Friday, August 28, 2009

Everything We Ate in Thailand

Has it seriously been over 2 months since our last update? Well I can safely say that for the first time since we moved here that the whirlwind of our lives is finally starting to die down, so hopefully we can finally start to be more consistent in our posting.

The wedding went fantastically and, almost immediately afterward, we left for Thailand for our 10-day honeymoon. I think we did about as much as humanly possible over that time, including riding an elephant through the jungle, snorkeling, getting massages, shopping, and of course eating!

Our trip went through three pretty diverse areas in Thailand-- Bangkok (the capital), Chiang Mai (the northern hill country), and Phuket (the southern beaches)-- which allowed us to get a taste of many of the different types of cuisines that Thailand has to offer. Like many of you, we were pretty familiar with what Thai food is like in America (pad thai, curry, maybe a little chuchee if feeling adventurous) so we were eager to see how it compares to what food is really like in Thailand. Here are some of the things we found:

We ate a lot of street food while in Bangkok. It was quick and easy (and cheap!) to get while we were out either shopping and looking at sights. Unsurprisingly, the most prominent street food concession was pad thai, and it was literally everywhere. This was no doubt to feed the hungry hordes of farang (foreigners) that were also everywhere. For 20 baht (about 60 cents) you got a cooked-to-order plate of noodles and egg and a pair of bamboo skewers to use as chopsticks. But in addition to the usual favorites (we also had plenty of satay sticks and banana pancakes - yum!), the street vendors also offered some other exotic fare as well, such as dried squid (pictured left). The street carts would have racks of whole squid for you to choose, and the cart owner would run the squid through a wringer to flatten it before grilling it over a charcoal grill.

Not to be outdone were all the fruit carts that also lined the streets of Bangkok. Our guide book warned us not to eat fruit that had already been cut, but we did have plenty of longans and ranbutans on our trip. The bananas in Thailand are smaller but sweeter than they are in America.

In Chinatown we had a meal of grilled river prawns (pictured right) which we thought were pretty impressive (until we got to Phuket anyways) but it was pretty delicious nonetheless.

Chiang Mai
Northern Thai food, as we understand is more influenced by the neighboring Laotian and Burmese cultures. Food here has less coconut milk and more spices, and everything is generally more sour, fermented, and dried.

We got a pretty good taste of it when we saw a kantoke show, which is a little bit like a Thai luau -- traditional northern Thai dinner with traditional northern Thai dancing. The dinner consisted of some curries, pickled vegetables, fried chicken (?), and something that tasted like pork rinds but looked like curly fries. Han asked if they were the pigs' tails. I told her no, but I'm not actually sure.

Chiang Mai was also where we got our first taste of som tam (pictured right). This is a dish that is very common in Thailand but seems to be less common in American Thai restaurants. It is a salad made with unripened papayas, carrots, and tomatoes. At first glance, it seems to be a cool refreshing pre-meal appetizer. In reality, it is hot as all hell, and one of the spiciest dishes you can order. We also tried a dish called larb, or lahb, which was ground pork that was also incredibly spicy. In the southern province, this dish is sometimes served in a hollowed out head of lettuce. At the place we ate it in Chiang Mai though, it just came accompanied by a side of sticky rice in a bamboo basket.

But the best part of Chiang Mai, and my favorite part about Thailand as a whole, was that we took a cooking class and learned how to cook some Thai dishes. It was a great experience and a lot of fun. We learned about all the different types of ingredients and how to pick them out. The dishes we learned to cook were: spring rolls, som tam, pad thai, tom yum soup, and green curry chicken. We were definitely surprised by how well they turned out and how good our dishes looked. Pictured to the left is Han displaying our spring rolls. Look how good they look! We'll hopefully have some posts up soon about the recipes we learned. They're not very difficult at all.

Phuket was probably our least favorite place to visit (too commercialized and expensive!) but it was beautiful and was our favorite food location. Every dish we ordered had giant pieces of seafood pulled fresh from the ocean. And though it was expensive we saw some of the most exotic (and delicious) shellfish we had ever seen. Here were some of our favorite:

Mantis Shrimp

Tiger Prawn

Thai Lobster - we calculated the guy on the left to cost over $120, and someone actually ordered him (or her)!

But wait there's more!
Before we end this post, I did want to share pictures of our most... peculiar... eating experience in Thailand. At the Sunday Walking Street market in Chiang Mai, there was a stand selling stir-fried insects, including grasshoppers, cicadas, silk worms, and somethin called a mackerel. Han decided to buy a bag, and for as much as she complained about how gross it was, she ate the entire bag!