Sunday, January 3, 2010

oh the food!!

people who know me at all know that a major love of my life is food. i think it falls second only to books. and the food in se asia falls second only to afghani food for me, so im pretty much in a constant state of bliss here. the mixture of flavors is what really makes the cuisine here something to relish. sweet, spicy, sour, salty, all in one dish. it seems overwhelming, but when done right is a miraculous event for the tastebuds. and what a change coming from japan, where the flavors are so subtle, so muted, that it takes a ...oh lets say, serene palate to really enjoy them. and not that one is really better than the other, i more than anyone appreciate a good zaru tofu. having worked in an organic tofu shop, it made me something of a tofu snob, and where most people not only couldnt tell the difference, but most likely wouldnt care, i will go into a near faint when presented with fresh, rich, tofu, or - soy be praised - yuba (the oily skin skimmed from the top of cooling soymilk). sigh...

ok, reminiscing aside, the food here is enjoyed in a whole other part of the brain it seems, or at least a different part of the tongue. panang curry (fav by far), pho, som tam, spring rolls, mango with sticky rice (uuuuhhhhh, so good). the potency of the herbs is amazing, basil, cliantro, garlic, ginger, chillies, in quantities that feel will bust out your sinuses. and the drinks! all different kinds of teas, boba drinks, smoothies. wow, they sure like things sweet over here. now i'm not complaining, cause i have a sweet tooth like no other, but boy howdy do i exceed a healthy sugar intake most days. in the above photo i am having the most AMAZING drink i have ever had. i stopped by many of the food carts out on new years eve , and besides the mango salad and a bamboo stalk filled with sticky rice and azuki, i had a syrupy beverage that was filled with yellow beans, lychee, black jelly, a bunch of other stuff i couldnt identify (all of it sweetened), and wouldnt you know it was topped off with my favorite of root vegetables, rankon (sweetened of course). it was such an amazing mix of flavors and textures, it was the most i have ever enjoyed a drink, bar none. i would have gotten a second, but there was no way i could fit another one in my already distended belly. now, you didnt have to add all of the ingredients if you didnt want them, but i just had the vendor add a little of everything. and thats what makes the food so great here, there's a bit for every taste. when you get a noodle dish, there is usually a tray nearby with crushed red chillies, sugar, fish or oyster sauce, and some other random seasoning. i of course love my dishes spicy and sweet, so im usually applying liberal amounts of the chillies and sugar. i have only been here a month and i am happy to say that i can ask the vendors to add more chillies, even in this region known for serving the food already quite spicy. but its not like i think i can handle more spice than the locals, its that im pretty sure they tone down the spice for the foreigner, and i need to get them to boost it to an adequate level. and by adequate i mean nose slightly running but not quite sweating. and one big plus is there are plenty of places that serve gluten and such as a meat substitute (although i dont really consider it a substitute, its well deserved as being an edible in its own right), so i can get noodle dishes with lots of tofu and meaty gluten as a hearty meal. im sure i have eaten oyster sauce or something a few times, but overall the vegan experience has been a good one, i certainly dont feel like i am missing out on anything. if i do decide to try a meat dish (something i allow myself once in other countries as a "cultural experience"), it would have to be something with shrimp, as that is by far the most common "meat" addition, and admittedly i do loves me some shrimp. or did at one point in my life.

so if i come back to the states a few pounds heavier, you will all know why. luckily most of the food is pretty healthy, but im a bit of a glutton, and have a hard time understanding the concept of moderation. and luckily the food is cheap, but even so i am well prepared to spend a good percentage of my money on what is going into my gut. although i have been putting in a good effort into recreating these dishes in the kitchen, and am doing okay so far with drunken noodles and green mango salads. id like to take some cooking classes, but i think an exercise class might be a bit more necessary if i dont want to be rolled home like violet beauregarde.

...hunger is the best spice...

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