Friday, August 05, 2005

To Taste Thailand

News Item: August 4, 2005

A new Pizza Hut promotion in Thailand--a pizza with four sections. One of the sections is covered with strawberries. (In picture, upper left quadrant).


Strawberry pizza? Hardly a surprise in Thailand. Cases in point:

A favorite way to sell vanilla ice cream is two scoops stuffed into a hotdog bun--with corn kernels sprinkled on top. In fact, corn shows up in a multitude of culinary delights: Warm corn drink (like drinking creamed corn, only much more watery), mixed corn and ice swimming in condensed milk for dessert, corn on bakery pastries, etc.

Half the pastry in bakeries is stuffed with shredded, sweetened pork. It feels like shredded coconut in your mouth, but definitely tastes like pork!

All the 4 and 5-star hotels in Thailand advertise "American Breakfast!" What does it include? A steamed frankfurter, a shredded cabbage salad, and sliced tomatoes with cucumbers. Never saw that at the local USA diner, mixed among my pancakes!

A "hamburger" at the local Seven-Eleven actually consists of a piece of chicken stuffed in a small hamburger bun, with familiar condiments.

Nearly all the favorite "crunchy" snacks found at the convenience store come in the following flavors: squid, fish, and shrimp. All smell very foul when you open the package--something like a fishing boat that needs a good mucking out.

And the favorite food of Northeast Thailand? Shredded pappaya salad, drenched in fermented fish paste. More of the fishing boat aura.

Then there's the favorite fruit, durian. The taste is palatable, but keep your nose plugged. It smells like a well-used cat litter box. I liked it until one of my friends made the cat box comparison.

And of course, most cooked animals come with their heads and feet on the platter as well, particularly fowl. I side with one of my skitterish US friends: "I try not to eat anything that's smiling at me."

The folk wisdom in Isan affirms: "If it moves, eat it." Favorites on the farm menu are frogs, eels, scorpians, lizards (large and small), and nearly every insect that flies, crawls and burrows. Roasted silk worms are a real hit: chomping through a crispy, roasted exterior, one is surprised at the creamy, almost custard-like interior. Very nourishing. Very filling. In fact, so filling that at my first try, it only took one to send me to the restroom to reduce the load on my stomach and psyche. Now I can eat two or three at a sitting without unexpected bodily reaction.

Acquired tastes? Yes, some things do grow on you. After a couple years, I've come to really develop a penchant for:

1. Yogurt milks
2. Hot, hot chili peppers
3. Lemon grass
4. Roasted garlic cloves
5. All soybean and rice drinks
6. The exotic fruits of rambutaan, mangosteen, dragon's eyes, and a couple other fruits without English names and that defy description as well.
7. Yup, and corn on my ice cream.

If it moves, eat it.

No comments: