I think it could be said that Thailand just got dumb lucky when it came to food development. They just happened to situated in a prefect geographical location to combine the regions spices, tropical gifts, and seafood that make Thai food the most perfectly balanced food in the world. Now I am not saying that it is the “best” food in the world, that would be a subjective opinion that is impossible to make as a statement. Plus how could you argue that Italy doesn’t have a “best” dish on its day, or France, or Japan. What I am saying is that when you grade the food on balance of taste there just isn’t much that can stand up to an amazing Thai curry. There are not many other dishes in the world where every bite stimulates taste buds without numbing them. Every taste of a Thai curry is like the first, how is that possible? Maybe someday a gastro-scientist can explain this to me, but in the end I don’t really care why it happens, I am just happy that it does.
I figured an entire post should be devoted to the food Scotty and I ate in South East Asia between northern Thailand and Laos. Travel is truly enjoyable when you look forward to eating everyday and never get tired of eating the same type of food over the duration of the trip.
So here we go!
When I first arrived, Scotty took me to get spring rolls and Pad Thai from one of the many street food carts on Khao San Road in Bangkok. This type of dish isn’t really eaten by the locals and is really for the throngs of international travelers. A great snack though, and at around $1-2 USD a good little bargain.
This is one of the first meals I had in Thailand. Upper left is spring rolls with ham. Upper right is a red curry, which I think is probably the best dish in Thailand, although I’m sure I would get an argument out of many for this distinction. To the lower left is basil noodles, these where amazing because the basil is fried and crunchy then mixed with noodles and steamed veggies.
This was at the restaurant that Scotty’s friend Duncan took us to. It has been around forever and is a family run joint in the heart of the business and high end district of Bangkok. Their specialty was cockles, or little fresh water clams. These where drowned in an oyster sauce and where delicious. The other dish is a prawn salad which came up a distant second compared to the cockles.
So, After I first posted this entry, a friend from the USA wrote a comment that a colleague of his knew of this restaurant and gave him the name. Its is called Yong Lee Restaurant. So there you go, ask and you shale receive!
Yellow Curry and some kind of soup I ordered that I can’t remember the name of now. The soup was for like 2-3 people. Of course I ate almost all of it myself. Look how fat I am in the picture below. Good thing I got a nasty stomach parasite half way through Laos and that helped me take off a few pounds….it also almost killed me. You know when people sometimes wish they had a parasite to help them loose weight, guess what, you really, really don’t want one.
This is easily the spiciest thing I have ever eaten. We where in Northern Thailand, near Chang Mai. It was probably about 102 degrees (39 C) and we where sitting around a shallow lake at this cool little bungalow style restaurant. When I ate this, I almost choked. I started to get dizzy and my ears actually puckered. I couldn’t talk, think, move or do anything at all. The dish tasted great though!
This was a nice little appetizer that we where shown at the Thai cooking course we took. It is beetle nut leaves, with diced ginger, roasted peanuts, roasted garlic, lime, shallot, and green (bomb) chillies. You fold it all up in the beetle nut leaves, drizzle a little sesame oil sauce over it and enjoy.
What makes the curries so good in Thailand? Well for me it is the perfect balance of the spice of the curry powder/paste with the sweetness of the base. Sometimes its just added sugar, but most times it is the coconut milk/paste that is added to make the Thai curries more soupy than that of there Indian counterparts. I think this is where the perfection occurs. The fact that Thailand had the tropical coast lines to support coconut, with the proximity to India for the spices was the geographical dumb luck that everyone in the world is now fortunate enough to enjoy.
The masaman curry is less soupy than some of the other curries. It is also sweeter and therefor less spicy. This might be my favorite dish.
This is Laap that I had in the northern city of Pai in Thailand. It is actually the national dish of Laos I found out later. It is made by dicing up meat like beef, chicken, pork or even fish. It is then cooked with mild spices and tossed with fresh mint. I have to say that the mint is magical, it gives the dish this great fresh flavor that will keep you coming back. The rice shown in this picture is brown rice, but in Laos we would often eat our meals with sticky rice, which is exactly what it sounds like. The rice sticks together and you roll it between your fingers and eat the balled up rice with you main dish.
This red chicken curry I had in Pai was probably the best curry I had on the trip. In the upper corner you can see a mug of thai iced tea. This may be my favorite beverage on the planet (well non-alcoholic drink). It is thick thai tea mixed with soy milk. It is sweet with a heavy back tea taste. Try it sometime, I’m sure you will love it!
We where at this cool little restaurant with about 6 tables down a small alley way near the river. It was called the Curry Shack. If your ever in Pai I would highly suggest hitting this cool little place for a dinner one night. The owner was super friendly as well and we had a nice chat with him as he closed up for the night.
Scotty got this green tofu curry in Luang Prabang.
Papaya salad seems to be a staple at every place we went. I’m not sure if it is everywhere because westerners like it, or its just a regional favorite. I always had a problem with papaya salad however. If it was made with very, very light fish sauce I liked it. It is a nice crunchy veggie salad with shaved papaya, carrots, and various other veggies. Often the cook might go heavy on the fish sauce, and as our cooking teacher said, “Fish sauce, smells terrible, tastes great.” This is normally true when its cooked in with something, but when tossed in with a salad I found it to smell like wet dog that has been left in a small room and has pooped someplace and it hasn’t been cleaned in like months…you know the smell, everyone had a friend that had a room in or around their house that had this problem. The taste isn’t bad, although when really heavy the small and taste start to combine. I pretty much found papaya salad to be like eating stinky cheese.
On our last night in Luang Prabang we found a food street in the night market in town. It was amazing. There where probably 25 stalls lining a narrow alley and tables and chairs where set up cafeteria style all the way down. Each place had several items on a counter, and we paid for a plate size (Small, Medium, Large) and scooped up food buffet style.
Pha, aka noodle soup is actually more of a Vietnamese staple soup. However we ate a lot of it in Laos on the Loop due to nothing other than lack of language skills. It can be ordered with beef or chicken usually, and as Scotty is a vegetarian, with no meat as well. The best part is the fresh water crest and greens that come on the side. To add some flavor there was usually a condiment platter on the table with various sauces like fish and sweet chilly along with salts and other tasty additions.
We where never adventurous enough to try any of these, but this was how many places where in Laos. A buffet table out front and the eatery behind it. Usually we just got Pha. I wish I had a local with us…would have been epic to try some of this stuff.