Dear friends, family, and foes who secretly can’t resist reading about our travels,
We’re alive and well in Laos now, but wanted to wrap up a few loose ends from Thailand before we post about our new location. Thus, Canadaschmanada: the Thai food issue!
All the guidebooks and travel agencies back home warned us that when travelling to Asia, one must skip the ice, only eat fruit you can peel, and above all: avoid street food. But did we come to Thailand to eat bananas ladies and gentlemen? We did not. And so, setting aside all hopes for regular bowel movements, we ventured forth into the extraordinary world of Thai food.
In every city, fruit stalls line the streets with pickled mango, ripe pineapple, banana bunches, and pomelo — each package of sweet produce accompanied with a mixture of sugar, salt, and ground chili. Carp and catfish and groupers are yanked out of inflatable swimming pools in the markets, whacked dead on the counter, and thrown on the grill. And every other stall is piled high with the mounds of spice pastes — green curry, red curry, khao soi paste, massaman curry paste, red chili paste, and the omnipresent shrimp paste.
At night, the food stalls that line the market smell richly of grilled chicken and Thai sausage. Steam from the soups fill the air with lemongrass and galangal, fish sauce and sugar. Running the culinary gauntlet, so to speak, you’re assaulted on both sides by offers for food and drinks. How does one choose between mystery meats roasting on a stick, or the thick, flat rice noodles soaked in molasses and soy sauce, or the simmering cauldrons of spicy soups? You try them all, of course. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourites:
1. Thai green curry: as spicy as they get, and with a hint of sweetness absent from its red curry counterpart. The astringency of lemongrass, heat of the green chilies, sharp ginger, sweet Thai basil, loads of coriander, and thick coconut milk infuse mouthfuls of chicken or beef swimming in the gorgeous sauce. Always eaten with rice.
2. Massaman curry: a southern Thai dish, this beef curry is both sweet and savoury, and much lower on the spice scale than its peers. Massaman is one of the only curries that contains potatoes, and therefore feels closer to a stew than a traditional Thai curry. The major flavours in here are roasted peanuts, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, palm sugar, and the delightfully tart tamarind.
3. Som Tam: this spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya is spiced up with sour lime, hot chili, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and crispy rice balls. It’s served with raw cabbage on the side to cut the zing of spice.
4. Tom Yam: This hot-and-sour soup comes especially on the hot side, thanks to the main ingredient, red chili, appearing in two forms: paste and chopped. The broth is infused with garlic, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, green onions, kaffir lime leaves and juice, fish sauce, and cilantro. If your lips aren’t burning after the third spoonful, then you aren’t drinking authentic soup.
5. Thai Rotee: Call it a crepe, roti, whatever you like, but the thin little pancakes served in street stalls all over Thailand are unquestionably delicious. Each rotee is made from a small ball of elastic batter being slapped flat and fried on a flat pan with copious slatherings of butter. Our favourites were banana nutella (how could you go wrong there?) or the tuna-tomato-cheese.
6. The humble but scrumptious Street Sausage: before we left home, we thought all sausages were created more or less equal, but this turns out to be far from the truth. Thai sausages flaunt their superiority by being filled not only with ground pork (or beef, chicken, raccoon, mystery meat), but also marinated cabbage, onions, chilies, and rice or glass noodles. Absolutely delicious.
7. And, of course, Pad Thai: am I going to spend time on this one? Don’t be ridiculous. If you haven’t had Pad Thai before, you probably live under a rock, and therefore also pr0bably aren’t reading this blog. It’s delicious, it’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it’s available everywhere for 1-3 dollars a pop.
(p.s. if you haven’t had it, get off the computer right now and call your local Green Mango. Seriously.)
Heaps of street-meaty love,
Alanna and Sam