November 24, 2011
22 days in Thailand
Ohh, it’s been such a long time since I’ve written, and here I am still dreaming of Thailand and food. In 2011 David and I visited the island of Koh Maak and the ruins in the town of Sukhotai in Thailand. We wanted to experience a normal, “non-touristy” place so we took a bus to the small, ordinary town of Nan in the northeast of the country. It had one major drawback. No tourists, no English.
The guesthouse last night was terrible. This is the first time I’ve caught the Lonely Planet Guide books not doing their research. I don’t think this family had rented their guesthouse in months. It was quite humorous however. I tried to brush my teeth only to discover that my feet were getting wet. The drain pipe from the sink ended at the floor.
This morning David is looking for a new place and practicing driving a rented motorcycle. I get too nervous. I sit in a restaurant to wait, but the waitress doesn’t know what to do with me. She hasn’t seen many tourists and doesn’t understand even my gestures. Finally, I point to soup the man next to me has for breakfast. No problem! She brings my soup right over.
The Ice man comes into the restaurant carrying a big bag on his shoulder. He looks 16 but is probably about 30. Strikingly handsome, he smiles broadly. To my surprise, he has braces. Thai people smile much–pretty teeth are important. Many American jobs/companies have come here, and the Thai people are becoming more affluent.
Today is Thanksgiving in America. Sitting in the restaurant, I feel lonely far from home on a holiday. I try to hide my sniffles and tears, but the waitress sees me crying. She must have told the others. People are all looking at me and laughing at farang foreigner who, they assume, can’t handle the spicy soup. I’m not crying because the soup is too hot. I miss my family. Traveling offers many chances to learn lessons; lots of surprises and opportunities to practice patience. Travel takes flexibility, but today mine is all gone.
David arrives. The “nice man” next to me points to the waitress. “More soup.” David and I got lost in town last night. I think rumor had it that the farangs tourists were a little kooky. I think the restaurant lady called her friend who speaks English. She comes in big Chevrolet just when we need her. She says, “where do you need to go? You can follow me on the motorbike. I’ll take you there.” Thai people are so thoughtful. Sometimes you only need one word to say, “Kahp kun kah” Thank you.
November 25, 2011
The Music of Morning
Waking up in our new guesthouse, I feel rested and relaxed. It is an old traditional house built of teakwood with a steep slanting roof that creaks and crackles in the wind. The place is impeccably clean. Our bed has Disney “Little Mermaid” sheets. Go figure !
In the distance the town dogs begin their day barking and doves coo nearby. I am wide awake enjoying the dawn light streaming through the open window of our guest house in this “untouristy” town of Nan. The neighbor’s back yard is close and full of vegetation. He (my neighbor for a week) stands directly below having his morning cigarette, about 8 feet from where I am looking through the window, observing his little plot of garden. There are four green papayas on a tree and several bananas on another one, their pointed green tips upside down growing toward the sky. I’m half a world away from home starting my day with a stranger who doesn’t see me. We stand together doing what I do every morning –watching our gardens grow.
Someone, I assume his wife, enters their kitchen which is also less than 10 feet or so from my window. Chop! Chop! Chop!! Sharp staccato sounds on a wooden cutting board; then the rhythm crescendos to tiny quick movements of mincing –onions? garlic?
The wok comes clanging out of a cupboard and clatters onto a burner. SSSSS! The sizzle of hot oil. Liquids sear as they’re poured into the wok—the sound of a wooden spoon on metal. Still sleeping, my husband’s light snuffle/snore provides the background beat of this breakfast melody.
The old teakwood deck talks as my neighbor meanders back into his kitchen and slams the screen door. Dishes clink as they are taken down from the cupboard. I can’t see them, but I hear snippets of conversation (in Thai) and the tinkle of teacups onto saucers. I imagine soup spoons scraping delicate porcelain bowls and a slight slurping sound (to get those noodles in one’s mouth). The smell comes drifting through the window to confirm my nose’s suspicions–taking a deep breath is such pleasure. The scent of warm broth, garlic, lime, fish sauce and lemon grass floats throughout our room.
Though I haven’t actually eaten and I don’t speak their language, I feel my neighbors and I have shared a meal together. I like this intimacy of living so close; the music of their lives drifting through our window.
Their dishes are stacked together. The kitchen is quiet except for the ubiquitous sound of chatty Thai TV. My husband is finally awake. It’s time to walk up to the main street noodle shop for a good Asian breakfast and another day of eating and adventures.
In Thailand, as in much of Asia, breakfast is a bowl of steaming noodle soup. It often contains strips of beef or pork, sometimes chicken or tofu. It might also contain egg, chopped green onions, mung sprouts, cilantro or parsley and a host of things I don’t recognize. Ubiquitous fish sauce smells nauseating but adds an intense saltiness to the flavor. It’s available in most Asian sections of the grocery and will last a long time in the refrigerator. The salty taste is balanced by limes, ground peanuts and hot little peppers. It’s a warm and nurturing meal first thing in the morning.
We, here in the states, have something similar in the form of packaged Top Ramen noodles but, more likely, would eat this as an afternoon snack or lunch.
It’s so easy to make a much more nutritious version of “Top Ramen”. Only takes a few minutes, I added chopped chard from my garden and grated carrots to replace all the unrecognizable vegetables in Asia and used leftover chicken from the night before.or cubed tofu.
In Thailand this soup is offered with several condiments on the table that can be added however one wants– usually fish sauce, small dried chilies, quartered limes, and chopped peanuts. Make it vegetarian by using soy instead of fish sauce, tofu, and/or adding an egg. Warm soup for breakfast is so much more satisfying than milky, sweet cereals in the morning. I think it’s my favorite discovery in Asia.
These quantities are guesses. You will want to adjust to your liking.
Thai Noodle Soup
Half package of Annie Chun’s Rice Noodles, cooked separately and drained
Two cloves garlic
About one teaspoon grated ginger
Four cups vegetable or chicken broth (store bought cubes work fine)
Two Cups water
About three quarters cup chicken, pork, or cubed tofu
About two cups chopped chard or kale
Four to six mushrooms, sliced (optional)
One carrot grated
Pinch of hot chili peppers (or finely chop half of a jalapeño )
One or two sticks of lemon grass, finely chopped like a green onion
(you may need to remove one outer layer of skin)
One to two teaspoons Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
Six finely chopped green onions
Juice of half a lime
Two generous handfuls of Mung bean sprouts
Salt and pepper to taste
One half cup chopped cilantro
Cut up limes, cilantro, peanuts, and additional hot chillis
Add rice noodles to a pan of boiling water. Boil (following package directions) four to five minutes stirring occasionally. Drain and set aside.
Chop the green onion, garlic, chicken or tofu, chard, carrot and mushrooms. Add all these ingredients to the water and broth simmering in a soup pot or small wok. Add the fish sauce, chilies, ginger and lime juice; continue simmering until chicken is cooked. Add the cooked noodles and stir into the mixture. After turning off the heat add a generous handful of mung sprouts and finely chopped cilantro.
Small bowls of extra lime, more chilies, cilantro, and peanuts ground in the food processor allows each person to flavor to their own intensity. Serves two to three hungry people.