Saturday, March 21, 2009

thai food

Real Thai food is tasty, though it takes some getting used to. It’s a distant but recognizable cousin to the food you’d get at a good Thai restaurant in the US or Australia. The most similar-to-their-foreign-counterpart dishes are the red curry and spring rolls, though here they are served spicy and lukewarm.

Foods in general here are cooked, served, and eaten at roadside carts. This adds the dubious spice and taste of diesel fumes and street grime, together with the trashy uriney smells of the sidewalks and gutters, to the meals. This becomes ignorable surprisingly quickly. Most people eat about 7 little mini-meals a day (which I like a lot), and very little differentiation is made between times of day and what you eat: a curry is just as fair game for breakfast as for dinner, as are sweet rice-gluten cubes or spicy fried chicken. Breakfasts usually include some mixture of the following: creamy corn chowder, very spicy ground pork, stir-fried cabbage, fried rice, cold corn kernels, fresh fruit, an omelettey scramble, etc.

Many of the foods are very, very spicy. And I mean spicy. It’s generally a diced fresh and/or powdered dried red chilli pepper spice, plus fresh ground black pepper, and various mysterious insidious other spicinesses. The heat is cumulative, though you can usually tell by the second bite whether or not the dish is beyond your abilities. A fried rice meal we had last night, which the cook made super-mild for us whiteys, was still too much for my palate, though we’re both getting much better at eating the hotness.

Other than throat-imploding spiciness, things which we have not eaten and are not inclined to try but which are readily available include deep-fried cicadas, fried shrimp pancakes (made from whole shrimps, with eyes and legs and antennae still in), fried pig-head skin, fried chicken feet, fried internal organs of questionable origin (if you’re getting the impression that they will fry and eat anything, you’re not far wrong), various dried salted whole fish, and this gloppy brown stew that smells like rottenness and has bones floating in it but which the folks in our neighbourhood line up to eat. Other than that, so far we’ve been willing to eat and have enjoyed almost anything safe-seeming that passes our way.

Some of the delights we have most enjoyed so far include: A bagful of golden-brown deep fried bananas, dough-balls, and sesame-covered dough-balls filled with crushed peanuts: fresh dragon fruit with exceptionally pale flesh: a mango possessed of a markedly paisley and oblong shape, splotched and golden skin, and a smooth and non-fibrous texture, whose flavour was especially sweet and reminded us of wild raspberries: a fruit that looks like an lumpy apple with skin like a green pear, the texture of jhimika and a light, mild flavour reminiscent of unripe watermelon and honey: green curry with liver (which we ate around) and little round green vegetables that look like tiny watermelons on the outside and cucumbers on the inside and taste like pumpkin: silver dollar pancakes that are custardy in the middle and are made with coconut milk and either corn kernels or scallions: layered balls of marinated dried coconut, rice paste, and more coconut: little corn muffins with fresh flaked coconut: red curry with bamboo shoots: spicy ground mystery meat with diced mystery vegetables and chillies: green mango/papaya salad with shredded carrots, cabbage, dried roasted garlic, and chillies: stir-fried tofu and mushrooms: lots of thai iced tea (a red tea with milk poured over ice and then with sweetened condensed milk poured over it): chilled lemongrass juice: crispy deep-fried chilli-flavoured broad beans with skins: roasted fingerling sweet potatoes with a very nutty and starchy taste: simple fried chicken done so, so well: a variety of gloppy Chineseish veggie-and-brown-sauce dishes, and more.

In addition to these street foods, there are also fruit and veggie and fish and meat markets, Thai-stocked grocery stores, international (i.e. American, British, Chinese, and Japanese) grocery stores, and restaurants ranging to mom-and-pop to fancy. Petra and I have now frequented examples of all of the above, and can happily report that the fancy restaurant across the street makes a better pasta alfredo than most Italians, and Thai-made baguettes and butter are sublime. As we’re on an insanely small budget, such very expensive luxuries as wheat and dairy products will be infrequently enjoyed. We feel very blessed, though, that what for us is a very small budget is relative wealth in this country, and that we have the opportunity to explore so much of what is available to eat here.

P.S. Yes, our bellies hurt. But we’ll get over it.

ADDED: the sights and sounds of our local pad thai stand!

1 comment:

Kenneth said...

I'm speechless. And very hungry. Not to mention jealous. Thank you for the wonderful pictures!