cobilingual


Food, inside and out
March 12, 2013, 11:29 am
Filed under: travel



People dining outside the temple

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

My market food experience described in my last post isn’t typical of my Thai food experiences. Mostly when I try something that I don’t know what it is I’m rewarded with a culinary revelation. For example, banana flower salad! I love stuffed zucchini flowers in Italian food – I didn’t know that banana flowers could be equally as scrumptious.

I’m also enjoying a coconut curry soup with noodles like pretzels in it. They taste like pretzels but are shaped like lightning. They are crispy joy. Speaking of crispy joy – fried wild pepper leaves! Or betel leaves (there is controversy on the interwebs which is used) – either way, nom nom!

Food is everywhere in Chiang Mai’s old city. You can hardly go ten metres without having options of street food or restaurants. During the Sunday walking market, the grounds of a Buddhist temple (pictured) is converted into a massive food court with hundreds of food stalls – as well as, I’m pleased to say, two different types of bins for recycling (shame on any so-called ‘developed’ countries where that’s not yet typical practice).

With such a diversity of options available, it’s silly to try and eat Western food. That said, there’s plenty around for three reasons. The first being lame, unadventurous tourists. The second being locals wanting to try Western food. The third being expats with cravings.

I am not yet the latter, but in preparation for the eventuality I was escorted to the big fancy shopping centre supermarket where I was encouraged to buy things I couldn’t get other places. I felt indignant that I should need such a trip. I’m a traveller, not a tourist! I don’t need anything the locals don’t need! But it’s standard practice with orientation. A fellow expat who’s been here 11 months, but with a family in tow, described her experience of being taken to the big Tesco in her first week and wheeling her trolley around in a daze, torn between feeling the trip was unnecessary, but also mild panic about choosing the right things, with dazed-until-crazed kids running around making the situation worse.

I came away from my supermarket experience with dark rye bread and an avocado. There were no knives at the supermarket, despite a bewildering array of kitchen devices. There was no knives or forks or spoons, despite large barbecuing forks and ladles. This is one of those baffling things it’s better not to question (unless someone from Tesco is reading this – sell cutlery in your Chiang Mai Central Airport Plaza store!).

So in my little bar fridge I’ve had rye bread and an avocado waiting. This morning I decided I should use the avocado before it goes off. The bread is beyond fresh eating – it’s toast or bust.

So I took my rye bread and avocado to breakfast with me, since they have cutlery there. Like most guests here I’ve been eating the fresher and tastier-looking Thai breakfast options and fresh salad, rather than the less appetising UHT milk or sweet breads and marmalades.

I feel it’s important to emphasise here that I was put in the position of wanting to use this avocado and rye bread because I felt compelled to buy things at the supermarket because I was shuttled there for that purpose. I didn’t mean to make a fuss at breakfast this morning.

I entered the breakfast room with my own bread and fruit in hand. The staff looked a little disconcerted. I told them my room number, making it clear I still intended to pay for breakfast. There were a pile of butter knives along with the usual array of cutlery and crockery at the entrance. I picked up a butter knife and gestured a cutting motion into my rye bread with it. They understood, then three staff proceeded to discuss the matter. Eventually a lady who spoke English was called out from the kitchen, who said “you need a sharper knife?” to which I replied “that would be fantastic, thank you”.

In such cross-cultural situations I should probably just say “yes” so make life simpler for everyone. I can’t seem to help but make things more complicated, misguidedly gushing thanks and praise when in awkward situations like being the lady who brings her own breakfast to the breakfast buffet.

Four people were chattering in Thai about the bread-cutting situation, before the lady disappeared into the kitchen again. I stood around awkwardly for a minute until the staff dissipated. So I went to get some salad and breakfast from the buffet as normal. I’ve been advised that in Thailand if something awkward happens often the appropriate response is to pretend nothing happened. One of the first phrases I learnt was ‘mai bpen rai’ – ‘no worries’ – which is useful for this.

I at down and proceeded to eat my normal breakfast and pretended to ignore my loaf of rye bread and avocado sitting on the table next to my bag.

Eventually – voila! The lady reappeared with a sharp knife! I thanked her in Thai and gave her a big smile. I’d advanced to the next level of my ‘being the strange lady who brings her own breakfast’ game. I cut two slices of bread. I do love good dark rye, so this was satisfying. Then I approached the toasting machine, which was turned off, because no-one else was silly enough to want to use it when there were lovely, healthier Thai breakfast options available.

Two staff buzzed over and examined the machine, discussing it in Thai. I waited (trying to be polite now) before pointing to the knob that said ‘off’, ‘toast’, ‘buns’. They nodded so I set it to toast. The light went on and the conveyer started whirring along, so the staff retreated and I put in my bread slices. It was one of those slow conveyer belt things often found at breakfast buffets, so I went to get a plate while I waited for my toast.

When I returned a minute later my bread had vanished. I looked around the breakfast buffet room. Had someone else found my toast irresistible? I considered it unlikely someone else would want to implicate themselves in my spectacle of weirdness.

On closer inspection I discovered that the tray that slides the toast back to the front of the machine upon toasting wasn’t installed properly, so the toast fell off the back of the conveyor belt, behind the table onto the carpet floor.

I picked my toast off the floor. It was beyond the three second rule, but it was clean carpet. Also the machine was so slow it would need at least two goes through to be toasted. I adjusted the catching tray and wedged my plate on top of the gap to the floor for safe measure.

After another two runs through the machine my two sliced of rye bread were toasted. I put avocado on them. It was tasty.

So is banana blossom salad and fresh coconuts though – and they’re less of an ordeal. Now I have two-thirds of a chunk of rye-bread back in my bar fridge that I feel compelled to use up. It was probably more expensive than the entire breakfast buffet.

I blame Tesco for selling dark rye bread and nothing to cut it with.

But whatever. I am strange – there’s no scapegoat for that. YOLO. Mai bpen rai.

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1 Comment so far
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Slightly nuts, quite amusing…. Cobes, can I give you some blog tips?
I think I want to eat banana blossom salad when I visit xo

Comment by Sarah Rhodes (@saraherhodes)




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