Snacks and Co…

I could publish pictures of food for the rest of my stay in Asia as there is a constant influx of it. Therefore I confine myself to only the tastiest things I encountered. Let me finish the Thai food stuff with a few snacks and so.

Here some crispy bugs. They come in a little bag with separate dipping sauce. For 20 Baht (1 Leva, 0.50€) a bag. My personal favourites are the big grass hoppers to the right and the silk worms in the centre. And I am not kidding. They are good! Just like crisps. A lot depends on the dipping sauce. The one for the grasshoppers I like with chilies.

This is the Thai version of our Bansko “zhlaborini” (crisp pork skin) that we have with the rakia. These munchies here are also freshly made from pork skin:

Peanuts are also a great companion with beer. Here and in many parts of Vietnam they prefer them boiled. At the beginning it takes some getting used to them being soggy and a bit different in taste. But you get the hang of it very quickly and you will find their taste more intense than when they are roasted.

Who could possibly resist these mushrooms wrapped in bacon? Splendid with the beer!

Enough of that eating business now! I am getting hungry…

Rubbing it in…

One of the pleasures in Thailand are, of course, the inexpensive massages – and I had a fair share of them in Chiang Mai.

An absolute must for the shopaholic after strolling around any of the many bazaars is a foot massage. All the markets are full with foot and neck massage providers! Such a pleasure – and it keeps you going for another few hours. The massages are either 30 minutes or one hour. I find that 30 minutes is quite enough for a thorough massage of my feet and legs. Around the markets you pay around 80 Baht for 1/2 hour of foot or neck massage (4 Leva, 2.05€) .

This is at the Night Bazaar – and, of course, I did not do any shopping. Just the eating in one of the seafood joints there:

I also had some traditional Thai whole body massages. Two of them were outstanding. One was at the Chiang Mai prison for females. There some of the delinquents can learn massaging to have a better start and a profession in their new life after they get out. I paid 350 Baht for 2 hours – 17.50 Leva, 8.80€ (which is on the higher price side – but well worth it)

The other powerful massage was at the “Thai Massage Conservation Club” where they employ only blind masseurs (because of their better touch-senses). The price was the same as at the prison. Very recommendable.

Surprisingly(?), the place was full with local female clients :) I was the only man at the time :)

Ah, life is tough, isn’t it?!

Dancing Shrimps…

Near the hills North of Chiang Mai is a water reservoir that is very popular with the Thai. They love to go there on the weekends and spend their time with friends in one of the many lake-front restaurants, drinking Maekong-Whiskey, doing the karaoke – and eating “dancing shrimps” if they can afford:

These are tiny sweet-water shrimps served alive (goong ten) on a bed of greens. You have to be careful not to lose too many as they have a tendency to jump out of the bowl when you lift the lid.

As to be expected they have a very fresh taste :) I like them…

This is the lake. There is also a very interesting hill tribe museum next to it…

By the way: here it is quite acceptable to eat with your fingers ;)

Thai Food Collection

Two weeks in Northern Thailand are a challenge to the palate – and a pleasure for the body and the wallet :)

One of the most expensive meals I had was 195 Baht (about 9.50 BGN or 4.80€). And it consisted of three dishes, a dessert and a coffee/espresso) and was in the resort where I stayed.  All the rest that I ate during these two weeks was much cheaper. But then, of course, I ate at street-side restaurants with plastic tables, where variety at one stall is limited but everything is fresh and perfected.

Here is a little selection:

Shrimp with “kale” in the centre of Chinag Mai: 50 THB, 2.50 BGN, 1.27€)

Desert: Sticky rice with mango and coconut. 35 THB, 1.75 BGN, 0.90€…

Fried “morning glory” as a side dish. 30 THB, 1.50 BGN, 0.76€…

 

Spicy squid with mixed vegetables. 50 THB, 2.50 BGN, 1.27€…

Chicken soup with coconut. 40 THB, 2 BGN, 1€

 

Khao Soi, the local noodle specialty with chicken. 30 THB, 1.50 BGN, 0,76€…at the “Sunday Walking Street Market”… Deep fried squid parts (local market): 10 THB, 0.50 BGN, 0.26€…

Squid skewer. 10 THB, 0.50 BGN, 0.26€…

Here it gets “expensive”: a whole fish (kingfish in this case) with garlic and ginger at 200 THB, 10 BGN, 5.06€…note the enhancing chillie side spice:)

Wherever you eat, there is always some healthy chillies available to spice up your life. Normally at least three versions: dried ground chillie flakes, chillies in fish sauce and chillies marinated in vinegar…just look at this mouth-watering condiment :)

Spicy seafood salad…45 THB, 2.20 BGN, 1.10€…

Mixed vegetables with squid. 40 THB, 2.00BGN, 1.03€.

And so on…and so forth…

Wherever you go, wherever you look: delicious food a plentiful :) At rather acceptable prices ;) How could I have possibly said “no”?

Bon apetit!

