Food delivery heroes

In light of all of the dispiriting news coming out of Bangkok recently, I wanted to write a more upbeat post about the people who make our day-to-day lives easier. Without a doubt, that means writing about the food delivery workers who help me live my life as a semi-professional couch potato. Thanks to them, I have enjoyed delicious noodles courtesy of JC Yen Ta Fo, scrumptious chocolate babka from Kad Kokoa, French-style baguette sandwiches from Vivin Grocery, Shake Shack-like burgers from Bun Meat and Cheese, meltingly soft filled doughnuts from Holy Donut Paczkarnia, vegan empanadas from Courageous Kitchen, and even Chicago-style pizza, thanks to Papa’s Chicago Pizza. I usually contact these purveyors directly through Facebook Messenger or Instagram. It’s a big food world out there, courtesy of the intrepid small business entrepreneurs and motorcycle delivery people who are able to make it happen.

An order of “hang” (dry), sen mee (rice vermicelli), “piset” (XL), from JC Yen Ta Fo

But if I were to single out one place (and I’m afraid this is exactly what I am doing right here) then it would have to be Little Market. Their Philly cheesesteak (with house-made cheese whiz!) is what has gotten me through online learning with my 11-year-old son — or rather, the promise of it, as in “If you do this homework on time, you will get a cheesesteak from Little Market.” No other entreaties (“You will have to repeat year 6”, “You will be an 18-year-old elementary school student”, “You will never be able to leave the house”) have ever had as much power or impact on him as the possibility of an entire melted-cheese-on-grilled-beef hoagie all to himself. So, thank you, Little Market, for almost singlehandedly getting my son into junior high school.

Little Market’s Philly cheesesteak

I know it’s hard to reach beyond your comfort zone, especially with vaccines still scarce on the ground and the city in semi-lockdown. When times become challenging, people often fall back onto tried-and-true comfort choices. If that means Mama noodles from the convenience store or Pizza Company or a simple fried egg on rice, you do you. But if you do get the urge to take your tastebuds on a flavor trip (all the better since it’s hard to go on trips ourselves), reach out to your fave food purveyors (UPDATE: unless they’re in a mall :-(). You can even sate your curiosity about something new by contacting the businesses above. Just by eating, you can help out our F&B industry (and in the process, the overall economy). What could be simpler than that?

And if you desire taking a more active role in helping the Bangkok restaurant scene, contact Food for Fighters, which is always searching for people who can contribute food, packaging, money and/or their own time and energy to feed people on the frontlines of the pandemic.

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Escape from Phuket Airport

@karenblumberg finally leaving the airport

I want to start with a disclaimer. This is based on the true story of one woman and her experience with the Phuket Sandbox. It is not the story of any other person who may have participated in or attempted to participate in the Phuket Sandbox. All similarities to characters and events in this particular saga are intentional if the character in the saga is named Karen Blumberg and the event is her plane’s arrival to Phuket from Frankfurt on July 3.

When the Phuket Sandbox idea was announced months ago, Karen and I immediately jumped on a plan to fly her to Phuket to meet up. To us, the Sandbox scheme seemed ideal: two weeks on Thailand’s biggest island, albeit during the rainy season, free to eat and shop wherever we liked in Phuket as long as Karen maintained a two-week reservation at a SHA+ hotel. It had been more than a year since either of us had traveled internationally, she from New York and me from Thailand. The Sandbox seemed like a good way to get her to visit without an onerous 2-week quarantine stuck in a hotel room, and we imagined that she would be free to do as she wanted once she checked into her resort. We thought that it would be best if Karen stayed at a hotel near us, so she booked into the Anantara Layan.

Like magic Karen received her COE (Certificate of Entry) almost immediately. But we started to have second thoughts about the price of the Anantara. So Karen looked through the list of SHA+ hotels and hit upon a resort in Bang Tao that boasted a two-week package costing US$400. So of course Karen switched her reservation to that place. She paid her deposit, took a pre-flight COVID swab test and awaited her flight date.

But when the plane landed at Phuket International Airport, Karen’s name was called out first on the flight, as she was listed as an “ASQ” passenger on her COE. “ASQ” is short for “Alternative State Quarantine” and, going by Karen’s COE, she had two whole weeks of quarantine in the Anantara Layan Resort looming before her even though she had switched her reservation to another place. It turned out that the other place had not been approved for the Phuket Sandbox program after all, but had failed to tell any of its unfortunate customers, so Karen had not thought to switch her reservation or change her COE pre-flight.

“How did she get into the country?” the intended resort’s reservation desk asked when informed of Karen’s predicament at the airport. They then agreed to refund the money Karen had paid. But the COE was a trickier matter. While immigration officials were fine with changing Karen’s COE to “Phuket Sandbox” from “ASQ” provided she make a new hotel booking (at an approved hotel this time), hotels were wary of making a booking with a passenger whose COE read “Anantara Layan” for fear of doing something illegal. They could not believe that immigration officials were fine with Karen changing her documentation. As a result, we were stuck in a true Catch-22, a traffic jam of bureaucracy if you will.

It looked like Karen could either be sent back to New York without seeing us at all, or be relegated to a pricey 2-week quarantine, or be stranded at the airport as the warring bureaucracies pushed and pulled against each other, a la Tom Hanks in the movie “Terminal”.

