Not Another Pad Thai

I’ve noticed that foreigners in Thailand get stuck in a rut when it comes to food. I can’t help but roll my eyes every time someone orders another Pad Thai. I’ve eaten with people who ask for Pad Thai for lunch, dinner, and then lunch again the next day. I find this sad and absurd because Pad Thai is usually cooked poorly where tourists eat. No one should eat the same thing over and over again while traveling because there are so many other yummy dishes out there waiting to be tried. Part of the problem is that people just don’t know what to order, so here’s a few dishes you can eat, other than Pad Thai, while in Thailand or at a Thai restaurant at home.

Som Tum

Som Tum is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. I have yet to meet a Thai person who isn’t obsessed with this dish. Som Tum is made with shredded green papaya, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and long beans. All of these ingredients are put in a mortar and pounded a few times with a pestle to release the juices, and then served with a side of sticky rice.

I prefer Som Tum Thai which is sweet, has peanuts, and isn’t very fishy. If you don’t mind a fishy flavor you should give the Som Tum Blah a try. This version is very popular and has tiny crabs and more fish sauce in it. Som Tum is sold in restaurants and by street vendors, so you can pretty much pick some up everywhere. This dish is an absolute must while in Thailand. If you are afraid of spicy foods, just remember to ask for only one or two chili peppers.

Tom Yum Goong

This is the most famous Thai soup. If you get into a conversation about Thai food with a Thai person, they are inevitably going to ask if you’ve tried Tom Yum Goong. So try it!

Tom Yum Goong is a hot, spicy, and sour orange soup. The base is a stock flavored with lemongrass, kaffir limes, fish sauce, and chili peppers. Inside the soup you will find prawns (goong) and mushrooms. You don’t have to love this soup, but since it is such a staple in Thai cuisine, you at least have to taste it once.

Pad Siew

This is my alternative to Pad Thai. It is my favorite noodle dish in Thailand. Pad Siew is made with flat wide noodles, a soy based sauce, and broccoli. I think chicken goes best with this dish, but pork or tofu are usually options as well. I always introduce new comers to Thai cuisine to Pad Siew, and have yet to get a bad review of it. If you are craving noodles, try this instead of Pad Thai. Please!!

Pad Gapow

This is a spicy dish so beware. Pad Gapow is made with chicken, basil, chili peppers, sugar, garlic, and fish sauce. It is typically served with rice and is one of the only spicy dishes I consistently order. I recommend getting a beer with this one; it tends to thwart the burning sensation a bit.

Pad Pak Boong Fai Dang

I never knew I could love a vegetable dish so much until I tasted Pad Pak Boong. This dish translates directly to Fried Vegetable Morning Glory Fire Red. You are guessing correctly if you think it might be a bit spicy. Pad Pak Boong doesn’t always have to have the fai dang (red fire) in it, and it probably won’t if you are a foreigner ordering it. Thai people know that our tolerance for spicy peppers is far below theirs, but let your server know if you want it spicy or not, just in case.

Morning glory is also known as water spinach for us. It isn’t wide spread here in the United States, but is wildly popular in Asia. I miss it greatly when I return home, so while I’m in Thailand I order this whenever I can. The morning glory in this dish is stir fried in a brown soy based sauce, which I recommend eating with some sticky rice to soak up the delicious sauce.

There you have it: five alternatives to eating Pad Thai! After trying these dishes you probably won’t want to go back to eating Pad Thai. Happy Travels!

This post was written for www.diwyy.com.

Korean BBQ in Thailand

One of my favorite types of restaurants to go to in Thailand are the ones that serve Moo Kaowlee AKA Korean Pork. I’m not entirely sure if this is really a Korean dish or a Thai invention attributed to the Koreans. It seems as though I’m constantly being told that the dish I am eating isn’t Thai, but Vietnamese or Chinese or Korean. I’m sure that Thai food is influenced by all of these countries, but I don’t think Thailand is giving itself enough credit, it can’t all be from other countries.

Moo Kaowlee is kind of like the Korean or Thai version of fondue. There is a hole in the center of every table in the restaurant so that a heavy bucket of coals can be set inside (I got burned for the first time by a little coal falling between my toes last week). While you are waiting for the coals to heat up, you select your vegetables, meat, and noodles from the buffet bar in the back of the restaurant. The buffet of raw meat would make any health inspector have a coronary. Trays upon trays of raw pork, chicken, beef, and seafood are on ice for everyone to take from with tongs. The noodles are at the next station over, along with some fried appetizers such as french fries. The dessert station is disconcertingly found only two feet away from the raw meat station. You are free to take what ever you like and it is assumed that you understand that the meat shouldn’t end up in your dessert bowl.

