Category Archives: Thai

Mango and Coconut Sticky Rice

I first tasted this dish – known as Khao Niaow Ma Muang – in Kanchanaburi, a city in Thailand notable for its Bridge on the river Kwai, otherwise known as the Death Railway. Despite its murky past, where during World War II the Japanese forced Allied prisoners to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, the city is now very quaint: scenic river views, internet cafes, outdoor night markets and elephants that will pose for food or money.

It is most likely in Kanchanaburi that Sonia contracted Dengue Fever, though she wouldn’t know about it until a few days later once we had already left town. The mosquitos there were kamikaze-crazy and they marauded through the humid streets in thick swarms with an electric, infuriating hum. Oblivious to the impending “break bone fever” that was to come, Sonia and I both dined at a restaurant that resembled a tiki jungle hut,  where our guidebook recommended mango and sticky rice for dessert. Before then, I had never conceived of rice being eaten with mangos – and certainly not as a dessert. I haven’t tasted it again in a restaurant since returning home, though looking through photos of the trip recently a Pavlovian response ensued, which left me salivating and craving the sweet and salty sticky rice with a side of cool, freshly sliced mango. Enjoy!

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Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Final Notes

We decided to get out of the village today, at least for a while. We borrowed two bikes and pedaled clumsily down the highway to a nearby town. It was probably twice the size of our home-stay village and presented a striking demonstration of life’s relativity. The shops lining the main street dazzled and impressed us, even if they only sold bike tires or shampoo. It was like seeing the neon glare of a Las Vegas strip after weeks in the desert. We cycled along the Mekong river (which winds its way snakily down from China, an Asian Mississippi) and saw on the other side, a mere swimming distance, the jungled mountains of Laos.

Later we tried to get some work done, but I was feeling lousy and tired from the interrupted sleep the night before. We contented ourselves by crocheting (Sonia) and reading (me), awaiting the time when the kids would return from school and molest us on our quiet porch. They did come soon after, and accidentally erased one of Sonia’s documents on the computer, for which she berated them. We shooed them away like animals, but like animals smelling the lure of food – in this case, computer pinball – they soon approached again. We kept the computer out of reach and played an educational game of hangman instead. I also showed them how to draw Scooby Doo to keep them distracted. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 3

Woke up before the sunrise for another early departure to Phu Wua Park with Mr.Oot’s class. Our host mother Yort packed us up a bag of sticky rice and cooked fish for lunch, which wouldn’t be eaten until after several hours of hiking in the sticky heat. Back home I get paranoid when cooked food is left on the counter for more than 20 minutes, so I sensed this would end up being a beef jerky and Power Bar day.

Fish for lunch...so good even the flies like it

After some campfire-like singing, in Thai, that energized the group and lasted long enough to dull my senses, we started on our uphill climb through still-wet foliage and over damp logs. The slippery rock faces threatened to plummet us to our doom, but we still managed to hang on until the top, where we met a superb view of the surrounding jungles leading down in the valley between the Laos mountains and Mekong river on one side, and on the other to Phu Tok and deep into Elephant country. I imagined a primitive scene, not too far away, where Tarzan swung from thick lliana vines over roaring elephants and cheetahs pawing madly at the air. I know I had the wrong continent, but the reality before me was probably not too far off.

Elephant territory

Oot led us afterwards off the beaten track, along winding streams surrounded by phallic-looking carnivorous plants which made me giggle. We joined up with the rest of the group, already wet and submersed in a nearby river which looked cool and refreshing. We were quickly thronged by gaggles of kids brandishing their teachers’ cameras. Using broken English, one teacher explained that these kids had never before taken a picture with white people. Soon after, we had them lined up in a queue, waiting their turn to put an arm around us and give the peace sign to a ready lens. We felt like Mickey and Minnie at a theme park, and gave some serious thought to charging a fee. We traipsed back together, all 70 or so of us in single file, through the jungle like African refugees. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 2

Arriving back in the village after a few days of rest and relaxation in Nong Khai, a slightly larger town 2 hours away by jalopy, was refreshing. Nong Khai, which seemed fairly small a few weeks ago, is now Vancouver-big in comparison to Kham Pia village. There the outdoor markets, the fruit stands piled neck-high with rambutans and jackfruit, and the local 7-11 with its heavenly air conditioning and slurpees was reminiscent of the hustle and bustle of Robson Street, downtown Vancouver.

A pile of jackfruit....bet you can't eat just one!

We had left the village for 2 days to seek some of the minor luxuries that Nong Khai, being slightly larger, could offer, such as a shower and flushing toilets. It is eye-opening and a tad shameful to know that the majority of Earth’s 6.5 billion don’t have access to the kind of bathroom comfort, let alone running water, that Westerners enjoy.

