31: Food for thought...
Sometimes I would love to order a roast beef dinner complete with a pint of chilled Cumberland ale, sometimes however, I would give my right arm for a bag of fish and chips; "Pot of gravy with that love?" These cravings for the food I have eaten since old enough to pick up a fork are unnavoidable, the change in diet since moving to Thailand has been a clean sweep, completely different food every meal of every day, that's bound to have some effect on your digestive system! I have had the dreaded Bangkok belly on four occasions, but not for a while now as, over time my immune system and stomach are adapting to their new surroundings. The worst dose of Bb came thanks to a seafood platter I ate in Chiang Mai, it put me off fish for two months which is tribute to its severity!
I was happy to be told when I applied for this job that I wouldn't need to cook because the food is so cheap that everyone eats out everynight. This information has proved to be (in the main) correct, I do now eat out everynight, sometimes in the smattering of good quality restaurants LopBuri boasts, but more often on the market. The main reason why I don't crave Western food more than I do, is because either by good fortune or good planning, my appartment in LopBuri is placed between two fantastic food markets. Here you can buy a veritable feast of Asiatic delicacies and (locally prepared) mouth-watering tidbits and treats. The problem is though, you have to know how to ask for them! For the first few months in LopBuri, I was content with two main dishes. Phad Thai, the famous fried noodles dish and Kie Giow Moo Sap which is Thai Omellette with pork over rice. I soon required a little more diversity in my diet, and the amount of good smelling food I saw other people enjoying every night was motivation enough. Necessity is the Mother of invention, it is also perhaps the greatest motivation for learning something new, in this case how best to quell a rumbling stomach!
I began compiling a list of the dishes I saw, and how to ask for them in Thai. Armed with a list of food stuffs for experimenting with, I re-approached the market. After a little turbulence - I would order "Kauw kruc cappi" (rice with shrimp, melon, pork and chilli) three minutes later, a steaming hot bowl of noodles would land on the table - I soon got the hang of it, the local venders often offer something new which I am usually glad to try. I have surprised myself in that I am willing to try most things at least once, I recently ate a bamboo worm, apparently a good soure of protein, it tasted exactly how I expected it to; revolting. I haven't yet been able to try some of the more indiginous snacks available on the market menu, grilled toad doesn't tickle my taste buds, neither does the pan-fried turtle or crispy grass-hopper though I am keeping an open mind!
How the night food market operates is endlessly interesting. Their appears to be around 20 different venders with small carts all offering dishes from Kauw phad (fried rice) to Bat mee luchin (yellow noodle soup with pork balls) to a personal favourite of mine Hoey ga tah (cockles and muscles fried with egg over bamboo shoots). Meals start from 15 Baht (20 pence) and can get as expensive as 30 Baht (40 pence) should you be feeling particularly affluent. Each vender operates independently though they frequently interact with one another ensuring food-to-table delivery time is minimal. If one wok is already full, the vender will simply pass your order on until someone with a spare wok can cook it for you. The system which operates at the night market is simple and easy, even as a farang. After finding a seat, within a few seconds two glasses of iced water appear in front of you and somebody (usually wearing a t-shirt bearing English expletives) awaits your order. You can tell them numerous amount of dishes before they disappear around the market placing your order with various vendors, they return five minutes later, arms full of food. Food arrives when it is ready which means you often have the situation (strange for Westerners) when everyone has finished their meal, except one hungry chap whose food hasn't even arrived yet. You then call out Gep tueng khrap and the same offensively clad person adds up the price of your meal and makes sure your money arrives safely in the correct venders pot.
The second of the two markets near my appartment is a morning market. It begins trading before the sun comes up and sells a tremendous selection of fresh fruit along with morning foods (Kauw ne-aw moo - pork and sticky rice, sweet doughnuts etc) and the basic cooking ingredients of a Thai meal. These include an amazing amount of herbs and spices, huge dishes of various curry pastes, raw meat (chicken, pork, beef, salmon) and, the fuel for the Thai smile, cooked meat on sticks. The sausage type meat on a stick is a typical Thai person's snack, when in the West we might reach for crisps, a chocolate bar or a piece of fruit between meals, the Thai's instead go for a bright coloured piece of meat, scewered. You can have a choice of two sauces with your snack, Waan-sweet or Pet-spicy, or like the locals, you can have both.
I started off avoiding anything which was even a little pet but now I find myself addicted to Thai food, even the spicy dishes. So much so that I decided to take a cooking course in Kanchanaburi to try to re-creating a taste of Thailand once I return to the Cumbrian kitchen. Not being much of a cook, a lot of what the disconcertingly deep voiced 'lady' cooking instructor said passed straight over my head, being able to make favourites such as Masaman, red or green curries seems to depend on your ability to find such ingredients as tamarine oil and various pastes, I will be scouring the Chinese supermarkets back in England.
Eating in Thailand is a social occasion rather than a way to satisfy your hunger and people eating on their own are often viewed as being 'a little strange.' The markets here seem to stay open indefinately, I recently had to be in school by 4.00 a.m to go on a school trip, and the night market was still doing a good trade, those eating were swaying somewhat, the beer had taken hold by that late hour I assume. The Thais are passionate about food which makes teaching around the subject good fun at Jindaratana, the problems start when it comes to variety (or lack there of) "What did you have for breakfast Smile?" "Rice." "And for lunch?" "Rice." "And for dinner?" ..... You get the idea. "Well I had lasagne for dinner yesterday," I lie, I ask Pon my Thai assistant to translate what the students are saying, "Smile saw you eating dinner yesterday, you were eating rice and drinking beer!" When it rains, it pours.