(See my blog entry for March 26th, 2009 for "Round One")
The combination of 28% alcohol Thai moonshine and our nine course dinner of wild greens, shoots, blooms and grubs definitely had a euphoric effect on my friends, Lak and Chat. As we polished off the rest of the bottle, they insisted on a repeat performance the very next night. Except this time, they wanted to do all the cooking and free me to watch them prep and cook, and to catch their action on my camera.
As our reverie continued late into the night, our conversation also rounded its way back to foods, peppered with far-out experiences and buried longings. A wife of my friend’s estate manager, Aoy suddenly recalled something she tasted over a year ago. She didn’t know the name, but her memory of its heavenly taste was as vivid as if she had just tasted it. From her description, I guessed it to be a Pavlova. She asked if I could make it for her.
Surprisingly, the 28% moonshine left no damaging effect on my person the next day. In fact I felt great as I Googled for the pitfalls of making a Pavlova in a humid climate. Aoy had promised to buy the eggs and all baking equipment including an electric hand-held mixer. I was to shop for the rest of the ingredients.
Late in the afternoon, I showed up at my friend, Khun Mom Tri’s kitchen. Lak , adorned with his colorful apron , was hard at work pounding the marinade for a fish dish. Chat was singing by the stove while stirring sliced pork, fat, innards and other unidentifiable parts once belonging to a pig together with some very powerful spices in a wok. Lak began to hum along with Chat. Both men were very content despite the fact that the fumes from the chilies had permeated the entire kitchen, making it almost impossible to breathe without choking and coughing. I escaped to make the Pavlova in another kitchen next door.
While my beautiful meringue baked in the oven, I returned to watch the men. Lak started to pack a fresh bamboo culm with mustard greens and Chinese celery, sandwiching them with pieces of marinated fish, lemongrass, Thai basil leaves and pandanus leaves. He mixed what remained of the marinade with a couple of ladles of chicken broth, spooned it into the culm and tapped it several times on the table to settle the content inside. He then sealed the top by stuffing in fresh banana leaves and handed the culm to Chat to grill. At dinner, Lak would uncork the banana leaves and empty the perfectly cooked fish into a bowl, perfuming the kitchen with the aroma of crushed, warmed herbs and spices. It was one of the best tasting fish dishes I have ever eaten.
There was a bowl of a very green algae-like substance on the kitchen table. Lak said it was his favorite and he wanted to cook for me as a surprise. He had gotten up early that morning to go into the woods where he harvested the fresh-water meal from the pond. This strange green dense mass from the pond is actually a perennial herb. It is highly nutritious, packed with calcium, prosperous and iron. Lak sautéed it in a wok with some oil, garlic, minced pork and seasonings. The heat muted the brightness of the herb to mossy green. It tasted like cream of wheat, smooth, silken and surprisingly comforting.
Lak also made a soup with chicken and long skinny pods called ma room. After it is cooked, it is eaten the same way as artichoke leaves. First you split open the pod and then slither the inner tender section through your teeth. Oddly, it also tastes a bit like artichoke.
Lak’s wife Fon made the meanest and tastiest som tum. While the boisterous men talked and laughed while cooking, Fon quietly pounded shredded raw papaya and cherry tomatoes in a mortar adding a bit of fermented fish paste, garlic, salt, loads of chilies and lime juice. The other guests (except for me) knew about her som tum and eagerly took spoonfuls of it before helping themselves to any of the other dishes on the table. They would wolf it down followed with a pinch of kneaded sticky rice, making whistling sounds while at the same time taking and expelling several deep breaths to dispel the potent burning taste from the chilies. My friend's estate manager Moo went after a plate of bloody red raw buffalo beef salad. Lak made it just for him after we had all sat down for dinner. While his wife, Aoy, ate half of my “perfect” Pavlova after our dinner, Moo was very happy drinking glass after glass of ice cold Singha beer, munching on the bloody spicy meat, and giggling nonstop to whatever was said by any of us. I think it was the blood that had activated his laughing machine!
Elements Of Life: Important Information Update!
My newest book,The Elements of Life comes with a wheel that helps you determine your home element(s). Unfortunately, there are mistakes printed on the back of the wheel. Until the publisher can correct them, these are the right dates:
March 8, 1998
March 17, 2003
March 6, 2004
March 8, 1998
March 17, 2003
March 6, 2004