Shopping for food in any country not your own can always be a bit daunting. I mean, not just fast food or restaurants, but buying raw food items so that you can cook for yourself. It's always difficult to know where exactly to go, though. Sure there's always the basic places in Thailand like 7-11 or the new small shops being opened by Lotus and Big C, but those just don't cut it except for the bare basics.
The biggest problem is getting frustrated because not every store is going to have exactly what you're looking for. Major supermarkets like Big C and Lotus are going to primarily cater towards the local population and not picky expats. I'm not saying they aren't great places to shop, but you won't find a lot of variety when it comes to Western or non-Thai foods.
Possibly the best place to go for imported items when shopping for food (Asian and Western) is going to be Foodland, off of Pattaya Klang Road. Foodland started out as a boutique supermarket in Bangkok that catered to primarily to embassy staff, but has grown into one of the best supermarkets in Thailand. If it's European and you want it, they probably have it. Foodland is the place to go in Pattaya for deli and imported foods.
Foodland also has an excellent alcohol selection.
A new supermarket that I recently found out about is Friendship or Saenthip Supermarket, off of South Pattaya Road near the Tukcom electronics mall. Friendship is a great place to find some different snacks, sauces, or small foods from anywhere. The place is a fairly large mixture of everything and is definitely worth going to if you're craving something a little different. It turns out that it's fairly well known but not at the same time. Everyone who knows about it kind of assumes that everyone else already knows, so nothing is said. Parking can be a bit of a problem but once you're in the area there's other stuff to do. Making an afternoon of the visit isn't a bad plan.
Big C in Central Pattaya is one of the more interesting supermarkets when shopping for food in Pattaya, Thailand. There are several different types of Big C shops in Pattaya; a mix of mini-marts to compete with 7-11 and traditional supermarkets for your usual food experience.
The minimarts are exactly what you would think of when a grocery store builds convenience stores. These shops have just enough fresh produce and meats to compete with 7-11, but not enough so that there would be no need to go to the main food shopping supermarkets in Pattaya. They are excellent to have around, especially if there's one very close to where you live., as a great alternative to 7-11. Sometimes you just need more grocery than convenience related items.
Standard Big C supermarkets can be found in both North, South, and Central Pattaya with roughly the same items available in each. It is my opinion that the North and Central ones are the best, depending on your location. The North location is integrated into a large mall with a lot of other shops available.
Big C had always been seen as a lower end shopping experience compared to their main competitor, Tesco-Lotus. Their stores were always well stocked but with less expensive items and a more cluttered look. Big C tried to counter this image by purchasing the French hypermarket chain, Carrefour. Carrefour has always known as one of the top supermarkets in the world, with locations in the Middle East and Asia, and is well known by expats.
This purchase gave Big C the large Carrefour hypermarket in Central Pattaya, which is basically a large mall. Food shopping wise, it is still an excellent place to go due to the large amount of Western items, good selection of alcohol, fresh produce, fresh seafood, and fresh meats available. Also available in the complex are a HomePro (home improvement center), locations for the mobile phone providers AIS and DTAC, several bookstores, Swensens and Dairy Queen ice cream shops, a couple of restaurants (Subway, KFC, Black Canyon, Fuji Japanese food), bakeries, and a pharmacy. Due to the central location to everything, large parking areas, availability of high quality foods, and general ease of access this is a very popular shopping location in Pattaya Thailand.
Tesco Lotus is another large supermarket chain within Thailand. The best thing about Tesco is that you can buy anything you want there, a lot like a Super WalMart. TVs, printers, computers, PS3, games, clothes, you name it. Everything is in their hypermarkets. It's an excellent place to go and all the stores have great parking. Tesco Lotus has stores in both North and South Pattaya, just like Big C, so it's a tossup as to which one you want to go to. Sometimes Lotus has things available that Big C doesn't and preference is a learned thing when food shopping in Thailand.
The most notable thing about Villa Market is that you can buy American style bacon and imported Italian meats there at ridiculously high prices. Other than that it's not much more than a large convenience store with specialty items and seems to be more for the benefit of people living in nearby condos than anything else. There's really nothing it adds to the food shopping experience in Pattaya Thailand other than being the only place I've seen American style bacon. Overall, Villa Market isn't worth making a stop at unless you happen to be at Avenue shopping center for a Major Cineplex movie or going bowling. Villa Market is located at the bottom floor of Avenue.
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Tops Supermarket Central is located at the bottom of Central Festival Pattaya and strangely enough, lives up to its name. Despite being a very small store compared to the massive Big C and Tesco locations, Tops manages to provide the best bakery, alcohol, and produce selections. Everything is the best quality and it's reflected in the price. This isn't an every-day shopping place for long term visitors or expats in Pattaya but I really do enjoy going there sometimes.
Tops Market Pattaya is located right next to the food court and feels like a high quality Western supermarket, complete with the freshly made deli sandwiches (which are delicious). If you happen to be in Central Festival, I recommend swinging in and taking a look. The down-side is that this market isn't worth including in your normal shopping activities due to the crowded location and high prices.
Please don't take this as a recommendation to avoid Tops markets in other locations, though. Tops is truly an excellent place to shop with some great prepared foods available. They've also got a wonderful variety of foods available from all over the world and could definitely be considered a world market. I'll discuss them more in depth when I complete an article on food shopping in Bangkok.
There are also a fair number of fresh markets (farmers markets) and seafood markets in the area. As soon as I get some names, pictures, and Google Maps locations I'll update with details on this extremely important aspect of shopping in Thailand. It may even become its own page.