There is a lot to be said for doing as little as possible. As an officially Lazy Person, I am all for doing the absolute minimum necessary to get by, or, if that is not possible, getting someone else to do it. That philosophy is, in essence, what lies behind my house motto (THIS IS ALL YOU GET). So the concept of doing very little is something close to my own heart.
Although Isaan-ers (Thais living in the northeastern part of the country) work very hard and are known for doing so, they do very little with their food — perhaps because they are busy working. A little water, a few bits of meat, a barrage of chilies and a handful of crumpled herbs and you’ve got dinner on the table after maybe half an hour. Very easy and very simple, yet the results of this hurried labor remain delicious. Exhibit 1: an Isaan-style “mushroom soup” whipped up with water, fish sauce, lime juice, a tangle of Thai basil, and very little chili, resulting in something sharp, salty, slightly squidgy and utterly addictive:
But the Isaan region is not the only part of Thailand known for its tart, spicy soups. The soup hang wua (oxtail soup) of the deep South is another gem — meaty of course, but also sour with lime and toughened by a mini-explosion of spice. It’s the perfect complement to the khao mok gai (Thai-Muslim chicken biryani) that it almost always accompanies, sweetened as it is with raisins and deep-fried shallots. It also makes for a hearty, substantial breakfast or lunch, when a slice of toast or a smidgen of rice porridge just won’t do. A good place to get this combo is at Amat Rot Dee, about 100 meters from the entrance to Thong Lor Road on the left hand side (02-319-6576, open weekdays from 8.30 am-noon), where the biryani is reliably fluffy and the soup a fragrant melange of oxtail, onion, tomato, coriander and, of course, chilies.
Simple, yes, but devoid of flavor, no.
Speaking of simplicity, nothing is simpler than the humble potato. But the myriad ways different people prepare this thing can prove surprisingly fascinating. For those curious about just how many ways that could be, please check out my friend Poh Sun Goh’s new blog “The Traveling Spud” (http://www.thetravellingspud.blogspot.com), detailing potato dishes everywhere from Bangkok and Singapore to Norway and Spain.