Moo Kaowlee restaurants would be shut down by the Health Department in a heartbeat if they were to try and open in the States. If you have ever been to a fondue restaurant in America, you probably experienced the five to ten minute schpiel about how long to cook the meat for before you can eat it. They have to make sure that you have some sort of timing device, and even suggest having multiple ones since seafood and meat have different cook times. On top of all of that they have to make sure to remind you that it is hot….duh! The amount of idiotic lawsuits that would arise from this wonderful meal being served in the US is too scary and depressing to think about.

Once the coals are hot enough, a bundt-like pan is placed on top of the bucket and you are ready to start cooking. A couple of pieces of pig fat are placed in the middle of the pan and water or broth is poured around the island. Noodles, seafood, and vegetables are cooked in the water and the meat is cooked on the pork fat oiled island. The fat and juices from the meat drip down into the surrounding water creating the most delicious broth.

My only problem with the whole process is the fact that you use the same utensils to pick up the raw meat with as you do your cooked meat. Like any good over cautious American, I try to keep utensils for raw and cooked meat separated, but after a while it becomes exhausting and I usually give in to not caring.

One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.
One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.

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This past week I was introduced to the takeaway option of Moo Kaowlee. Someone brings the pot of coals, the pan, the meat, vegetables, and sauces to your house. The delivery boy lights the coals for you and the whole thing is set up inside your living room, with plenty of fans running of course. Once dinner is over you don’t even have to clean anything, the delivery boy will pick it up in the morning and do all of that for you! It’s fantastic, except for the smoke inhalation…

One of the best parts of eating Moo Kaowlee in a restaurant, is dessert at the end. There is fruit, coconut ice cream, and Nam Khang Sai to choose from. Nam Khang Sai is my absolute favorite Thai dessert. It’s like the Thai snow cone, only in a bowl with jelly toppings and coconut milk…okay maybe it’s not exactly a snow cone. You put shaved ice in a bowl, spoon a coconut milk and sugar water over it, add your choice of syrup flavors (I like mine without the syrups), and put all sorts of different Chinese jellies on top. It is a light dessert that goes down well in hot weather and I plan on sharing it with all of you when I get back home!

Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriends internet cafe.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriend's internet cafe.

In other news, I am done with my job in Khon Kaen and am staying at Dow’s house in Rangsit, which is about an hour outside of Bangkok. Tomorrow I plan on heading to Koh Chang for a week to soak up a little sunshine on the beach and do a little hiking through the jungle. I’ll be back here at the end of next week which is when my mom arrives! For those of you that haven’t heard, my mom is coming to Thailand on April 5th and then we will be off to Nepal on the 8th. Words cannot describe how excited I am to see her!

For those of you that are on Twitter, I would like you to know I just signed up. I’m not totally sold on it yet, so we’ll see how long I keep it up for, but for now you can find me on Twitter as wakeupanddance.

Thank you all for keeping up with my blog for the past five months! I can’t believe it’s been so long already. I anticipate some grand adventures in the upcoming months, so please keep reading!

Two Yummy and Easy Thai Recipes

Alright, here’s a post for all you foodies out there. One of the teachers invited me over for a little cooking lesson after aerobic dance yesterday. Megh Tiew and her sister taught me how to make Gang Jewt Kai Nam (Lightly Flavored Soup with Egg) and Pad Taow Oo (Fried Tofu). Both of these are easy to make and aren’t spicy. I’ve written down the recipes, but since they don’t use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure things out, I am guessing on the amounts, so don’t trust them one hundred percent. Here are the rough recipes and a video of my cooking lesson. Bon appetit!

Megh Tiew 1

Gang Jewt Kai Nam

  • vegetable oil
  • 6-8 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • handful sliced onions
  • handful torn lettuce leaves
  • about one teaspoon powdered chicken flavor
  • about one tablespoon (maybe more?) mushroom sauce
  • about 1 cup seasoned ground pork (optional)
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once fried, remove garlic from  oil. Set aside.
  2. Fry two eggs in remaining oil. Once cooked, remove from wok. Set aside.
  3. Add water and cucumber to the wok. Cover and let cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Place spoonfuls of meat in water with cucumbers. Cook for a couple of minutes while stirring.
  5. Add remaining vegetables, powdered chicken flavor, and mushroom sauce. Stir. Cook for a few minutes.
  6. Add fried garlic and eggs from earlier. Cook for a few more minutes.
  7. Serve with rice.

Pad Taow Oo

  • vegetable oil
  • 8-10 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 package of tofu, cut into 1 inch squares
  • about 1 or 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • about 1 tablespoon mushroom sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • about 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 8 green onions chopped into 2 inch long pieces
  • white pepper
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic and tofu. Fry for a couple of minutes on med-high heat.
  2. Add oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, sugar and water. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add green onions. Cook for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer to plate and sprinkle with white pepper.
  5. Serve with rice.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh2JE1KvSq4]

Bugs and Bonding

Here is what has being going on since my last post…

There is a tea house that is run by some of the people associated with the organization that I work for and they bought a toaster oven for me to bake in! I made my first batch of cookies last week and they turned out pretty good! I decided to make shortbread cookies with some fresh minced ginger in it. They were a success and tomorrow I plan on experimenting a little bit more. The cookies are not being sold because the tea house runs solely on the 20 Baht donation suggested on the menu.This place is full of surprises, I never would have guessed that I would be baking cookies in a toaster oven in Thailand.

