One of the reasons we wanted to come to Thailand was for the food. Sure, the beaches are epic, the wats are beautiful, the people never stop smiling, and you never have to wear more than a cute skirt and tank top, even at night. But let's be honest, food makes the world go round for Steve and I. Sampling the food in another country is an easy way to get to know the local people, the local language, and the local customs. We were excited to eat our way around the country, especially when we learned that the whole country basically eats on the street, at markets open day and night cooking up fresh, flavorful, and exotic dishes. We couldn't wait. It became even more exciting once we decided to explore the country on our bikes, which not only would give us faster access to those street vendors, but also appetites that would allow us to sample multiple dishes and desserts at each meal.
Abby: We began our journey in Bangkok, at Dan and Kim's place in Pleasantville. Pleasantville, is, well, pleasant, but the best part is that Thailand lies just outside its gates. With the much appreciated help of Bea, Dan and Kim's nanny, we were pointed toward the best street stalls and enjoyed perhaps the best Pad Thai and grilled fish I've ever eaten. It came with a spicy red sauce (akin to pico de gallo), fresh herbs, and leafs of lettuce. Bea taught us to take a leaf, fill it with the herbs, sauce and a bit of fish, roll it, and eat in one bite. Amazing! We bought a kilo of fresh mangos, a hand of baby bananas, and a whole watermelon home with us to complete our food victory. It was a good day.
Steve: A few days later, on our first day biking north from Bangkok, we had gotten a couple of hours from Pleasantville when I saw it for the first time: Rotisserie meat. My biggest weakness, dripping with glorious saucy juiciness on the side of the road. I slammed on my breaks, pranced up to the smiling Thai vendor, and asked her "how much for one?". Not that I cared how much it cost; there was no way I was going to pass up this slice of heaven, especially since I'd spent the last two months in Nepal, trying to be satisfied by the measly portions of meat that only seldom appeared on my plate. I sat down at the picnic table under her tarp as the sweat from my face began to make a puddle on the tablecloth in front of me. She followed with a huge chunk of roasted chicken, a delicious spicy red sauce, and a pile of rice. With a big smile on my face, I shoveled the perfectly cooked meat into my mouth, and swallowed it down with a Coke. Abby sat patiently, watching me devour my meal - she was still full from the fruit and yogurt gorge we'd had at Dan and Kim's before we left. I contemplated a second plate, but decided I should probably save myself for what might be around the next corner.
Abby: Eating has been a little more of a challenge for non-meaty tastes than I ever would have thought before arriving. In fact, I have to admit that after the first few days on the road I was more than a little bit crestfallen. Where were all of the delicious foods so prevalent at all the places at home? Where was the spicy eggplant, and steamed tofu, and brown rice? Of course I wasn't expecting the menu off my favorite vegan-friendly menu from home, but I wasn't prepared for meat in everything. I ordered a green papaya salad, it came with crumbled pork on top. I ordered a tofu stir-fry, it came with half a pig on the plate. I ordered a lemon soda, it arrived with a chicken-foot swizzle stick. It was becoming rather ridiculous. Steve was a happy and full tablemate. Finally, I couldn't handle it any longer and took matters into my own hands. Eschewing the menu completely, I walked directly up to the cook at one of our lunch spots, and began pointing to what I wanted and how I wanted it cooked. Lo and behold, it worked - gloriously! A plate of rice with a big pile of lightly fried veggies beside, all topped with an egg over easy. We were in business!
Steve: One word - fruit. Glorious, sweet, fresh fruit. It's available everywhere, and we've been indulging. Mangoes, bananas, watermelon, grapes, water apples, strawberries, pomelo, oranges, dragon fruit, plus a couple new ones. We tried mangosteen for the first time, based on a tip from a friend. It's smallish, purple-brown in color, and the inside is segmented and creamy white. It melts in your mouth, much like a ripe mango does, and has a wonderful sweet flavor to it. I've heard of it as a new hip additive to hippy supplements and health drinks at home, so we loaded up on them. Abby also tried dried longan berries, which she said tasted a bit like lychee or rambutan.
We also discovered fruit smoothies. You choose a mix of any fruit you like, and it's blended with crushed ice, and condensed milk and palm syrup if you'd like. The simpler ones are a bit more healthy, but the creamy, sugary ones are like thick milkshakes. Regardless of your choice, they are cold, cheap (20 baht, or about 75 cents), and amazing. At one night market, Abby ordered a strawberry smoothie. It was so good that she refused to share it, so I got my own. As I slurped up the final straw full, my eyes caught Abby's, and her nod affirmed my own thinking. We got a third to share as we wandered through the market, and tried for a fourth on our way home. Sadly, their stock of fresh berries had run dry, and I had to settle for a meat-on-a-stick snack instead.
Abby tried a banana coffee smoothie one morning after second breakfast, and was hooked. In fact, I was hooked as well. Yep, me, the coffee-hater, slurped down a coffee banana smoothie religiously every morning for the four days we were in Chiang Mai. I'm under Thailand's magical spell.
Abby: A magical spell, indeed! That shit's like crack!
As a respite from all of the water fighting in Chiang Mai over the Thai New Year, we took a cooking class. I really wanted Steve to go, seeing how he cooks 90% of my meals for me, but I was eager to tag along as well and see how many noodles I could burn. It turns out, you use as much oil as the instructor tells you and things come out great! We cooked pad thai, green curry, red curry, papaya salad, spring rolls, pad see we, tom yam soup, cashew chicken curry, and it was all shockingly easy. In fact, it was so easy that I really don't know why I don't cook more. Anyway, the entrees were spectacular, but the dessert is where it's really at. And in particular, mango sticky rice. If iced coffee smoothies are like crack, then mango sticky rice is like high-grade cocaine. I think.
Sticky rice is really common here, usually eaten with dinner. It's cooked plain, and tastes fine - like rice except sticky. However, pour some coconut milk and sugar onto it, reduce it to a gluey mess, and add some fresh sliced mango on top and you have arrived in heaven without any of the dying nonsense. I'm in love!
Steve: For good reason baby. My only complaint about Thai food is the portion sizes. The night stalls and sit down restaurants serve up cook-to-order cuisine for $1-2 a plate, but a plate doesn't fill me up. In fact, it doesn't even come close. It's partially due to the biking we've been doing, but as you all know, my appetite and willingness to eat large portions of food are legendary. At lunch, I need at minimum two dishes, usually a rice/meat concoction, and a noodle meat soup. Dinner requires three to four plates of food; sometimes the same dish from the same vendor, but often a sampling from several places. I like to think that I'm a grassroots investor in Thai street food, and I'm doing a pretty good job at it.
Abby: I disagree with my better half's erroneous assessment. One of the best things about Thai food is that they serve it in perfect portion sizes. You get a plate full of food, not too much, not too little. I'm always perfectly full after finishing my pad see ew or rice-egg-veggie or noodle veggie soup, never bloated. Occasionally I can squeeze in a smoothie or ice cream for dessert (ok, maybe a bit more often than occasionally), but that makes it even more perfect.
Steve: Perfection or not, too big or too small, what it really comes down to is that I'm hungry. Now. Let's go eat!
Note: It's probably obvious from the writing styles, but Abby's comments were written by Steve and vice versa. It's more fun that way.