3rd part here
I’m in Thailand the day martial law is declared: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been ousted by the military and the TV in the airport is flashing images of tanks on the streets and soldiers brandishing machine guns. I’m anxious about the political situation but all is quiet and relatively normal. It’s a holiday and shops are open. People are milling about like nothing’s happened. I overhear an Indonesian colleague of my Bin saying: “My god, the Thais are such a peaceful people. If there had been a coup in Indonesia, people would be protesting and burning tires in the streets!”
Seeing that I won’t have to resort to lounging beside the pool, I’m out of the hotel and on to the BST or Sky Train, the city’s extremely efficient mode of mass transportation. Thailand is roughly the size of France (514,000 square kilometers), possessing a wide range of topography. The largely benign climate blesses the country with a wide range of spectacular fruits and vegetables. Truly, the produce here is eye-catching and mouth-dropping: custard apples (atis) larger than a man’s fist and with hardly any seeds to boot; mangoes that look like small papayas; fresh dates still on their stems; and durian still in its thorny shell or peeled and being sold in plastic wrap.
I’m in love with durian, and I daresay that it’s my favorite fruit, much to the chagrin of my Bin. He stays far away from me as I ascend to delirious heights while eating it. Custardy and soft, the fruit has undertones of cinnamon and just a whiff of citrus.
The best tom yum goong in Bangkok
Eating is my main reason for traveling, along with immersing myself in the country’s foodstuff and seeing how it’s prepared. My first dinner in Bangkok is with my Bin’s colleagues, several of whom are Filipino expats. Eating with the “locals” is the best, and tonight they take us to Home Kitchen, a popular Thai restaurant.
tom yum goong soup
The diverse glories of Thai cooking are influenced by China, India, and even Persia and Portugal. The country’s cooking varies by region, much like the Philippines and all share a memorably olfactory appeal. I swoon upon first sniff of the tom yum goong, a familiar Thai soup lashed with lemongrass, chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal (a member of the ginger family). The soup is served in a pot similar to what is used for shabu-shabu; simultaneously hot, sour, and cool, I’m silent after each sip. Immensely flavorful food deserves that.
While pad Thai is a ubiquitous dish, it’s often difficult to ascertain whether I’m eating something authentic. But one bite of this dish leaves no question ”“ replete with barely limp rice flour noodles, it’s a meal in itself with the bean sprouts, shrimps, tofu, and crushed peanuts. There’s an almost overwhelming but pleasant taste of lime accentuated by the sauce made from palm sugar, fish sauce (patis), and tamarind pulp. The big-flavor lover in me is lovin’ this.
I think of my dad whenever I eat oyster omelette because it’s his favorite dish. Unlike the usual eggy concoction, an oyster omelette has two types of flour added to it — tapioca and rice, which gives the omelette some bite. There’s also more oil added and seasoning to boost flavor. The oysters are plump, every bite a shower of brine and seawater.
Just like Filipinos, the Thais have a predilection for sauces. This little group here is waiting for us at the table, ready to be mixed and matched with the food. There’s nam pla, similar to the Philippines’ native patis; nam prik, its spicier version, chili sauce; and pickled cabbage to ease the burn.
I’m also enamored with the saucer of tiny Thai limes. They look like our native calamansi but these are lighter in color with less seeds.
One sour dish follows another as the crispy catfish is served. Flaked and fried in a lattice, the green mango salad on top is a zingy partner to the crunch of the fish.
And speaking of fish, it’s easy to be awed by the fried fish in chili-lime sauce. Sliced in sections so it “butterflies” when fried, it’s speckled with minced finger chilies and large garlic chunks. It’s deceivingly harmless: it’s crispy, firm-fleshed, sweet, and then… SPICY! Every bite renders a succession of mini explosions in my mouth, but it’s so good I can’t stop eating it even though my brain is screaming, “HELLO?!! We need water here!” Soon, my nose is running, my saucer-large eyes are watering, the top of my head is sweating ”“ I’m frolicking in satanically spicy ecstasy and crying at the sheer deliciousness of this dish. This is a kitchen out of control.
To be continued…
Part 2 here
94 Langsuan Road, Lumpini
Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel: 0-2253-1888 / 0-2254-9888
Open daily, 8 am ”“12 midnight