Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Bluest Mussels

Tasty blue mussels
It’s no surprise that the seafood I’ve been eating is outrageous. I live on a coast and would expect nothing better. The shrimp is fresh, the fish smells of the sea and the mussels are the prettiest I have ever seen. They are called Perna viridis, green mussel, also called hoi maeng phu  or หอยแมงภู่, in Thai. Mussels in the states are good and taste good too but these mussels are amazing. They are so blue and so fresh you can taste only sea and not that gross fishy aftertaste that you sometimes get. These mussels would cost an arm and a leg in America but here you get a massive bag, almost too big to finish, for around 50 cents! Yes that’s right I said 50 cents! Ridiculous! They come with a fresh green birds eye chili sauce that brightens up the mussels even more. This is definitely one of my guilty pleasures here in Thailand. They are so cheap and so good. I sometimes have trouble walking past them at the market. These little mussels are prefect for a little snack or to share for dinner, I just can’t get enough of them!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Bugs Galore!
Adorable bug lady.

Uncooked bugs.
 Thai’s love their easy sources of protein, especially when it can be fried and flavored with chilies and soy sauce, and one of their favorite little sacks full of protein are the infamous bugs that are extremely abundant all over Thailand. They eat these like we eat potatoes chips, and for good reason. These tasty little treats are almost like Thai popcorn. Once you can get past the fact that you are indeed eating a bug you soon realize that what’s in you mouth if wonderful. They take the little silkworms, or bee larva (หนอนไหม), and fry them with tons of holy basil then sauce them up with chilies and soy sauce.  When eating these tasty treats, you cant even tell that they are bugs. If I handed someone a little silkworm and told him or her to close their eyes and open their mouth I promise that they would love them. It’s just the stigma that “bugs are bad” in which we were raised that makes us think there are going to be gross and disgusting. Bugs are a nice little snack and very cheap. Now I haven’t go tot the massive grasshoppers, those might take a little time, but I’m sure that they are just as tasty as their little brothers and sisters. These little larva are good.

Cooked bugs, in bag.

Still in the bag
Getting them ready...
Just when you thought I was done eating all the little critters I did it again. But this time I figured go hard or go home. I ate the big one, the one that makes you gag just looking at it. This bug, who knows what kind of bug it is, was big, it was hard and it had a little bitter tooth that I'm sure would hurt like hell if I had eaten it. I had to pull the legs, the hard outer shell, the "beak" and the wings off before I could even imagine eating it. Then, as if putting it in my mouth would be easier I pushed for the finish line. Like a champ I threw it in my mouth, and nearly puked. This tasted like rotten, growing liver and was crunchy and soft at the same time. Oh bugs, the enjoyment I get from eating you will never die but the terrible taste in my mouth, thankfully, left soon after  my experience.
My face during.

Miang Pla

Making individual wraps.
All the parts of what goes in the wrap.
 There’s a thing in Thailand that I was introduced to the very first week I was here. A friend of mine called them “Healthy Wraps”. I had never heard of them nor had I ever seen them before. I know that “healthy wraps” was not the correct Thai name for them but what I did know was that they were absolutely amazing! Thinking that maybe they were just a Bangkok thing I was very surprised and extremely happy to find them in my local night market. “Healthy Wraps” or Miang pla (เมี่ยงปลา), as the Thai’s call it, are a mix of ingredients that you wrap into Thai kale. It’s all hands on and can get pretty messy. The typical Miang pla bag comes with: dried shrimp, ginger pieces, lime pieces, birds eye chilies, toasted coconut, peanuts, onions and a very sweet and very sticky chili and palm sugar sauce. You take all of these ingredients and put as much or as little of each in a kale leaf, wrap it up and pop it in you mouth! These little bundles are a burst of flavor on your taste buds. You can taste every different ingredient at a different time. Its almost like your mouth is on overload from all the different flavors that you are tasting.  This is one tasty treat that is so filling and so memorable every time I eat it. It has all the great flavors of Thailand mixed into one do it yourself pocket of love.  I’ve had these so many times that I told myself I have to wait and try new things before I can have them again! “Healthy Wraps” easily capture Thai food in one little bundle of greatness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My First Cooking School

Silom Thai Cooking School
Our instructor, Nusi

There are many cooking schools here in Thailand. They are a popular tourist attraction but also a great way to learn what you are eating and how to prepare it. I recently took a class with the Silom Thai Cooking School. It is run by an adorable couple in the upstairs portion of there home in the middle of busy Bangkok.

