Saturday, March 26, 2011

43 Thailand #8: End of the World Chicken

I love eating at places like this!
The spread
Nam prik noon and cabbage
On our second night in Chiang Mai, A. and T. told us that we were going to a place that served something T. and his friend had dubbed "End of the World Chicken" because it was the last thing they would want to eat if the world was ending. A place known mostly to locals, it was packed, with a line out the door (so to speak, since the whole place was open to the street) when we arrived around midnight.

After a short wait, our midnight snack arrived: A half order of pieces of fried chicken and innards and a half order of fried pork, served with sticky rice, a dank nam prick noon (chile paste) redolent of chile char and fermented fishy essence, strips of pickled cabbage, and soft boiled eggs oozing dark orange yolk. M. was particularly fond of the nam prick noon. My favorite part was dipping neatly rolled marbles of sticky rice into the drippy yolk, followed by a bite of salty, crispy chicken.

I probably would have forgotten it was Christmas Day if it wasn't for the guys in Santa hats sitting at a nearby table.

43 Thailand #7: Sukiyaki

Think there's enough scallions?
Lately, I've been thinking about Japan a lot. Originally, we were thinking about sending clothes and food, but as Maki of Just Bento and Just Hungry, one of my favorite bloggers (she's responsible for getting me into bentoing) points out in a recent post, given all the current transportation difficulties, the surest way to make sure you're helping from overseas is to send money. In her post she recommends organizations that you can donate to.

And that's a segueway to my next travel post from our trip to Thailand (getting back to my 43 travel stories).

Japanese food is pretty popular in Thailand: from sushi to sukiyaki, a hearty soup of sliced beef simmered together with vegetables and noodles in a hot pot and eaten family style. On both of my trips there I've eaten the latter with my friends A. and T., though the Thai versions I've had bore a closer resemblance to Chinese hotpot or Japanese shabu shabu, with your own individual dipping sauce and quick cooking vegetables, meat, and other ingredients that you add at different times.

However, I had never encountered a dish like the one pictured, also called sukiyaki. A. ordered it on our second night in Chiang Mai. The basic elements were thin noodles and scallions, stir-fried with egg in a sweetish sauce. Though the dish itself wasn't particularly memorable (I preferred my lad na), the name intrigued both me and M., though our friends were at a loss to explain where the name came from when we asked.

It's interesting to see how the use of an imported word develops and evolves over time (in a particular culture (case in point, mandu). I wonder how common the fried noodle dish called sukiyaki is in Thailand?

Monday, March 7, 2011

43 Thailand #6: Lad Na

On our second night in Chiang Mai, after visiting A's aunt, we went to a brightly lit cafe for dinner. M. ordered Penang curry, A. got something called Sukiyaki, and, for nostalgia's sake, I got Lad Na Moo.

My dad has been cooking Thai food since before I was born, and his dishes were a regular part of meals at home while I was growing up. For what it's worth, his Thai food remains the standard by which I judge other Thai food, and some of his versions are still my favorites. Even today when I go home for a visit I always request at least one Thai dish from Dad.

There were several dishes that were part of the regular rotation at our house: Pad thai, Larb (my favorite, especially with fresh green beans from the garden), various kinds of Tom Yum soups, Kao Pad (Thai fried rice), and a noodle dish called Guay Teow Lad Na, which I didn't really care for all that much as a kid. It was made with wider rice noodles than pad thai, in a sticky brown sauce with sliced pork and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). At the table he'd serve the finished dish with a jar of his vinegar peppers. The resulting combination of textures and flavors didn't really appeal to me. The vinegar was too pungent, the sticky sweetness not to my liking at all (I was the weird kid who would forgo dessert in favor of a second helping of peas).

However, as I got older and my palate expanded, I started to appreciate Lad Na more: the deep flavor and sticky texture of dark soy sauce, the contrast of crunchy vinegar peppers and chewy noodles, and the savory bits of slightly charred gai lan. Though I like it more now, I don't eat it very often, as it is not as common as other Thai dishes on menus outside of Thailand.

The Lad Na that I ordered in Chiang Mai was not dark brown like Dad's but in a much lighter gravy, with more of it (in Dad's version the sauce is much thicker and clings to the noodles more) and made with sen yai (thick rice noodles). It could be that this was a regional variant. However, with its contrast of chewy noodles, vinegar and crunch from the added peppers, gai lan and garlicky sauce, it evoked meals long past, and I might as well have been sitting at our kitchen table in Minnesota with the sun slanting through the atrium, eating dinner with my family. When you're living abroad and family times are few and far between, those moments count for a lot.


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