Thailand

Eating our way through Thailand

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“It is better to travel than to arrive” – Buddha

Hello dear readers. I hope 2015 started off on an eventful and refrigerator magnet clinging polaroid worthy note. My apologies if you were expecting a post on the ritual festivities buzz, list of must-visits and menus to choose from during the winter holidays.
You see, I had disappeared for a while with my partner in crime, t-shirt lender, best friend, roommate and husband (in no particular order) to the land of hom mali rice, coconut milk, giant river prawns, durians ad infinitum. It was revitalizing to catch up on lost time together, meet a few old friends along the way, make new ones at each destination and above all, spend some quality time with each other. Nonetheless, there were hints being dropped on Instagram and Facebook to keep that channel of communication with you all alive.

Thailand had so much to offer and it’s a shame that we only had a little over a week on our hands. Our trail comprised spots such as Bankok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Laos. Unlike my other posts, this one is going to be a tad different. I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking (or writing in this case) because words are just not enough to sum up this adventure. This was my first visit to Thailand and I’d figured I tailor a food post rather than a conventional travel and food post. Scroll down and let the food journey commence.

Catch of the day in spicy sauce with a bit of magic on the side. Max’s Magical Thai Food will not fail to impress. Restaurateur Max himself performs tricks and illusions that will leave you wanting for more. Our friend got to keep a souvenir thanks to this – the ace of hearts, which was pulled out of the deck of cards, vanished into thin air and was later pulled out of an iPhone. The kaffir lime leaves was a brilliant addition to the dish.

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In case you were wondering where insect flour comes from, well, here are the insects themselves. Fried to a crisp. Apparently edible. Did I have any? Keep guessing.

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The Banzaan Fresh Market (Phuket) takes the farmers’ market to a whole new level. Crates of poultry, seafood and vegetables (in separate sections of course) were aligned in a manner that not just sparks curiosity but also results in an engaging conversation with the chefs and fishermen. From suspiciously calm lobsters, to impatient catfish and everything in between- the seafood section sure was busy. A menu is conveniently placed beside every aisle to help you pick your style of preparation, cooking and sides as well. Stocks seemed to move pretty fast over here thanks to the crowd

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Banzaan Fresh Market – Phuket .Lobsters. Carp. Shrimps. Clams. Mostly alive and may pack a powerful pinch / bite. There was a lot going on here so I’d politely declined the seafood pad thai and continued looking for other options.

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As harmless as they may seem, this troupe of mantis shrimps are not to be underestimated. Their little pincers can crack open a clam, with class.

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Variants of marinated skewered portions of poultry and meat to choose from (also known as satay). The marinade includes soy sauce, curry paste, condensed milk, lemongrass and peanut sauce or fish sauce. There’s a separate section for pork products as well.

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The spread from the grills.

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The Thai food experience is not complete without a good helping of pad thai. You’ll be able to discern ingredients like fish sauce, tamarind and sometimes even tofu.

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Roasted servings of calamari are a great accompaniment. This was taken during our stay in Phuket.
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Kap klaem, or dishes meant to be enjoyed with spirits include sun dried squid. This one seen here was taken in Bankok.

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The beef noodle soup is quite popular in Bankok and other parts of Thailand. The clear soup version can be a bit bland unless you add some spicy (or sweet) sauce to it.

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Jungceylon Shopping Mall in Phuket had some hidden gems too. It’s a contrast to the rest of the terrain, as is expected to be of most malls. These multi-flavoured macarons were hard to resist. They even had durian flavoured ones.

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Green tea and coconut flavoured softie? Why yes please!

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Keep the sultry weather at bay with some ‘cha-yen’ or Thai iced tea. Sometimes spices like star anise may be added along with evaporated milk or condensed milk. When it comes to ice or crushed ice, it’s advised to avoid consuming any from street vendors.

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Halfway Inn, Patong, Phuket goes all the way to the top not just with their food but with their hospitality as well. Dave, an enterprising and captivating restaurateur welcomed us along with his bug eyed Shitzu pup, Freddie, almost as though he was expecting us. Joy, the manager too joined us after a while and the warm approach was what struck me first. Dave’s wife Nan (Thai food wizard) is the heart of this restaurant. Dave had given me a tour of the small yet well managed kitchen and it was an experience in and of itself to watch Nan in action as she was preparing five dishes at the same time. It’s a good thing she remembers to breathe! Halfway Inn has plenty to offer even for SCUBA enthusiasts. This sports bar will NOT disappoint.

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I liked Nan’s crab recipe particularly because the of the unrefined approach. Flavor bombs that were planted beneath the crab’s shell detonated on contact. Casualties included tourists from UAE, USA, India and Vietnam. Reports confirm that the guests had an amazing time and definitely would come back for more.