 

 

Breakfast = to break the fasting period of the prior night…

Back home, my breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee. Back in my working life, however, I loved hearty, social breakfasts. Like the regular Tuesday working breakfast in London, with our regional management team, with a full English fry up. Or, even more to my liking, early morning steak breakfasts on Wall Street with people that were too busy during the day to meet. Or many years earlier, when I was still running my own show, a slice of boiled pork belly on a German bread-roll…

Different folks different strokes. Somehow I prefer the salty side over the sweet side for breakfast. Many others think opposite.

Nowadays I mainly have breakfast when I am on the road and have time and leisure on my hand. And I do try to adapt to local customs. In South East Asia I go for soups for breakfast.

As many of you know, I am a soup addict and I also have a ready pot of soup at home most of the time.

For whatever reason, my favourite morning soup of all soups is pork soup with offal and noodles. I had discovered my dream soup by accident some years ago. My German friends with whom I would travel Asia and I always would meet up at a simple hotel near the Bangkok airport (with free airport shuttle) and start our journeys from there. The hotel had a horrible breakfast for tourists. So, I decided one morning to venture into the next village (a 10 minute walk) to see what was available there. And I found the key to happiness!

A middle-aged lady with a primitive plastic table restaurant that would serve pork soup with offal for breakfast. Nothing else. I tried it and was immediately carried away and hooked.

Since then I have “built in” an overnight stay at the Bangkok airport whenever possible just to have that soup for breakfast! There are many pork soups available in Asia, with blood, offal and whatever. But none of them could match “my “soup!

And now, for the first time, I have found an equivalent! In the little village Bosang, East of Chiang Mai. At the local market that works only from 4am till 8am. A lady who every day prepares only this single soup. I found her by accident.

And now I had to get up early every morning to start the day with absolute happiness!

This is the market:

 

And here is the mother of happiness, with her broth that is balanced and pungent at the same time and where I am at a lack of words to describe this heavenly concoction. Let me just say that it consists of 75% umami :)

 

And this is what your (or rather: my!) bowl will look like:

 

There is an abundance of goodies on the table that you can add to your soup bowl (free of charge): green things, chillies, lemon grass…

Devouring this bowl of soup will make you walk away light-hearted and light-footed, in balance with yourself and your taste buds, ready to conquer the world.

To top it all off, the price for this gift of the gods is 10 THB – about 50 Stotinki or 26 €-Cents. Unbelievable.

The discovery of this soup gave me at least as much joy as finding a grossly under-priced grand Bordeaux somewhere. I am(was) a lucky man.

Tomorrow it’s back to Hanoi – and the end of my soup paradise. Somehow, however, I have a hunch that this may not have been the last time that I am in the Chiang Mai region.

Thai cuisine at its best?

There is no dish in Thailand that could be called the essence of Thai food. Because it is so manifold that every attempt to distill the essence of Thai cooking must inevitably fail.

For me, however, there is a dish that is my “entry point” into Thai cuisine. It is (whenever possible) the first thing I eat after setting my foot on Thai soil after some extended absence:

Som Tam, the green papaya salad.

It combines many of the qualities of Thai cuisine: freshest ingredients, simple and hot!

In a regular version it can be made from green papaya strips, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, peanuts, green beans, bean sprouts, dried shrimp and chilies – and the sauce, of course (fish sauce, shrimp paste, honey, peanut oil, lime juice and chili flakes)…the ingredients are gently mixed with a wooden pestle. This is important as it gives the papaya strips the right texture and allows them to soak up the sauce.

I normally order it “peth-peth”, which means “very-hot” and which usually gives me the typical pitying Thai smile for foreigners in return, which say: “oh yes, we know what YOU mean by “very hot”…that’s when I look them in the eye and say: “hot for Thai people”…

By the time my Som Tam is buying served I am usually under surveillance by the whole service team. The waiter/waitress serves it with a smile, then retreats quickly to a position where he/she can watch me when I dig into my salad. And I take my time like a gentleman, fill my glass with Chang beer, adjust the napkin, mix the salad thoroughly with my fork and spoon and then carefully take the first little spoonful.

Of course (after some long absence) it hits me like a wave of fire, so I quickly stuff some more in my mouth. The burning sensation spreads around until the whole inside of my mouth is on fire. But, of course, I continue looking pleased but bored and eat another few bites, before taking the first break and sip on some beer. By now the staff is disappointed that I did not collapse and loses interest in me. And I can wipe the sweat of my forehead.

Until here you might think I am an idiot who does this to prove to himself and others what a tough guy he is. But this is not true. The more I continue with the salad the less hot it gets and once I am beyond half of it, the som tam salad becomes a great pleasure for my taste buds – and in addition sets me up for all the hotness to come to me during the next days, weeks…

Once the salad is eaten, some sauce remains. Like with a “shopska salad” in Bulgaria. There you want to soak the sauce up with some bread, not to waste any of this delicious liquid.

