I had never had a Thai kabob before until I met Alex. I didn't even know his name the first time I ate at his food stall. It was around 10 AM on our second day in Krabi, Thailand and I had ventured off of our resort in search of the only thing that could displace me from my chair in the sun - cold beer (don't judge, I'm on vacation :) ). I could easily have had one delivered to my seat, but I love exploring and I knew I'd pay four times less by not being lazy. To set the backdrop, I was surrounded on all sides by dense, green, jungle; sparkling, clear, green-tinted water and towering limestone cliffs.
As I made my way down the white sands of Railay beach, I noticed a small alley opening in the wall of resorts to my right. There was a walkway that led inland away from the water. I passed a restaurant, several food stalls and a few places for tourists to buy souvenirs. I wasn't overly hungry at the time and wasn't in need of a "I Love Krabi" t-shirt, so I walked until I found a small convenience store with a beer fridge. I could pick my poison - Singha, Chang, Leo and some imported Heineken. I grabbed a 22 oz Singha for 130 baht (roughly $3.50 at the time), popped my top with the opener on the counter, and wandered back out into the alleyway.
As I started towards the beach, I paused briefly outside of a food stall and heard "hey buddy, what'r ya thinking? Breakfast or lunch?" in almost perfect, but slightly Thai accented English. I smiled and said "I'm thinking lunch". To which he smiled back and motioned to my beer "yes, I see you already have breakfast". Ha, I liked this guy already. As I read down the menu, he could see I didn't know what to order, so he told me to try the kabob. That's when I noticed a spinning tower of chicken being slow cooked directly to my left. I decided, ah what the hell, let's give it a shot. He recommended the mild chili and thousand island sauces, with all the veggies. I paid him the 100 baht ($2.80), thanked him and continued my barefoot trek to the sand.
It took one bite to realize that this wouldn't be the last time I gave my money to Alex. It was the best combination of tender chicken, crisp vegetables and delicious sweet and tangy dressing that I had ever had. Sometimes it's the people that make the food. Sometimes its the food that makes the people. In Alex's case it is both. In future visits to get kabob wraps I would learn his name, that he spent 28 years in Hawaii after attending the University of Hawaii (hence his English) and was born in Thailand. He is an extremely talented and smart man, who chose to move back here because of his love for the ocean. He could probably do anything, but he chooses to cook amazing food and be happy.
I love these experiences. They provide authenticity by helping us meet new people and also learn more about the local culture that we are visiting. If you are traveling abroad, take a chance to strike up a conversation - it may broaden your perspective.