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Friday, December 26, 2003

Bangkok Report III: Mosquito food!

Today had better give me enough good karma for the new year!

I am currently mosquito food, writing in the middle of bloody nowhere, three hours outside of Bangkok. I was pretending to be a model daughter when I agreed to accompany my dad to a New Year party for one of the businesses he is involved in. The business is a tax-exempt industrial park three hours by car in the Northeastern (Isaan) area of Thailand.

What fun! @#$%$#

No one bothered to tell me that we would have to stay over night, so I had but 5 minutes to pack before we left the house. God knows what kind of essential grooming products I should find myself needing tomorrow morning! This is going to be such fun!

I was somewhat interested in coming, I hadn't been here before. The province, Kabindraburi, is also famous for some interesting food, like a positively incendiary Nam-prik Pla-heng (a chilli paste made of crispy smoked fish). My dad said he would arrange for a visit at the shop tomorrow.

The party is, how shall I put it, ghastly. It was intended for the employees, so everything was arranged for their enjoyment. So, instead of serving regional food, which I would have loved, they serve Chinese food. It was intended to be a special treat, as Chinese food is usually too expensive for these employees to eat on their own dough.

There was also a stage, with ear-splitting Thai country music, which is an entirely different animal than US country music, though neither is my cup of tea. The band comprises not only of musicians, but skimpily clothed dancers in neon colored, sequined dresses and platform shoes. I am certain the employees find the whole thing entertaining, but please, someone, kill me now.

This is the countryside, so kowtowing goes on to the umpteen degree. Lots of people have been coming by our table, where the esteemed board members have been placed, wai-ing and kowtowing. The conversation directed at me consisted only of a few phrases. “How lovely to see you again?” (I'd never seen these people, save one or two, in my entire life.) “How beautiful you are, you father must be so proud.” (Trust me, the face I was making when she made the comment was something far, far from beautiful.) “How do you like Kabindraburi? (It's fine thank you, but can I please leave now?!!)

They were all very sweet, but how many compliments could one take in at once? I have been taking copious notes in my little black notebook, which should have at least appeared a bit strange to some of these people, but no one even asked what I was doing. Perhaps it would have been impolite to steer away from pleasant formalities.

I was complaining so much about the mosquitoes, there was a flurry of activity to try to solve the problem for me. You see, I arrived like an imbecilic city girl that I am, in a short sleeveless linen dress, anticipating the heat. What I didn't expect was that the party would be outdoor. At night, being outdoor in Thailand is like offering yourself up as mosquito food. Everyone around me came properly dressed in long sleeves and long pants or long skirts. I was, therefore, the only target for every single mosquito in the five kilometers radius.

Someone arrived with a ring of mosquito repellent which was lit like incense. It was placed next to my chair. The mosquitoes were not discouraged however, so more incense were fetch, lit and placed around me. Before I knew it, I was sitting there, in white linen, with people kowtowing about, incense lit at all four corner of my chair, I must have been quite a sight.

The food just came. The first two dishes were spicy salads. One is of crispy fried fish maws, cashew nuts, dried sweet pork, onions, Chinese celeries, and a standard Thai dressing of fish sauce, lime juices and chillies. The second was a salad of pig ear sausage, a specialty of the region, apparently. They were actually not bad at all, tasty, and very interesting mix of texture and flavors. This party is picking up finally. I especially liked the pig ear sausage, made of only pig ears, pressed together into a tube, steamed, and sliced thin.

Next we had Tom-yum of farmed chicken, not a poulet de Bresse, mind you, but very good nonetheless, flavorful and slightly chewy. The soup broth was very spicy and could use a bit more aromatics.

There was also an interesting roasted duck. The duck had been marinated in five spice and steamed, then roasted to crisp the skin. It was good, if a bit too sweet for my taste. I did enjoy the very crisp skin quite a bit, especially with the sour lemon/chilli dipping sauce that was served with it.

Then came a somewhat hohum fried rice, and a shark's fin soup, which I didn't eat, on principle. Sharks are apex predators which have been vastly over-fished. I am opposed to a common practice in Asia of catching sharks only to cut of the fins, the rest of the carcasses thrown over board to attract yet more sharks to the boat. I am a carnivore, I condone the taking of lives as food, but I cannot approve of such a waste.

The entertainment has just changed from the band to a Pop Idol type competition. There were six contestants, three of each sex, wait a minute, this being Thailand, it was more like two of each sex. There were two good singers, but unfortunately the other ones were simply horrid. Adding the my general annoyance, I only understood just about one tenth of what was being said up in the stage. This province is in Isaan, so people here speak the Isaan or Laotian dialect.

The only good news of the night came when dad heard from the other board members that no one would be staying over night here. He then decided to head home too. Yay, there IS a god.

I forgot to mention a lunch we had on the way there. I wanted to go back to the OTOP fair to get a couple more things, so we stopped there on the way out to Krabindraburi.

We stopped for lunch on the way to the fair, at this medium size restaurant called Gai Tong (Golden Chicken). The restaurant is very famous, and always very crowded. They are famous for Chinese-Thai type of food, and have very fresh seafood on the menu. I wouldn't order a curry here, in fact, I don't think it's even on the menu, but other dishes are great. My dad and I ordered a table full of dishes.

We started out with extremely fresh crayfish (Goong Mae-nam, or river lobster). The crayfish was marinaded in sea salt, then fried whole with a lot of garlic and pepper. The crayfish was split in half on a plate, covered in a huge pile of sweet and peppery fried garlic. The head was oozing with the smoothest and creamiest “caviar”. It was absolutely delicious.

Then, we had a plate of stir-fried fish, Pla In-see Pad Prik-thai Dam, one of their specialties. The meaty fish was chopped up into large pieces with bones attached, and stir fried in a very peppery sauce with sweet onions, green onions, and fresh green pepper on stems. It managed to be very peppery and deeply flavored while letting the sweet taste of the fish flesh came through.

Next came a plate of Sum Tum, the ubiquitous green papaya salad, except that this one was made with not the papaya but the tender shoots of coconut. The coconut shoots are julienned and toss in the manner of Som Tum. It was delicious as well.

The last dish was a chow fun with pork. It was good, but I could get it at any restaurant in Chinatown, so I didn't eat much of it.

I intend to go back there and sample more of the tempting menu. I will tell you more about them later.

This place is a bit off the beaten path, but not that hard to get to really. It easy to find, opposite Sukhothai Dharmadiraj University. Any taxi could get you there easily via the express way. I think it's well worth it, especially if you came for lunch and avoid rush hour traffic.


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