Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spice up your life...In THAILAND!!

Well, I just spent the past month frolicking about Thailand with a side trip to China!! It was an absolutely incredible trip...there are so many fun stories, cultural exposures, lasting memories, and new experiences that were gained on this trip. So much more than just the food made a lasting impression on my life. But attempting to explain all of this would require a novel. Therefore, I will simply write about some highlights from the cuisine of the "Land of Smiles".

This was my eighth time to visit Thailand. During every trip that I make, one of my favorite dishes there is a dessert, (imagine that!) However, it is not a typical sweet, totally unhealthy dessert. Warm sticky rice covered in coconut milk served with sweet, smooth mangoes. The combination results in a mellow, fresh, creamy treat! Above is a big bowl of sticky rice beside a pile of mangoes ready to be peeled and sliced. This was taken at a street market at night where you can find so many unique street foods.
I was in Thailand at the peak of mango season, so I ate this multiple times. Thai mangoes are of a completely different category than the mangoes we get in America from Mexico. There is no comparison to the soft, creamy, sweet flesh of a Thai mango!

This picture was also taken at a night "walking street" market. Take your pick of the various assortment of bugs!! I have tried these before on previous visits, and they are basically a crunchy, salty snack. However, my cousin told me it would be best not to eat them this time since they have had problems with people getting sick from pesticides the bugs have ingested.

DURIAN. This is a unique fruit for sure! Inside of that spiky outer shell, there are little morsels of a yellow, velvety fruit surrounding large seeds. What is so interesting about durian is its smell. The odor is so strong that this fruit is actually prohibited in many hotels and other public places!! There are signs up that have a picture of the durian with a red slash mark through it. (Like a "no smoking" sign.) The flavor is also extremely strong and remarkably unexplainable. Not bad...just not like anything else in this world.

These are the freshest prawns I have ever eaten! We actually picked them out while they were still swimming around before they were prepared on a wood-burning grill. Each of them was as big as a lobster, and the charred flavor of the delicate meat was delicious!
We enjoyed these at BUA restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dalat Tanin was the nearest fresh market that I frequented while in Chiang Mai. They sold everything edible...from frogs to fresh noodles, fruits to fermented pork, lotus seeds to pig feet, aromatic spices to fresh blocks of tofu, prepared rice dishes to black sticky rice... You can just imagine the sights and the SMELLS of the fresh market on a hot summer morning in Thailand!
These chickens were about as fresh as one could ask for.

This fish dish is a favorite of mine and my sister's. It is a deep fried Ruby fish served with a light sauce of onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. My aunt, (who is a wonderful cook), prepared this for us on our last night in Chiang Mai. The two of us ate the entire fish!

It may seem like Dairy Queen is not a very cultural aspect of the cuisine of Thailand. And I actually have a rule of not eating "American" foods while in foreign countries. This way, I can have more opportunities to experience authentic dishes of the place I am visiting. I figure I am only there for a short period of time, so I should take full advantage of that.

However, when I saw "Green Tea Almond Blizzard" on the menu, I gave in. It was a delicious flavor combination that I sincerely think American DQ's should consider!
Another interesting detail is that my Blizzard is a "Large" size. The Thai "Large" is smaller than an American "Small". This illustrates our skewed portion sizes in the U.S.

My friend from high school, Spencer, now teaches English in Nagashima, Japan. When I found out about my trip to Asia, we planned a rendezvous in Thailand! He brought along his sweet girlfriend, Kyoko, who is from Tokyo. It was a wonderful four days with great friends!

Here we are in Pai, Thailand eating sticky rice. It comes to your table in the traditional bamboo containers so that it stays warm and sticky. And it MUST be eaten with your hands, of course!

"Pad See Eiuw" is one of my all-time favorite Thai dishes. It is composed of fresh, wide rice noodles...a green, leafy vegetable similar to collard greens...thick, sweet soy sauce ("see eiuw")...a meat (mine had shrimp)...egg...various vegetables...and lime juice has to be sprinkled on top along with white pepper in the Thai tradition.

At any fresh market, street corner, attraction in Thailand you can find fruits that are already cut up and packaged for your convenience. I love this about Thailand!!

L-R: Mango and Sticky Rice; green, sweet mango (a different type of mango than the yellow fruits); shumpoo (rose apple); and papaya

The package of spices, sugar, and salt with the green mango is a popular condiment to dip fresh fruit into. Thais love the mixture of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.

This traditional snack is very rare these days. We could only find them at one stall in Dalat Tanin fresh market. Next time I visit Thailand, who knows if they will still be available. I hate to see cultural aspects start slipping away like this as foreign countries become more "Western" and "Americanized".

This is basically a starch-cake made of glutinous rice flour. There is one filled with spinach...another comprised predominantly of spinach, garlic, and onions...and one with turnips and boiled peanuts. They are a quite tasty and uniquely sticky snack!

Mom and I enjoyed Sticky Rice and Mango ice cream sundaes at Swenson's.

Our family friend, Yoshie, just retired in Chiang Mai. She is a travel journalist from Tokyo, Japan. She prepared a lovely Japanese meal for us one afternoon. We had cucumber & fish salad, daikon radish & scallop salad, a rice dish with lotus & egg, boiled beef, and tea.

During our week in Beijing, China I witnessed some very interesting foods and eating habits! Here, I discovered scorpions squiggling around on skewers waiting to be grilled up for eating! They were in the same food stall as skewered seahorses, beetles, and starfish. Yum! :)

This was one of the most memorable, delicious things that I ate during my month in Asia! It was a dessert that is traditionally Chinese, although I had it in Bangkok.
Imagine a sticky, creamy ball made of taro and coconut milk. It was almost the consistency of a dense cheesecake. Then, the ball is rolled in toasted watermelon seeds! These are similar in taste to toasted pumpkin seeds. It is such a simple dessert yet complex in texture and flavor.

Also a dish on the "favorites" list. Curried crab. It is a whole, fresh crab stir-fried in a curry sauce with egg and green onion. Delicious and FUN to eat, too!

I ate so much of this fried rice!! The funny thing is that I despise fried rice in America. It is always hard, dark brown, and ridiculously salty. True Thai fried rice, on the other hand, is made with fresh "al dente" rice and is flavorful...not drenched in salt. The rice is fried up with scrambled egg, vegetables, soy sauce, and your meat of choice. Also, Thai fried rice MUST have three things: 1. Fresh lime juice squeezed on top...2. Cucumber slices on the side...3. A fried egg on top. It is curious, but it is THE MOST delicious combination of flavors! And, like they say, "When in Rome"...

"Pad Thai" has probably become the most recognizable and popular Thai dishes for Americans. It is made of stir-fried, thin, fresh rice noodles...chicken...shrimp...bean sprouts...scrambled onion...peanuts...
The sweeter flavor, crunchiness, and lack of hot spices probably make it more palatable for Western tastes.

I could not get enough of fresh, young coconuts! Served cold, you first crack the shell and drink the sweet coconut water from its natural container. Then, you can scoop out the delicate meat of the coconut and enjoy a snack. It is the neatest thing, and I probably had about 12 of these during my visit!

Julie and I with some of Thailand's bountiful fruits. Those tiny bananas are super adorable, and I love to eat the flesh off of the pit of the mango. When I was a toddler, my parents brought me to Thailand for the first time. One day, I was discovered hiding behind a refrigerator while eating off of a mango seed. I did not want anyone to take it away from me! Some things never change, I guess...

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