This is what is left over of a Green Papaya Salad. But you better think twice before you soak it up with bread to eat it! Quite likely you have never tasted anything as hot as this before in your life. But apart from being hot it tastes gorgeous. And I eat it with a spoon. Slowly. Takes me about another beer before I am finished…

As I said: not the essence of Thai cooking but a strong contender. The recipe comes from Laos originally and spread to Thailand through the Isaan province (in the North East). Who cares. Now it is Thai. And you can order it in any village in the North whether you speak Thai or not or whether they have it on the menu or not. Everybody will understand “papaya  - tok-tok” ( the “tok-tok” comes from the sound of the pestle when the salad is made)…I love it!

 

The best Asian food?

There are two diametrically different cuisines which I love nearly equally: Japanese and Thai. Japanese is intellectual, striving for perfection in every aspect. The best and freshest product, prepared in a way to preserve and bring out the individual tastes and textures. I adore it as much as classical music.

And then there is Thai cuisine. Fresh produce and a creative and hefty mixture of herbs and spices. Passion! The emotional side of cooking! Of course, I am talking about the simple “People’s food” on the streets and in the small restaurants. There is also something like the “Royal” Thai cuisine with complicated recipes like in the French “haute cuisine”. Absolutely full of culinary delights – but without the passion of the “mass food”. Thai “simple” food rocks.

There are, of course, merits to the other Asian cuisines as well. Every country has its nice dishes. But in summary these two are the ones “made for me”, that I can eat every day from morning till evening without any desire for something else. And as I tend to be a passionate and emotional man myself, it is the Thai cuisine whose power gtives me even more pleasure than the subtle Japanese…

 

 

Nirvana in Chiang Mai?

It is not so easy for the average European guy to reach that state of “dolce far niente” where you surrender yourself to that current moment and let it absorb you – without thinking of the past or the future, fully aware of the here and now without any desire for change. And this not for a moment or two but for full days in a row :)

That is what I achieved for the last days. It helped that the internet did not work properly here, so there was no desire to communicate with the outside world.

Of course, there was quite some activity: visits to museums, galleries, historical sites – very interesting – but still a “background” for the main reason for my visit to Northern Thailand: passion for food! To search and find the best possible breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack – according to the mood of the moment.

And there were lots of trials – and very few errors and, I am afraid, the next few posts will have to deal with that side of life :)

 

Chiang Mai ?

Basically it is too late to post anything now: 11pm. So, just a few words. I am sitting on my porch in the jungle island with two dogs (like they were mine), drinking “rum and coca cola”, unwinding from a marvelous evening at the night market in Chiang Mai. In fact, unwinding from a fabulous day :)

The last days three days since Wednesday evening have been such a culmination of pleasure, laziness and relaxation that I am not sure how this possibly might continue.

Sorry friends, but I cannot continue tonight because now is the time to go to the pool and float in the water listening to the sounds of the jungle animals…see you tomorrow…

“My”  ”Lanna” house:

“My” porch (earlier):

“My” porch now (from a dog’s point of view):

“My” pool (the best example for “size does not matter, quality does”!)

Leka!

 

Happiness?

Tonight I had a discussion with a rather unusual and interesting Bavarian from Garmisch, Peter Seiermann, the owner of the frivolously wonderful resort “Secret Garden” near Chiang Mai, where I currently have the privilege of staying. Peter has been living in Thailand for a very long time. Before he built his bungalows he produced wonderful furniture for children for export. And many years before that he lived in Spain. And he still owns a house near the beach there where he spends two months a year and and more with his Thai wife and their daughter.

And he slaves his ass off for the tourists here in Thailand! Like I do in Bansko. Both of us are better janitors. In contrast to me, however, Peter has never found peace. And he cannot retire and sit at his “finca” watching “the tide roll away”. He says, he would be bored to death. He feels that his local Spanish friends have been saying the same things and have been arguing about the same matters for 20-30 years. Nothing new. Of course, I have the same situation in Bansko.

But! And this is a big but: maybe I have been spoiled as well, having lived a good life in many different places, huge and little. And maybe, one place is not enough for me.

But(!) I realised today, again, that the way my life has changed nearly completely over the last 18 months was perfect in synchronising me with my vision of life. I now have homes in the two best places I can imagine – the genuine, incomparable Bansko and Munich with its decadent richness, voluptuous tradition and vision for the future! And when I am neither here nor there I travel the world to visit the last white spots on the map! Now, if this is not privileged, I don’t know :P

I don’t like to repeat myself much but I believe that I am the luckiest bastard that I have ever seen (and not only there!) in a mirror! I would neither want to miss a minute of my life nor exchange any part of it with someone else. Despite all the hardship that I had to go through also – and there was a lot of it. But it made me humbler and stronger and better…

To make an intensive life sound short: life is what you make of it! Be a giver or a taker. An employer or an employee. But live aware and put your heart into what you are doing. Or, even better, only ever do what you heart tells you…live in a way and do your things in a way that you can be proud of yourself when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning when shaving! …sorry, I am getting carried away here…you guys don’t need my advice! You are all so much smarter, successful and generally better than me…

’nuff for now. You got the hang of it anyway. Time for going to bed and some physical contemplation. Tomorrow is another day to enjoy life :)

Sleep well…