Category Archives: rice porridge

Glutton-related matters: Out of the blue

Congee: it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

It happens — a reminder, out of the blue, that you are fallible, that nothing can be taken for granted. Not even eating. Not even for a Glutton.

Right now, I have TMJ issues. This happened, as you can imagine, out of the blue, while stuffing my face with Isaan food after a lengthy family trip in Hong Kong. Commonly referred to as simply “TMJ”, this affliction is also known as “lockjaw”, which results in a sharp, shooting pain while opening one’s mouth. Although hearing me talk less is surely a blessed thing for many, many people, anything that forces me to eat less is nothing less than a tragedy (for me).

The average person can open his or her jaw three fingers wide — a feat that I am sure we have all taken for granted. Without medication, I am stuck at a paltry one-and-a-half, and what food I do manage must be properly soft, sludgy and nursery-like, or pain in the temple and jaw joint will result. This leads to an interesting set of calculations every time I see a dish: without painkillers, the crunch of a raw vegetable, a steak, or a handful of nuts is absolutely excruciating — is it worth the pain? Do I love them that much? Sometimes, yes. More frequently, though, I veer towards fish, soft pasta, eggs, rice porridge, soup. I have become everyone’s least favorite great-aunt.

Suitably runny: a Thai dessert from Somsong Pochana


Now, I sometimes get shooting headaches and sudden bouts of dizziness. Meanwhile, the feeling that I have been fitted with someone else’s teeth is persistent, akin to, my doctor tells me, athletes who hurt their legs and experience a strange feeling in their muscles while running. I am like an injured athlete, guys. If eating counts as a sport. This somehow gives me comfort.

How does something like this happen? My doctor helpfully tells me that this is something almost 100 percent stress-related. This is funny to me, since I do absolutely nothing. Yet I still unconsciously clench my jaw, all the time — while writing on the computer, walking down the street, sleeping. I need to relearn how to keep my jaw from seizing up (apparently, the “correct posture” for my jaw is lips closed, teeth apart, tongue behind the front teeth like you are about to say “No”). I need to relax. I need a holiday after my holiday.

So I am taking it easy. I am swaddling my jaw in hot compresses, twice a day, 30 minutes at a time. I am doing my jaw exercises. I am trying not to yawn too widely. And, er, as for avoiding caffeine … well, let’s not go crazy. Baby bites. Eventually, I will get my way back to that double-decker sandwich. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck.

Someday I will be able to eat this BKK Bagel tuna melt, just like Kob

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)



Filed under Asia, Bangkok, dessert, food, rice porridge, Thailand

Comfort food, Ubon-style

Red rice porridge at Santi Pochana

Comfort food is different for everyone, but it usually involves what you know best. That is why what other people like to think of as comfort food says so much about that person. For one person it’s ice cream; for someone else it’s mapo tofu. Whatever it is, it says where and what that person thinks of first when they think of home.

For Thais, comfort food usually involves rice porridge (and of course, for a people who say “kin khao” when they mean “to eat”, it’s always rice-based). In Ubon Ratchathani, where @SpecialKRB and I found ourselves last week, the best place to kin khao thom (eat rice porridge) would have to be Raan Santi Pochana on Nikhonsaiklang Road, open from the early evening to about midnight.

Like many other rice porridge shops, Santi Pochana is a made-to-order stall; unlike many, the ingredients it offers for your perusal are top-notch. Ginormous bitter melons, sweet pumpkin shoots, crispy pork belly: all are available to tinker with as the cook — or you — see fit.

What you choose from

What ensues is full-on delicious, from the rice porridge itself (red rice laced liberally with bits of taro and barley) to sweet slivered scallions stir-fried with bits of crispy pork, or a yum (spicy salad) of pak grachet (acacia leaves) coated in pulverized preserved egg. A highlight: double-fried crispy pork spareribs, tart and oozing with flavor.

Spareribs with scallions, garlic and chilies

But sometimes, “comfort” means something else entirely — a dip into the fiery, meaty hinterlands of one’s youth. That is where Porntip on Saphasit Rd. comes into play, a wonderland of larb (minced salad), Isaan sausages and grilled chicken and fish. Above all else, however, Porntip pays homage to the power of the mortar and pestle: here, som tum (grated salad, usually papaya) reigns supreme.

