Tantalizing Thai Food!

What’s your favorite cuisine? I have a few I like, mainly Ethiopian, Indian, and Thai. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you may know that I’m currently traveling through South East Asia and have been since July, 2016. I was in Thailand longer than expected. I was initially living on an island in the Bay of Thailand for two months, and then left to do some exploring through Myanmar, Thailand’s neighbor to the west.

The best cashew chicken I ever had was on Ko Lanta. It was full of cashews and veggies!

Unfortunately, on my 3rd day in country, I got injured and had to return to Thailand for medical treatment. Diagnosis: torn ACL and a bucket handle tear of the meniscus, one of the most severe types of meniscus tears. The first few weeks after surgery were a bit rough, but things get better day by day and my situation was definitely enhanced when I found Hom Hostel. It’s a “cooking club” and everyday, I learned about new foods and typical Thai dishes are always served for breakfast. While I’m not here to write a travel review (I’ve already done that), I have to say, the hostel has the best kitchen I’ve seen since I left my home last year!

Pad ka prao gai, minced meat with basil and egg, served with rice at Hom.

Let me bring a little Thai food into your kitchen, it’s actually not so tantalizing! You can make Thai food at home or go to any Thai restaurant across the globe. There are so many dishes, ingredients, and flavors. The food history and flavor combinations are complex and food itself plays a big role in the culture here. Everywhere you go, there’s food. There are small “hole-in-the-wall” type places all over, in the evenings, the streets are lined with vendors, and it seems every nook and cranny in Bangkok is filled with someone selling something edible. You can find fresh cut fruit, watermelon, pineapple, guava, dragon fruit, papaya, and more, for the equivalent of .60 a bag, fresh juice, grilled meat on a stick, Thai iced tea, roasted grasshoppers and larvae, and complex traditional Thai dishes are commonly available at most markets.

Mangosteen

Rice, like in so many other Asian cultures, is the heart of most meals, but salads, curries, soups, and relishes are popular as well. Many people say it’s cheaper to eat out than to cook at home and often times, this is the case. Luckily, if you choose the right foods, you can keep it pretty healthy as well and street markets are the places to go! According to Chef David Thompson in his book, Thai Street Food, they gained popularity in the 1960s when many Thai people began leaving their villages and farms in search of better jobs in growing cities, namely Bangkok. Women were at the forefront of the Thai street food culture as men stayed home to work the farm, or headed off to the military or monastery.
Thai Food incorporates a lot of fresh ingredients. Most vendors did not and still do not have a refrigerator, but some now keep ice, especially those that sell fruit or fish. Chinese immigration had a large influence on Thai street food. Many Chinese went to Thailand to escape the poverty that plagued their towns and villages and they had to make a living in a new country. They began preparing and selling Chinese food: noodles, rice, congee, and different meats cooked in the quintessential Chinese 5 spice mix. Overall, Thai cuisine has many influences from all over Asia and Thailand itself is broken down into four gastronomic regions, Central, Northern, Southern, and Isan, or northeastern. While one could write a book on this subject, let’s get to some good stuff- some of the main ingredients of Thai cuisine.

Quintessential pad Thai on Ko Samui.

As mentioned above, rice is often the center of the dish, but it’s what goes around it, of course, that provides all the flavor. Flavors come from onions, shallots, garlic, galangal, a ginger-like root that gets smashed to release flavor while cooking, cilantro, lemon grass, kafir lime leaves, chilies, fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Thai food has many salty, savory, and spicy components, but sweetness from various ingredients is often used. Coconut milk is common, and palm sugar, white sugar, and fruit juices are added to sweeten up main meals. The list of vegetables is endless, and many dishes are even garnished with flowers, brining us to yet another component of Thai food and snacks- presentation. Food always looks good, whether it’s served from a street vendor, a restaurant, or on display in the grocery store. Vegetable carving is very popular and most dishes are served with some type of edible decoration as a garnish.
If you haven’t tried Thai food before, give it a shot. There are many Thai restaurants all over the United States and while there are many dishes with very specific recipes, I’ve found some, such as cashew chicken are made differently where ever you go, so whether you try Thai food in Thailand or somewhere else, you’ll likely get a good combo of flavors. Stay tuned for some authentic, healthified Thai recipes soon!

I saw these tools at a market once, I should have bought one.

Have you had Thai food? What’s your favorite dish? Leave your comments and questions in the section below!

Dear Diary…

Sometimes I share too much, no?

