The Thais like their food hot, really hot. Even if you ask whether something is hot, they are likely to reply that it is really not. But hot to them, and hot to me, are quite a different thing. This can be a problem as too hot means hours of suffering.
When I first arrived in Thailand last year, I barely knew what to eat. At first I confined myself to small, secure restaurants – the one in my guesthouse and another I’d heard recommended in a guesthouse a few doors down. When out and about, I added orange juice (which though fresh squeezed reminded me of Tang) and fresh pineapple. Then one night I tried one of the soup dishes on my street, but not from a cart, from a tiny shop.
And then early the next morning I was slammed by the nearly inevitable. For 24 hours, while the antibiotic kicked in, it was all I could manage to get to the bathroom. So weak I could only type two fingered as I laid limply in bed. The following day I was able to resume activities but weakly, and it was nearly two weeks more before I no longer had to force myself to eat.
After that I began to experiment. My major sensitivity to hot food still made me cautious so fried rice with chicken became my safe dish. No one ever adds chiles to that. But you just never know. In northern Laos, I had a wonderful exotic sounding mushroom and chicken dish one night and ordered it again the next from the same cook. The first night it was perfect. The second night it had chiles. It didn’t taste that hot to the tongue but the hours of suffering that followed sent me back to fried rice.
Around this time I spent a couple of days wandering in Laos with a very experienced young lady who nibbled her way through town by buying from the street vendors. That was when I found the courage to tap into the nirvana that is southeast Asian street food. Since then it has been full steam ahead.
This year is so different. For one thing, I have decided that I may still be resistant to the travelers scourge. And if not, well best to just get it done and over anyway. So now, if it looks good, I try it.
There is no way to really describe the options as most of the time I don’t really know what I am eating. Mystery meat, mystery everything. I had a magnificent Thai seafood salad two nights ago, prepared in front of me, hold the chilis. Some of the vendors, like this talented lady, are used to foreigners and know the salient phrases in English. I’d discovered last year that the famed Thai salad was a blistering hot affair and thought I would never try it again.
Today has been all about street food. My guesthouse is located outside the main tourist areas and adjacent to a large raw food market. It is also adjacent to a school. In the morning, the street vendors show up early to feed the people setting up for the market. At lunch time a new group of street vendors appear for the children’s school break. Evenings are quieter but there is still enough to choose from.
Today is supposed to be a quiet day for research and preparation for a later segment of the trip, and for getting ready to move on to the north. But because I have been staying close to home, it has been much more about trying all the street food just outside my door. As long as I can say ‘no chilis’.and be understood, I am good to go.
How cautious and afraid I was last year this time. How much things have changed.