Guess what? There’s a lot of bad mojo in the news today. Maybe you haven’t heard, because you are off being happy and hanging out with Diana Ross. Maybe you have been traveling and are spending your days with a good book. Or maybe you are medicated to the gills, like me. In any case, even I am aware that bad stuff has been happening, including bad inappropriate behavior guy stuff (I’m not talking about Donald Trump, although, wait, maybe I am).
Women grow up knowing to look out for those guys, the handsy ones who treat your personal space like a salad bar at Sizzler. They do this because they can. It’s always our fault, and we’re always the ones left feeling ashamed. But I’m not here to tell the same old story about the perv on the crowded Tokyo subway car, or the totally inappropriate weirdo at your friend’s wedding. I feel like the tide may be turning, and that people are learning to appreciate — or at least fear — what women have to contribute and say. Fingers crossed.
This extends to food. Still, even here in Thailand where the myth of the magical mortar-and-pestle-wielding grandma reigns supreme (the culinary Asian version of Will Smith in “The Legend of Bagger Vance”), woman food remains mom food, stuff that you eat in a pinch or that you miss when you’ve moved on to bigger and better things.
At the same time, much of the Thai food landscape is populated by strong women cooks, people like Jay Fai and Bo Songvisava and Bee Satongun and Krua Apsorn. Women make up nearly half of the Thai workforce. Thailand ranks first in the number of women CEOs at private companies. Yet every time you step outside there are still commercials about the need for women to slim down, bleach their skin, beware how they smell. My mother still complains about how her friends tell her I look like I was pulled out of a dumpster (“pulled from the dumpster” is my look right now a la Alison Mosshart OK mom?!). These parallel existences shouldn’t be, but they are.
No wonder, then, that a discerning woman would choose to eat their feelings, the security blanket of choice for the bon vivant. That is how I found myself at Kruajiangmai (Thonglor Rd., 099-196-2464) instead of the street food noodle place I initially intended to visit, wearing my most comfy elastic waist pants and a pristine white shirt just begging to be splattered with lunch. Kruajiangmai, which started out as a pure delivery service, just happens to be helmed by another cooking woman, Chinnanan Sethachanan, who cooks good Northern Thai food even though she’s from Chiang Mai (my dad says Chiang Mai food is the blandest in the north OK reader?!)
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you will probably know that I am extra picky about Northern Thai food, because my dad has cooked it for us all our lives. You might have also noticed I was super judgy about places with laminated menus promising pad Thai and mango sticky rice but I’ve matured since then (OK mom?!) and realize that people have to do what they can to survive. Kruajiangmai not only has the temerity to be from Chiang Mai, but also does this laminated menu thing, and yet I still did not run away. Maybe I was super hungry (I ordered both beef shin khao soy and kanom jeen nam ngiew). But the food itself was promising: the nam ngiew, spicy and cartilaginous and uncluttered with the desiccated corpses of cherry tomatoes that tend to dilute the stew.
Most importantly? There were actual dried ngiew blossoms in the broth, as well as the correct garnishes like deep-fried garlic, bean sprouts and pickled greens, because when you see stuff like green beans and carrots you (I) want to jump out a window. The same could be said for the khao soy with beef shank, which was not only tender and rich but also included the deep-fried egg noodles for texture and plenty of raw onions, because it’s not a good lunch until everyone within a 3-foot radius wishes they were dead.
I ended up leaving with a bag of khao ganjin (Shan-style rice cooked in pork blood) and gaeng ped hed prao (exploding mushroom curry) on my arm, splattered Jackson Pollock-style with enough khao soy curry and nam ngiew juice that I looked pulled from a dumpster next to the Ping River. I didn’t see any of my mom’s friends on the way home. Comfort food indeed.