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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Chatuchak and other things


Chatuchak market

In my last couple of weeks in Bangkok, I have a learnt a thing or two about Thai food. For one, the food is significantly spicier than I expected it to be, and certainly spicier than the food that I have eaten at Thai restaurants outside Thailand.

When I think about Thai food, the images that come to mind are those of gentle red and green curries, sweet from the flavour of coconut milk, and of the many servings of pad thai - salty, sweet and sour all at the same time- that I ate at a popular lunchtime stall in London's Whitecross Street on much deserved breaks from drafting legal documents.

My time in Bangkok has been a rude eye-opener in that sense. On at least a few occasions, I enthusiastically dived into my food only to discover that the spice level was too much for me, yes, even for me, with my spice-friendly South Indian genes. Once I had cooled myself down with a few glasses of water, and the smoke had stopped billowing from my ears, I would poke around in my food to investigate the source of the heat. Invariably, I would find flecks of the deadly bird's eye chilli floating around in my plate. They are ubiquitous in Kerala, and on my last visit, I spotted several little plants sprouting bright red chillies in my aunt's garden. In my family, we treat them with the respect that they deserve, and use them cautiously in our food. The Thai people on the other hand, seem to thumb their noses at the species, throwing them liberally into anything they cook.

Dried fish at Chatuchak
On a more pleasant note, exotic and delicious fruits are everywhere in Bangkok. There are little carts dotted across the city selling everything from juicy mangosteen to hairy rambutan and crunchy rose apple. There is also an impressive selection of drinks on offer that I hadn't come across before I arrived here. I have had a long standing weakness for sweet Thai iced tea, which I guiltily order at Thai restaurants, fully aware of the alarming quantities of rich, sweet condensed milk that are used in making my drink. Although I have yet to overcome my weakness for Thai iced tea, I have been introduced to a much wider variety of drinks here that I promise to cover in another post.  

Bangkok has an equally impressive variety of desserts to offer. So far, of the many options at hand, I have tried coconut milk ice-cream and mangoes with sticky rice, both of which made me go weak in the knees. I can already see war with the weighing scales on the horizon.
Over the weekend, I was at Chatuchak market, which is supposedly the world's largest outdoor weekend market. There, I spotted stalls selling packets of sliced mango with sticky rice. In few other cities have I seen such delicious dessert being sold on the streets. As part of their marketing efforts, the vendors each had a large mango strapped to their foreheads with string. Sadly, our taxi was weaving in and out of traffic too quickly for me to capture their innovative marketing in action.

Pineapple rice buried insde...
Although the street food was all very tempting, it was far too hot for us to eat outside. We sought refuge in an air conditioned restaurant in one of Chatuchak's many alleyways. I was feeling unusually adventurous and decided to give myself a break from the usual, opting for the exotic sounding nam phrik with ground pork. When our food arrived, my friend dived in with gusto into her pineapple rice that came served in a large scooped out pineapple, whereas I discovered that nam phrik is simply a sour and spicy dip that comes served with sliced vegetables. If you have read at least a couple of posts on this blog, you may recollect that vegetables and I are not the best of friends. Besides, I am too accustomed to Indian food to consider any sort of salad to be a complete meal. My nam phrik platter did come with a piece of fried fish, but it was too oily and tasteless to compensate for the dish's fatal flaws. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed with my choice, and have resolved to maintain a safe distance from nam phrik for the remainder of my time in Bangkok.
 
Nam Phrik
We spent a few hours basking in the delights of Chatuchak market. Still, we barely scratched its surface. I have promised myself at least one more visit to Chatuchak before it is time to bid Bangkok goodbye.

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