Thai Food: The Last Installment

After an extended period of blogger’s block, I feel like I need to do a food post to ease myself into writing again. No adventures, no analysis. Just grub. Get ready to get jealous…

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Like every country here in Asia, Thailand has a wealth of recipes that for whatever reason never get exported. Just as almost all the Chinese food we eat back home comes from Guangdong province, so the “Thai food” that we know is actually just southern Thai, which depends mostly on the above: chilies, kaffir lime leaves, galangal root, and lemongrass. That and coconut milk.

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Massaman Curry from a cooking class with Mom and Dad – Indian spices, Thai spices, coconut milk, potatoes, and other veg. Some magazine recently voted this the “best food in the world.” Not to brag, but the stuff we made in class was better than any several of the Massamans I tried at restaurants around the country.

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An appetezier of sliced and fried banana flower. It tastes so much like fried chicken that I’m embarrassed to like it.

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Red curry with mushrooms.

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One of a kind longan and coconut curry courtesy of the folks at Earth Home Thailand. A sweet change-up from the usual savory, spicy curries, and the longans give each bite a nice, fleshy texture.

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Another new dish: “young coconut head.” After some detective work, mom and dad and I concluded that this was actually what we call “heart of palm,” sliced and cooked with Shiitake mushrooms in coconut water. A supreme blend of rich, savory, and crisp, not to mention that you get to scrape out the coconut flesh at the end for dessert.

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Pomelos are quickly becoming one of my favorite fruits, particularly when they’re on sale for forty to sixty cents and absurdly thick rind has already been peeled of for me. Hefty, full of big, juicy cells that deliver substantial citrus bursts when you bite into them. Not quite as sweet as an orange, not quite as tart as a grapefruit. Just the right amount of sourness to rouse me from the stupor induced by…

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coconut overdose! Sometimes these little buggers are on sale for as cheap as six do the dollar. I still can’t tell from the outside which ones will have their insides coated with jelly-like flesh and which ones will have developed the more hearty, fibrous stuff. Either way, they’re always a great source of natural fat, oils, protein, long-running energy, and refreshing, all-natural sports drink.

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A couchsurfing host’s friend brought me to this salad bar upon hearing that I was a vegetarian. You get to check off whatever ingredients you want – I went with sweet potatoes, pumpkins, onions, croutons, cashews, kidney beans, leaves, barley, and a few other things I can’t remember. Not bad! I’m glad to know that pizza isn’t the only western food making inroads here.

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Again, not technically Thai food. Friend noodles from a street stand in Burma that I visited on my visa run. Quite a mysterious dish – southern Chinese noodles are usually rice-based and round, while northern Thai noodles are flat, regardless of whether they’re rice or egg-and-flour-based. These were egg-and-flour based but nearly round (not that it matters once you’ve eaten them). Cooked with dried chinese peppers, which the Chinese don’t usually put into their noodles, along with some other spices I hadn’t had elsewhere. The shredded veg and lime on top are typical of northern Thailand. Word on the street is that Burma may soon be open for cycle touring. What other culinary mysteries might be awaiting discovery?

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Khao Soi. I’d vote for this rather than Massaman in the “best food ever” competition. Spicy, creamy coconut broth. Fatty, toothsome, filling egg noodles. Crispy fried noodles on top, with a sour bite from lime spritzes to boot. Vegetables cooked in the broth at a speciality restaurants, or raw cabbage and bean sprouts to drop in if you eat it on the street – where it costs less than a dollar a bowl.

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The four shakies concur: this stuff is awesome.

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A trip to the always-outstanding Khun Churn vegetarian buffet. $4 for access to the salad bar, juice bar, dessert bar, entree bar, and soup bar.

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Of course, being a Chiang Mai institution, they also have Khao Soi.

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Dinner at “Burmese restaurant,” purveyor of dishes delicious but mostly indescribable. Center: Tea leaf salad with crunchy dahl. Top left: mango salad with a certain graininess reminiscent of corn tortillas. Bottom right: “Shan” (Yunnan-ese) rice, cooked halfway to porridge in a broth of unknown provenance, topped with scallions and cilantro. Another reason to pray that Burma opens up before we leave southeast Asia.

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Stocking up on peas, peanuts, and dried fruits (i.e. makeshift gorp) for the road ahead. Pickings may be slim once we’ve left Chiang Mai, which is probably the capital of awesome Thai food.

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Or not! Our haul from the local market a few kilometers from the national park we slept at. Steamed rice, fried rice, fried noodles, fried bananas and sweet potatoes, savory hard-boiled eggs, steamed okra and pumpkin, pork curry, and some raw cabbage and greens. All purchased for about $1.50 a head. Better yet, thanks to our various camping pots, tupperwares, and leftover plastic bags, we did managed the whole takeout-for-four without generating any waste. Aside from the beer bottle caps.

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On our second night at the park, we decided to make use of the kitchen and the produce vendors lining the road to the nearby hot springs. I whipped up some makeshift guacamole, Chris stir-fried some cucumbers, Mingyu pan fried sticky rice into fantastic little patties, and Minseong set the table and prepped the pomelo. One of the park administrators also left us a bag of curry, which we extended by incorporating more sauteed cukes.

