Thai language lesson of the day: “Sanuk” is a Thai word that means “fun”. It is something that I am definitely not experiencing right now, in my seventh day of quarantine after entering the Land of Smiles. The silver lining to all of this isolation is that I have lots more time now to blab blab blab on my blog. You’re welcome.
So, in the interests of service journalism, I’ll give you a rundown on everything that has happened to me since checking into my hotel room.
Day 1: Arrive at the airport and am whisked away in a van for the drive back to town. Enter the hotel, get led into the room, and because it’s nighttime, take a well-deserved hot bath (yay bathtub) and fall like a dead tree into bed.
Day 2: Every day at 9am and 4pm we are to take a photo of our temperatures. Today is also the first in a series of three swab tests that we have to take throughout our 14-day stay. In New York, where we were last week so the memory is still fresh, there were vans parked throughout the city administering free COVID tests. The test they administer is done by swabbing very gently near the opening of the nostril, followed by a quick prick of the finger which is then rubbed onto paper to test for antibodies in the blood. All this to say that it’s not what they do in Thailand, where we are still doing the super-deep-right-up-into-your-brain-stab-type swab. Of all the things in New York, the free Lab Q van COVID test is what I miss the most, even more than bagels.
My test is negative.
Day 3: Yoga with Trude after I finally figure out how to zoom.
Day 4: Yoga, then downloading an unhealthy number of home decor and stylist games.
Day 5: Playing home decor and stylist games for hours. Cursing everyone who has the bad taste to not vote for my designs. WTF is it with picking the absolutely most boring stuff ever? So so sick of beige, taupe and gray. Do we all aspire to live in an Aman resort?
Day 6: A little swerve where I decide I am going to learn the dance to “Boy with Luv” by BTS. Discover that the best way to make yourself feel old is to try to learn the dance to “Boy with Luv” by BTS.
Second swab stab test of the stay. Negative.
Start watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” on Netflix. These ladies are mean.
Day 7: Here, where I am with you, ruminating on my past trip to New York, where my nose was being gently swabbed by a stranger in a van. We have reached the nostalgia stage of our quarantine.
Now, I’ve had bad Thai meals in New York (one meal in Williamsburg comes to mind), but I’ve had really good ones, too. Any trip to Wondee Siam, first discovered when we lived on W. 48th Street two decades ago, ends up being a good meal. In fact, it was our first meal in New York this time around, and we had only been away from Thailand for 10 days.
We ordered like we had been away from Thailand for 10 years: gang som with fresh seabass, stir-fried morning glory with chilies, stir-fried Chinese kale with salted fish, an omelet to soak up all the spice. The piece de resistance of the meal was the fatty pork kua kling, stir-fried in slivered kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, and a decent amount of chilies (though not really “Thai spicy”, it was spicy enough). So good, I forgot that I was returning to Thailand soon. That’s all you can ask of a straightforward Thai restaurant abroad, right?
Thai Diner, on the other hand, is not a straightforward Thai restaurant. Indeed — if the point of a Thai restaurant is to serve food that you could find in Thailand — then Thai Diner is not much of a Thai restaurant at all. But that’s not the point. The point is to have fun with Thai food, playing around with Thai ingredients and flavors within the parameters of a “diner”, if that diner is actually a pretty nice bistro. The dishes that result are sure to make any old-fashioned Thai person like my mom really angry. The rest of us can enjoy it for what it is: food that you might expect out of a really good Masterchef competition when the mystery box is put together by a Thai chef (I’ve been watching some Masterchef Australia while in quarantine, too).
The funny thing about Thai Diner, to me at least, is that nothing on the menu actually sounds that good. But when it comes to your table, it looks delicious, and when you take a bite of it, it’s frequently irresistible. That was definitely the case with the “cabbage rolls”, stuffed with a delicious turkey and mushroom mince and brought to the table in a puddle of tom kha soup that was actually really lovely with the cabbage. It wasn’t only the fusion-y stuff that worked, either. Straightforward Thai dishes like khao pad puu (crab fried rice), holdovers from the owners’ previous restaurant, Uncle Boon’s, were good enough to make my very Thai husband happy.
The standout of the meal, though, was a sandwich that Karen raved about before we even got to the restaurant. It seemed simple enough: the “Thai Diner egg sandwich”, a roti wrapped around a filling of scrambled egg, fried Thai basil, cheese and sai oua (Northern Thai sausage). In other words, a Thai breakfast burrito. But when Karen said she’d shared her sandwich with a friend during a previous brunch at Thai Diner only to bitterly regret it later, I believed her. This sandwich had haunted her dreams.
Alas, Karen was forced to share her sandwich once again.
It’s the kind of dish that makes me mad that I didn’t think of it first. Isn’t that what all the best things do? “We Will Rock You”, Sriracha sauce in a squeeze bottle, cocktails in a can. Of course this makes sense. Thanks Thai Diner. I will make this at home.
Once I get home, of course. COVID swab tests willing.
Now it’s time to sleep.