Saturday, February 28, 2009

Beverage Love

Thais are serious about beverages (and with good reason - it is so hot that if you're not drinking all day long, you'll end up severely dehydrated). Along the main street in our neighborhood there are at least a dozen little stands that make coffee, tea, and other delightful drinks.  Look at all the fun, colorful options here!

This one has some coffee and a lot of tea, with Nestea being the substance of choice. I think I'll pass on that (but this stand is Mike's favorite).
You can tell by the cans of Carnation milk that this stand's main focus is coffee.  I don't know how many cans of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk are consumed in this country on a daily basis, but it's a huge number.  I almost never see people drinking black coffee; it always has lots of milk and sugar!

Before we came here, I didn't really pay attention drinks other than water (OK, and coffee, and beer - just the essentials).  To me, they were a waste of calories and I would rather have something I could chew on.  But then I fell in love with Thai iced coffee, and after that I figured I should give all the other drinks a chance too.  Now I probably spend as much on drinks each day as I do on food (two or three dollars).

Thai iced tea with milk has a nice pretty orange color and tastes like tea with an infusion of wheat.  It doesn't sound particularly pleasant, but trust me, it's good.  It's really creamy and not too sweet - very refreshing on hot, humid afternoons.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Check out my mansion!

Before we came over here, I didn't really think too much about where we would live. I was sure we'd just find an apartment or something, but I didn't really have any idea what to expect. 
When Mike signed up for the TEFL course, the school recommended a hotel that rents rooms by the month. It's comfortable and close to campus, plus it has AC - what more do you need?  This is a little peek at where I currently call home!

There is clearly no equivalent to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) here.  The elevator only has buttons for floors 1, 3 and 5, even though there are six floors in the building. Plus, it stops on landings between floors, so wherever you get off, you have to walk up or down a half-flight of stairs to get to a floor.
I don't have any pictures of our room because it's a mess...but it has two twin beds shoved together to make a king, a TV (with a couple English channels!), a desk, and a wardrobe.  The bathroom has hot water and a Western toilet (yay!) but the shower head just sticks out of the wall so you the entire bathroom gets soaked when you take a shower.

My favorite part is the view off our balcony.

This makes me feel like I'm living in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse! (Which, by the way, I still can't believe they switched to Tarzan's Tree House...lame, Disney, very lame)
It's really nature-y out there!  So nature-y, in fact, that we hear the most bizarre bird calls and songs I've ever heard in my entire life.  There's one that sounds like one of those squeaky dog toys, and another that sounds like a rusty gate closing. There are also dozens of roosters.   It doesn't matter if it's 2 AM, they feel the need to serenade the world all night long!  

We recently discovered that the place across the street costs half as much per month, so we're moving very soon.  Fortunately, we're not leaving the neighborhood because I've completely fallen in love with it!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Noodles I Can't Live Without

I saw a cart on our street ladling out steaming bowls of bright pinkish-red noodle soup,  and asked the lady making them (in Thai!) what it was.  ("What's this?" might be one of the most useful phrases I've picked up so far).
The answer, it turned out, was Yen Ta Fo.

The unique color comes from the sauce that is stirred into the soup. It is slightly sweet and slightly tangy, and can vary in color from natural looking tomato-sauce red to almost flourescent hot pink.

The soup itself has rice noodles, kale, slices of fish cake, fish balls, fried garlic, and fried wontons.  It's a nice, filling lunch but it isn't too heavy.  I've been trying this whenever I see a cart that makes it, and while some versions can be a little bland, I really like all the different components that are mixed in.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My new favorite noodles!

     Thai restaurants in America are keeping a secret from you, and you deserve to know what it is. This is a dish that recently replaced Pad Thai as my I-must-eat-this-at-least-once-a-day-or-I-will-suffer-painful-withdrawals meal. It’s that good.
     The shocking thing is, I never knew it existed. I never tried it during my previous visit to Thailand, I have never seen it on a Thai menu in the states, and I cannot figure out why it’s not served everywhere. It’s Khow Soi: a delicious, coconut-based noodle soup.

     Yes, there are a lot of coconut based Thai soups you have probably tried, but this one is special. First of all, the noodles are soft, yellow wheat noodles, not all that different from fettuccini. The soup features soft tangles of these, PLUS (this is where it gets good) some crispy fried ones on top: a perfect yin and yang of textures. The broth has a red curry base, so it’s a little spicy, but nothing overwhelming. The coconut milk makes it creamy and slightly sweet, and the cilantro garnish gives a nice burst of freshness.

