Nothing but a Vegetarian Disgrace

Nothing but a Vegetarian Disgrace

I have been a vegetarian and pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish) for my entire adult life and most of my whole life…but then there’s bacon.

A humongous number of people love bacon, and as odd as it may seem, some of those are vegetarians. It’s like a vegetarian dirty-little-secret club, and I’m one of its members. I know someone who had a cat named Bacon, and when asked why, she replied, “Because everyone loves bacon.”

What is it about bacon that makes us salivate? The delicious greasy smell? The scrumptious smoky flavor? Its crunchy yet chewy texture? I don’t know.

Not only am a member of this dirty club, for me the best is the fatty kind that hasn’t been cooked to crispiness. Extremely unhealthy, I know. Luckily the craving doesn’t hit me all that often, and it gets fulfilled even less often. I guess I’m a vege-pesce- baco-tarian. Today, after about 9 months in Thailand it was my first time eating bacon in this country, and it was spectacular.

Several days later…

I was walking through my local market, which wasn’t smart because I was shopping while extremely hungry. I smelled chicken roasting on the grill and saw something that looked like barbecued chicken. Like a woman possessed I asked for, “Gai yaang,” handed over my 25 baht, and made my way through the market like this is something I do everyday. I don’t think I’ve ever bought barbecued chicken in my life, certainly not in Thailand.

When I arrived home, I devoured it immediately. Me. Eating chicken. Off the bone. What? It was a fairly large piece and I polished off the whole thing rather quickly. Since it’s from the local market, the chances of the chicken being fresh, organic, having been raised in someone’s yard nearby, are all very likely. I felt fine afterwards and it tasted better than any chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Just when I thought that was the end of it…

A friend of mine asked if I was a vegetarian, and I replied, “Yes, but oddly I ate chicken this week.” He explained that he’d been preparing pulled pork since the day before, and had been slow cooking it all day. He invited me to a barbecue at his house. I said I’d try it. I’ve never eaten pulled pork before in my life, and I always try a little bit of new foods. I don’t particularly like pork if it isn’t bacon, but this was different. I served myself a small sampling, and after a few bites went back for more. Yep, it was a tender, barbecued-smoky delight. How did I feel afterwards? Completely fine.

I know, it doesn’t make any sense and I can’t give any reason for it. I love animals and could never kill one, and I usually never want to eat meat. I live in a Buddhist country, and although there is vegetarian food available, I have not met one Thai person who chooses to be a vegetarian. They think it’s strange. I don’t have many good explanations for that either.

The way I see it, my body must need something it’s not getting…and I’ll leave it at that.

Kanom – Thai Snacks

Kanom – Thai Snacks

Thai food is undoubtedly delicious. I could honestly write several books on the topic of food in Thailand, but I think that has already been done. I will focus here on a quintessential part of Thai food culture – kanom – snacks.

Thai people do not eat like most Westerners. First, all food is shared. Also, rather than 3 big meals, there are smaller breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but lots of snacking goes on all the time. Most of the kanom are fairly healthy. Though there are the fried varieties, the portions are small. It is nearly impossible to go out with a Thai person and not be asked, “You want su-nack?” then promptly offered one. When I learned the word kanom, I realized how often snacks are talked about, suggested, given, and eaten.

Here is a little photographic sampling of the mouth watering morsels I eat on a daily basis:

Let’s start with fruit (ponlamai) in its tropical abundance…

bananas (gluay), yellow mangoes (mamuang), dragonfruit, papaya (malako)

green mangoes (makmuang) and passion fruit (saurot)

papaya (malako)

Then there are the fruits that look like they come from another planet:

Rambutans

and the stinky cheese mixed with and garbage scented durian, which I actually think are good in small doses.

On to some of my favorites. I need to learn what these are called. If anyone reading this knows what any of the following snacks are called, will you please enlighten me? I’d love to know 🙂

These cute cooked coconut milk things called…? Side one…

…and side two.

leaf wrapped sticky rice delights called…?

More sticky rice thingies called….?

And a few I actually do know the name of:

Meankam…

Wrapped in a betel leaf, which is eaten, this is what goes inside meankam – dried coconut, lime, ginger, chilis, peanuts, onions, and dried shrimp. I have mine without the last two ingredients.