We met them early in the morning to first go to the large morning market. This was the market that all the vendors would come to to buy all their supplies for the day. There was live seafood, live chickens and hens and any kind of vegetable you can image. I saw so many things I had never seen before and was being taught about all the different types of food around. I learned that Thai’s have 3 types of basil: sweet basil, spicy basil and lime basil. Thai’s also have 2 types of cilantro: the regular kind we are used to and a long think weed like cilantro that has and much more potent taste. They also have 3 kinds of ginger: normal ginger, galangal ginger, which is much more earthy and turmeric ginger, which is rich with an orange color. This culture also has 2 types of limes: normal limes and Kaffir limes which are a staple to the taste and smell of Thai food. Thai’s have many different kinds of most of the food that we are used to. I think this is what makes their food so amazing and so tasty. They focus on the freshness of the food and the different elements a dish can bring. Thai’s want their food to be spicy, sweet and sour. All of these things mixed make for a great dish. We first learned how to make sticky rice and make our own Thai coconut milk. Both of which are staples and necessary for this food.

Tom Yum Soup
The first dish that we prepared was a very popular Thai dish, Tom Yum Soup (Tom Yum Koong). This is a sweet and spicy soup with shrimp. This soup has a distinct milky red color from the coconut milk and the spicy chili paste. It also has Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, galangal ginger and many different vegetables. This soup is beaming with flavor. Its tastes are so strong and so defined that it is hard to not like. I could eat this soup with every meal, assuming that it is made well. Some restaurants try to take shortcuts which is easily noticeable and not the way to go. I also had this dish when I went to the Grand Palace, the King’s palace. It was also very good there and one of my first, most memorable meals. This is a soup that cannot be challenged nor can it be changed.

Pad Thai
The second dish that we made is a dish that everyone is familiar with: Pad Thai (Pad Thai Sai Kai). A good Pad Thai needs tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, and palm sugar. The mix between the  tamarind and the sweet palm sugar makes the rice noodles taste great. It was such a simple dish. Just cut the vegetables, put in the spices and stir-fry the noodles. I finished the noodles with some shrimp,dried chilies, peanuts and lime. This was such an easy dish, which seems to be a similar pattern that I am leaning with Thai cooking. It’s all about the ingredients and the freshness of what you are putting in the dish.

Laab or Chicken Salad
The third dish we made was a type of laab, or cold salad (Laab Gui). We made a Thai style chicken salad, that is available anywhere you go. We took boiled minced chicken and mixed it with mint, Thai cilantro, fish sauce, lime, dried chilies and shallots. After adding some green onions at the end we mixed it all together and put it on the plate. Again this dish was so simple yet so complex. It takes the normal chicken salad that Americans are so used and puts it to shame. It was served with sticky rice and enjoyed cold.

Green curry paste
Our fourth dish we made was Thai green curry past and green curry with chicken (Nam Prik Gaeng Khaeo Wan). Most curry that we find in the States is premade and processed with many preservatives. This curry was made fresh and tasted the way it should.  Any curry requires many different ingredients and a lot of hard work. First, we chopped all of the ingredients: green chilies, birds eye red and green chilies, lemon grass, galangal ginger, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, coriander root, turmeric ginger, cumin seeds peppercorns and shrimp paste. All of these are necessary for a good green curry. We mixed all of these things in a mortar and pestle making the mixture nice and smooth. This took almost a half an hour and a lot of muscle work. We then took the curry paste mixed it with coconut milk, sweet basil, and more kaffir lime leaves, ginger, palm sugar and fish sauce. Many people think that curry should be of a watery consistency but it should not. We mixed the curry on a high fire for quite some time until it became nice and thick, coating the chicken that was boiled in the mixture. The curry was served with white and brown jasmine rice. It was so flavorful and without a doubt the best curry I have ever had in my life. I loved this curry so much.
Green Curry and white and black jasmine rice

