By: Carson Chambers and Zoe Sirivejchaphan
The following post concerns the food we have been eating and presents the viewpoints of two people, one who is vegan and one who is Thai American.
From the Vegan
I came to Thailand expecting it to be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain my vegan diet. I also didn’t want to offend any of our Thai hosts by refusing to eat their food. And I didn’t want to miss out on the full cultural experience which inevitably includes food. On the plane ride over there were vegetarian options (but plane food doesn’t really count as food does it?). Once we actually sat down for our first meal in Thailand, the decision making began. Do I want to eat the rice and veggie dish? Do I want to try the eggs? How about the chicken with its tantalizing aromas wafting my way? No, I’ll stick with the rice and veggies this morning. For lunch, we were wandering around the big mall across the street from our hotel. Did I want to try the pad thai? What about the chicken skewers? No, I think I’ll go with some green tea cakes filled with red bean paste — so delicious.
I knew that dinner was going to be my first really challenging decision – we were eating at Noi’s house with the Thai nursing students. I really wanted to be able to taste all of Noi’s creations and I didn’t want to offend anyone in the slightest. Noi graciously made me a special plate of fried rice without egg or meat. But all the dishes looked so amazing…so I put a little of each on my plate and decided to sample each dish. I ended up just maneuvering around the pieces of meat . Not truly vegan but I didn’t actually consume any meat – I just couldn’t quite come to terms with that yet.
Day two and at breakfast I decided to go for that fried egg. I had it on my plate, I stared at it, contemplated it, went back and forth about whether or not to eat it and then I just put a little rice on my spoon and I popped it right in my mouth. Tasty. Just how I remembered an egg tasted. And twenty minutes later my stomach was still feeling fine. When lunch time rolled around, we were presented with a table full or prepared food, most all of which had some sort of meat in it. I have to admit that at first I was having a little panic attack. I didn’t know what to do.
I was staring at all these delicacies and trying to figure out where my moral compass would direct me. I started tasting the sauces first, moved on to the broths and then I went for it – I ate my first piece of fish in more than a year. And you know what? It was excellent.
So, I’ve decided to decide at every meal, if that makes sense. If I want to try the fried rice roasted inside a pineapple, I’m going to try it! If I want to eat that crab egg roll, I’m going to eat it! If I want to sample some Thom Yum soup, well by golly I will! When will I ever get the chance to eat these foods prepared by these people again? When in Thailand…
From the Thai American
Growing up all I ever knew about was Thai food; American food is very rare in my household. What I thought was normal to eat other peoples’ thoughts were quite opposite. However, it never really occurred to me until I had friends start to come over and eat dinner in elementary school. Whenever they sat down and saw the food that was being served they were a little repulsed. Everything they saw on the dinner table was so unfamiliar and bizarre to them they felt as if they were eating a piece of artwork. Who would’ve thought there were other ways to prepare chicken other than the traditional grill, barbecue, or fried? Once people try my dad’s cooking they end up loving it and tell him all the time that it’s difficult to eat at any other Thai restaurant.
I always love to compare my dad’s cooking to my aunt’s because they were both raised in the same house in Bangkok, Thailand and had the same mom to teach them. Even with the same teacher each one of their meals has their own unique flavor that varies from one another. Growing up with Thai food I thought it would also be interesting to compare my families cooking with other local Thai cooks in Salt Lake City, Utah. Boy, what a disappointment. I hear about all these great Thai restaurants in the valley so I go to try them out, but so far it has been a challenge to find a good restaurant that serves authentic Thai food. Everywhere I’ve been to the food tastes like I’m eating a dessert rather than an authentic Thai meal.
However, arriving to Thailand has completely introduced me to a whole new ball game. In the past two days I’ve been able to actually compare authentic Thai cooking to my dad’s versus the twenty years living in Salt Lake. So far everything we have eaten here in Bangkok, my dad has made back home. The flavoring obviously varies, but the style is practically identical. Back in Utah there are a few ingredients that my dad clearly has to substitute for and resort to packaged goods, but here in Bangkok all the meals so far have been cooked with fresh goods and you can definitely tell a difference. Being in Bangkok has completely opened up my eyes and has actually given me a great comparison of authentic Thai food. Although I have gained this new comparison my dad has always told me that he even tones his cooking down for us by making it not as weird or spicy. So even with this new perspective on Thai cooking I hope to take it even further because so far everything has been very similar to my dad’s meals and I’d like to see how much more traditional I can get. Hopefully the villages will take me to a whole other level…