More Cookery

I’ve always had an addiction to Pad Thai. It started with my first taste of Thai food, at Sawadty Thai Cuisine on Bainbridge Island and has really only grown since. Which makes being able to eat it on a daily basis a wonderful, wonderful thing (though more than once a day is a little to much for me). Now, at home, we’ve tried all sorts of “pad thai” recipes trying to recreate the deliciousness that comes so easily to asian cooks. Pretty much any recipe we could find, that doesn’t require days of preparation, we’ve tried. All to no avail. We’ve been told the “secret ingredients” range from extra sugar and peanuts to ketchup (more on that later). But alas, nothing ever tastes quite like what you get at a Thai restaurant.

So determined to get to the bottom of this once and for all, we took a cooking class in it’s homeland. Specifically, in the heartland of Thai cooking, Chiang Mai. I started off with my favorite Pad Thai. It’s really very simple, just some oil to start the wok, water to keep things from burning, your meat, vegetables and garlic in, then some fish sauce for salty, some sugar for sweet, and some oyster sauce to give it some body. Add your peanuts and sprouts, and presto!, really good pad thai. Of course, the problem is in the whole finding the right ingredients. Fish sauce is relatively common in the US, but oyster sauce may be a little tricker. Unfortunately for all of you, I gobbled it down to fast for Theresa to get a picture. Theresa started with spring rolls and had it down in no time. Delicious stuff, and definitely one for the recipe book.

Really, I could’ve left then and been happy now that I can make my own pad thai, but we went on to to cook about ten other dishes between the two of us. I worked on hot and spicy soup, cashew chicken, spicy red curry, an asian chicken salad and mango sticky rice. Theresa specialized in hot and creamy soup, sweet and sour chicken (hint: secret ingredient – ketchup!), green papaya salad and mango sticky rice. Besides being ridiculously full as we also ate all of our dishes, we left armed with a whole slew of new meals to make. And I’m sure they won’t be as easy as our teachers made them seem, and finding the right ingredients won’t be particularly simple (shrimp paste, which smells disgusting by the way, and green papaya can be a little more difficult to discover, or even identify) but the food’s just worth it.

As a final test to our readers, in the middle of our day, we learned to carve a leaf and a flower. Can you guess who’s handiwork this is?

Impressions of Bangkok or How Bangkok is Completely Different From Africa

First thing, and this hits you as soon as you step out of the airport, is the humidity. Completely draining. Africa may be hot (although we found this reputation overstated) but its typically a drier heat. Bangkok is something else entirely. And this from people who have handled the heat and humidity of Houston and D.C.

Then, the taxi drivers form a line next to the public taxi fare counter to wait for their fare. The civility and orderliness of it all is a bit shocking (not necessarily to continue!).

The room when we check in is immaculate, complete with free wifi internet, cable TV with bazillions of channels and hot water on demand. No further comment, its just much more than we’ve come accustomed to living with and makes us feel like we’ve just checked into a five star hotel (no, we didn’t splurge).

The food is completely as advertised, though some of the street places cut corners. We devour pad thai and a green curry with thai iced tea and a mango shake at a local restaurant. This only gets better as the days go by and we discover where to get the best food. Not to mention how little it all costs, less than a dollar a plate usually, maybe two at a real restaurant.

The variety of street food is completely overwhelming, and at times, a bit disturbing. The dried squids and various entrails piled up for sale definitely have me quickening my step.

The prevalence of fresh squeezed juices, shakes and teas (iced or hot) for a song is a welcome change from our previous world where the cheapest beverages were coke and beer.

The hordes of Western tourists in Khao San are intimidating, and guys lacking shirts are a bit too common. Its not really our scene, as we didn’t come to Asia to buy hemp jewelry or knockoff threadless tshirts or watch endless showings of movies.

The streets are incredibly lively at almost all hours and the city is so lit up it almost seems to get brighter after the sun goes down.

A 48 meter long golden reclining Buddha is a very impressive thing to see. Especially when his feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl iconography.

So is the rest of the temple complex the built around it. I love the color and imagery used in the buildings.

We’ll see how accustomed to all of this we’ve become after four more months. For now, we’ll just enjoy.