Rubies in Coconut Milk
Our last dish was a typical Thai style dessert: Rubies in coconut milk (Tub Tim Brob). We took turnip, cut them into small cubes and soaked half of them in water and half of them in red food coloring, just for the color. After that, we coated the cubes in tapioca flour and then boiled them in hot water until they floated. The tapioca flour makes a thick jelly like coating on the outside for the turnip. We then took sweetened coconut water, which was warmed and placed the “rubies” in the milk. This is such a typical dessert in Thailand. They love their “jelly like” sweets, which are a textural thing; many of them don’t really have much flavor. This dish was very different from what I am used to but also very good.

This experience is one that I will never forget and something that I will be able to use in my later life. I learned so much from this school. I am so grateful that Thailand gives these great opportunities and plan of taking advantage of what they have to offer. With my knowledge from this school I now am confident that I can some cook thai food, and cook it well. 
Thai rices

The Coconut Shake

The Coconut Shake

Thai’s love their fruit shakes. Anything they can put in a blender and mix up they will. The most popular shake that they drink is the Coconut shake. It is unbelievably refreshing. They take pure coconut milk, coconut flesh, simple sugar, ice and of course condensed m milk. Thai’s put condensed milk in nearly every drink they can. It’s like our normal milk just way sweeter and way worse for you. The condensed milk makes the shake taste so rich and thick. I crave these shakes all the time. They are so amazing after a long hot day to rejuvenate and rehydrate your body.

My Very first Meal

My Very First Meal- Chok โจ๊ก

Straight off the plane I knew I wanted to eat my first meal in Thailand from a street vendor and I wanted to eat it right away. After getting to my hotel and settling in I walked right out the door and found myself something that I had heard about for years: a ricey porridge that comes with practically everything but bones. They give you the food in a bowl if you choose to stay or in small plastic bags with rubber bands if you want take-out. In one bag they gave me the rice porridge or in Thailand known as Chok. It is rice that is slow cooked for hours to resemble something like grits. They put liver, blood pudding, pork pieces, intestines and a partially cooked egg in it. Then chopped spring onions are usually added, and the dish is optionally topped with fried garlic, slivered ginger, and spicy pickles such as pickled radish. All of these things come in a separate bag. The dish also comes with a hot red chili sauce and vinegar with little green Thai chili’s soaked in it. Then it’s up to you how you mix it and how hot you want it to be. I took it back to my hotel room to eat because I still couldn’t figure out how to explain eat here or take home. Pointing seems to work for that too. When I got back to my room I could not wait to taste all the things that I had just gotten. This dish is so simple yet so amazing! The tastes are so complex. The rice was so warm and smooth, and the egg gave it a certain richness that only an egg could. Then when you add all the spices, which make the meal something completely different, you get all warm and cozy from the spiciness of the peppers and the heat of the rice. The liver is also so tasty.  This meal is a heavy meal and definitely good for the working population of Thailand. They eat this meal for breakfast to fill them up and get them ready for the workday. Chok is a meal that I eat as a staple to my Thai diet. It gets you going in the morning and makes you feel great for the entire day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The start of an Endless Love: Thai Food

Packaged, fresh coconut

Two four letter words, seemingly so simple, but with so much hidden behind them. Two words that mean so much. Thai food could never be just a simple joint of two words. Thai culture is a busy culture. People everywhere, cars and motorbikes speeding faster then you could ever imagine and a certain smell of something great around the corner is always lingering. There is always something to look at and never a chance to catch a break between running across insanely busy streets and wondering “is that Thai person staring at me because I have something on my face or is it just because I seem to be pretty damn white”.  And then there is the atmosphere and the land around you. Thailand is beautiful. It is lush, bright, and most of all hot. The landscape of Thailand, when out of the main cities, is something pictures can do no justice. You feel like you’re in a magical wonderland when exploring through the jungles and walking on the opaque beautiful white beaches. Thailand, not so simply put, is straight out of a book that you read when you were young, only imagining  a place so enchanting could exist.
Tasty Thai garlic

