As I sit in my in Zenz, my local Thai restaurant, I wonder how it all went wrong. The crispy chilli beef could be anything, mostly it seems to be made of jam. The lemon chicken is giving me cavities with each mouthful and the Thai fishcakes would be more handy to re-sole my trainers with. The less said about the crispy duck (possibly squirrel) the better. The trouble is that this meal is pretty much what you’ll find in most BRitish small town Asian restaurants and takeaways. There is nothing remotely authentic about it. The food is often microwave heated and the balance of flavours would only appeal someone with an insanely sweet tooth.
I know this is not the way food is meant to be. Thai food should be complexly seasoned and have a delicate balance of bitter, sweet, salty and sour. The food should be flavoured with delicious herbs and spices. There should be a wide variety of seasonal vegetables. Not a token carrot in sight. Clearly someone has been pulling the wool over my eyes.
The real McCoy
There are many reasons why I have always wanted to visit Asia, but having the opportunity to taste some authentic cuisine is the biggest one. A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Thailand where she travelled on her own, attending cookery schools around the country. She regaled us with tales of the beautiful countryside, the people she met on the way and the way of life. All while we ate the most stunning Pad Thai at her kitchen table.
It seems as though the only way I’m going to get a decent Thai meal is to pack my bags and head off to Thailand to get one. It will certainly be a far cry from the food served at Zenz restaurant. For a start, fish cakes should contain some element of fish!
Picture credit: echiner1.
En route to Thailand
The first place I’d want to head to is straight to Ayutthaya and into the Central Plains – this area is often known as the ‘rice bowl’ and is the agricultural centre of Thailand. You can fly straight into Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport and get a bus along Route 4 from there. In the region there are rice paddies and shrimp farms galore, but the biggest draw are the floating markets.
One of the most popular floating markets is the Damnoen Saduak market. Hundreds of boats fill the river each morning selling, I imagine, the freshest fruits and vegetables from the region. Everything is available from Pak Choi to Papaya my friend tells me. Perfect for recreating authentic recipes. The market is colourful, the air is full of unfamiliar smells and the locals barter noisily between the boats. You can pick up some great meals too at the market. I would dearly love to try mango and sticky rice the way it is meant to be cooked!
Picture credit to tommykwok630.
Cooking, cooking, cooked
The next thing is to have a few cookery lessons. There are plenty of English-speaking courses that run throughout Thailand. The Baipai Cookery school in Bangkok has been running for 10 years and offers hands-on courses. The menus are based on seasonal produce and it looks very professional. Sounds right up my street, and a lot different from the depressing home economics lessons of my childhood.
Finally on my little tour of Thailand I’d like to sample as much street food as possible. It’s a million miles away from the roadside greasy bacon sandwiches that you find sold out of a van on the A1. Steamed chicken with fragrant rice, little Chinese doughnuts flavoured with soya milk and noodle soups flavoured with all kinds of delicious delicacies. What better way to get around a country than to eat your way around!
Of course the food is only part of my dream of visiting Thailand. The country, it’s people and culture are so far removed from rainy dismal Blighty. The landscape extreme, from the vast rice paddies to the beautiful white sand beaches. Hopefully I will come back more knowledgeable, a little fatter and with a feeling of satiety!