Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not my farang

Remember when all I would ever write about were my adventures in trying to feed myself? Well I seem to have mastered that skill, and have a few extra kilos on my frame to show for it. Apparently my dramatic weight loss was not meant to last. Mai bpen lai!

The Dive - it looks nasty, but the food is delicious.

My most recent favorite dish here has been moo tot kratiem - pork fried with garlic. OMG - yum! There's just a ton of crunchy garlic in each plateful, but it's not excessively strong. I think the frying helps mellow out the flavor. I'm not sure what else they use to cook the pork, but it is mighty tasty. Before I leave here, I'm going to have to work up the courage to ask them how they make it because I cannot go home without being able to make this dish.

No Thai table is complete without a roll of toilet paper and a jar of toothpicks. Classy!

However, after eating moo tot kratiem day after day after day after day, it began to occur to me that I might want to eat a few veggies once in a while. Thus far the only veggie-rich dish I've been able to order has been pad pak loom (stir fried veggies with...pork, chicken, whatever). It's pretty tasty and the kind of thing most food shops can make. But it's often pretty heavy on the tomatoes and baby corn. I'm just not a fan of cooked tomatoes or baby corn. Not eating half the veggies in my 'stir fried veggies' kinda defeated the purpose of me ordering it, so lately I've been ordering fried rice and hoping for a lot of cabbage and carrots.

Recently I talked to a student about my dilemma (I love having pre-intermediate / intermediate students for a change!). She gave me the name of another vegetable to order - pak boon (morning glory in English), but my pronunciation was so bad that she recommended another one - broccoli. Amazingly the word is the same in Thai and English, even more amazingly I really really really like broccoli, next to carrots and snap peas it's one of my favorite veggies. She also passed on some even more useful information. I'd been told to ask for my food "mai pet"/"not spicy" but she explained that in Thailand "mai pet" means only put one or two chilies in, not six or seven (which explained why my food was still too spicy for me), but that if I really wanted it not to be spicy I needed to say "mai sai prik" "don't put chilies in it."

So the next night I went to the market - found a booth with some broccoli out front and ordered chicken and broccoli, without chili peppers. Ordering new dishes is always a bit of a gamble, so I was *delighted* when that is exactly what I got. YUM. Buoyed by my success, the next day I noticed some asparagus in a basket at The Dive and decided to try ordering it. I asked what the word for it was in Thai, "nor mai falang" which sounds a lot like "not my farang (foreigner)" which makes it blessedly easy to remember. I then ordered asparagus with chicken, without chilies. Success! Delicious success!

Remember - eat with your spoon, the fork is just for moving the food onto the spoon.

Last night I went out to dinner and attempted yet another coup. I decided to try Som Tam (papaya salad - practically the national dish of Thailand) using my new & startlingly effective phrase "mai sai prik". It was awesome! Because they use a giant wooden mortar and pestle to make it (and why would they ever wash it out between batches?) there was plenty of spice left over from the previous 7 chili version to give it some kick. It was tangy and refreshing and while my mouth was tingling, it was not burning. You have no idea how relieved I am. Every time I had to tell my students that I didn't like Som Tam it was like I'd insulted their Mom's apple pie. Now I can tell them that I love it and hopefully regain a little face. A very little since, you know... without the 7 chillies, it's not exactly the real thing.

Som Tam mai sai prik

Finally... it's fruit season here! In fact last Sunday was the famous Rayong Fruit Festival... so famous that my students neglected to tell me about it until *after* it was over. Another drawback to not speaking Thai is not being able to understand any of the signs or news stories about exciting events around town. Fortunately I have not completely missed out on fruit season. I've already had two near-durian experiences (this afternoon I was at an open air cafe and some people in the street were snacking... again I smelled it far before I saw it). They call durian the king of fruits, and to every Yin there must be a Yang. Mangosteens are the Queen. I've been given two free bags full of mangosteens, first by the lady at the coffee shop, and then by my laundry lady. And the other day, my driver gave me a lapful of mangosteens as we drove to my off-campus class (and I had fun practicing my Thai "I have mangosteen, 7 pieces." nom nom nom "I have mangosteen, 6 pieces." nom nom nom). They are so yummy. Very sweet and slightly tangy.

The fruit is in sections sort of like an orange. One or two of the sections will have a big seed (and the flesh clings to it like a mango) but most of the sections will have only tiny soft seeds you can eat. The texture of the flesh is somewhat peach-like, but the flavor is almost like a grape... a very sweet, very ripe grape with a touch of citrus or perfume to it. (btw - have you guys ever tried describing the flavor of a fruit to someone who probably hasn't tried it before? It's nearly impossible! I mean, honestly how would you describe 'banana'?)

Finally I got the nerve up to try a custard apple (no idea what the Thai name is). It's ugly but it's really good.

The black seeds are really heavy & hard (and there are a lot of them) but they're easy to separate from the fruit. They make quite a clunk when you spit them out onto the plate. The flesh is, well, custardy, soft, not too stringy not too grainy. And the flavor... this one I can peg exactly! It tastes like honey-suckle nectar. Delicious!

Of course, somewhere in the midst of all this culinary exploration I picked up my latest digestive bug... so you know, I'm back to Ritz crackers, Pepsi & now that I have an appetite again - a double cheeseburger at McDonalds. DON'T JUDGE ME! Industrial food has it's merits you know.

TAG: Code Mango (you know, up until I woke up puking ;) )


Bezzie said...

You would think with all the food that doesn't end up agreeing with you those kilos wouldn't stick. Like travel bulemia or something...

Great post! I like the tip about how to make the dish not spicy. I'll be promptly forgetting that phrase--I love spicy! If you ain't sweating, you ain't eating!

Anonymous said...

I love spicy food, but in our neighborhood in Bangkok, they never put in chiles because I think they assumed I was a foreigner who couldn't handle it. I started asking for everything "pet mahk" and it was perfect!
This post makes me miss Thailand SO much.

Rebel said...

Bezzie, next time you go to a Thai restaurant take Cate's tip ask for "pet mahk" and you'll get some fire.

cate, I know... I'm going to miss the food when I finally leave. It's still here though whenever you want to come back for a visit!

gl. said...

i'm surprised you haven't lost weight from all the puking. ;) not that this would be a healthy or happy way to lose weight, mind you.

Melissa said...

I've learned about so many fruits that I had no idea existed from your posts! You're doing a great job at describing them. I can see how it would be difficult.

Victoria said...

ah, I miss Thai food so much!