Next Stop: Bangkok 🇹🇭
To truly appreciate the flavors and work that goes into Thai cuisine, I join the Siamese Cookery House for a little Bangkok cooking class.
Few places are as brutally overwhelming for the uninitiated as Bangkok. The heat is otherworldly if you’re not from around here––a humid 95 (or 35 degrees here) with air as thick as gravy. Oppressive and demoralizing don’t even begin to cut it.
I thought diving into Hanoi was a cold shock to the system. But this… This is a whole ‘nother ball game. And I’ve actually been here before.
Fifteen years ago, Bangkok was the first place I visited outside of North America. I was just a shaggy-haired youngin’ on a study abroad trip heading for India.
All I remember is seeing the usual––The Reclining Buddha, Wat Arun. The rest is a foggy patchwork of vague memories.
But I must confess, I do remember committing a crime.
You see, I didn’t care about food back then the same way I do now. So I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate it the way I should’ve. Now, like any rational human with a functioning palate, Thai cuisine is one of my favorites––a go-to on a busy day when I want something reliably delicious.
So to truly appreciate the flavors and the work that goes into Thai cuisine, I join the Siamese Cookery House for a little cooking class that begins with a morning stroll through the Huai Khwang Market.
Goong is our guide, interpreter, teacher, and host. She’s here at the Huai Khwang Market at least twice a day, prepping for three cooking courses she’ll give before the day is over.
We’re following her lead as she collects the ingredients for four dishes we’ll be making: Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai, Massaman Curry, and Mango with Sticky Rice. Huai Khwang Market likely has more in the way of ingredients than your local corner store. Chicken feet, frogs, eels. Goong explains the plethora of options succinctly:
“That’s what we eat,” said Goong. “Nothing to waste.”
In other words: “In Thailand, we eat everything.”
After the market, we tuk-tuk over to the cookery house and get right to work on making the coconut milk. Though we merely scratch the surface of Thai cuisine, there’s no other way to put it:
Best. Class. Ever. Maybe more math would’ve stuck with me if they ended class with some Thai food.
Hunting down pad see ew
It’s our last day in Bangkok––in Southeast Asia, for that matter––and I’m on the hunt for pad see ew, a comforting necessity I took for granted with Cleveland’s Banana Blossom around the corner from my former Ohio City abode.
I find it here in Chinatown’s Soi Nana––an alley with a long history of illicit nightlife, gangs, and now, hipsters.
There’s something about watching a cook at work on the street that feels a bit like watching an incognito violinist virtuoso playing in the park. They’ve left the orchestra and are honing in on the individuality of the craft––the pressure and praise that comes with it all. (violin music)
In the waning hours of the day, I’m lucky enough to observe.
And there it is––pad see ew––those gloriously glistening glassy noodles that in my mind, just can’t be beaten. It’s an opus on a plate.
I’m loathed to attempt a flowery wrap-up of our time in Southeast Asia, from the illustrious low plastic stools of Hanoi street food fame and the glimpse of a pre-historic time in Ninh Binh to maybe almost dying in otherwise tranquil Luang Prabang and hearing about the threat mass tourism poses to Vang Vieng, you’ll just have to go back and watch those videos to get a taste of what’s there.
Even then, it’s just that. A taste, or better still, a small, delicate sip from a bowl of soup full of spices and flavors I haven’t even gotten to… yet.
Vang Vieng. Despite its reputation as a backpacker party hub, it’s a sleepy, dusty town during our short stay. The kind of place where the heat turns up a notch and time slows to a savory standstill. So it’s only sensible that you order another Beer Lao.
Hanoi Street Food
Hanoi Street food. What’s it like? Where can you find it? And what’s the best way to experience it? I’m going to answer all of those questions and share a bit of what I learned about Vietnamese cuisine (or more specifically, Haonian cuisine) from my new friend, Ngoc at Hanoi Street Food Tour.