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We also encountered a totally new fruit. The size of a cantaloupe, made up of about fifty pentagonal candy-corn shaped cells. I’ll send a postcard to the first person who can identify this thing. Let’s not talk about the lack-of-hair-cut.

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We had to get eating instructions from the park staff. You have to pluck out the candy corns, bite into the top white part, and suck out the goop in the middle. Rich and creamy like a custard apple, tart and tangy like a passion fruit. A bit of a hassle to eat if you’re hungry, but a nice way to spend a thirty-minute break at the top of a mountain.

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Pumpkin and Thai basil have that wonderful soft/sharp compliment thing going on. Round out the dish with eggs or, in this case, deep-fried tofu.

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Another tubful of fried market goodness – coconut cakes, pumpkin, bananas, sweet potatoes. The other three Shakies follow my “Three Rules” about ninety percent of the time, not because they’re part of my project, but just because they’re cool, concerned dudes.

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Another postcard to anyone who can identify this thing, some sort of plant stem that was served to us with noodle soup. Reminiscent of celery in its airy non-substantiality, but slightly spongier and even less taste. Less than an inch thick, but up to a foot long. Even having seen the plant it came from, I have no clue.

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Along with Khao Soi, this is another northern favorite: “Som Tham” green (unripe) papaya salad. It must certainly rank among the world’s healthiest/ most complete foods, seeing as how it’s got raw veggies, fermented sauces, fried peanuts, and fresh seafood, all crushed up and mashed together.

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I’m sure everyone’s already tired of all my talk of fried bananas and sweet potatoes, but this one is different. Zoom in right around twelve o’clock and you’ll see why: peanuts in the batter! Yesssssssssssssss.

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Super savory shallot slop used to top various noodle dishes.

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My Thai’s finally good enough make custom orders, like this pumpkin and egg stir-fry.

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When I’m not feeling inspired, though, there’s always an easy backup: veg fried rice. Minseong, apparently a little homesick, decided to add a few dollops of Korean gochujang (red pepper paste), turning this into a makeshift bibimbap. Well done!

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I didn’t realize this earlier, but loads of convenience stores here sell ice cream out of bulk cartons. In the end, it’s probably not any less trash than individually-wrapped cones or popsicles, and the stuff itself is so bad for my body and the planet that I probably shouldn’t be eating it, but at this point the flesh is still weak. Especially when waiting out a four-hour rainstorm. Note Minseong’s spork and personal cup.

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Fried rice snacks, bags of syrup, and…a monk in a bag?

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Yet another market treat I should probably eat less of. At six for a dollar and no plastic wrappers, though, I have a hard time turning stuff like this down. That, and I have a blast fighting with the market ladies over whether to use their plastic bags or my begging pot. Plus, it probably does them good to run into a stubborn (but hopefully good-natured) envrironmentalist every now and again. Maybe they’ll tell their kids about my goofy insistence.

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The last lunch: veggie and several varieties of mushroom stirfy. It was awesome, I was famished, and I had a bunch of coins to use up, so I ordered a second plate. A fitting end to three months of exceedingly good eats. Another country conquered on veggie power! Next up, Laos…again.

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10 Responses to Thai Food: The Last Installment

  1. Mom says:

    How did I miss eating Khao Soi in Chiang Mai? I need to go back!!

    • Michael Roy says:

      You didn’t miss it, you just ate so many other goodies that you forgot. We had Khao Soi at both Khun Churn buffets. Or at least I did…

      • Mom says:

        Well, if you ate it, so did I! Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been making avocado/mango/thai basil/protein powder smoothies. MMM!

  2. lea says:

    happy to see you are still in love with thai food 😉
    wish to see you soon guys ! ( come onnnnnn , ride in laos is easy !!!!!!!!! )
    Just kidding .

  3. Mom says:

    http://www.hasekamp.net/fruit.htm
    This web site says it’s a custard apple. Send me a postcard!!

    • Michael Roy says:

      Sorry to disappoint, but it was definitely not a custard apple. Custard apple’s aren’t pink, aren’t tangy, don’t pull apart into candy corn segments, and aren’t twice the size of my head.

      Oddly enough, a postcard was already on the way anyway.

  4. Myra says:

    It all looks so wonderful I wish I could talk Lou into traveling to see you and to eat all those wonderful dishes. I am going to forward your email to Raffe and Christine – it will probably make them homesick for where they met and all the good food there while traveling on their tall bikes performing with the Cyclown Circus. Now they are the goodnight circus and their son and Christine are vegetarians and Raffe cooks for them so he eats mostly vegetarian food. Glad to hear you are back on the road leading to more adventures. Love to you always.

    • Michael Roy says:

      Awesome! Maybe if Raffe’s ever at a loss for what to cook, he can pick something at random from my blog.

      If you can’t convince Lou to come out to Southeast Asia, maybe I could crash a Castaldo family reunion in Italy someday…