Foodie Friday: Super local! Super organic!

Eating locally/organically is a huge trend in North America right now. It has even hit my home city of Calgary, which is saying something, because A) Our growing season lasts for about 2 weeks and B) many Calgarians consider “redneck” to be the ultimate compliment. However, grow it has, and my mother, the original hippy/granola-girl is no longer alone in her obsession with all things home grown. I think this trend is generally a good thing – nothing wrong with using fewer chemicals and resources. The downside to the “locavore”/organic movement is how darned sanctimonious it often is.* Like, “lips that touch pesticides will never touch mine.” I  personally alternate between being a self-righteous organic foodie and wanting to puke a little.

These lips are touching doughnuts.

With this in the back of my mind, I was intrigued by my new neighbourhood’s food scene. It is as local as any West Coast tree-hugger’s kelp bed, without the moralizing. “Local and organic,” however, means something a little different here than it does in North America…

Starting my own kelp bed in my apartment’s pool

Exhibit A: The local fish and meat scene

It begins just outside our apartment courtyard, where the local welding shop produces tasty rabbit meat (ok, I have no idea if this bunny was destined for a bowl or pet-dom, but I’m guessing the former).

So soft. So tender.

One of the ladies at the shop was so excited by my amateur photography that she wanted me to take a photo of her cat. Pretty sure she didn’t realize the real purpose of the photo shoot…

Nothing like a big bowl of Pad Cat

Stroll a little farther down the road, and you hit the local khlong (canal), which is essentially the lifeblood chugging through the clogged artery of this neighbourhood. This is where most of the “sea”food in the neighbourhood is caught.

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Continue walking along the khlong pathway, and you’ll come to an organic pork farm. I couldn’t get a good picture of the squealing piglets without blatantly trespassing, but they looked like they were having a grand time rummaging through piles of scraps and garbage.

All that fresh air and garbage makes for great pork

There are also a variety of good-natured ganders pit-pat-waddle-patting around in the muck.

Is it just me, or are ducks just so good natured?

Walk through the market and turn the corner, and you’ll come to the organic chicken farm. This is a critical operation, because deep-fried clucker is the cornerstone of Todd’s teacher-buddies’ diet.

If you squint really hard, the photo almost looks like it’s in focus

Should you wish to sample any of these meat products, visit the Samut Prakan night market:

Once again, the duck necks’n’bits

Or hunker down at a local restaurant:

Our favourite pork noodle joint

And there you have the Thai version of local’n’organic meat. Knowing where my food comes from fills me with a complex mixture of emotions, but “sanctimonious” and “hungry” are not among them.

* No, ma. Not you.

King Rama IX’s Paradise Park

This week, I went on a much better, less insulting trip than my excursion to the orthodontist. I can’t say that it totally erased the experience (Moms? My face isn’t that crooked, right?), but it came close. Todd took me to the mystical land of the King Rama IX park.

Is it just me or does this look like it belongs in the Capitol in “The Hunger Games?”

The Thai people love their King. I mean, the word “love” doesn’t even begin to describe what they feel for him. Sometimes this is touching – I’ve seen several people tear up when they talk about him – and sometimes it is slightly bizarre – the King’s song is played in all movie theatres before the movie begins, and everyone stands at attention. T and I have found that all this devotion has started to wear off on us, and when we discovered the King’s park, it blossomed into love.

(here is a link to the King’s song that is played before every movie in the cinema) (UPDATE: looks like this link has been censored – not sure if this is disturbing or cool…)

Bangkok is short on green space, to put it mildly. We live on the outskirts of the city, and so we get to see a bit of green, but it is generally filled with dogs and rotting vegetation. We were extremely excited to find the King’s park, which actually contained grass (or at least a pretty good imitation of grass), plus a swimming pool, tennis courts, numerous gardens and epic/free fitness equipment. Some of this equipment is fairly standard, if a little rusty:

T-Bone works it out Thai Style

and some of it is a little more “intriguing.”

A back-to-basics Nordic Track – it’s got everything but the traction

There are also loads of mirrors, in case you forget what you look like.

