Glutton Abroad: No place like home

What I love most about traveling, is, of course, all the (you already know how this sentence ends). Everybody does it differently. (Insert noun here) comes in different permutations; a humdrum thing like (insert something else here) becomes something completely new when somewhere else. I love that. I love thinking “Oh, that’s how they do that” or “I’ve never seen that before” or “Hey! I’m going to try that at home!”. It’s the best part of going anywhere for me.

For example, Sweden. When confronted with the everyday 7-11 or corner souvenir shop, you are presented with this spectacle …

… which is just one corner of the store. You can then draw very generalized and probably extremely off-base conclusions like, “Oh, Swedes must harbor a devil-may-care attitude (about cavities), fast metabolisms, and act somewhat batshit crazy.” I’m right, right? I mean, we’ve all read Stieg Larsson.

As for Poland, well we all have our little stories, and this is one of them:

Polish street food in Warsaw

First of all, a surprise: Polish food is delicious. Sour cream, dumplings, freaking Polish DILL PICKLES — what’s not to like?!  Let people pooh-pooh lard on toast — um, that lard has bay-con bits on it, ok? And it’s topped by a freaking Polish DILL. Who’s laughing now?

So it may be freezing, and the only street food stand you’ve seen for miles around is manned by a dour-faced old lady who obviously has been hiding from you, afraid that you will order something. And she burns your first pierogie on the grill. Who cares? She finally cracks a smile when a band of schoolchildren pass by, making “ching chong” noises at you as you wait for her to lard up your toast. You get your food, and it’s pretty good, and lunch is just around the corner. It’s a good day. Did I mention Polish food is delicious?

Czech food is a different proposition. It’s heavier, not as prone to flights of fancy like herring, or making soup out of fermented rye. There is also street food, though, and thanks to Prague’s many hungry bar patrons, that street food is thriving. There are flat pizza-like dishes, and hot honey wine in the mornings (DO NOT inhale as you sip, or you will regret it), and this:

Czech trdelnik

Sweet and crispy and straight from the, uh, rollers. Best of all, there is Prague ham, which sounds simple, but is so so good — thick haunches of pig, skewered and rotating over an open flame, fat dripping into the fire, juicy hunks hacked off onto a paper plate and festooned with thick slices of rye bread. Eaten standing up next to the clock tower at night, really, it is the best thing in the entire city, a meal that makes you feel like the world is an essentially good place.

But, still. There is nothing like reaching home, finally, after days and days and days of airports and trains and, uh, I guess the word for some of the hotel rooms would be “surprising”? Surprising hotel rooms. There is nothing better than a bowl of snail curry (gaeng kua hoy kom), stir-fried sweet pumpkin shoots (pad pak maew), a tiny beaker of spicy nam prik prik Thai aun (black peppercorn chili dip), some just-boiled duck eggs. A handful of steamed rice. And a tart-spicy “salad” of fried eggs with chilies and coriander (yum kai dao), what food writers think of when they write of Thai food as a “jumble” or “melange” or “cacophony of tastes.” There is no place like home.

Fried egg "yum" at Ruea Thong

20 Comments

Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Czech, food, Poland, restaurant, Sweden, Thailand

20 responses to “Glutton Abroad: No place like home

  1. Aney

    Dear Glutton – what an intriguing travel report…. my mother used to rave about ‘bread and dripping’, a post WW2 treat where the leavings from the Sunday roast would be kept in a pot and scraped out when dry onto slices of bread – the most prized bits being the solidified meat juices on the bottom of the pot – I think you would enjoy this too!

    Happy travels – we have just moved house, from a city where the gustatorial possabilities were grim, to Melbourne – last rated The World’s Most Liveable City – and we live on a street famous since the 1970s for it’s variety of eating and shopping experiences. Currently we are working our way through the world at our feet! The spare room awaits!

  2. Chissa

    Come visit new york one last time. I will take you for pretzels, gyros, hot dogs, and spiced nuts. Then we can get Ben and Jerry’s from Greenpoint Deli. Then you can write about it.

  3. Only you could make me want to eat lard.

  4. Pasha

    I am not sure if your writing fuels or quenches my wanderlust. One thing is for sure, it always makes me so hungry. Love it!

  5. I want that PLT (pickle lard toast!) and wonder about the possibility of improving Polish/Czech relations to the point of adding that flame broiled ham steak. Mmmmmm….artery-clogging layers of pig products….

    I will stowaway with you next year and wear a yellow star on my coat, ao if that peirogie peddler’s blackened heart is still pumping, I too can bring a smile to her face.

  6. JAWIII

    Qatar’s PR consultants in London and New York are holding midnight meetings to ensure that Bangkok Glutton leaves Doha with at least ONE MEAL fresh enough to photograph. “But there IS no Qatari cuisine,” shrieks one 40-something bespectacled V.P. during a midnight conference call. “Well FIND some,” urges a London based account director, “Bloody well find some, did you hear me?” “This is going to be worse than the FIFA bribery backlash,” sighs an unidentified voice in the background. “Well, get on the phone with Bahrain and bribe the hell out of them to send over a team of street vendors. Qatar Airways just sent me Nualkhair’s flight numbers. We’ll station vendors along the route from the airport and then surrounding the Kempinski hotel.” A long silence and then, “What are you waiting for? Who the Hell else is going to supply us with a 250 million USD retainer? GET TO IT!”

  7. JAWIII

    I’m nervous. I have NO IDEA what you’re going to find to catch your interest in Qatar Persian perhaps … or roadside tea and paratha stands …? Maybe you’ll manage to track down some Qatari food? I can’t wait to find out!

  8. Ben

    Time to keep eating!🙂
    And honestly that whole Swedish dessert section… now I don’t mean to diss anyone here, but it looks pretty low-quality. Of course, not that 7eleven has better things on offer, but hey, BKK is FILLED with places where you can find desserts that are worth every cavity and extra-hole in your belt. And my dentist probably wants to buy a new car or something anyway…

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