My day began at 2:15 am. Given that I had an international flight ahead of me, something I’m typically excited about, I was feeling a little down. Perhaps I was tired from lack of sleep, perhaps I wasn’t looking forward to spending the next 22 out of 36 hours on an airplane, perhaps I wasn’t looking forward to more living out of a bag, even though I’ve been doing it for 14 months now… But I know those are all manageable issues for me and they don’t keep me down for long so I knew it was something a little deeper than that. Sometimes I’m sad when I leave a place, but I’ve planned another 6 months of travel so I know I’ll be back in the States soon. I’m even comfortable with that notion although I’m sure as my travels come to an end, I’ll feel differently. But- I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Passing time in Toronto, pondering the meaning of life.

Airports are probably not most peoples’ favorite places, but I’m often fairly content to spend a day traveling. I look at it as forced down time. A time where I mostly have to sit still. I watch people, I gaze at the big metal tubes on the tarmac that are capable of transporting us to entirely different places and spaces in a matter of hours, and I think about the meaning of life. Sometimes I catch up on reading, blogging, and when I’m too exhausted to think, I watch mindless TV series on Netflix. My iPad is often fully stocked with new episodes of something or other in case I don’t have wifi or there are not individual seat back screens (which I always hope for). What else is there to do?
Today I thought. Not only do I have plenty of actual in flight travel time, but I had an 8 hour layover in Toronto. Thankfully, it revived and refreshed me a bit. I was able to have lunch at Jal Gua Café, a place I’d wanted to visit for years. Emmanuel Jal was a South Sudanese child soldier, but he made it out with a crazy story that was documented in a book I read years ago, “War Child.” He’s now a well known international hip hop artist with some good songs and a passion for bettering this world we live in. He wanted to bring some of his Sudanese staples to the west and deliver them in a healthful manner and that’s what he’s done at his cafe. I had the “Miracle Salad,” a bowl of delicious, tender cooked beans and sorghum, topped with kale, tomatoes, broccoli, and a vinaigrette.

The Miracle Salad at Jal Gua Cafe in Toronto.

All things considered, it was nice to get out for lunch and walk around in the cool weather before I get back to the stifling humidity of South East Asia.
What’s my deal today besides the exhaustion that has already set in? For the last two months, well more actually, I’ve had plans with people I know. It’s been great catching up with friends and family. I had fun on my quick “around the world tour.” I saw people, shared stories, caught up on life and gossip with my girlfriends and I even reconnected with quite a few acquaintances I hadn’t seen in a while. It was fun and I was overwhelmed to learn of the amount of followers I have with me on my travels through Asia. People are living through me so I have to make sure I’m doing my best at this travel thing. It’s definitely positive, but what bites, one of the downsides many don’t talk about, is the accompanying loneliness that comes along with the nomadic lifestyle and once I leave Bangkok next week, it will begin again. This has definitely been a theme and I’ve blogged about it before, but the worst thing is, it won’t end when my travels end. Being in San Antonio was great, but all in all it was a stark reminder that I’ve pretty much been single since my divorce in 2014. I left my life to explore the world, I wasn’t “running” from anything, but the longer I go, the further I get, and the more I can see I would start to “run.” I will remain single because it’s nearly impossible to meet someone on such a journey. So I go, I take off, I fly, I ride… In a symbolic way, I can run away from my fears. In his book, “The Art of Travel,” Alain De Botton said “There is psychological pleasure in this takeoff, too, for the swiftness of the plane’s ascent is an exemplary symbol of transformation. The display of power can inspire us to imagine analogous, decisive shifts in our own lives, to imagine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us.” Travel transforms us, but can I shift my own thinking in certain matters? Can I surge above this specific issue that looms over me? I can only hope because otherwise life is pretty good.
For now, I’ll travel. I’ll fly, take off, and do my best to keep an open mind that one day, not only will I meet someone who makes my heart beat again, but that it will be meaningful and lasting. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the ephemeral moments and focus on the positives from those situations. The world is a big place and those metal tubes can bring us all over. Let’s see where they take me the next 6 months and let’s see if I’ll be ready to go “home” at the end of it.

I have to go!

There’s a crazy phenomenon that happens when you travel. It’s called “hafta go,” and the more you travel, the more it happens. In this day and age, with the advent of smart phones and current technological means of communication, we can keep the world at our finger tips. People, places, and cultures are just a screen and tap away on the WWW, the World Wide Web, but when you are in the midst of exploring the real WWW, the Whole Wide World, it’s a big place and visiting it all takes a long time. Ok, I’ll be practical, it’s not possible to see it all, but it seems the more you see, the more you want to see.

