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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

As usual, the Weekend Market at Chatuchak was hot, steamy, wet, smelly, and very crowded. But if you go accepting that fact, it is full of delights. This time though, we were visitors to Bangkok, and couldn’t buy anything that would be too bulky for our suitcases, or too breakable to take on the journey. And there were different items for sale – many more homewares and art than when I first visited.

That was back in March 1980, when the market was based at Sanam Luang (a large field over the road from the Grand Palace). It was my first full day in Bangkok, and it was overwhelming. Over that year, I visited the Weekend Market many times, usually wearing our school uniforms because then we could truly haggle (we’re only students, we have no money!). Then ten years later, when I returned to work at the New Zealand Embassy, we were regular visitors and took all our guests there too. I still have the table lamp and other items we bought there.

Fast forward another 18 years, and we were back at the market with friends who were working at the Embassy. We came across a large area selling crockery. Particularly interesting were some tiny, brightly-coloured cups (espresso-sized, I guess) and saucers. My friend fell in love with them, and she and I spent a long time choosing flawless cups and saucers (there were a lot of seconds in the large baskets) and mixing and matching the colours, without any duplication. The men wandered off. This was not their scene. They didn’t realise that these cups might influence their social life for decades.

“But really,” C said as she was sorting through the basket, and looking for a lime green saucer that would work with the splash of green on one cup, “what will I use the cups for? They’re so small.”

I had a brainwave. “You could use them for chocolate mousse, or soups for a fancy meal. You know, when you only need a couple of mouthfuls of soup because there are six more courses to come.” She loved the idea, and bought the cups and saucers. When she returned to New Zealand, and some years later bought a house that was made for entertaining, we remembered the idea of a fancy dinner. And so, our semi-annual/annual degustation dinners were born.

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#22 of Blogging with Friends

One of my happy places is the south of Thailand. I’ve long had this picture of myself (and The Husband) in an airy house on the side of a hill, high enough to get beautiful views of the Andaman Sea or perhaps Phang Nga Bay, with lots of little islands off in the distance, and facing west for sunsets. Being on a hill, we’ll get to see raging electrical storms too, which would thrill The Husband, and weather of all sorts, which I love to observe. But we’ll be close enough to clamber down some steps to the beach when we want some sea swimming or to feel sand between our toes. The house will be open and airy with lots of windows and covered decks for outdoor life, but well air-conditioned, because hey, this is in the tropics and the humidity can be crazy. There’s a swimming pool, obviously, and lush gardens full of bougainvillea and frangipane flowers, and the scent of jasmine (mali), of course too, wafted on gentle breezes.

There’s room for guests – maybe a separate guesthouse? – for friends and family. The perfect place for bloggers to come and write. It’s Thailand, so I’ll have someone to help cook, and they will make the most amazing Thai food, which I could live on forever. (Though given its location near a major tourist area, I know there’ll be plenty of international restaurants if I feel like a change, occasionally).

There’s an international airport nearby, to whisk me away (post-pandemic) to other exotic locales too, as the thought of staying anywhere forever without moving brings on severe claustrophobia. Maybe I could just keep it as a holiday home? Because I need to travel other places too, and there are many places in New Zealand where I could happily live. I have become accustomed to having a view, as since 1986 I’ve only lived for a few months in houses or apartments/hotels with no real view, so would find that hard to give up. There are so many choices. This question may come up in real life, thinking ahead to our retirement, and there are so many choices that I can’t face it right now. So I’ll just go back to my imaginary happy place, high on a hill with tropical sea breezes and gorgeous sunsets and a cocktail or two. Join me there?

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“There’s such joy in good simple food.” I said that to my blogging friend, Dona, this morning, on her daily delights blog. And with that, I knew what I was going to write about today.

Thai food is a real joy to me. When I first went to Thailand as a 17-year-old exchange student, I had never eaten Asian food. Rural New Zealand in the 1970s was not a place to find even Chinese food. I remember celebrating when our small town first got a burger truck. Food in Thailand was an adventure. We faced it with a bit of trepidation when we first arrived at a hostel where we spent a week’s orientation, learning a bit about the language and culture surrounding us. But as soon as I arrived with my host family, I fell in love with the food, cooked by my Thai mother and a maid. It was a revelation to me, and it is still my favourite cuisine. I had a lot of favourites, but one dish in particular was a dark, sweet, soup-like sauce with hard-boiled eggs. The sauce was phalo, and I knew the dish as Khai Phalo (Egg Phalo or ไข่พะโล้), but it can also be made with pork or chicken. I tried to make it once or twice when I got back to NZ, but without success. (I do make Thai curries once every one or two weeks though.)

I can’t remember specifically eating it when I lived in Thailand for three years, and so I hadn’t eaten phalo again until our trip to South Australia, when we stayed in a small village in the middle of the famous wine-making Barossa Valley, and found a Thai restaurant just down the street from the old stone cottage. It was the first time I’d seen it on a Thai restaurant menu outside of Thailand, and I was overjoyed. They made it with eggs and pork belly. It was amazing. Just a week or so ago, I hunted up a recipe that sounded right. I searched out fresh coriander with plenty of roots attached (coriander root is a critical ingredient in many Thai dishes), and made it. It transported me back to the dinner table in the garden of the house in Navatanee village on the edges of Bangkok, and the delicious food we ate there.

Then last night, because I still had some coriander bunches left, I decided to make my favourite picnic food. I soaked the glutinous rice overnight, then steamed it, as they do in the north and northeast of Thailand. It became perfectly sticky rice – which actually isn’t sticky at all. You can roll it into a ball in your hands, and it doesn’t stick to your fingers at all. It soaks up sauces perfectly, and has a unique flavour. I love it. To go with the sticky rice, I marinated some boneless chicken thighs in a paste made of mashed coriander root and stems, garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic for several hours, before barbecuing it until it was nice and charred. It was classic gai yang, or barbecued chicken, that you can find on roadside stalls all over Thailand, and the best I’ve ever made it. And I steamed some veges and made a Thai dressing with lime juice, nam pla (fish sauce) coriander stems and root, and a bit of sugar. The papaya salad (somdum) that would normally go with khao neeo (sticky rice) and gai yang (barbecued chicken) isn’t possible here, as I just almost never see papaya for sale, let alone green papaya that is essential for the salad. I adore somdum, and miss it, but at least the dressing I made was reminiscent of it.

Two meals that were transformed from mere fuel into a walk down memory lane made me so happy. It has been eight years since we were last in Thailand, and we had been planning going this year, but a global pandemic put paid to that idea. Still, if I can’t go there physically, maybe I can keep trying to recreate it in my kitchen.

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