Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bangkok- Food is the Real Carnal Pleasure

When you mention Bangkok to many people they often imagine something out of the opening part of the second act of Full Metal Jacket, one that involves a girl in a very short skirt propositioning Joker with the now famous line “Me so horny”. Although the GI presence here during the Vietnam war was the jumping off point for the go-go bars that were at one time famous here, Bangkok has changed considerably in the last few decades and it has shucked off most of its seedy image and emerged as a world class capital city. This is not to say that the lineage of the go-go bars and what came after isn’t still here, I’ve seen plenty of old men with young Thai girls, but it is not nearly as prevalent or in your face as it was even when I was here in 2002 and 2004. Back then any time Kim got more than five steps away from me girls came out of the woodwork with greetings and smiles, now they're hawking only drinks, legitimate message, crafts, or food…at least on Kao San road.

I have no problems with these rules, though friends back home may suggest that I'm stealthily dodging the last one. 

Now while I appreciate a beautiful woman as much as the next guy, the kind of arrangements offered here have never been my thing and besides I'm a happily married man. I’m also not much of a drinker…not really at all. So with most carnal enjoyments on the chopping block of what was once considered Asia’s Sin City, one might wonder where my weakness resided or what could tempt me to part with my money here. The answer would be the endless supply, variation and flavors that is Thailand’s food. Food here is incredible and beyond the history, architecture, wats and palaces, the food steals the show. While I managed to find a room for under $5, walk miles to avoid nominal taxi or bus charges, I have been unable to keep myself from dropping baht on the glorious array of vendor and prepared food that lines Bangkok’s roads.

Pad Thai street vendor mixes up a batch for me.

As a solo traveler the street food stalls are perfect, they’re cheap, and you don’t spend lots of time sitting by yourself at a table twiddling your thumbs. The ubiquitous pad thai is served everywhere, but alongside it are many soups, plenty of fish, shrimp, the odd fried frog, more fresh fruit than you can shake a stick at, and plenty of sticky rice to go with mango and coconut for desert. I’ve had salads made with green mango or papaya, and another with roasted duck. I’ve had stir fries with cashews, mushrooms, lemongrass, ginger, chicken or duck or pork or shrimp or squid. I’ve had at least each of those meats once with some assortment of veggies and herbs. I’ve had crepes with chocolate, or with blueberries and ice cream. What’s so spectacular is just the sheer variety, the freshness of the ingredients and how the flavors are all blended together to create some really amazing flavors.

duck salad (foreground) and pork & cashew stir fry (back) 

While I don’t want to crap on Nepal too much, it’s also possible that the sheer amazement and awe that I find myself struck with may be the result of having spent the last year in a nation where food is anything but diverse and its production is pursued with anything besides passion. Here it is just the opposite, this is a nation where people very clearly take food seriously and love to eat and snack. In any part of the city food vendors can be found, and even today while I was well outside the tourist district I was able to get some very tasty pork and chicken on a stick for lunch.  Food is enjoyed at every turn in Bangkok, be it on a stick, freshly blended with ice, on a styrofoam plate or even at a table.

Fruit/Smoothie vendor at the top of a long line of food carts

So while there are plenty of great things to see, and Bangkok’s transformation into a truly modern city is something to really appreciate, the real show stopper is without a doubt its spectacular food. In fact as I write this I’m thinking that I’ll go out for one more nibble before I go to bed. As WiFi, or even a power outlet, was not available at the dive that I stayed at in Bangkok, there is a good chance that this is being posted from Siem Reap Cambodia, which is where I hope to be tomorrow night (I’m writing this on Tuesday 21/12). The border crossing into Cambodia is notorious for scams, so I’ll most likely have a story to tell about that, but hopefully nothing too crazy. Anyway I’m going to stop typing and go get some dragon fruit and passion fruit blended into a shake. 

Breakfast of Champions: Crepe with blueberries, honey, ice cream, and chocolate

EDIT- This post was indeed put up from Siem Reap, and the trip which included a 2 mile walk, a 6 hour bus ride, a 6km tuk-tuk, a short bus ride and then a two and a half hour mini-bus ride went off as smooth as one could expect. While there were some potential scams, the trip was far easier than what is a daily occurrence in places like India. I'll put up another post detailing this trip shortly.

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