high prices in potential customers. Air conditioning is a must, though.
The menu must offer beef and pork steak and chicken teriyaki. The steak is of a kind that is easy to make. Beef or pork is marinated using the ready-to-use seasoning powder sold in supermarkets that flavours the meat and makes it tender if it stays in the marinade long enough.
The vegetables served with the steak include lettuce, carrots and red cabbage. The mayonnaise-based dressing is of the kind available ready-made in supermarkets everywhere. The steaks are fried to order when a customers orders one, and they are priced at 40 to 50 baht.
These steak restaurants must offer a delivery service, with the food placed in foam plastic boxes and delivered to factories or apartment buildings. The meat has to be ready-sliced with a plastic fork provided in the box.
With steak restaurants of this kind the first place on the scene has a good chance of success, because the recipes are easy enough that anyone can manage the cooking and the ingredients are easy to get and not expensive.
These are a few examples of different kinds of foods whose appeal to buyers is related to their social background, their income and perhaps a desire for a change from the routine and everyday, in addition to quality and quantity.
This increase in the choices of foods available to Thais is not something that just started recently. It is an ongoing process that has taken place in every era. There was a time when the people of Bangkok and the Central region only ate the traditional Central region dishes. But then Isan food with its strong flavours _ larb, somtam, grilled chicken and pork neck meat _ found favour there and knocked down that culinary barrier.
A similar process brought Southern food into the mainstream. First it was only bought by Southerners who had come to the Central region, but now a taste for it has spread all over Thailand. Kui tio kai cheek sai mara (rice noodles with hand-torn chicken meat and bitter melon), sold from pushcarts at a low price, started off as an Isan recipe, and Vietnamese noodle dishes such as pho and kui iap yuan have established themselves firmly on Thai noodle shop menus throughout much of the country.
With steak dishes gaining ground as one of the latest additions to the repertoire, who knows what new dishes Thais will be enjoying a few years from now?
About the author
- Writer: Suthon Sukphisit