Meeting with Keng: Bangkok

8 June 2014

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Recipe: Green Curry

Recipe: Spicy Papaya Salad

Recipe: Thai Eggs

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A week later than we expected, but we are finally in Bangkok.  It is a huge city, a lot larger than I expected it to be.  As we drove in early this morning on the bus, I couldn’t help but wonder how such a beautiful and large city like Bangkok could experience such a political hatred among its people.  The sun was rising up over the city skyline and the bus was playing beautiful Thai music.  Everything was so peaceful and calm, just as I hoped the remainder of our stay in Thailand would be.  For anyone who has not traveled to Thailand, you must put it at the top of your travel destinations.  It is a country with diverse culture, terrain, and offers a wide range of adventures for people with all sorts of hobbies.  The food here is incredible, the oceans are spectacular, and the mountains and hills are full of dense jungle that is just screaming to be explored.  I have never meet a kinder group of people than the Thai people.  Just this morning after arriving bright in early to Bangkok and taking a taxi into the city center I had the great fortune of finally meeting Keng, a Thai girl that I had been put in contact with by one of my friends nearly a month earlier.  We had been talking nonstop on facebook about our plans for Thailand, the political situation at the moment, and what we should do during our stay there.

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Keng is a member of the same church as I, and is one of the nicest girls I have ever met.  She let us stay in her office in the city center which was close to everything that we wanted to go see and do and she spent the entire two days that we were in Bangkok taking us around to see and do incredible things.  Today we started off the day going to the English-speaking ward for Church in downtown Bangkok.  The remainder of the day was filled with a visit to the Grand Palace, many beautiful Thai Buddhist temples, Terminal 21 (a shopping mall that has a different country and theme for each floor).  Near the end of the day we went to a market that sold many different types of street food and cooking supplies on the street.  In places like this, as I experienced in Portugal as well, people do not go to the grocery store to buy fruits and vegetables.  They go to the wet market, which is people who sell fruits and vegetables on the streets.  I had mentioned before to Keng that I really wanted to take a Thai cooking class while I was in Thailand, so she arranged to have us take a trip to the supermarket and purchase the supplies to cook green curry, papaya salad, and one of their favorite Thai egg dishes.  After we were to purchase the supplies, we would go to her friends house and cook the dishes.

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Looking back on it, this was one of my favorite experiences I have had abroad.  The market was quite impressive.  We bought all the fresh vegetables and herbs that we needed to make all three dishes for less than $15 at the market.  The neat things is that at the market they sell all the pastes that you need to make all the Thai foods such as green curry, pad thai, and so many other dishes.  We bought the fresh lemongrass, galangal root, ginger, coriander root, etc.  We bought so many fresh things that are key in making Thai food so delicious.  We even bought the fish sauce, fresh coconut, and palm sugar that si used in so many of the dishes.

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We Keng told me that we were going to her friend’s home who had a nice kitchen, I was expecting something similar to the kitchens that I had been in during my cooking classes in India.  This was better.  We took a taxi out from the center fo the city to the East part of town where the floating vegetable market takes place on the weekends.  Little did I know that the man we were cooking with did not own a car or any form of land transportation, only a paddle boat.  We waited on the edge of the canal for him to pick us and all our groceries up, and then we headed through the canal (thick with banana and coconut trees on either side) to his home.  It took about 15 minutes for him to paddle us through a series of canals to a small opening in the dense forest where two little shacks sat.  I would soon find out that one was for sleeping and one was for cooking.  They were both open to the outdoors, with only curtains for doors.  The “kitchen” was a wooden floor with a tin roof and two little wooden benches that were also used for tables.  I had no idea how we were actually going to cook the food until he brought out a little gas burner and a large skillet.

He laid out a tarp on the ground and we all sat with the light of two lamps near the canal swarming with mosquitos and began to cook the most traditional food I have ever cooked.  Keng lives on a farm in Central Thailand where they grow everything they need to live on their own, she has no neighbors, and when her mother cooks, she builds a fire to place her skillet above.  I wish I would have had more time here in Thailand and I would of gone with her to her home for a couple of weeks and learned how to cook and live like a traditional Thai.  She invited me to come back next year, when most likely she will have moved back home, and I can spend a few weeks with her and her family climbing coconut trees and learning how to make the traditional flavors that we associate with Thai cooking.

Tonight, in the humble kitchen of a great Thai man and his family, we cooked the best chicken feet green curry, spicy dried shrimp papaya salad, and sweet and sour tamarind eggs I have ever eaten.  I learned so much about how Thais mix salt, sugar, chilies, tamarind, and fish sauce to get a complex blend of flavors that make their food so iconic.  Not many travelers get to experience a cooking lesson like Rachel and I did tonight, and I will be forever grateful for the friendships we made while doing it.

I thought I was a good cook until I was coached by a real Thai cook.  He couldn’t even speak English yet he knew how reprimand me for doing something wrong!  By the end of the night I was a professional at mixing the green curry paste and coconut milk together, something that I did not realize was so difficult beforehand!  By the end of the night we were so tired, mosquito bitten, and full of delicious Thai food that we headed straight back to Keng’s office building a went to sleep.  We wanted to be well rested for the next day so that we could participate in Thai boxing, the activity that we are most excited for!

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