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The dishes are made to order and some of them can be customized as well based on the savor palette’s preference. The fusion of sauces in this mixed seafood dish is quite praise worthy.

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Dave expressed how hard it is to find the right talent in Thailand as most culinary schools tend to ‘polish’ what is intended to be ‘raw’. Knowledge and skills that have been passed down for generations are not only hard to find but even harder to maintain. Take the classical yellow curry for instance – a local would know right away when the dish tastes a tad different. Fusions are great, but traditional works of art are even better. Halfway Inn is a restaurant that I would highly recommend to any diner visiting Phuket. Add this to your bucket list.

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En route James Bond island – a pit stop at the floating village called Koh Panyee. Residents have high tolerance levels to motion sickness and children swim to school (just kidding).

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Tender coconuts are found in plenty and are really refreshing. They seem to taste a lot better than the ones from Maldives, India or Oman.

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Captured in Laos: This 14 year old makes hand pulled noodles look as easy as eating noodles. Watch this shy yet talented lad in action here

Captured in Laos: Kanom Krok – Coconut-Rice Pancakes The cast iron pans have been specifically designed to create these tiny mounds of pancakes that goes well with some local coffee.

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And that’s how they roll. Coconut-Rice pancakes in the making. The pan is usually seasoned with peanut oil.

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Speaking of pancakes, a common tourist take-away are the pancakes made using Thai roti, choice of fruits (usually mangoes and bananas) and a generous layer of chocolate.

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Viola! That’s what the finished pancakes look like. My apologies for not sharing. I wasn’t programmed to share desserts though.

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When you think desserts in Thailand, the first thing that would come to your mind is sticky rice and mangoes (Khao Niaow Ma Muang). Variants can be created (visually) through food colouring though they all taste the same. You can see how coconut milk plays a very important role in Thai cuisine.

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The open market in Chiang Mai had so much to offer. Though quails are usually appetizing, it’s a tad too small to be considered a main (for me).

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Chiang Mai Night: Sugarcane juice pairing.

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Chiang Mai night: Straw mushrooms and white jelly fungi were employed in various dishes.

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Chiang Mai Night: Mushroom omelettes with sprouts. What a brilliant combination!

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Chiang Mai Night: Mushrooms wrapped in ham and grilled. These go best with chili sauce and peanuts

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Chiang Mai Night: Mochi ice cream to show some Japanese influence.

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Chiang Mai Night: Grilled squid with a touch of Taiwan. Satay is the way to go after a long day.

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Lesson learned so far – No one is here to judge you.

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Chiang Mai Night: Grass Jelly (chao kuai) with some information on how to use it. Goes well with jack-fruit.

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Chiang Mai Night: Satay galore.

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Laos goes exotic: Spirits made with extracts from cobras, geckos and ginseng.

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Laos goes exotic: You could also take a bottle with you home, provided the customs check won’t deprive you of it.

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Don’t fancy seafood? How about a fish spa? The doctor fish (as they are popularly called) made me realize that the soles of my feet are really sensitive, because of which I barely lasted a minute with my feet submerged in that tank. My husband, however, managed to flaunt a pair of feet that felt like a baby’s bottom following the fish spa. Le sigh.

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Before I conclude this post, I thought it would be a good idea to mention that personal safety should be a priority, especially when you’re vacationing in a foreign country. Here are a few pointers that might come in handy in case you spin the globe and it happens to stop at Thailand:

Carry small change
You’re not going to seem like the popular kid on the block if you’ve asked a vendor to slice a mango and exchange it for a thousand baht bill. A frown will follow shortly. Guaranteed.

When one tap opens, another will explode:
The weather sure can get sultry sometimes. Bearing that in mind, please carry a bottle of water with you instead of resorting to tap water. Sometimes, the sources of water can be questionable, especially when it comes to ice from street vendors.

The ATM spit out money..and cards:
Thailand’s dotted with ATMs at convenient locations. When you’re eagerly waiting to pull out the crisp currencies, please don’t forget to take your ATM card as well.

R is for respect:
Temple tours are great as long as you dress appropriately. Ladies (and gentle men), short shorts is a no no.

The more the locals the merrier:
Thailand will leave you spoiled for choices when it comes to dining out, especially within the street food spectrum. If you happen to notice a good mix of tourists and locals at a spot, then orient your compass towards that location. It may be easy to fool the tourists, but a local will not respond positively to a gimmick. There are safe ways of enjoying (and delivering) street food – I have seen it and experienced it. That’s why I’m writing about it.

 

And on that note, it’s time for me to check on the satay cooking in the background.

 

 

Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian

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