The ultimate Thai fast food

It’s a painful thing to admit, but what better place to bare one’s soul than on the Internet, where anonymous identities and remote locations encourage people to be polite and kind and lovely? So here goes: I have a problem. It’s been taking up more and more of my time. I used to use it as a reward — if I finished writing a paragraph or two of something, then I would get my fix of it. I would promise myself that it would only be for a little while. Invariably, four hours later, dusk gloaming on the horizon, I would find the day has completely passed me by.

My problem is this website: I am obsessed with it. I cannot go a day without visiting it. And it appears I am not the only one. Trawling through other people’s comments, I am struck by the other people who visit daily — and have done so for the past 5 years (!) That is some serious dedication to this mind-crack that they call “Game of Thrones” (OK, they don’t really call it that. That’s the TV series. The books, collectively, are “A Song of Ice and Fire”, but I cannot bring myself to admit that this is what I am addicted to, because that makes it even dorkier than it already is.)

Why, pray tell, am I so enamored with this series (OK, ASOIAF, guys, that’s how fans refer to it in shorthand. It is known. Please, someone, shoot me with a crossbow!)? Am I having a mid-life crisis, and instead of morphing into the cool late-adolescence-early-twenties-era me-that-could-have-been (speaking of could-have-been, what if what’s-his-face had lived? Oops, SPOILER ALERT. But then again why are you here? Mom’s calling you to dinner!) I have relapsed into 13-year-old real-me, with glasses, braces and a mullet, playing Dungeons & Dragons in Josh Lamancusa’s basement (is it any wonder why I have a soft spot for Brienne of Tarth?)

I think “Game of Thrones” (I’m just calling it this, OK? Go back to teasing out clues over R+L) is one of the foodiest book series out there. Seriously. I am not the only one to think this. My husband, Tom Colicchio, appears to be a big fan of the George RR Martin books, creating a food truck serving dishes from the book (black fish stew for the Wall; Sansa’s favorite lemon cakes) in the run-up to the HBO series premiere last April. Who knew Chef Tom was so adorably nerdy?

Food is used as a major descriptor in the book, for both place and character. A distracted prince dines on bean paste, flatbread and olives; a tense wedding feast features mashed turnips and jellied calves’ brains; street food in another city showcases unborn puppy and honeyed locusts; and some characters have to make do with grilled horsemeat, mashed acorn paste, or worse. What kinds of places are these? Who are these people? What’s in those pies? The food always illuminates this, and is sometimes a big plot point.

This got me to thinking about Bangkok. Not the food that characterizes Amazing Thailand (or is this Miracle Thailand?) — gem-like sweet dumplings in coconut milk, hot spicy noodles in an intricate egg net — but the food that really puts a mirror up to us, showing us for who we really are.

That food is this: yum Mama. Obvious to passers-by from the boxes of Mama noodles (almost always shrimp tom yum flavor) slung to the side, these street carts blanch Mama noodles from the package, toss them with the included seasonings, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, and mix them with a handful of assorted seafood, nitrate-rich sausages and greens. The result is tangy, cheap (30 baht) and most of all, quick (a little over a minute from start to finish) — a requisite for people who have little time to moon over pesky details like nutrition and who frankly don’t care, people in an easy land who pretend they will live forever. It’s processed, it’s sloppy, it’s not-so-good for you … but it’s still satisfying, the way a Big Mac is, or a nice big glass of fermented mare’s milk. Or a book ending where ALL YOUR QUESTIONS ARE FINALLY ANSWERED AND YOU CAN STOP TROLLING WEBSITES.

A sign of the times


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, noodles, seafood, Thailand

6 responses to “Confessions

  1. Gautam

    I am not a shill at all, not having purchased anything from these folks but have had a long conversation with Jerry, proprietor of Thai Imports, Seattle re: gas burners. VERY impressed with his ethics, care & commitment to customers, though. Took 30 mins on telephone to go over pros/cons, which ended with my not buying his product, which I had been ANXIOUS to buy on the spot. He lost a $150 sale outright + his time. Recommended a competitor’s stove!! Very excellent man, who deserves public praise.

    Anyway, Jerry has been creating and making available a series of THAI VENDOR videos, gratis, all for the love of Thailand. (I was in Thailand for 1.5 days and instantly fell deeply in love with everything Thai , even with the leaf types of the Ficus religiosa growing in BKK; I am Indian with a fetish for the ashwattha tree!)

    That series has a fantastic YUM MAMA video. I really love how dignified, cheerful and lightning fast all the vendors are, never being defeated by the BKK heat & humidity. They must be working & prepping for 12 -14 hours a day, at least! My humble respects to them and to those who have brought their feats to us.

  2. This ‘junk food yet delicious’ post reminds me of Dard Hunter (a mad American papermaker you’ll hear about in my book if I haven’t bored you with him already) who remarked in 1935: “I will never understand why the Thais like condensed milk smeared all over white bread”.

    At the time he was on the Singapore-Bangkok train. Sleeping on a wooden bunk with no mattress, dodging sparks from the engine that blew in through the window. Ah, we in modern times have such improvements. Like air-conditioned trains and Mama noodles. But still the Thai condensed milk obsession lives on!

  3. Peter and Anney

    Why did you not publish my last comment?

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