Nice form, t-BONE

There are also aerobics classes for elderly women available for purchase. Getting fit enough to join keeps me committed to my fitness plan.

We went for a run in the park and and were excited to discover that there were Thai runners there too – probably the first time since our arrival in Thailand that we have seen locals move at a pace that is faster than “meander.” And for the first time, no one (openly) laughed at us, which was an unexpected treat.

In my effort to avoid malls but still get out of my apartment (fortunately, a good dose of turpentine is currently masking the eau de sewage),*  I have spent extended time in this park. This has been lovely, because it enables me to engage in my favourite activity: wandering around in a coma-like state. I can successfully achieve this with no aids, but throw in a balmy day at a perfect park, mute 2 of my 5 senses with sunglasses and earphones, and I am lost to the world. I wandered blissfully around, soaking in the essence of the place.

The Chinese garden

Listening to Debussy on my iPod completed the dream. His pentatonic creations were composed for days in the King Rama IX park.

A section of the English garden

And the dreaming turned to hallucinating when I saw these friendly fellows in the Japanese garden

The only problem with wandering around in a trance is that I tend to notice the concrete reality of my surroundings even less than usual – this is great for the artiste in me, but it can be a little more dangerous for the part of me that lives in the material world. This is especially the case in Thailand, where I am not well acquainted with the flora and fauna. A few wasps who looked like they had ingested steroids interrupted my reveries,  but it was meeting this sucker that really woke me up:

A monitor lizard – he missed the memo that dinosaurs are extinct (not my photo, but we saw one almost this size)

Apparently they aren’t interested in eating people. Apparently.

The only other real menace in the park are the cyclists wearing spandex and doing laps. For some reason, whenever they passed me, they politely yelled “Hello.” Flirting upper-class Thai style. Every time this happened, I stumbled out of my reverie and into the gutter.

I got ready to re-enter crazy Bangkok with a few more stretches on my favourite traction-less Nordic Track.

Gotta get limber before I join the aerobics class

*still waiting for my official documents from my alma mater to arrive. Aaargh.

My First Date

Last week, I went on a first date. Not a garden-variety romantic date – call me a traditionalist, but my marriage is firmly entrenched in the camp called “monogamy” – but one with far more explosive and long-term ramifications. I am referring to my search for a new orthodontic soul mate.

This is my mouth. It is the second most expensive thing that T-Bone and I own. It is literally worth its weight in gold.

Not really getting the biggest bang for our buck, are we?

My chompers and I have been on a long journey together. Our most regrettable episode was when I bit into a concrete step as an 8-year-old. Unbeknownst to me, this triggered the deterioration of my jaw, and eventually led me to the nimble fingers and deep coffers of my Calgary orthodontist. First, he made me wear a splint on my bottom teeth for a year to stabilize my jaw. This made me lisp like a kindergartner, and created endless joy in my grad school department, where my fellow students urged me to pronounce phrases such as “slippery shellfish.” After a year of this, I was ecstatic when I finally got braces.

Can’t hardly wait!!*

Getting braces is akin to handing over the $$ equivalent of a six-month luxury tour of Europe, and in return receiving a sucker punch to the jaw plus ugly pills. After this massive outlay of cash and destroyed vanity, I was nervous about moving my mouth to Thailand. However, my orthodontist assured me that I would be able to continue my treatment, and gave me the name of an orthodontist in Bangkok.

I finally got around to calling said orthodontist. I won’t mention her name, but in fine Thai style, it was along the lines of “Samutprakankorn Tutankhamanaprithi Srirachathirnasakap.” After 5 or 6 attempts, the receptionist finally figured out who I was talking about and booked an appointment for me.

Last Thursday, my favourite friend and I headed off to the appointment.

He was a little hungry, so we first stopped in a food court overlooking a park

The office was packed with nurses in white dresses and heels scurrying everywhere. Before I knew what was happening, one of them dragged me off to see a dentist, who told me that I should fix one of my fillings. I told her that I was there to see an orthodontist. She reiterated that I should fix my filling. I was then carted off to a series of x-rays, diagnostic rooms, etc, before being deposited once more in the waiting room.