Due to the muslim influence of Southern Thailand – Roti (often spelled rotee):

Roti are a thin pancake that can be filled with either sweet or savory ingredients, or sometimes both. This was banana and egg topped with sweetened condensed milk. So good, better than it sounds.

This guy loved flipping and flattening the roti dough.

Then something not particularly Thai, but a scrumptious snack we get at school that may look more familiar to some of you:

a mini homemade fruit tart. Can you imagine this being a school snack in the US?

I should mention that students and staff are served an amazing homemade snack once in the morning, and once in the afternoon everyday at Panyaden School, where I teach.

Here are other kanom that I don’t see everywhere:

fried tofu served in a leaf bowl…

…with all the fixings.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” in a wok naturally.

the cooked coconut milk things I love, and fried quail eggs, that I didn’t love that much

This is what it looks like when you snack with Thai people…

Kanom outside a wat…

…or at someone’s house – in this case, my yard. Small bits of grilled meat (not for me). I love som tom (spicy green papaya salad) with khao niow (sticky rice). Oh, and all the different kinds of spicy sauces and leaves to eat. Aroy! (Delicious!)

To wash it down…

Fruit shakes – always refreshing.

This is a minuscule sampling of snacks available in Thailand. More kanom to come soon…

Local Market Heaven

Local Market Heaven

One of the many favorite things I have about Thailand is shopping for food at the local markets. Thailand is brimming with all sorts of markets selling everything from engine parts, to herbal medicine, to clothing, to Buddha amulets, to food.

Today I will focus on food.

My local market is between Canal and Hang Dong Road, but honestly, I don’t know its name. It is on my way home from work and is most active on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Upon entering there is usually a little Je or vegetarian stall where I almost always make a purchase of salai – seaweed, khao niaow mamuang – mango with sticky rice, sometimes a salad, sometimes the mushrooms that look like and have the texture of meat, sometimes a spicy dish with fried tofu, it’s different and tasty every time.

Even though I’ve lived here for a while now, I still have a bit of reverse sticker shock with how cheap food is. At the moment it is 31 baht = $1 USD. Here are several examples, but by no means all, of the food available at the market on any given day.

Leaf wrapped sticky rice with a variety of fillings.

Sticky rice and banana, or sticky rice and yam wrapped in leaves. 5 baht each.

Grilled fish stuffed with lemongrass. I haven't bought this yet because it's too big for one person. I have bought it closer to my house and it's delicious. Price range: 100 - 150 baht (with all the fixings) depending on the size of the fish, but big enough to feed two people usually.

Tomatoes, onions, and cute little green eggplant. 5 baht a bag of about 10 each.

piles of manao - limes. 4 for 10 baht.

Spicy Thai chilis - phrik. A plate full for 10 baht.

Insect larvae. I don't know how much they cost. I haven't tried them yet.

Green mangoes mamuang and passion fruit saurot. These are by the kilo, but nonetheless, they just don't cost very much and they are scrumptious.

A small portion of the gargantuan variety of greens available. 5 baht a bunch.

More fish, but I don't buy these...

...I have bought these. Live little fish for my pond. 5 baht each.

There are also turtles available. I'm not sure what kind they are or how to care for them.

It's also a good place to buy food for the fish in my pond.

...or one of these brooms, which are ubiquitous in Thailand. 20 baht.

Just in case you need one there is 'Just's bra' and underwear. Not sure where you could try these on. I bought a pair of underwear for 35 baht. Unsurprisingly, they are a little small. Don't even get me started on bras. I digress, time to return to food...

The mushroom hed lady. The aroy Thai mushrooms called eringi are 20 baht a bag.

Jackfruit, bananas, long beans, basil, and other unidentifiable edible items for sale.

Banana flowers, broad beans, mushrooms, and more!

Here's a new one - spices. I bought 2 bags for 20 baht total.

There is so much more available: prepared food that looks and smells delicious, but is almost never vegetarian. I’ve bought perfect vegetarian fried spring rolls for 5 baht each. The meat skewers always smell wonderful, but worry me when I see the flies attracted to them. The curries almost always have pork, chicken, or my least favorite – the coagulated blood chunks. I ask if things are vegetarian and I even try a lot of food that isn’t, but certain things I still can’t eat. I ate the coagulated blood in a chicken curry once at a friend’s house and almost gagged. I thought it was a mushroom. It took all my composure to swallow and not spit it out. My friend loves it.

