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Cheap and cheerful food under the new government campaign.

The government's recently launched cheap food campaign - "Im Tua Fah Raka Diew (fill yourself up with a one-price dish)" - has proved to be a roaring success here in Chiang Mai. Of the 1,000 Thong Fah (blue flag) foodstalls, throughout the country, and run by the Commerce Ministry, no fewer than 17 are to be found in this city. No meal served at the stalls costs more then ten baht.

Stallholder, Khun Prakai Nalampang, opened her blue flag outlet on the left hand side of Suthep Road, opposite Chiang Mai University, on the sixth of January. Since then, she has been inundated by customers more than willing to buy a delicious and filling meal, for just 10 baht! Drinks are obviously extra.

Khun Prakai told me that she offers five main dishes, which she varies on a day-to-day basis. During my brief visit, there was a mouth-watering array of dishes, from the ubiquitous Sohm Taam (spicy papaya salad), Gaeng Ped Gai (spicy chicken curry), Paad Paak Ruam (stir fried vegetables), Plaa Tawd-(crisp fried fish), fried pork rinds with Naam Prik Noom (roast green chilli dip) all served with rice. All this, along with fresh fruits, nuts, and an assortment of dips and sauces, You can be served at a table that, I guess, could cater for a dozen or more customers, or like myself, have your ten baht meal in a carton to take away.

The sky-blue stall, bedecked with triangular blue flags, is rented from the government at 20 baht per day. Take in the cost of gas, cooker, pots, pans, cutlery, and of course the fresh ingredients, and I reckon you'd need around 20 customers a day to break even.

In the fifteen minutes I spent at the stall, the table filled up and emptied, and there were another four or five takeaway customers like myself. Do the math, and you can see that Khun Prakai is getting along quite nicely, thank you.

It just happened to be "Children's Day", and I was already late for collecting visitors from the airport. In order to grab a taxi, I found myself having to battle my way through an army of small creatures, each weighing-in at a kilo more than a shuttlecock, but feisty and loud! As I settled into my seat in the vehicle, the warm glow of satisfaction from my ten baht lunch overcame me, and I fell asleep.

My friends had flown in from Hong Kong, and when I told them that my lunch had cost me the equivalent of around $1.75HK, they asked me how I could survive on a single prawn cracker for lunch!

The scheme, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister, Somkid Jatusripitak, will help the poor, who are bearing the brunt of inflated oil prices. Petrol, sugar, and even eggs have increased in price. I'm no Keynesian scholar, and although I cannot, for the life of me, work out his reasoning, I pushed all such boring issues as balance of payments, inflation, and cost of living from my mind as I continued to savour the best ten baht's worth of food I've had since arriving in Thailand. That should perhaps read: the only ten baht's worth of food I've had since arriving in Thailand! After we go to print, thousands of backpackers will flood the Municipality headquarters demanding a list of Blue Flag stall sites. Fear not Khun Prakai, we've made sure they know where you can be found.

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