Friday, November 23, 2012

in praise of thai food

Management invited us and some of the other guests to a cocktail party by the resort's seaside pool. There, while munching on various yummy fried appetizers, we met Martin, one of the staff members. We told him how we were enjoying the food culture here in Koh Samui, although we were always keeping an eye out for the cheaper street food that Thailand is good for.

"Why not eat where the Thais eat, for a change?" Martin suggested. "Away from where the tourists stay."

Martin suggested a local favorite that might interest us. It was located on the other side of the fork in the road that we always passed. (Side note: The island of Samui pretty much has, like, one major road that circles around the whole island). On that road less travelled, giant trucks obnoxiously blasted the Rocky soundtrack to advertise tonight's muay Thai game passed less frequently, and less Indian tailors tried to engage you in conversations to sell you suits, and less beggars limped along the sidewalk. Instead, there were rows of vegetable markets, kabab stands, and the occasional sleazy massage bars where girls in tight dresses waited for their white princes to come and fill their pockets.

The restaurant, Mitra, was an open air stop, displaying seafood on ice at the front, like the huge warm water lobsters mysteriously lacking in claws, and what looked to me like a shark. The restaurant  ran until two in the morning, and seemed to be the place where Thai workers grabbed a bite after their shifts. The walls are covered with photos of the restaurant's dishes, photos of people eating them, and, oddly enough, photos of kittens. A flame grill at the back cooked the giant fish, filling part of the restaurant with smoke. Mangosteen pieces littered the ground. Everything smelled delicious.

They sat the farangs like us at the back of the restaurant. At the table next to us where bored Thai teens, watching soap operas on their iPhones and eating spaghetti.

We ordered the phad kea mao, a red chili curry with coconut milk.

"Make not spicy," the server told us, more than asking us. It's because I'm with my white "no spice" husband. She doesn't know I'm from Korea, That Other Part Of Asia That Loves Spice. But it's okay. The dish will come not spicy, and I'll just add the chili powder they leave at all the tables, which is another custom I really like.

A lot of the restaurants in Thailand offer the usual Thai dishes, massaman, green curry, paenang, but also "western" dishes like spaghetti or chicken nuggets. I suppose it's for the tourists who, after weeks on the road, grow tired of Asian food and miss "regular" food.  If there's one thing my trip here has taught me so far, it's that I apparently cannot get tired of Asian food, which I just see as food.  I love Thai food. I have been eating Thai food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and continue to crave more. No matter whether we're eating at an upsale dining restaurant or a food stand on the street, I have loved every meal I've eaten here.  I'll be sad when I leave this country and its amazing food...although maybe once I leave, my weight will go back to normal.