Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sweetly weird



No matter how long you have lived in Thailand (sixteen years if you are asking) there are some things that never stop being weird. Taxi drivers plucking their facial hair away with tweezers while stuck in traffic, girls talking on the phone while sitting on the toilet, ice in beer are examples that spring to mind.  A lot of people get used to the last one quite  quickly, but others don't.  I guess all Thai quirks are personal and subjective; easy to assimilate or or not depending on your personality and experiences.  Nothing is inherently more weird than anything else in a global sense.

Thai puddings were weird for me for a long time.  Before living in Thailand I was used to food that divided obediently into two camps dinner (savoury) and dessert (sweet).  Thai food is known for its heady mix of sweet, salt, sour and spice which results in some delicious main meals like Tom Yum (spicy sour soup) and Som Tam (green papaya and veggies chopped and shredded  and mixed with chilli, garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar).  We know a little sweetness in our dinner adds to experience.

But the flip-side is that savoury items sometimes show up in sweet things and this takes a little more time to get used to; a pinch of salt in lime juice and a twist of salt, sugar and chilli with a bag of fresh pineapple.  The desserts themselves often contain items which I think should remain on the other side of the pudding fence like sweetcorn and black soya beans (photos below). I think it was 3 years teaching in St Gabriel's and eating sparse (if you are vegetarian)  school dinners that did it.  I started eating the desserts with long teeth under sufferance that gradually and almost imperceptibly became pleasure. I knew I was here for the long haul when I slid my metal prison tray along the rails and thought "Mmm green noodles in iced coconut milk, my favourite."

So although I am used to it, this sweetly weird country still surprises me.  Especially when - like in the menu above taken in a very western style cafe yesterday the little bit of Thai weird is hidden among more mainstream favourites.  Mmmm, waffles and ice cream with a choice of toppings:  butter and maple syrup... chocolate and banana... mix 5 colour beans... mango and... wait, what was that third one, beans?!