Author Archives: Bangkok Glutton

About Bangkok Glutton

Eating and writing in Bangkok.

Another lockdown post

ducks

Just hanging out

I started cooking when I was 8 or 9. My parents had a copy of the “Good Housekeeping” cookbook, a fascinating tome that I would rifle through in my free time (I didn’t have many friends) featuring photos of dishes like “salmon in aspic”, “turkey tetrazzini”, and “perfection salad”. I would fantasize about the time when I would be old enough to have a house of my own and a kitchen in which I could whip up these exotic dishes.  When that time came, I would have Listerine in my bathroom, but in a fancy crystal decanter, a short kimono robe I could lounge around in like Chrissie in “Three’s Company”, and Hamburger Helper in my pantry.

I started out cooking spaghetti marinara from the book, and gradually moved on to things like pound cake (a disaster), pesto (horribly salty), guacamole (ditto), and chicken fricassee (OK). If they were successes, I would eat them myself. If they were not, I would leave them on the stove for when a hungry Thai student from nearby Youngstown would inevitably pass by and dispatch of it. My parents were famously accommodating of the local Thai community and our house had a lot of Thai parties where my dad would bust out his version of som tum with grated carrots and grilled chicken marinated in beer. To my dismay, there was never any turkey tetrazzini or Hamburger Helper.

ampawa

A som tum vendor at Ampawa

This might be a reason why I almost never cook Thai food, and when I do, it usually comes out pretty bad or at best mediocre. My tastebuds are just not right for it, and I lived in a place where I had easy access to great Thai food cooked to order. I have that “Good Housekeeping” cookbook to this day, even though it is now missing some pages in the soup section. I still cook from it. The last recipe I made were the brownies. But that was maybe a year ago. I don’t burn to cook anymore, not even now, when that is what you are supposed to be doing. I don’t feel like reading anymore either, even though that was something I could not stop doing before. I do a lot of yoga, and I watch a lot of TV.

I am realizing that, for me, the magic of the day lay in its unpredictability, and most of that unpredictability had to do with food. I miss going out of my house and chancing on things that I would mentally bookmark for a future meal with friends, or going in and trying immediately myself. Sometimes they were terrible experiences where a waiter charges you for an extra halo halo that you never ordered, but sometimes they were great.  I miss learning about my town in that way. I miss eating places, and the bond that some of these experiences would create between people, even the bad ones. This was the role that dining out played for me, and I know I’m not the only one.

posole

Posole in Queens with a nice bottle of Corona, which has stopped brewing temporarily

But don’t worry, I am still stuffing my face like Asian Jabba the Hutt. Don’t labor under the impression that I’m losing weight and not eating. I am, and eating well (too well). I even sometimes inflict my meager stabs at cooking on other people. Yesterday I made chili con carne (another dish in the “Good Housekeeping” cookbook. However, I base mine off of the recipe in the “Silver Palate” cookbook — the book I read during my free time in college, this time to the amusement of my roommate, who said I should be able to “think of these recipes on my own.” She never washed the dishes.)

All the same, there are some things that you can can’t properly make at home. For example, grilled river prawns. Now, you can source these babies on your own, probably (I haven’t tried), but they won’t be as delicious as when they are fresh from the river in a town like Ayutthaya and you are sitting on the water in a rickety shack staring at a plate like this:

prawn

There’s also sushi, of course, which I would never in a million years attempt myself. I don’t even order it home delivered, because I truly believe that, like som tum, one is supposed to eat that shit the second it passes out of the chef’s hands.

sushi

Gizzard shad with yuzu peel

These are the things that keep me looking forward here, as I watch “Friends” for what may possibly be the 30th time. They may not serve Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff or salad suspended in jello, but here’s to eateries, the people who keep them going, and rebuilding bonds in them when we get back.