Another piece of food related news…I tried some bugs at the silk fair! They were fried and didn’t really taste like much other the vinegar seasoning they lightly coated them with. Definitely something I wouldn’t have a problem eating again.

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These bugs were a little too intimidating for me to try at the time...next time for sure though!
Some bugs I tried at the silk fair.
The bugs I tried at the silk fair.

I just got back from a work retreat. We were only gone for one night and went to these awesome huts/cabins just over an hour away from Khon Kaen. The setting was absolutely stunning and the food was delicious. The highlight of the trip was the swim I went for in the Chi River. I didn’t have a swimsuit so I wore one of the sarongs that the teachers use to dry off with when they get out of the shower. The four youngsters (Liz, Soryor, Maha, and myself) were the only ones who wanted to take a dip. It was the perfect temperature outside, the water wasn’t cold, and there was no current so it was ideal swimming conditions.

The Thai teachers were terrified when Liz and I started to swim to the other bank, but we couldn’t resist. Our meetings are always long and I can only talk about feelings and sit and eat for so long before I feel like I need to go run around, so the swim was exactly what I needed. I actually swam pretty well in the sarong, but that was only because it was scrunched around my waist while Liz and I were swimming across the river. Luckily the water was so mucky that it didn’t matter.

All ready to swim!
All ready to swim!
Our simming dock on the Chi River.
Our simming dock on the Chi River.
As many of you know I am terrible at remembering to take pictures. I usually hand my camera to someone else or get the pictures from someone else. I only got one good shot of the view on my camera so I will post more pictures of where we stayed later.
As many of you know, I am terrible at remembering to take pictures. I usually hand my camera to someone else or get the pictures from somebody later. I only got one good shot of the view on my camera so I will post more pictures of where we stayed in the near future.
Liz and I swimming.
Liz and me

Learning to Eat Alone

This was written five days ago, but I haven’t had the time to type it up and post it until now. Here ya go!

It’s 11:35am. I have been awake since 6:30 even though it is a Sunday because the roosters outside my building refuse to stay quiet. I have wasted as much time on the Internet and Skype as I possibly can and now I must venture outside the comfort of my apartment for some food. I have been trying to put this moment off for as long as possible. It may sound silly, but something as rudimentary as finding food to eat is scarier than an attempt at sky diving would be for me right now. At least with skydiving you know what you are getting yourself into. Ordering food here could result in weird animal parts, food so spicy you can’t even sniff it without choking, or a really delicious meal.

These past two weeks have spoiled me. The teachers I work with have been around for every meal I eat, so I haven’t had to order food on my own. Now it is the weekend though, and I finally have the much needed free time I have been longing for, but that free time has brought me to the realization that if it weren’t for my pointing and grunting skills I honed on Semester at Sea, I would be starving in Thailand, a country full of tasty food.

As I finally venture out of my apartment I pass my favorite food stand. The sweet smell of taro doughnut holes and fried bananas rolled in crushed spices fill my nostrils. I decide that maybe I can just live off these tasty fattening niblets until I can speak Thai better.

The doughnut man and I are buddies now, even though the only thing either of us understands is when I try to say banana in Thai and when he tells me how much I owe him, also in Thai. His treats make my day and he has a kind smile, so I have decided that we are great friends.

I buy one bag of doughnuts and pop one into my mouth. Instantly I feel a little more relaxed. I watch the paper bag slowly soak up the grease from the doughnuts and convince myself that I need to find a healthy meal to justify this indulgence.

Close by my beloved doughnut stand is a hole in the wall selling some sort of dish with duck. I know this only because I see two ducks hanging in the front. I have always loved duck, but in the States it is always out of my price range.

So duck it is. I stop and clumsily point at a bowl and hope they understand. They say a few things in Thai to which I just say yes to and hope for the best. I also throw in a “mai pet” (not spicy) for safety because it would be so disappointing if my duck were too spicy for me to consume.

So here I am now, eating non-spicy duck and rice in the shade. The weather is perfect, not too hot, and I have managed to feed myself successfully. My fear has subsided and I am extremely proud of myself. Dinner is in a few hours and I will have to go through the same experience all over again. Is it possible to get lucky twice in one day? Let’s hope so.

**I have successfully eaten on my own several times now and the fear is almost all gone. Although today I was chowing down on some chicken and realized that I was trying to eat a foot which kind of freaked me out.

***Last night was a festival called Loi Krathong. I will post about it soon.