But luckily for us, the lovely people at Twin Palms were willing to book Karen after our assurances that we had secured an okay from Thai Immigration for Karen to enter Phuket. Also entirely coincidentally, because Karen was a passenger on the first Thai Airways flight from Frankfurt to Phuket since the pandemic, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was at the airport. She alone was the person with the power to cut through the red tape jam, setting Karen free from the airport. “You are so lucky I am here!” she told Karen as she helped her fill out the necessary documentation to change her COE to “Sandbox” from “ASQ”. And with a stroke of the computer key, Karen was freed (as were all of the immigration officials sent to watch over Karen during her 5-hour ordeal).

After a post-flight COVID swab test result read “negative”, Karen was free to join us with her precious cargo in tow. It was this:

My sister Chissa set to baking a box of these biscuits immediately as a way to celebrate Karen’s release into the semi-wild.

The biscuits were delicious, as was the pie that Karen baked us a few days later.

Which is our way of saying, it’s all good now. Every night, Karen returns to her hotel to sleep, checking out of the hotel every morning to spend the day with us. At this moment, Karen is working on her third pie, with a mixed berry filling this time. We have run out of Cool Whip but still have the Haagen-Dazs vanilla hidden away somewhere in the freezer. Many more calories await us in the days to come.

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There’s not really any food in this one

Ice cream sandwich in a croissant at Torry’s in Phuket

I just searched for “most annoying songs” on Google and what came up — “My Humps”, “Macarena”, “Barbie Girl” — make total sense. These are objectively annoying songs, tunes that make your jaw set when you hear the opening notes at the supermarket or the drug store or whatever place you have to be in to do those chores that you’ve been putting off for three days now. Part of the reason why chores are called chores is because they put you in such a vulnerable position, your respiratory system open to random viruses and your eardrums subject to someone else’s cruel whims. True story: I actually complained at Emporium one dark, unlucky day when for some reason some monster decided to play “Way Back Into Love” on a loop over and over again. Customer Services actually laughed at me. When I returned to finish my grocery shopping I heard the ladies at the cheese counter humming along to the chorus. TLDR: “annoying” can be subjective.

So I understand if you will disagree with me when I say that Eric Clapton is annoying. Not only does he look like a guy who would buy a villa in Phuket only to eat a steak-and-potatoes diet and complain nonstop about Thai people, but he has now committed full-time to his role as “old white guy who gets all his news from Facebook.” This is how we get stories like this one. TLDR: Eric Clapton is now an anti-vaxxer, a logical progression from his tenure as booster of “white Britain” and as creator of “You Look Wonderful Tonight”, a song annoying enough to make me want to drown myself in the nearest body of water.

If I would allow myself a moment to be smug — it is my blog after all — I never went through a “this guy is ok” phase, not during the “Tears in Heaven” period, or even during the Derek and the Dominoes era. Admit it: “Layla” is only a great song after Clapton stops his sing-shouting and Duane Allman is finally allowed to take center stage. If no one knew the story behind this song (the same marketing ploy Justin Timberlake would ape decades later with “Cry Me A River”), it would be something that people knew exclusively from Martin Scorsese movies as a signal when characters got whacked. I have never liked Eric Clapton because he stole “I Shot the Sheriff” from Bob Marley and made a ton of money off of it, and built on a career of playing black music while being hailed as among the best guitarists of them all. It has always stuck in my craw, and when he made those horrible remarks about non-white immigrants to England, it sealed the deal for me, case closed, game over. TLDR: the temerity of this dude, who makes his money off of playing blues guitar.

Some Thais feel that Thai restaurants outside of the motherland are guilty of “pulling a Clapton”, as it were, making lesser approximations of someone else’s creative labor while profiting handsomely from it. Indeed, some Thais feel so strongly about this that they created a Thai food tasting robot (no, I will never not talk about this story, so stop asking). I myself can attest to some truly hair-raising meals at Thai restaurants abroad involving burnt crab rangoon (who created this? How has it become a thing?) and iceberg lettuce in a wan, chili-less yum salad dressing. TLDR: I understand the impulse to make sure this never, ever happens again by using taxpayer money to build a robot that will keep all of those culinary nightmares at bay. He would be 8 feet tall and painted in red, white and blue (the colors of the Thai flag, of course) and make his pronouncements in the voice of Optimus Prime in the cartoons from the ’80s. Alas, this was not what we got (stop telling me to quit harping on this, or I will continue posting links).

But maybe we are looking at this from the wrong way around. Maybe we should champion these missionaries of Thai food, brave enough to spread the gospel of aharn Thai worldwide. Of course, one must make a living when one lives by their own wits; of course, this means making an adaptation or a hundred off of the “real thing”. So if this means serving drunken chicken and crab rangoon (seriously, I’m a fan), or designating your curries as “red”, “orange” or “green” in accordance with the color of the chili used, or doing some sort of all-you-can-eat buffet deal that includes some sort of Jell-O, we must not malign these soldiers on the front of the food popularity wars. Instead, shouldn’t celebrate these innovations, the eventual Thai equivalent of General Tso’s, or even the crab rangoon (seriously, where can I find this in Thailand)? After all, no one complains when we do our own little tweaks at home (finally, we come full circle to the photo of the reimagined Thai “ice cream in a bun” at very top of this long and rambling post). TLDR: authenticity is a mirage, adaptations are a necessary fact of life, and Clapton was a musical missionary. He’s still annoying, though.

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