Nan, a little-visited city in northern Thailand, has a great atmosphere, an attractive setting, friendly people and some of the most beautiful temples in the country. Unfortunately, it also has one of the worst eating scenes of any city in Thailand.
Actually, that's not entirely accurate. I'm sure there are some great home cooks in Nan, and the prepared food and ingredients at the markets looked pretty tasty. And eventually I did find one interesting local restaurant. But for a visitor without access to a kitchen or even dishes, the Nan's food choices were pretty uninspiring, and sometimes just plain bad; I left one meal (a simple vegetable stir-fry, I'm not entirely sure how they managed to mess it up) half-eaten on the table, something I don't think I've ever done before in Thailand.
So on my last day in the city, rather than eat yet another mediocre restaurant meal, I decided to buy lunch to go at the morning market. Everything was wrapped in banana leaf, so I didn't need any plates, and the the various dishes are meant eaten by hand with sticky rice in the northern style, so silverware wasn't even necessary. And my hotel had some tables on a balcony overlooking the street, so I didn't have to eat on my hotel bed or directly in front of a dressing table mirror.
The meal included, clockwise from 12 o'clock, sticky rice; par-boiled veggies, including some nice local beans; deep-fried pork rinds; sai ua, a type of herb-filled local sausage; nam phrik taa daeng, a chili dip made from dried chilies; and aep paa, a steamed banana leaf packet of fish and chili paste. I think it came to less than 50 baht (about $1.50) for everything, and it was by far the tastiest meal I had in Nan.