Foodie Friday: Fruity Friday! Part 1

I may criticize Thailand’s obsession with sugar, but I have to admit that I like to hit the proverbial sugar cube pretty hard, too. I just happen to prefer my sugar hit in the form of fructose (read: fruit), because I can convince myself that I’m being “healthy.” Whether this is “true” or a “lie,” no country does brilliant, fruity abundance like Thailand. In fact, they produce such a variety of fruit that I couldn’t fit it all in one blog post. Instead, I narrowed the fruit field using a painstaking method that is typical of my careful nature: I opened my fridge and took pictures of the fruit that was already there. All you mangosteen lovers will just have to sit tight.

Demonstrating how to “sit tight.” Todd never did realize that I was holding “mistletoe”

I’m going to organize my fruity fact finding in a highly scientific fashion: we’ll start with fruit that is “normal” in my opinion, and move on to fruit that is more “freakish”/weird.

Bananas

Bananas grow all over the place in Thailand. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I can see some banana trees (?) growing in the sludgy canal next to my balcony. There are many different varieties available, but overall, they tend to be smaller than what is typically sold in the west. Maybe we just haven’t hit our stride yet, but I can’t say that I’m in love with Thai bananas – I find them a bit tough.

Pineapple

Thai pineapple is the stuff that dreams are made of. I have never tasted better pineapple in my life – it leaves the fabled Hawaiian pineapple in the dust. It’s so sweet that it makes my braces ache. I usually buy it from street vendors, because it’s already cut up, but sometimes, I’ll get really ambitious, and buy a whole pineapple. We all know who actually ends up cutting it…

Longan

Longan fruit is similar to lichi. It’s a jelly-like fruit with a pit in the centre, and it’s sweet and bland. It looks like a cow’s eyeball (in my imagination, at least), and feels about the same. Todd is addicted to these.

Don’t hold back, Todd. You’ve hardly eaten any.

Passion Fruit

I had tasted passion fruit in drinks before I moved to Thailand, but I had no idea what the fruit actually looked like. It is a little underwhelming, on the outside at least. It looks like the ugly purple potatoes my parents used to grow in their garden. The inside is much more interesting – the colours are intense, and the texture is intriguing, if a little off-putting (think mucus). The flavour is tropical (how is that for a descriptor) and sour.

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is the opposite of passion fruit – the outside is fascinating, but the inside is a little bland. They are the same shade as Bangkok taxis – impossibly pink. The white, speckled inside is the edible part. It is pleasant, if a little bland (sort of like Canadian culture ;)). I like to put chunks of this in my porridge, and sometimes I can’t even tell it’s there.

Snake Fruit

And last, but definitely not least, snake fruit. This is in close contention with mangosteen for the tremendous honour of being my favourite new fruit. The outside of the fruit is spiky and threatening – I still have slivers from my last over-indulgence. The inside tastes like ambrosia from heaven. Or to provide a more relatable metaphor, like Starburst candy. The fruit has a big pit in it, but even that tiny piece of flesh is worth the painful peeling process.

I think Thailand has a few culinary sins to atone for (sugar, *ahem*), but their wondrous fruit goes a long way in making amends.

Stuff Thai People Like: Sugar!

“Like” is not really an accurate or adequate descriptor of the passion that Thai people feel for sugar. They slurp it through straws, dump it on rice, pour it into drinks, and heap it on noodles. Even for a closet sugar lover like yours truly, Thailand takes it to a new and disturbing level: it’s sorta like a guilty pleasure but with double the guilt and none of the pleasure.

It’s hard to truly convey “sweet” with candid photographs , so you will once more be treated to a photo essay of me’n’T-bone.

IMG_0654

Ahhh. A treat holding treats.

One of the first Thai phrases that we learned was “mai waan” – “not sweet.” It basically comes in handy any time you order anything, including stir fry. Often, however, it is not adequate: when ordering an iced coffee, for example, “mai waan” simply means that the vendor won’t dump additional white sugar into the drink – it still contains a heapin’ helpin’ of sweetened condensed milk. If you ever forget to say “mai waan,” heaven help you. Your teeth will rot out of your head.

IMG_0459

Such as when I purchased this Strawberry drink. I don’t normally throw food away. Then again, I don’t normally drink straight high-fructose corn syrup.

Shugah-lovin’ seems to go without saying in Thai culture. When our Thai teacher taught us how to say “more,” she used the following example: “if you want more sugar in your coffee for example, just say “nam taang yuu yuu.” All of us stared blankly at her: what sudden mental illness would ever induce you to ask a Thai coffee vendor to add more sugar??

IMG_0655

Don’t you dare answer that question.

Even foods that are traditionally savoury often contain sugar. I have ordered noodle dishes that were so sweet that I couldn’t finish them, and this is one gal who loves a good sweet/salty/fatty combo. I have also watched Thai friends dump sugar all over their Pad Thai. Cuz maybe the MSG didn’t give it enough flavour…

IMG_0658

Or maybe she just wanted to support a local industry

It is strange to see an entire population of generally thin people obsessed with an eating habit that is associated with obesity and disease in the West. Based on statements I have overheard other farangs make, there is an assumption that Thai people don’t have diabetes or other related disorders. This, however, is not true – diabetes is a significant problem in Thailand. In addition, according to this study, around 50% of diabetics are undiagnosed. Given the rates of sugar consumption that I’ve observed, I wonder if the problem is even more widespread than this study suggests.*

IMG_0660

Stop encouraging people to eat sugar, Todd!

As someone who comes from a land of people obsessed with doughnuts and poutine, I don’t have much credibility, but come on, Thailand. Let’s get a grip on this before my teeth rot out of my head, thereby negating my braces investment.

