The Best Laid Plans – Siam Summer

Waiting for sandwiches outside of Holey Bakery

Yes, she is smiling.

How do I know?

She told me so.

She is smiling even though I made a mistake for lunch. There is an amazing bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Bangkok that is a little off the  beaten path, but during the year I have lived here, it has become one of my favorite places to visit. It is called Holey Bakery and they make maybe the best Cubano sandwich. It is kind of a pain in the butt to get to from our house in Samakorn, so I really only eat here while I am staying downtown. One of the things that I really wanted to do on this trip was having lunch there, and even though it still took a fifteen minutes cab ride to get there, I still made the effort to go there. Sadly, when we got there, their dining room was closed and they were only serving take out food. Considering there are no real locations around it that I know of to picnic, we were left no option but to order the food and head back to the little apartment we are renting. So we grabbed another cab, and returned back to where we started from. It made the trip feel like it was all for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. We still got sandwiches and had a great lunch, but it was not the same experience as dining at Holey Bakery. I guess I should have expected such things during this age of Covid, and I should not be disappointed when things do not go the way I hope for. It is just life right now and at least I am allowed to go out on these expeditions in the hope for a great sandwich.

A more traditional version of pad thai

And for every thing that does not go my way, there is another experience that goes better than I expected. We have been going out to eat almost every night since we have been on this little vacation, and it has been nice to enjoy a meal delivered to you again. Yes, the restaurants are quiet because of the social distancing and they are still not allowed to serve a drink while you dine, but it is still great to have that option.

Most of the food we have gone out to eat has been from various parts of the world, sushi, Mexican, and Italian, but considering we are in Bangkok, it seemed only appropriate to go to a Thai restaurant. I know that many people would consider that counterproductive considering Thailand is known for its street food, and anything I could find in a Thai restaurant could also be found from a vendor. There is some truth to that. Many small carts will serve pad thai, curries, and grilled chicken strips, but it will never compete with the food and service we were able to get at a restaurant. And we found a great one, Soul Food, just off of Sukhimvit on Thong Lor. It is a tiny place on the right side of the street, but once you find it, it is really worth the journey.

A great northern Thai treat, khao soi

We enjoyed the tamarind ribs for an appetizer before diving deep into a pad thai platter, and some khao soi. The pad thai was better than anything that could be served at a street vendor. They wrapped the noodles and spices in an omelet that exploded with flavor with each bite.

But the real treat was the khao soi. This is a traditional northern dish which I am not aware if any place outside of Thailand actually prepares it. I was really excited to see it on the menu. Even better than that, my dish could easily compete with the recipes that they make in Chaing Mai. It was definitely the best version of this dish I have found in Bangkok, and should be one of the reason that people visiting Bangkok should hunt down this place.

It just proved that in this new time that the world is going through, we don’t always know what we are going to get when we leave the house. But we should not let that discourage us. It is just an adjustment that we will have to make. Sometimes we will be disappointed by what we find, and sometimes we will run into something that was unexpected. The point is to continue to live life and not let the small things drag us down. If everybody takes on this attitude as we wade back into the waters of society, it make it a happier place for everybody involved.

Making Food Babies – Chiang Mai, Thailand

The rice fields on the farm at the Thai Farm Cooking School

Have you ever played that game where you ask a person if they could only eat one type of food for the rest of their lives, what would it be? Many people would answer Italian, or Japanese. Every once in a while I have heard French, or Indian, but I have never heard anybody mention English food. If you ask them what their second choice would be, Thai food tends to pop up more than any other kind. Sometimes when hearing this second choice from other people, some may change their minds and make this delicacy their first choice. It is a type of food with rich history, tons of variety, and enough spice to keep you interested for the rest of your life. And if you are ever in Chiang Mai, it is a wonderful way to spend a day, not by hopping from restaurant to street vendor, but enrolling in a day long cooking class.

A wander around the garden requires a sun hot, and not just because it is so stylish

There are many different school offering all day cooking classes around town and it may be hard to pick the right one, but I was happy with the one that we went with, the Thai Farm Cooking School. The day starts early in the morning when they picked us up at our hotel, and drove us out to one of the markets so they could talk to us about some of the ingredients that we could find there, and what would we would want to buy to make the perfect Thai dishes. It was a fun introduction to the markets in Thailand, and the one they took us to was one of the better ones I have seen for produce.

Afterwards they took us out to a farm that they ran. The tour continued as our guide, Gift (yes, Thai names can be weird, but they usually fit the personality of the person that possesses them), took us around so we could try the various flowers, vegetables, and roots that could be found in the garden. It was interesting to see how complicated the process came to collecting the right ingredients to make some of these iconic dishes.

Cooking pad thai

The rest of the day was spent making a dish and then eating it. I had heard about what a test of endurance this could be for even the hardiest of eaters, so I made sure to have a light breakfast before I started on what would be a delightful culinary day. I learned about why my Thai cooking never turned out as good as the food I could have gotten at a restaurant, and I learned how to blend them together to make the perfect dishes. A lot of it had to do with ingredients that can only be found in Thailand, or at least the local Asian market in the United States. Either way, it takes a little more time to collect these ingredients, and then it takes even more time to prepare them so they are ready to be made. This includes pulling out a mortar and pestle to grind up chilis and other spices to make the paste needed for curries.

Tom Yam Kung soup, a great spicy starter

But it wasn’t just about learning how to make the perfect Tom Yam Kung, it was also about learning a little bit about the Thai culture and language as well. Gift was great about telling us about how to eat like a real Thai person, and the language that we could use to blend in a little bit more. She even explained to us all about the complicated wai as a greeting, a sign of respect, and a goodbye. I had heard a lot of this before, but I could see how the other people along the trip would have appreciated hearing all about it.

How to make a presentation out of a yellow curry dish

Thai food is not only delicious, but the really good Thai food also knows how to be visually stunning as well. There are numerous stories about why this is the case, but the most popular one comes from one of the ancient kings, Rama IV. One of his servants would craft the food that she made into some of the most intricate art including ships and flowers that when he saw it he became instantly enamored of her talents. He then required that his wife learn this art while she prepared food as well, and the tradition took off in Thailand. Our teacher tried to teach us some of the finer aspects of this art as she would made some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen with what appeared to be the simplest of ease.

A failed attempt at making a presentation out of a red curry dish (Kaeng Phed)

I quickly found out that recreating these masterpieces was not as easy as it looked. And even though I could not make it look as pretty, at least, it still tasted delicious. The meals kept on coming as well. After the soup and curry, we made pad thai, and stir-fried basil chicken. We had a papaya salad, and even ended up by making a traditional Thai desert of bananas in coconut milk.

Chicken basil stir fry as a girl with pigtails

Along the way, I even was able to make one of my dishes appealing enough so a five year old might even want to eat it. There were no five year olds around, so I have to eat it instead. And it was delicious. By the end of the long day, and the five courses that I had consumed, I had created a food baby in my belly, and was verging on a food coma. I had learned a lot about traditional Thai food, and a little bit about their lifestyles. And all along the way, I had a great time. It was a great way to spend the day, and should be placed on anybody’s itinerary who makes it out to Chiang Mai.