Okay, enough boring stories about sun-drenched beaches and crystal-clear water. Let’s get to the important stuff- the food! My college town had a disproportionate number of Thai restaurants, and by the time I graduated it was my favorite cuisine. So, of course I was very excited to see how the food I loved compared to the genuine article.
Very well, it turns out. While other international cuisines often suffer from substituting ingredients or almost inevitable Americanization, the Thai food in the States I’ve had measures up. In Thailand, I had Pad Thai a few times, of course, and I made sure to seek out my favorite dish- the hearty potato, peanut, and coconut milk Massamun curry. The latter was the best version I’d ever had of the dish, but it seems like Pad Thai is pretty much the same anywhere.
Ditto for spring rolls, which Jeonghee ordered just about once a day. Her verdict: the street food version was the best.
Of course, of even more interest to me were all of the dishes I hadn’t tried yet . One thing that was surprising was how prominent lime was in most things. In some cases, like the spicy seafood soup Tom Yoo Gong, the sour was a bit overpowering, but in others, like the also spicy and seafood-based Thai salad, it was refreshing. It also was a great background note in the ubiquitous green papaya salad Som Tam, which had a salty, savory flavor that was too much as a main dish, but a perfect complement to spicier entrees.
I had three definitely favorites among my new discoveries, though. On the soup front, Tom Kha Gai was a refreshing blend of chicken, the similar to ginger galangal, lemongrass, vegetables, and coconut milk. I absolutely love coconut milk in savory dishes, and it also had a key supporting role in Pra Nang Curry, with yellow curry and spicy Thai chilis nabbing the leads.
My absolute favorite dish, though, was Gai Med Ma Moung. It’s a fairly simple blend of chicken, onions, green peppers, carrots, and cashew nuts, but the tricks’ in the soy, honey, and garlic-based cause, which struck the perfect balance of salty, spicy, and just a touch sweet. I would have eaten it for every meal if that wouldn’t have been a crime to the rest of Thai cuisine, but when I had to choose my last meal in the country, the choice was easy.
Of course, I can’t sign off without talking about the alcohol first. Thailand had several brands of beer, most falling into the normal pilsner or lager camps, and the one you’ve likely heard of, Singha, is probably the best of the bunch. Chang would lie on the other end of that spectrum, with Leo and Tiger somewhere in between. Honestly, there wasn’t a ton separating them, and I’d gladly give all of them a drink again.
The other alcoholic beverage we gave a try was, as the store clerk told us, “Thai tequila.” This liquor is much closer to rum, actually, being made mostly of sugar cane with a dash of rice, and has a controversial reputation. The scuttlebutt is that Thai liquors are often cut with amphetamines, but seeing as many are legally importable to most of Europe and this one worked like normal alcohol on me, consider that rumor debunked. The taste was somewhere in between rum and gasoline, with a distinctly sugar cane-like funk that reminded me of old friend cañazo from Peru. Cañazo at least was certainly an acquired taste, but having acquired it I rather liked “Thai tequila”, too. Not sure I could recommend it to everyone, though.
It wasn’t easy finding a picture because I’m not sure of the exact name. This is it, though, and this guy seems about as confused by it as I was:
Well, that wraps up my Thailand coverage. This blot likely won’t continue to be an every week occurrence, but as interesting things come up I’ll report on them. Next up: The Busan International Film Festival.