Saturday, February 7, 2009
Thursday morning brought another day of sunshine. While many people in our group hopped the van to see elephants, Farina, Mary and I stayed back to walk around the city. Naomi met us in the morning at the coffee stand near our hotel. This tiny alley-way spot makes traditional Thai coffee, or café boran. It is amazing-the dark brewed to order coffee is mixed with sweetened condensed milk and topped with a bit of evaporated milk. The coffee itself is so good we hunted it down to bring home. It’s not our traditional brew. These beans are roasted with corn and soy giving them a nutty, almost cocoa, flavor. For a girl who loves her coffee but drinks only decaf, this drink finally got me off the wagon. Fortunately the coffee itself is so low in acid it doesn’t have nearly the effects of the strong stuff we drink at home.
We spent the morning at another tribal market. This one, near a local mosque, was full of not only tribes from norther Thailand but influences of Burma as well. We tasted delicious chick pea fritters, much like a middle eastern falafel. I am guessing these are the lovely bits that float in the samusa (not samosa) soup at Burma Superstar in San Francisco (we tried the samusas too!). For breakfast we had a warm bowl of rice noodles topped with soft bean curd, cilantro, peanuts and chili. It warmed like a bowl of oatmeal but clearly tasted of Asia. There was that gelatinous texture again, not my favorite but the flavor really was delish.
After the market we wandered the streets buying a few souvenirs and tasty bites along the way. After climbing in a tuk tuk (think motor scooter with a back seat for three) we were whisked across the river to Lamduan for khao soi (above). This dish, tasting of hints of Burma, is amazing. A broth rich with coconut milk and aromatics with full of bits of tender beef, fresh pork, or chicken pieces and noodles. The steaming broth was topped with crunchy fried egg noodles and cilantro and it was served, Thai style, with vinegar, pickled vegetables, fish sauce, chili paste, and sugar to use as garnishes. It was fantastic, filling, and flavorful. We each had a bowl along with a plate of 10 pork satay with a (too sweet) peanut sauce and the bill came to $6—total! This was home made food cooked by a woman who is known all over for her khao soi. $1 a bowl-it’s amazing to think what a person can eat in Thailand for well under $10 a day.
Thai cuisine is cooked very differently than western food. Rather than seasoning in layers, like we do, Thai food is seasoned very little as it cooks. The eater is then put in charge of seasoning a dish to his or her taste. The condiment tray with our khao soi was a perfect example of this and one we've seen everywhere we've eaten.
Friday night of our “Immerse Through” program was potluck night. Naomi and Jeff asked us to forage on our own for prepared food or ingredients and assemble/cook them late in the afternoon. Farina and I were so inspired by our café boran, we decided to try making a pots de crème with the same flavors. Having no oven, and no water bath to bake our custards, we steamed them with moderate success. The texture was definitely less dense than we’d hoped and the coffee flavor not as pronounced. Thai people don’t eat much dessert and when they do it is rarely the intense rich dessert we are used to having. I think our dessert fit the bill here but, when we get back home I want to play with the recipe so it’s more to my taste. I love the idea of maintaining the integrity of a native recipe but, this one just didn’t blow me over.
The night ended with a rot daeng (red bus) ride to two different dance clubs. Now, a night out dancing is nothing new but, dancing in a Thai club is a complete and total trip. The first club, Hot Shot, had no dance floor. You sit and tables, put your purse and drink down and when you like the song, you just stand up and dance right there. The music was live and had the feel of an 80s hair band playing love songs. A little slow to start so we went to club number two, 'Red Sunset' in English, I can't remember the Thai name but will definitely get it up here soon. This is a club like no club I’d ever seen. The place was at least as big as three high school gyms side by side. Huge high ceilings and walls full of giant pictures of Marx, Mao, and Che. Again, we were seated at a table and when we looked around the place was FULL of people dancing at their tables. The music was live but this band was full of energy. 10+ people on the stage including a horn section. After a few dances at our table, we followed Jeff’s lead and danced our way to the front. Here there was a small dance floor (really just a walk way between more tables). The amazing thing about this place is that everyone dances with everyone-who ever you happen to be standing by or even by yourself. We cut it up with a Thai cowboy and a few other interesting characters before calling it a night. We were exhausted but, this was a night we couldn’t have passed up. It was great to see so many people, not drunk and obnoxious, dancing together and having such a blast.
Oh to get a good night's sleep...more later