Porntip’s kitchen

Yes, there is som tum Thai — the stuff you see in Bangkok that is like candied fruit floss festooned with dried shrimps and peanuts, the eager-to-please dish that everyone knows and loves. Far more interesting to me is the som tum Lao — drenched in fermented anchovy juice, prickly and unknowable: do I like it or don’t I? It takes the entire dish for me to decide, yes.

Som tum Lao at Porntip

But there’s so much more. Don’t forget the grilled meats — why is it the North and Northeast have embraced smoke so, leaving the Central and South regions to their infusions, stir-fries and curries? — accompanied by hulking mounds of khao niew (sticky rice).

Salt-encrusted fish on the grill

In the end, it’s what you know: whether it’s the nursery-like pablum of rice porridge, or the smoky heat of a proper Isaan meal, you will find what you are looking for in Ubon, if what you are looking for is comfort.

(Photos by @SpecialKRB)


Filed under Asia, food, food stalls, Isaan, rice porridge, som tum, Thailand

Glutton Abroad: HK if you’re hungry

Yes, it happens. There are times when you just don’t wanna. So in an attempt to get back that elusive mojo, that ever-flickering desire to inflict myself onto the blogosphere again, to throw myself once again into that fathomless void of nothing — I went away. Specifically, to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong seems full of mojo. While Europe flounders and the U.S. seethes, Hong Kong appears to be soaring, buzzing, full of brio and activity. Sidewalks are teeming, hotels are fully booked, and, yes, restaurants are full. So, while I’ve seen my Hong Kong and my HK friends’ Hong Kong, I thought it was time to see the HK that my friends Cha and Nat (of the wildly popular website like to see.

Of course, that involved a good helping of Cantonese food. Let me tell you about Cantonese food. I don’t know so much about it. All I know about it I gleaned from dozens of faceless Cantonese restaurants scattered across the American Midwest, at countless lacquered wooden tables where I cursed the gods and my fate and the people who invented this food. I know that’s a funny thing to think for a person who likes to go to Hong Kong so much. But HK is full of all types of great cuisines. Until now, it was something that was easy to avoid and dismiss as something that I just didn’t get. Just like I don’t get classical music. Or the Stone Roses. When some (inevitably British) person starts to wax nostalgic about the genius of the Stone Roses, and we actually have to listen to something by them, it’s like my brain goes “Okay, let’s find something interesting about thi-aw drat got me againzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. You know it’s supposed to be good, you know you should appreciate it, but damned if you can get through a couple of minutes of it. It’s like the musical equivalent of reading The Economist.

A lot of Cantonese food is also like The Economist. It’s full of finesse, and subtlety. Fresh ingredients are paramount, because there is nothing to hide bad stuff behind. It’s one of those cuisines that, like French food, require great technique. Except that French cuisine has butter. Cantonese food is a rich person’s food, where only the best will do. It doesn’t have to hide its protein behind a layer of chilies or coat it in a sauce mounted with a stick of butter or stuff it into sausages to carry it long distances. Cantonese food just is.

Green beans coated in egg yolks at Xia Mian Guan

Although I had only one night in Hong Kong (devoted mainly to a wine-soaked 11-course dinner at Caprice), we managed to snatch up some time to explore some great Cantonese dishes. Such as these fresh green beans sauteed with egg yolk, giving them a rich, hefty savor perfectly complemented by a bean-y crunch. Or this:

Crab congee at Chee Kei

A smooth, unctuous rice porridge dotted with crab meat, crab claws and — best of all — globs of crab roe, punctuated with bits of ginger and green onion and just the slightest hint of saltiness. I really, really wanted to add stuff to it — chili oil and black vinegar and whatever else I could get my hands on, the way a Thai would add condiments to his jok — but it ended up changing the flavor, obscuring what had been rich and even slightly sweet. Consider that a lesson learned. Next time, Hong Kong. I’ll be back.


Filed under Asia, Chinese, food, Hong Kong, restaurant, rice porridge