A whole new meaning of the word "squatters"

Coming back to the village and its endless fields of rice paddies, familiar faces made me smile, as did the farm sounds we had grown accustomed to. When we pulled in, riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, I felt like we were part of a Royal procession. Children running behind the truck heralded our arrival with pointed fingers, shouting “fereng, fereng” – foreigner.

"Take me home, country road"

We had barely been back for a few hours and already there was trouble! A 15 year old boy had sniffed some gasoline from Mr. Bunleod’s grass mower and then had stumbled, intoxicated, into our house. Our homestay dad found him going through our room and then scolded him and searched him thoroughly for stolen goods, such as my month’s worth emergency supply of beef jerky I brought from back home. All of this was later explained by gestures over dinner and we laughed at the humour in it. Also that day, a baby had stolen a motorcycle and drove it through town, or so we understood. Continue reading


Thai Green Curry with Chicken

This green curry dish is the most popular Thai meal after Phad Thai – but watch out, it’s spicy!

I first learned to make it at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School during my stay in Thailand, where it became my inaugural meal using coconut milk. Before this I had never really given it a chance. My earliest memory of a coconut (cue the flashback harp music) is from a trip to Florida when I was really young, where my dad broke open a coconut that had washed up on the beach and handed my brother and I pieces to examine and nibble on. I remember the clear liquid on the inside tasting foul and then subsequently I was turned off everything ‘coconut’ for a few decades, however undeserved.

I’ve since learned that coconut milk isn’t actually the liquid inside of a coconut, as I had been led to believe; and many years after my Florida trip I realized that the liquid deserved another chance. After all, I had the same initial reaction to coffee and alcohol and look where I am now. During our stay in a rural Thai village, on a particularly sweltering day, our host father poked holes in a coconut he picked from his yard and handed us straws for drinking. Parched from the heat, I found this makeshift umbrella drink refreshing and vowed thereafter to conquer all of my other childhood food aversions.

Actual coconut milk, if ever the question is asked on Jeopardy, is made by squeezing the grated flesh of a coconut with a bit of hot water. The resulting rich, creamy liquid looks much like cow’s milk…and it is a vital ingredient in the making of most curry dishes, including this one. Continue reading


Memoirs from Northeast Thailand – Part 1

Since arriving in Kham Pia, a small village of 400 farmers and rice growers in Northeast Thailand, time has slowed to a trickle. Things are different than in the rest of Thailand; and I think the villagers like it this way. For the ones that don’t — the occasional number of restless young — they shed themselves of it like a skin that is too tight.

People and animals share the same living space here. This is not just limited to dogs and cats (our homestay dog shared my living space one day and ate my towel), but to livestock such as chickens, cows and numerous birds too. There are other animals also, such as lizards, which collect in corners like dust collects back home. As I type, there are at least nine geckoes on one wall, of various sizes and dispositions. One larger lizard, at least a foot long, scampers back and forth underneath a sofa. And the bugs! They are everywhere! In the morning, they cover our floors like dew. The termites are especially messy: they seem to emerge all at once, in cycles depending on the weather, and shed their wings in order to begin a new life of crawling and scampering. Their discarded wings blanket the floors like leaves in the fall.

None of these things are that surprising, though, as Thai houses are built differently than Western homes. Our homes back home are meant to seal off Nature and the rest of the world, creating a seam between the wilderness and civilization. Here, homes are built with walls missing. Where our front door would be, their entire wall opens to the street, like a child’s dollhouse that is sliced crosswise, opening on hinges. Continue reading


Thai Chicken Salad – Laap Gai

Our favourite Isan (North East Thailand) meal, which we have occasionally made since returning home from our travels there, is minced chicken salad, or Laap Gai. Like other typical Isan cuisine, it is spicy and rich in flavour. Traditionally it is made with ground, roasted sticky rice in it, though I usually skip this step for simplicity without noticing the difference. I enjoy eating this dish, as the Thai people do, with handfuls of sticky rice, or wrapped in lettuce leaves like a wrap.

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups chicken breast or turkey breast, minced or ground. Ground chicken is usually available at grocery stores.

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 tbsp fish sauce – yes, it smells vile, but it’s an integral ingredient in Thai dishes

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp chilli powder

2 tbsp finely chopped red onion (optional)

1 tbsp cilantro, chopped (optional)

1 green onion, chopped

1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped

 

Method:

1. Place the ground chicken, shallots, red onion, fish sauce, lime juice and chilli powder into a medium bowl and mix together.

2. Heat a wok and on medium heat and cook the chicken mixture for about 6 minutes until the chicken is cooked. During the last minute, add the mint, cilantro and green onion.

3. Serve with sticky or glutinous rice or in lettuce leaves, similar to lettuce wraps.