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Thai Food: Jump Into the Fire

[I’ve even provided a soundtrack to today’s blog post. Now isn’t that nice? (Hit play on the YouTube vid at the bottom)]

I am back in Bangkok after a short snowy hiatus in Wisconsin which I daresay was lovely. But with low temps at about 70 F (21 C) and highs at about 85 F (30 C) with low humidity, I’m not heartbroken about the switch.

Som Tam in Soi 22

First thing to do after being away, of course, is to head out for some Thai food.

The great thing about eating out in Bangkok, indeed in all of Thailand, is that much of what’s super hasn’t got a proper name. Where do you get your pad Thai? “Oh, that dude in Soi 38. You know, the first wok on the right? The guy with the fire resistant glove and a sort of reggae look to him? Shows up a half hour later than everyone else? Yeah, that guy.”

Or travelers play Adam and Eve and trek the concrete Garden of Eden naming things. I dub thee, Pumpkin Lady! The day I sought out this simple neighborhood gold mine of cheap and delicious Thai dishes, I asked around for the Pumpkin Lady. Total confusion. I googled a bit and found another name which may or may not have been written somewhere on a wall in Thai. The actual name of the restaurant — which still left them bemused and giggling with each other whenever I said it — is Poisien, which I have to say is a lot less appetizing than Pumpkin. What’s that you’re eating? Poisien food. I looked at them all chattering in Thai, laughing and casting glances at me, and wondered if they were really the right place. One of the staff arrived on motorbike and the cook said to him, “Welcome to Poisien” and they all started laughing again. Oh, those silly farang (foreigners). When Peung showed up to meet me for dinner and could translate, the actual Pumpkin Lady had no idea the backpacker world knew her as such. In fact, she doesn’t even serve her wonderful pumpkin/custard dessert every day. But lordy, it’s famous and the name has stuck.

My first Bangkok meal of 2011 was at “Som Tam in Soi 22.” As opposed to “Krapow Moo Sap in Soi 22” or “That Other Som Tam near Silom Road.” Peung and I went out with her mother and some old work friends for lunch.

Laab Moo

We ordered laab moo, the similar nam tok moo, makeua yao (a roasted eggplant with a spicy dipping sauce), grilled chicken, another favorite: grilled salt-crusted fish stuffed with lemongrass, and of course the dish that we use to identify the place: som tam (green papaya salad). As there are no noodles sold here,

Makeua Yao

Peung ran to the nameless restaurant across the street — perhaps we shall christen this “That Noodle Shop
Across from the Som Tam in Soi 22” — and bought some soup and kanom jeen (soft rice noodles that look like a bundle of yarn served at room temperature — typically a vehicle to get curry to your mouth). And so the feast began.

I have always loved spicy foods. I like to whine about how hot it is, but it’s pretty rare I would stop eating (though in Thailand it has in fact happened a couple times leaving me wondering if I could physically damage myself with food fire. Death by chili???) I can ladle tom yum kung soup down my gullet long after my table partners have moved on to another dish — it’s just that good to me despite the ever increasing heat as I go. But there is a problem.

Seems that the older I get, the less resistance I have to the heat. And I’, not saying the day-of-show either, if you know what I mean. I often get the sweats the next morning as well, like reliving a Thai chili memory. And it’s never quite as pleasant as I remember. Solution?

A bit of prep work before eating and some damage control after. I duck into the nearest 7-Eleven, (typically within 30 meters at any point in Thailand) and buy a little bottle of Yakult, a fermented milk drink (with Lactobacillus casei Shirota, for the probiotics curious) and down it like medicine. After the meal, I have another. The little bottles only cost 6 baht. Sometimes I get the 10-baht bottle when I’m really swallowing some serious fire. Seems to work pretty slick if I’m diligent about it and don’t wait too long.

I’m still pretty cautious, but now I don’t plan a 12-hour safety period between eating tom yung kung and say a long bus trip.

(Random song association selection of the day)

“Jump Into the Fire” – Harry Nilsson

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

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