IMG_0659

Or I give birth to a sugar baby

* In case anyone wants to poke holes in my argument – yes, I realize that sugar consumption is only one factor influencing diabetes rates

A Weekend of Weirdness

Todd’s school loves trilingualism, Americana, and foul cafeteria food. Fortunately for us, it also loves a good three-day weekend. When the school bestowed the latest bounty of vacational abundance, we decided to return to Khao Sam Roi Yot, the site of Todd’s birthday birding adventure.  Because that trip was all about our feathered friends, we didn’t get a chance to explore the park’s main attraction: caves.

IMG_0558[1]

Also octopus with the mouth still attached

We set out on Saturday morning to remedy this. We were so focused on reaching our dimly-lit destination that we almost missed this gem: a Buddhist temple that has a roof made out of Heineken bottles.

IMG_0560[1]

Because nothing screams “reverence” like bland beer

After devoting the appropriate attention to this architectural wonder, we found the trail leading to our caving destination. It began at the edge of a forest:

IMG_0563[1]

A photo of weird old men urged us on.

 Across a beach:

IMG_0628[1]

And then straight up a boulder-strewn path. At this point, I had visions of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom running through my head.

IMG_0571[1]

Hmmm… I wonder what architectural treasures we can plunder

We finally reached the entrance to the cave, where we were greeted by this sign:

IMG_0574[1]

Dang. There go my plans for the afternoon.

We then began the descent into the cave. I’ve always found exploring natural wonders in Asia to be extra-exciting, because there’s a sense that anything could happen  – you could be clobbered by a falling stalactite, or consumed by an unknown reptile that the tourist signs forgot to mention. Risk-mitigation is not the highest priority. “Mai pen rai” (no problem) seems to be the attitude – one less farang polluting Thai culture.

IMG_0580[1]

Into the void

We finally reached the belly of the cave. It was an eerie contrast of dark and light – on one side, sunlight streamed in and plants grew, while the other half was dark and dank. While it was an intriguing place, we couldn’t understand why it was considered so historically significant, until we saw a sign proclaiming that 3 Thai kings had visited it. That’s it. The Thai people love nothing more than a good king, and the fact that three had visited the cave was enough to guarantee it a spot in the annals of history.

The main attraction was a wall with the kings’ signatures.

IMG_0593[1]

Looks like their kingly penmanship could use some work

A sala (shelter) was built in the centre of the cave to hold an image of the current king.

IMG_0601[1]

There was another feature of the cave that interested me even more than the kings’ signatures: the fact that the walls were covered in spider webs. Apparently, spiders dig a good cave as much as kings do, because the walls were fairly blanketed in the stuff. It was all I could do to keep from retching. Todd, on the other hand, went off like a regular cave-dwelling Gollum to collect some critters to feed to his favourite feathered friends.

IMG_0600[1]

So dutiful. (the white blobs on the walls are the spider webs)

I hung out by the sala in hopes that the king would protect me from errant arachnids.

IMG_0621[1]

Good thing I had my motorbike helmet to protect me.

I finally dragged Gollum out of the cave, and we headed back to the hotel. Apparently, we hadn’t experienced quite enough weirdness for one day, because we happened upon this shrine, which we’d seen advertised throughout the area (see the picture from the beginning of our hike).This photo doesn’t quite capture it, but I think the models were made by a sculptor who was just learning his craft. Blaring Thai heavy metal only added to the charm.

IMG_0629[1]

Because nothing screams reverence like amateur papier-mâché

I can’t wait to see what the next long weekend holds.

Foodie Friday: Big Tree Restaurant

Today’s Foodie Friday post focuses on a hidden but simultaneously not-so-hidden gem: I am referring to the restaurant located on the grounds of our apartment building. If you drove past on the main road, the massive walls that the apartment owners have erected totally obscure it from view, but if you’re a resident of the apartment, you can basically spit on it from your balcony.

It is nestled amidst a veritable forest of Big Trees.

IMG_0526[1]

Perfectly situated for an afternoon at the pool!

And from a more flattering angle.

The restaurant is the brain child of my l’il buddy, the Lovely Lip.
25550921-135902.jpg

(Dear Lovely Lip: please do not hurt me for posting the photo of you trying on the cupcake skirt)

She loves home decor and entrepreneurial adventures, and she has made the restaurant a darling getaway for hungry teachers, football geeks (who inexplicably want to get up at all hours to watch college ball) and a random assortment of neighbourhood workers. It opened several weeks ago, and since that time, it has been luring us and our neighbours with the promise of food at our very doorstep. I mean, some days, it is just a little too difficult to walk the 10 metres to the street.

And an additional 10 meters to the pork noodle place.

The restaurant serves a variety of Western and Thai food. It clearly understands its main audience – teachers can get yer basic heart-attack-on-a-plate Western foods, move on to coconut milk and Pad Thai, and then abruptly switch to green salad and chicken when they start feeling the guilt.

IMG_0522

Nope. Not feeling guilty yet.

I’m not naming names, but a few of the teachers have become permanent fixtures.

And it’s Cute Patriotic Texas Beth for the win!

Todd and I usually visit several times per week. Even though I basically know the menu by heart, it takes me forever to make up my mind. Thankfully, Lip and her waiters do not subscribe to the hover school.

Just the Looking Cute and Perky school

They do, however, enjoy taking pictures of their customers eating. Such as this gem that showed up on their website. I’m sure it’s helped increase their sales.

The sad part is that I wasn’t even trying to pose for this one.

Although my arteries may disagree, I am pleased to have a convenient venue in which to eat tasty food and inflict my abominable Thai on unsuspecting waiters.