It started simple, as it always does, with me begging my tour guide, Cha Cha, to stop the car for jasmin. After we pulled over, I watched a woman expertly weave a garland fashioned from jasmin buds, momentarily, because I became inevitably distracted by the FOOD. I said, Cha Cha, there’s passion fruit to be had. We’ve got to ROLL! Laughing, we strode through a mile-stretch of an outdoor market and I couldn’t help but marvel over ALL. THE. COLOR.
Ever since my first trip to Asia, I’ve been fascinated by a culture so proud of their culinary heritage — and Thailand is no exception. From spice and fruit purveyors to fish-head peddlers and garland artisans, I was encased in a makeshift field of marigolds (offerings from the Buddha) and craving all that is unknown. Every few feet I stopped and inquired about a fruit (apples that curled inward, which yields a juicer first bite) to durian (tastes like the heavens, but smells like hell, Cha Cha chides) to jack fruit (sweet fruit the size of boulders!) to…well, cockroaches.
Can we stop the tape?
Cha Cha, surely you jest. SURELY YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS?! While she filled a plastic bag with the two-inch long critters, she explained that these insects are highly coveted and can be tremendously expensive. Curious, I asked how one prepares cockroaches, and she replied that she clips the wings, sautes them in chili and oil, ferreting out the eggs, which are high in protein. They taste like wasabi, she said, as the Thai are wont to cleave to spicy food. When we finally move on to the honeyed bananas wrapped in coconut and banana leaves, Cha Cha confessed that her husband and son loathe the cockroach.
I nodded and tell Cha Cha about my hatred of THE MUSHROOM.
But can we go back to the food and all of the glorious color?! I gasped over chicken wings drenched in outdoor deep-fryers and chicken in red curries and coconut milk. You have to love the dichotomy of Thai cuisine — the hot and treacherous chilis juxtaposed with the soothing, creaminess of the coconut milk. There’s something oddly maternal about this cuisine, and I moved from vendor to vendor (and trust me, moving is an understatement — try ARTFUL NAVIGATION), sampling, buying, snapping, adoring, and realizing that a trip is not worth having unless you can fall in love with a country’s food.