Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet Dreams of Thai Cuisine

It's 3:14 a.m., and here I sit, typing. This is no way to conquer jet lag. But right now my body thinks it's 6:14 the coming night, and it is, at least it is in Thailand. I was awake at this hour the night before, too. And the night before that.

Jet lag is a bitch.

My minister sympathizes but reminds me: "Epiphanies come in the early morning hours. I think that is why monastics get up at 3 a.m. to pray." I'm sure she's onto something, but at this moment there's nothing more profound going through my head than how much I'd like to find a 24-hour Thai restaurant and have a big bowl of tom kha gai, a super-charged soup made of chicken and coconut milk. It's flavored with the Holy Trinity of Thai cuisine: lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. None of these items has an adequate substitute, and while there are plenty of Thai restaurants here in the Los Angeles area, unless the ingredients are really fresh, the soup pales in comparison to what you find in the land where it was created.
Bubbling and fragrant when it arrives at the table,
one pot of tom kha gai and the world is at the rights...
Ah, the glories of Thai cuisine--and the Thai spirit. A people who understand the value of a well turned out meal as a way to show warmth and hospitality are a fine people indeed. Note that I didn't say an expensive meal. Or fancy, although Thai presentation is some of the most glorious I've ever seen. Cooks think nothing of placing fresh orchids on about every dish they prepare!
These scallops were served on their shells, atop of tiny beds of rice noodles and smothered in a sauce that was rich and bold--and hot!
Thailand's food is amazing in its variety, flavor and freshness. I've certainly never had so much excellent seafood so well prepared, with such attention to the balance of the five flavors in every dish: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and spicy (hot).
This poor guy doesn't stand a chance--
we'll lay waste to him as soon as I lower down the camera...
Food is typically served family style, and people casually serve each other's plates whether they're asked to or not. It's possible to sit at table and discuss nothing but the food, which is a welcome relief from world news and the heat, which is what necessitates all those spicy dishes. It's nature's quite efficient way of cooling us.
A fixture at every meal is a tray of assorted fruits, all cut up and ready for nibbling.
Dessert in Thailand is typically an array of the freshest fruit you can imagine. When fruit is this sweet and good--and plentiful--it makes me want to forsake lesser forms of dessert. It serves a dual function of finishing off the meal with a light sweetness while aiding digestion. Smart.

More on all of this later. I have hundreds of photos to paw through and a notebook filled with scrawlings about my experiences and impressions. And sleep to recover. I must toddle back to bed now, before Himself stirs and, realizing I'm not there, comes in to check on me. And we both talk about Thai food until the sun comes up.

In the coming days I'll recall more of what I want to share about the food on this trip. Please indulge me any unfocused ramblings that I'd like to put down to jet lag but know could well be my enthusiasm for the subject matter. I was already a cheerleader for Thai food, but having visited the source for this amazing cuisine, I'm nothing short of giddy on the topic now.

Good night, sweet dreams and if you eat before I do, bon appetit!

***The obligatory disclaimer: I went to Thailand as a guest of Thai Tourism Authority. That said, I'm not interested in urging you to stay at particular hotels or to dine at particular establishments or to seek out specific amusements. But rather to enjoy the cuisine, whether you dine in Thailand or in a Thai restaurant in your hometown. And to take a crack at making Thai dishes yourself. There's much to love about a cuisine so varied and flavorful.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Sorry to hear jet lag is taking such a toll on you, but I can't wait to read more about your trip soon! Nothing like tasty travels.