Even though the economy is fairly strong, you still may want to save money and both Asian markets and Thai food can help. For a number of reasons, Asian markets are one of the cheapest places to buy groceries, even many of those groceries you normally buy in western supermarkets. Then, when you get home, you will find an average Thai meal with rice is significantly less expensive than a meat-centric western meal.
Asian Markets Are Almost Always Cheaper
Most Asian markets (except Japanese and Korean) are far less expensive item for item than western supermarkets, primarily because of a lack of branding or promotion and great economies of scale.
Unsophisticated Retail Tactics
Almost no Asian market owners spend money or time on such consumer spending optimizers as fliers, advertising, competitive pricing strategies, market research, information systems, shelf-space positioning strategies, frequent shopper club memberships, or interior decorating.
Western supermarket chains do not do these nice activities because they like you! Supermarkets do these things to bring you in the store and because they generate more revenue than they cost to perform. That extra profit comes from your pocket.
Market's Economies of Scale
Economies of scale kick in in major cities with a large concentration of Asian people. There are frequently one or two major Asian markets that have more shoppers per square feet than any western supermarkets I've ever seen. Visit the fresh fish counter in a major Asian stores in a city like Boston or San Jose just to see the massive volume sold. I remember from some market research a couple years ago, in the US, the average Asian and Hispanic shopper buys more groceries and cooks from scratch more frequently than the average western shopper. Volume drives down prices.
Weak Asian Brands
Frequently, foods made in Asia are sold very inexpensively in their home country due to weak branding, low labor costs and extreme price competition. This bruising competition is carried abroad at every stage in the wholesale chain keeping prices low.
Almost No Product Advertising
Asian branded products are not advertised internationally. When you buy TV and print advertised products, like those from General Mills or Kraft, you pay about 7% in direct advertising expenses and frequently far more for "brand value". If companies don't spend on ads, you don't learn the differences between brands without trying them yourself, but you also don't have to pay for their ads.
When you visit an Asian market, you will find that these factors drive the price of many of the vegetables, fruit, fish and meat you normally buy to 10-30% below standard western supermarket prices. When you buy Asian products, you will frequently save even more than you would on a comparably produced western item.
Thai food is cheap to cook
Since most Thai food is lots of rice, a little meat, some veggies and a sauce with lots of flavor, one meal is very inexpensive.
Rice, the cheap filler
If you buy your rice in 25-pound bags or more, each meal worth of rice (1/4 cup pre-cooked rice) is about $0.03 per person. Yes, no misprint, that's 3 cents per person per meal.
Since 1/4 cup Jasmine scented rice has ~170 calories of per meal of pretty pure carbohydrates with a low glycemic index and some dietary fiber, if you fill up on rice you are eating the one category of food ever found that extends your life: less food. In studies, the only non-GMO mice that live to be 50% older are those who eat less - actually 1/4 to 1/3 less calories than their hearty, normal-meal eating buddies. By eating a plate of rice, you are eating a large volume of water with some plant material and not high calorie fat.
If you're cooking a lot of rice, get a rice cooker. Rice cookers are cheap now; a good one, with a locking lid and non-stick bowl, is $29 at Costco, so you should be able to find comparable ones in other outlets. With a rice cooker, what can be the most challenging part of the meal is fast and easy. My routine is start the rice cooking in the rice cooker, prep and cook the main courses and everything is done at the same time.
Intense Flavor Makes You Happy
If you eat or drink just the components of a Thai dish that provide most of the flavor, you will probably have to spit it out. It will be too salty, too hot, too spicy or too sour to swallow. However, when you spread it over the rice, veggies and protein, that flavor dilutes and you have something where each bite is palatable. Thai food is all about extracting the maximum amount of flavor from each cheap ingredient: - hot Thai peppers are $2.00 for a year's supply - fish sauce is $1.25 for 750ml - curry paste is $2-$3 for a big tub - 1 lime's juice and 1 scallion sliced thin is under $0.50
A Little Meat Gives Protein
When I shop for meat for a meal for 2 or 3 people, I normally use way less meat than you'd think. If I buy one of those gargantuan chicken breasts that you see at chain supermarkets, I'll use 1/3 to 1/2 and freeze the rest. When I buy beef, I'll buy 1/4 pound even though I get weird looks from the butcher. Tofu, the cheapest protein around, at less than $1.00 per pound, is a common ingredient.
Having less protein is not bad for you, the USDA recommended daily allowance of protein for adults is about 1 deck of cards worth. Most Americans have 2-4 times that amount per day. Protein is an inefficient energy source, so most protein eaten is just wasted.
Veggies Actually Contribute Flavor
We don't know any Thai kids who complain about eating their greens. Maybe its genetic, but I think that it is more likely to be cultural and preparation. In Thai food, vegetables are a unified part of a dish that contribute positively to the flavor or are not included at all. Every ingredient has a purpose, even each vegetable. I bet even George Bush would eat broccoli and like it if he had Rad Nar. Furthermore, unlike in the US, veggies are not steamed and set bare onto the table.
What does this pitch have to do with saving money? The most expensive food you can buy ($$/cal.) is that which you, or your guests or fellow diners don't eat and toss out.Cashing-In on the ConclusionIf it takes cold cash and the hard sell to get you into to the Asian markets, here you go:
With Thai food, you'll shop cheaply, cook fast, love your tongue and, probably live longer. With any luck, you'll become addicted and keep on saving money and eating healthily long after the recession's over.