Once you get over the beauty that the landscape of Thailand brings you, you then have the basis of any culture and the true description of what it really means to be Thai, their food. Thai’s live by the food they eat; they do not just eat to live. It is a form of community, family and education to everyone. Every night Thai’s go to the market to “pick up’ their dinner, or to eat it at the stall they bought it from. Many Thai’s do cook on their own, but from my knowledge that seems to be a smaller population then the simplicity of being able to pick up your food, preferably on your motorbike, and drive it home.  Thai’s have very small living spaces in general. Mine is a one room, one bathroom “apartment”. No cooking appliances, no pots and definitely no way to cook up some delicious food for myself. So what should one do without a kitchen? Go to the market, a food stall, or a small restaurant, all day everyday.

Thai mint, so fresh
When thrown into a culture unlike anything that you have known all you life, it is hard to just be courageous and walk up to someone cooking food and say I want that. Especially when they do not understand a single word you are saying.  It comes down to one thin: not being too afraid to say the wrong thing. You have to be firm in knowing what you want. Point to the thing that you think looks good and hope that it’s not going to make you seriously sick. You can’t be afraid that you might eat some intestine, brain, ear, heart, liver, jelly fish, squid, bugs, the list could go on and on.  No matter what you order, someone, somewhere else has eaten it and most likely is still alive and definitely enjoyed it. Trust in the person making your food. They are there because they make great food, want to feed it to you, and to make money. But aren’t we all? Confidence is key when eating in Thailand. Yes, you will come across things you have never seen and probably will never see again but go with it! In the end you will appreciate the food and the culture more.

Small Thai peppers

Now there is a long debate of where farang (white people) should go to eat. Yes, there are upscale Thai restaurants that you can eat at but that’s not the to food I came to Thailand for not the food that’s going to show their culture the best. I came her to try new things, taste new flavors and have new stories. I say, stick with the places you see many locals eating at.  The market is your best bet when it comes to diversity. They have pretty much everything your “Thai” mind could imagine. Anything from rice topped with pork and a sweet whiskey sauce to noodle soup with dumplings and fried pork fat. You can also eat at a small restaurant, which usually tends to be home of the person who is cooking for you, on their bottom floor. The storefront opens up to the street and usually has a garage door to close up at night. These places either have anything and everything you could imagine or they stick to one thing like rice or noodles. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find a Chinese restaurant. They tend to be a little more expensive but definitely worth it. The fusion of flavors are unreal. Your last option to look for food is the random, dispersed but plentiful, food stalls on the side of the street. You can tell what they are making just by looking: buns, rice bowls, noodle bowls, dim sum, roti, and anything you can dream of on a skewer (more on that to come).  These are always good and always very quick, sometimes eating at a sit down place can seem like it takes days to get your food. These little food stalls have anything you want and can go anywhere you want. They tend to be on wheels, and are easily movable. All you need is your finger and the courage to point to whatever looks good. Most of these places have the prices somewhere on the stall. This helps you stay away from being overcharged, which does happen.

Dried Chilies
Anywhere you go you can expect to spend from 20 baht for something so simple as rice with some veggies to 200 baht for something very extravagant like a whole cooked fish skewered on a metal rod and spun around over coals. Remember 34 baht is 1 American dollar. Thai food is cheap and that’s why Thai’s go out to eat, but not to forget that its also of great quality and superior taste. Thai’s live to eat and their beautiful food proves that. Thailand is a place to come, eat and be happy and that is what I hope this blog shows. It’s not a display of the many things to go do or the many places to see but the many things to eat and the many places to eat it at. I want to show that there are foods normal to American standards but more so that the foods so far from what we know and that those foods should be the ones desired. Thai’s know good food and this will be my interpretation of it. 
Fresh caught snapper