    When it is served, it comes with a plate of highly unappetizing looking shriveled greens, shallots, and lime. I was definitely taken aback the first time I saw the garnishes. Shallots and lime, I can handle, but the greens had no appeal. However, when it comes to eating, I want to do what the locals do, and they put everything into the soup. So with hesitation, I did too. Trust me on this – regardless of how those greens look, they are essential! They are pickled cabbage and they add a vital tanginess to the flavor mix in the soup. You will not be disappointed!
    The reason I love it so much is because, like the best dishes here, it combines salty, sweet, sour, and hot flavors with a mix of textures. Each bite features these in different proportions, so you never have that “okay, this soup is nice but I’m getting bored” phenomenon that often comes with, say, canned tomato soup.
    Next time you a) go out for Thai food or b) come to Chiang Mai (whichever comes first), try to hunt down a bowl of this!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fun snacks

WARNING: There are photos of insect consumption in this post. If you have a weak stomach, move on!

I probably mention in every post that I love all the food options here - the carts are plentiful and cheap, and there are always new things to try.

When I saw the insect stand at the market, I was excited. I'd already been initiated into the bug-eating club with those grubs the other day, so the only tough part here was narrowing down which to try next.

Like these:

Or these (by the way, I thought mackerel was fish...):
Or these:
Oh hello there, grasshopper!  I decided on these, because the Japanese man who was next in line told me they were his favorite.  He looked like someone who knew his (edible) insects, so I trusted his judgement.
The grasshoppers were nice and crunchy - excellent sprinkled with a dash of soy sauce. The only tricky part is their hind legs. They have little spikes on them that can get caught in your throat if you don't chew them completely.
I think next time, I'm going to try the crickets!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!

I'm not sure how Thai people feel about Valentines Day, or if they celebrate it much, but I do know that 7-11 has had a little Valentine's display up for a few weeks with various cards and candy and hideous plush roses. Although I'm usually not a huge fan of the holiday, I couldn't resist picking up a little gift for Mike.
This card was wrapped in plastic and had a label that was entirely written in Thai, so I assumed that the writing on the card would be in Thai. I was kind of excited about that, but when I got it home and opened it up to write inside, I realized it was in English. Kind of a letdown, but I still think it's adorable.

I love the sentiment on this chocolate heart, but I'm not quite sure what meaning they're going for. Is it a "pick which one you mean and circle it" kind of thing? An "I love you because we're married and I don't really have a choice anymore but it's your lucky day because I like you too" message? A clarification "I love you, but I'm too scared to say it, so I tell you I like you very much but I love you is actually what I mean"? Whatever it is, I love it I like it very much!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sunday grazing

Sundays, when I don't have to work and Mike doesn't have class, are great days to wander around the city. We usually run across things we've never seen before, which is always fun. And because of our obsession with things food-related, we often end up grazing on street food all day long.  

On this particular Sunday, we found a Market near the mall. There was some great looking food I'd never seen before.
On the left are some delightful little creamy custards with corn, and on the right are sweet little coconut-coverd mochi balls (I'm not sure if it really is mochi, but that's what it reminds me of).
Here's a better look at the corn dessert.  It comes in a cute little banana leaf cup:

Really brightly colored desserts - I was intrigued but didn't try any...maybe next time!

Waffles are a huge deal here.  In Bangkok, there's a waffle stand in every SkyTrain station.  On our street, there's a cart that sells all different flavors.  These come in all sorts of flavors...taro, pumpkin, shredded pork, coconut...
I love these cute little banana leaf boats filled with egg and other mix-ins.
Our random wandering also took us to the main stage of the Flower festival, where we saw some great dancers.

I think the best way to see a city is just to start walking and see where you end up!  What have you been surprised to find on a walk during your travels?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Same Blog, New Look

I made a new banner for the blog, because I'm not excatly baking chocolate chip cookies or sauteeing carrots these days.  All my old recipes are still here, though!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Walk Home

5:30 PM on a Friday night is when this our street starts to feel really alive.  I love my walk home from work, because I get to see some beautiful aspects of life in this city that I've come to love.

Food carts start setting up around 4:30 PM, and by dinner time the entire street is lined with them.  They sell all sorts of amazing food - noodles, mean on skewers, traditional Thai desserts, steamed buns, fried chicken... all for incredibly cheap!
Sunset tai chi in the park.  I love it when I see this.
There's a surprising amount of sushi around, but it doesn't seem like it's refrigerated.  Thanks but no thanks! I do not like my raw fish with a side of bacteria.
Food on sticks is everywhere!  This stand has a few kinds of sausages, fish balls, and whole squid.  Still haven't tried the squid...
I love the color of the monks' robes.
The scooter.  A perfect family vehicle...great for grocery shopping... and I'm actually shocked at how many people are wearing helmets in this picture!
Fruit.  So much divine fruit.  Convenient little bags of watermelon, guava, pineapple, papaya and  cantaloupe... for about 30 cents!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Soup, Iced Coffee, and Nanobots

I said I would branch out from Phad Thai...and I guess posting that for the world (or my handful of readers) to see made me follow through! In fact, I haven't had it in at least 48 hours!

