The telling signs of inching over from the convenient grey zone called food-lover, into the red zone, clearly marked glutton, are many. While we have long surpassed the baby steps of making mealtimes the highlight of every day, and growing and outgrowing clothes, the heights of it were noticed when we planned our vacation to Thailand. And we realised what a centrepiece Thai food was in the melange of sun, sand, sea, sleep and solitude.
In the run up to the holiday, my head swirled with thoughts of creamy Thai coconut curries and zingy Satays. I was going to finally experience Thai food, in Thailand. Hot Thai chillies, tangy tamarind, a burst of palm sugar, a big, bold hit of Thai ginger, earthy Thai basil, beansprouts, tofu and crunchy greens. In my head I had already had some serious foodgasms, a hundred times over.
But it was not until our first meal in Bangkok, that I realised just how distant my Indian interpretation of Thai food is, from the real deal, Thai style. And that first late lunch, after a long and oddly-timed journey was the perfect teaser to whet our appetites for what was to come.
No market visit is complete without some fresh food. And in a sense, the scene just outside Chatuchak, reminded me a lot of a traditional south Indian market. Where pavements are lined with stalls, covered in bright tarp, with steamy flavours wafting all around. Except there, happy Thai men and women dish out a set assortment of 5-6 typically Thai dishes that are all assembled in under five minutes. If I were to call the colours and the people the highlight of my visit to Chatuchak, the memories of lunch at a shack just outside the market are not far behind. Just as colourful, our lunch was fast, fresh and unbelievably flavourful. On every table is a basket of beansprouts, assorted greens, and a set of condiments to give that Thai punch to anything you order.
There was the customary Pad Thai noodles.
Rice noodles with choice of chicken, prawns or squids, stir-fried in a hot wok with fish sauce, tamarind sauce and Thai condiments like crushed peanuts, fried garlic, chives, lime, spicy chili powder and a dash of sugar. Top it up with crunchy beansprouts and scallions and you’re good to go. And if you’re like the husband, you will insist on having it with chopsticks, because when in Rome, he likes to do as the Romans do and all that jazz.
The best part about my Thai food experience was that pretty much everything I ate of the street was clean and honest. And everything felt as healthy as it was filling. I’d think I’ve eaten a sumptuous meal of Pad Thai, only to be hungry in just a couple of hours.
The husband can strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. A skill that comes in handy when you want the inside scoop on anything. So he pulled on his charming face and asked the young Thai couple seated adjacent to us, what the next best thing on the menu was. Turned out it was a delicate, clear meat broth with noodles and meatballs, lightly spiced and topped with cilantro. Gaeng Jued, as I later discovered it was called, is just the kind of one-pot-meal one would crave on a rainy day.
What we were late to notice was this energetic woman who was whipping up some awesomely fragrant Raw Papaya Salad. Tragic, because I was pretty stuffed, or I would have packed some of it in. But I made up for it by having a portion of Papaya Salad at every alternate meal. If I weren’t worried about having a citrus OD, I’d have had it at every meal, and if news had reached anyone back home, they’d be convinced I was preggers.
The husband was lusting at this Thai BBQ meat stall, wishing we had seen it sooner than darting straight into the first Pad Thai place we spotted.
Walking out, market sights still boggled my mind. We wandered around for a while longer as I continued click-clicking. This little girl pick the perfect set of soap bubble makers, shying away from asking for exactly what she wanted.
A memory card full of pictures, a bag full of knick-knacks and a belly full of food, we stumbled out of Chatuchak and back on to the sky train to make our way back to Sukhumvit. Food-wise, the day had set the tone for the rest of the trip.