Khao Chae: The summer heat in the States is nothing compared to the scorching, humid temperatures of Thailand. Most people cool off with an ice cold beverage so you can only imagine how confused I was when my dinner came with a side of iced rice! I merely pointed at a picture so I had no idea what I ordered. Some Googling revealed that khao chae is a seasonal dish served during the hottest months to cool off, which explains the rice soaked in iced jasmine water. Considered a "royal dish", it was almost too pretty to eat. Dinner was an elaborate dance of alternating bites of deep-fried shrimp paste balls, shredded pork floss, and egg-battered pork-stuffed pepper with spoonfuls of the floral rice. At first I thought the vegetables were decorations only but nibbles of green mangoes and scallions balanced the sweetness of sides. It took some time to adjust to the sugar levels in Thailand, even in savory dishes.
Pad Thai: One of the first dishes I had upon landing was a classic pad thai. It was from a Sodexho cafeteria and it was amazing! The hospital cafeteria is managed by a company that we as Americans look down on, but in Bangkok stalls are independently run by mom-and-pop operations. You won't find balut and freshly roasted duck at a Sodexho cafeteria here in the U.S.! Back to my pad thai, as sweet as it was the flavors were well-balanced and a squeeze of lime perfected it. I loved the tiny dried shrimps in addition to the fresh prawns, fried tofu and bean sprouts. You could even taste the bit of smoke and char from the wok. This was a legit stuff! Pad thai has never tasted the same since.
Som Tum: The one dish that slightly scarred me was the Thai papaya salad. It looked really appetizing between the fresh, shredded green papaya, cherry tomatoes, and long beans but the assertiveness of the fish sauce, fish paste, and scorching heat of the tiny amount of Thai chilies was enough to make me cry. After a few bites, my tongue was on fire and begging for a cooling scoop of ice cream. They really hold back on the spice level here in the States.
Beef Meatballs: The wonders of Instagram led me to some meat on a stick down the road from the hospital. Turns out that Anamai was named one of CNN's Top 10 best street food stalls. The stall is known for its beef meatballs and some picture pointing got me some meatballs grilled and covered in the typical sweet chili sauce. I also got a bowl of beef noodle soup. The clean, clear broth was very welcomed after a few too many spicy dishes. It was very pho-like but with a much simpler soup base. The meatballs were tender but I much preferred the texture of the ones with the chewy tendons. Alas, there were no hot guy sightings per Miss Tam Chiak's blog.Tropical fruit: Not a day went by that we didn't try something new. The abundance and variety of fresh, tropical fruit was mind boggling. Papaya and pineapples never tasted so good. I fell in love with Thai mangoes, both the crisp green versions and fragrant golden ones. I tried a custardy sapote that tasted like creme brulee and new fruits like langsat with its logan-like flesh and date palms that are indescribable. What a treat this all was!
Durian: I couldn't leave Thailand without trying the king of all fruits! As stinky as it was, I was happy to devour this lovely fruit on the balcony of my hotel. Some people find it so offensive but it's a heavenly custard to me. What's neat is that in its fresh form, you can taste the difference in varieties. If I could've I totally would have brought some back with me but I'm sure the folks on my 22hr journey around the world wouldn't have appreciated it.