Last night, I got a call from my boss.
"Catherine, we have a 13 year old boy who wants to learn science. You know science, right?"
"Uhhh, I guess so. What does he want to learn?"
"Don't worry, he'll bring his book. It's for two hours, tomorrow from 2 to 4. Is that OK?"
Not one to turn down A) a challenge or B) money, I agreed to give it a shot.
WHAT AM I DOING!?!? I thought after I hung up the phone.

Fast forward to today. Ohhh my, what am I going to do with a 13 year old boy, who may or may not speak decent English, who wants to learn science (I mean, I do work for a language school, so I couldn't help but assume he needed assistance in that department).

About an hour and a half before I had to go to the school, I walked to one of my favorite restaurants (aka one with an English menu) and ordered this soup.

Wide rice noodles in a slightly thickened broth flavored with a hint of golden mountain sauce. Chunks of tender chicken and plenty of Chinese broccoli (I'm still not sure what the vegetable actually is, but that's my best guess).

When it arrives, I immediately cover it with red chili flakes (I no longer have any interest in food that isn't so spicy it almost makes my cry. My digestive system is still fighting me on this new development, but I won't back down).

That fresh baby corn... nobody should live without the pleasure of it in their lives.

After lunch I still had a little while so I went to my favorite cafe. It's popular with college students reading Manga, teenage girls gossiping and text messaging, and aging American expatriates, which is a weird mix but I still love it.

I ordered what I always do, a Thai Iced Coffee. I will NEVER tire of this beverage. And I used to drink my coffee black!

I soon realized it was time to get to school for this science lesson. The boy, it turns out, is half Thai, half Japanese, goes to the best International school in the area, speaks impeccable English and is pretty much a genius. He didn't end up bringing a book, so I asked him what interested him.
"Nanobots" he said.

"Riiiight. Those are....?" He's probably thinking wow, my parents are wasting their money!

"Microscopic robots. They are still being invented. I want to develop one that goes into the body and selectively exterminates cells infected with the HIV virus." Of course you do! Why wouldn't you?

Fortunately, I have a decent understanding of how the HIV virus works (thank you, Cal Poly biology department).
So, we figured out what the nanorobot would need to do by watching videos about HIV replication on YouTube. Then he decided he would disguise his nanorobot so it looked just like a red blood cell and the body wouldn't attack it.

You know, just your average 13 year old boy Friday afternoon activity.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beer, Thai Style

I think the liquor license situation is a little more relaxed here than in California. And by a little, I mean I think there's really no licensing at all, or if there is, it's not enforced.

There's a little convenience store on our street with a few tables out front, and there are almost always people sitting there drinking beer. You can just grab whatever you like out of the refrigerated case and bring it to your table.  In moments, a bucket of ice with tongs and a glass will appear.  

That's right...they drink their beer with ice cubes here.  I guess it makes sense considering how hot it usually is, but I just can't get behind the concept of watering down my beer and I think I'd rather just chug it cold than keep it cool with ice cubes, but I guess I can't really say that with authority until I've actually tried it.  That's on my to-do list...

Those beers with the ice cubes aren't mine...they belong to two university students who hang out at the tables in front of the store all the time.  Basically any hour of the day, there are a few Thai students and a few Western students (taking the 4-week TEFL course at the university) practicing English and Thai with each other.  It's amazing how much Thai I've picked up just by sitting at those tables.  Just buy the guys beer and you're guaranteed to get help with your pronunciation for hours!

Monday, February 2, 2009

I may have a problem

Phad thai. I can't stop myself from ordering at least once a day. At 30 baht (less than a dollar) at least it's a cheap vice.

We have a favorite restaurant just a few blocks from our apartment that seems to be the favorite of a huge percentage of the university students, because it's almost always packed. And they have a menu in English! Score! (Except, they also have a menu in Thai that is much longer, and I'm trying really hard to figure out what is on it because I totally feel like I'm missing out.)

I swore I would not be the typical tourist. I would learn how to order all the local specialties in Thai, I would branch out and try new dishes every day. I would eat at every restaurant on the street before choosing a favorite.

And then about 10 days ago I found this restaurant, and I had their phad thai, and I realized that all the Thai regulars were also eating it, so it was obviously pretty decent (I mean, I know it's good, but that was the extra validation I needed). And it comes with this delightful dish of bean sprouts, green onions, and lime so you can make it personalized and wonderful. I've been eating it ever since.

You would do it too! I know you would. Those delightfully smooth and sweet noodles with the little morsels of fried egg, and the occasional muted crunch of dried shrimp. The pile of ground peanuts and sliced green onions that comes on the side of your plate just waiting to be all mixed up with the noodles, creating the perfect balance of flavors and textures. Delightful.

Tomorrow, I really will try something new. For lunch. And then for dinner, I'll be back at my usual spot, happily slurping up phad thai.