At least it had lots of magazines and sticky foods available for purchase

And a koi pond with no koi

I was finally taken to the orthodontist’s room. There were at least 7 doctors/nurses/who-knows-what in the room, and none of them said anything to me for around 10 minutes. Finally, one of the white-coats walked over and dove into my mouth. When she finally removed her fingers, our conversation went something like this:

Her: “Your face is crooked. Do you want surgery?”

Me: “I know it is. No, I don’t want surgery.”

Her: “You should have some teeth pulled.”

Me: “What the…?!?!?! What do you mean?! How many?!”

Her: “Four. If you don’t pull them, your teeth will protrude and they won’t be attractive.”

Me: “Uhhhh….. no thanks.”

Her: “Also, your profile looked better before you started treatment. Now your lower lip protrudes. Also, I’ve never seen your style of brackets before. They look like plastic. I bet they break easily.”

When she finally finished with me, I asked her for her name. She did indeed have a long name, but it wasn’t the same long name that I made the appointment with. I may have had a small moment where I wanted to do this:

And then they handed me the bill. I don’t think we’ll be going out again. Anyone want to set me up? My ideal date would leave all my teeth in my mouth and not insult my face to my face.

*I may be wearing a scarf made out of my friend’s dreadlocks.

Foodie Fridays: Doughnuts/Donuts!

This Foodie Friday post will be dedicated to one of Thailand’s main food groups. While fruit and vegetables are important, doughnuts* form the cornerstone of the typical Thai diet. This emphasis on fried dough has really helped me feel at home – doughnuts are a critical piece of Canada’s infrastructure, and are, in fact our primary industry. If Tim Horton’s ever collapses, so too will the Canadian economy.

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Oh, Canada!

I have to admit that I was a little surprised to discover the importance of doughnuts in Bangkok. In Canada, I think the need for fat and dough is imprinted on our genetic code due to our short growing season. I can just picture an ancient Mennonite family on the prairies: “Quick, little Hans,  heat the lard! We must make enough doughnuts to sustain us through the long winter.”

Thailand can’t claim the lack of a growing season – apparently they just know a good thing when they taste it. And that’s fine by me.

In my extensive** experience, there are two main doughnut chains in Bangkok: Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut.

Dunkin’ employees diggin’ the Americana theme

Patriotic Cute Texas Beth is a proud supporter of Bangkok’s doughnut industry, y’all

Mister Donut is usually located next door to Dunkin’ Donuts. So far, it’s winning in my books because its chocolate cake donut is far superior to the one that Dunkin’ Donuts makes.

Mister Donut’s chocolate is rockin’ my world

In the name of research, I conducted this test several times. I may be forced to re-conduct it in the future.

There are other donut chains such as Yamizaki which produce variations on the doughnut theme.

Just yer basic self-serve doughnut joint

Supermarkets dig them too, as demonstrated by the treasure trove that I found while grocery shopping.

Ahhh. I could swim in this sea of doughnuts

I had already conducted extensive research that day, so I didn’t indulge in this 4 Baht ( around 15 cents) gold mine.

Besides the basics, Bangkok has really enhanced the options available to doughnut connoisseurs. Here are some of the options that my research uncovered:

The – and I quote – “Wiener Doughnut”

Variation on “The Wiener Doughnut”

Doughnut pizza

Doughnut sandwich. The main ingredients appear to be lettuce and mayonnaise

Mini doughnut-things for charity

And finally, if you had any doubt about what you can do with doughnuts, here are a few suggestions, courtesy of Mister Donut:

Doughnuts can be used for everything from demonstrating true love to encouraging male bonding

Clearly, Thailand has adopted the doughnut and raised the stakes. Canada must adapt if it hopes to compete. I’m off to conduct more research…

* “Doughnuts” or “donuts.” Take your pick. I have to stick with the former or I’ll hear about it from my mother, who is simultaneously the person who birthed me and the perma-editor in my head.

** Within a 2-mile radius of our apartment