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Self-quarantine, day 112048

dok1

A bunch of fresh-picked dok kae pa, or jungle vegetable hummingbird

I have not used the time while in self-imposed isolation to do anything of any use or benefit to anybody. I have not read anything big or smart, written anything big or smart, or learned anything big or smart. I have been busy imagining how it would be to escape my little prison, and when I say “prison”, I don’t mean like Ellen Degeneres in her big airy living room like the lobby of an Aman resort while her producer is lurking in the plants outside. I mean prison like my actual body. I sometimes want to literally jump out of my skin. To forget that feeling, I have been playing countless hours of Candy Crush or watching “Breaking Bad” for the first time, despite really, really disliking Walter White — even more than I disliked Don Draper, which I thought was not possible. Proved me wrong!

giphy

I have been on the occasional walk, and on one of these walks came across what I thought were called “dok gang” (curry flower) but are actually called “dok kae pa”. I do not believe they have anything in common with the vegetable hummingbird (or sesbania grandiflora) but when the blossoms are blanched, the flavor is similar: bittersweet, with a pleasant crunch. It’s great with a nice spicy chili shrimp paste dip.

dok2

And that has been my check-in from the other side. For more mentally balanced content during lockdown, maybe check out my friends Chris and Eddie at https://planestrainsandanchovies.com.

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What’s Cooking: How to cook your feelings

fish

Deep-sea pomfret ready for frying in the wok

MFK Fisher once wrote of “How to Cook a Wolf”. She did not mean it literally. It was during World War II, and the wolf that she wrote of was snuffling at the door and threatening to devour all of the inhabitants in the house. The wolf, of course, was hunger. The recipes, while mostly standard, were introduced with pithy headings that spoke to the times: “How to be Cheerful through Starving”; “How to be Content with a Vegetable Love”; “How to Pray for Peace”.

In “How to Keep Alive”, she details a recipe that involves a strictly utilitarian mix of ground beef, whole grain cereal, and root vegetables, cooked into what Fisher referred to as “sludge”. It was not a meal over which to mull the day’s little triumphs. “Not only is it good for people, it is ideal fare for dogs,” wrote Orville Prescott of The New York Times in a May 22, 1942 book review.

Today, there are many wolves at many doors. The wolf may come in different guises, but its methods are essentially the same. My friend James wrote to me just a few days ago, exhorting me to go out and patronize all the restaurants I could; the days to go out would be numbered, he said. The next day, he was proven right. It’s hard to say what the cost of the shutdown will ultimately be on businesses both large and small, but it is clear that it will probably be very high. If you can, contact that restaurant you have been thinking about and order from them. It will not go unappreciated. Just last weekend I enjoyed a roast chicken with perfectly soft, garlicky spinach  and a super-thyme-scented tranche of porchetta with apple sauce delivered to my door from Appia. Of course I have no photos.

Here, in Phuket now where it is at the height of the hot season, I have little desire to spend any time over a hot wok or boiling vat of water. However, I can spend a couple of minutes making a simple sauce in the mortar and pestle.

giphy

OK OK Prince. You win. What I mean is, I can watch Pravee doing it. Pravee was born in Chiang Rai, just like me, but she is a far better cook. This sauce is the bomb for any type of seafood: boiled shrimp, fried fish, steamed crab, grilled squid, you name it. The secret is the inclusion of pickled garlic and mashed coriander root.

sauce

Pravee’s Seafood Sauce (for 4)

  • 2 cloves of raw garlic
  • 1 head of pickled garlic
  • 2 tsp of pickled garlic juice
  • 5 bird’s eye chilies (for spicy)
  • 1 large coriander root (or 2 small ones)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp palm sugar

Add solid ingredients to the mortar and pestle and mash well, Thai-style, pounding like you have a grudge against the ingredients. Gradually add liquids and palm sugar, mushing around like you are working at an ancient apothecary. Taste to adjust seasoning. Like most Thai food, this wasn’t meant to lie around in wait for a few days. Use as soon as you can!

pravee

Be like Pravee and make this sauce!

 

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