Dunes in Dubai

When I began my Asian Adventure, it was open ended. I didn’t know exactly where I would go, when, and when I’d finish up. 10 days short of one year “on the road,” as I like to say, I’m going “home,” to Massachusetts and New Hampshire to visit friends and family for a month. While planning this trip, I got an invite to go to the Czech Republic from Monika, my friend of 24 years. I hadn’t been in 5 years and I felt I was long overdue. Many flights from Bangkok have a stopover in Dubai, yet I wanted something longer than a brief layover. I purchased two separate tickets. Bangkok-Dubai. I spent 3 days and continued on. Dubai-Prague. I spent 9 days and was overwhelmingly happy. It felt like home.

My Czech Family

I was crying tears of joy while waiting in the immigration line and that overwhelming feeling of happiness continued to flow throughout the week. I visited many people I hadn’t seen in 5 years, but most I’ve known for over 20. Then there was this magnetic pull to Barcelona I needed to fulfill but I hadn’t bought a ticket back in March when I made the decision to traverse to globe via the Atlantic Ocean. How would I go from Prague? Plane, train, automobile? I studied flight availability and prices and decided on Prague-Lisbon-Barcelona. Lisbon! Yes, I chose a flight with a 12 hour layover in Portugal. I just “hadta go.” When I sorted out this long weekend adventure, I contacted my best travel buddy from this past year, Elena, from Switzerland. I mentioned her in my previous travel related blog and while she was hesitant to spend the weekend in Spain because she’s in the process of moving and about to start a new job after 15 months of travel, she sent me her travel itinerary. She wrote, “Barcelona, get ready for ‘Team Menu.'”

Elena and I about to dig into this gourmet gelato!

We were reunited at the airport in Barcelona, navigated through the city past midnight, and emerged from the metro right in front of Casa Batllo, one of Antonio Gaudí’s iconic buildings and one of the main reasons I wanted to go this capital of Catalonia. What are the odds?! I treated my time in Spain as a vacation. It’s a long way from my habits and budget in Asia, but I’ll find a way to financially recover. In keeping with our active history, Elena and I put in over 35 miles in three days walking around the city. (We did 140 miles in the Himalayas then 30 in the jungle in Nepal). We also tried a variety of Spanish tapas, healthy salads, gelato, and even made Swiss Rosti from a packet that she brought from Switzerland. We topped them with fried eggs and cheese, one of our favorite meals while trekking along the Annapurna Circuit. We made sure to stop by all of the famous Gaudí landmarks, checked out parks, walked along the coastline, and more. It was tiring, but well worth it! We were both glad we went and happy we still got along so well, complete with our silly jokes and laughing fits.

Casa Batllo at night.

When I checked in for my flight to Boston at midnight the day before I left, I looked up Ponta Delgada. I didn’t know where this city was and have purchased so many plane tickets in the last few months, I haven’t really kept track of where all I’m going, I just always make sure to be at the airport on time! As it turns out, I had a layover in Ponta Delgada, an island in the Azores in Portugal. What’s even better, or worse in my case, I learned that Azores Airlines allows you to book a ticket with a layover of up to three days for free in one of the cities in which it flies. That means, had I known before the midnight before my flight, I could have stayed in the Azores. It’s kind of agonizing to have a layover in a place you want to visit. While I don’t know much about the Azores, or even Portugal in general, I’ve wanted to go for years. It’s one of those places I know exists and I’ve met people from there, but never made an effort to go. Now that I’ve been so close, I “hafta go.” It’s on the list. And it’s not far from home, the Azores are actually quite a hike off the coast of mainland Portugal. It seems like a hop, skip, and a jump away from Boston compared to Bangkok!

The Azores from the Air. Better than nothing!

I have a ticket back to Thailand at the end of July. My backpack is there. My knee should be ready to carry a heavier load and I wanted to continue on my Asian Adventure. But then, I got an opportunity to go back to the Czech Republic. I can stay for a while and take a break from being on the move, which I feel I kind of need. I can rest, finish recovering, make and eat my own healthy food, and get back into the gym, fitness, and fix my current body composition for a while. Being in Europe opens a whole new corridor of travel possibilities for me. While I may forfeit some countries in Asia if I make it back to my friend’s wedding in August, later on I can head south through a lot of other places I “hafta go.” Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Kazakhstan and more are all and have long been on my list.
It’s nice to have options, don’t get me wrong, but I spend so many brain cells dwelling on this topic. Where do I go next? I wake up every day thinking about it and I go to sleep every night hoping the answer will come to me in my dreams.

My favorite city: Prague.

Bangkok-Dubai-Prague-Lisbon-Barcelona-Boston. It’s been a busy three weeks full of emotion, awe, gratitude, and thoughts. I hope these next weeks will bring a bit more clarity. One thing is sure, there are still many places l “hafta go,” now I just need to decide where and these days, I’m thinking to finish up what I initially set out to do. That was to travel through Asia and I’d be beyond excited to make it to some of the islands in Oceania and finish up in South America. We shall see!