Although I can’t deal with meat, I do consistently expand my food assemblage by trying new fruits and vegetables each time I go to the market. That in itself should keep me occupied for quite some time.

Today I tried long purple beans and cut them up for a Thai curry. Yummy!

The nice things about this particular open market are: it’s never too crowded, though there are always a bunch of people, and I am usually one of 2, at the most, foreigners. The variety of pungent scents that accompany so many Asian markets, is kept to a minimum. People are friendly. Thai people at this market are starting to recognize me and that feels very welcoming. Prices are ridiculously cheap!

My usual cost of dinner, cooked and ready to go in a plastic 😦 bag always sealed impossibly quickly and tightly wrapped with a rubber band: 20 – 40 baht. If I cook dinner myself with local ingredients the cost is similar. If I go to the grocery store to buy foreign food, the price escalates significantly. As the weather gets hotter, and the novelty of having a kitchen is wearing off, I find myself eating street or market food on a more regular basis. The way I see it, what’s wrong with that? It’s Thailand, the food can be healthy, and undoubtedly is always delicious. Aroy maak! อร่อยมาก!

Ko Bulone

Ko Bulone

It’s been cool up in Chiang Mai, so for the winter holidays I headed south to an island to spend some time on the beach. I wanted to go somewhere smaller and less resort oriented. I decided on Ko Bulone Leh.

Ivan and Mardi on the bumpy boat ride to Ko Bulone Leh

Unsurprisingly I met some very interesting people there – Mardi and Ivan – they live in Nepal. He is a teacher and she is ‘a woman of leisure’ in her own words. They live a very simple lifestyle and travel in Asia a lot.

the sun is breaking through the overcast day

I went to the beach and was out in the sun for a while, and then it got a bit overcast. The water was clear and beautifully turquoise. I met up with Mardi and Ivan and we walked around and ended up having chocolate cake for lunch. Not really the plan, but it was delicious. Ivan and I played frisbee. The salt water really helped clear my sinuses. Oh no, Hotel California is playing. Thankfully, I think this could be the first time I’m hearing this. It’s kind of unbelievable.

big storm rolling in

I’ve been invited to dinner by Marti and Ivan. They are vegetarians and have traveled with all their own cooking supplies. I will supply some beer. I’m hungry so I’m off.

Cooking dinner with Mardi and Ivan at School Bungalow

These mushrooms are called erringi (pronounced almost like orangey) and they are delicious.

I stayed at 3 different places while I was there on 3 different beaches on the tiny island. None of them were great and some were really overpriced for what they were, but it was still nice to be at the beach. I’ve just moved to the third bungalow and I feel so much better about where and what my room is. I’m sitting at an Italian restaurant. I have ordered a cappuccino and I’m right on the water. There is a beautiful orange and turquoise longtail boat bobbing up and down in the water near me. An Italian man just said ciao to me. Two little kids are at a table behind me. It’s slightly windy. I’m going to go get some sun, swim and reserve a snorkel for tomorrow. There are a few restaurants and a bar here. I think I’m  in the right place on this island for me.

longtail boats on an overcast day

The short, but steep climb from my bungalow to over the hill to the better beach.

I was invited to share a delicious fish lunch with the Coconut Bar guys. Aroy!

Setting off a komloy on New Year's Eve

Rainy rainy New Years Day, learning Thai, journaling, and drinking tea with the beach view from my bungalow balcony.

A monitor lizard on the beach trying to camouflage himself away from me.

My little breakfast and coffee spot on Ko Bulon Leh

longtail boat and palm tree

Some pictures will not upload, so they are here in this gallery. It can be viewed as a slideshow to flip through.

goodbye Ko Bulon

3 Months

3 Months

I’ve been here just over 3 months now and I still absolutely love Thailand.

2 years ago today, I was at the zoo in Barranquilla, Colombia with my friend Kären. It was a Tuesday and we had the day off of work because of las velitas festival. I had drunk too much with Yoyi the night before, and then we broke up that morning. I was frustrated and angry, in an unpleasant job, an ugly uninteresting city, with food that I didn’t like, and my relationship had just ended. Kären, the animals, and my mattress were the only things making me happy in Barranquilla.

Today is December 8th and a Thursday, I am in working and living in the Chiang Mai countryside and this was my morning view:

Lakeside view at Nugent Waterside

December lakeside sunrise

At school, I taught a reading comprehension/vocabulary lesson of the Loch Ness Monster, read Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and watched my students present a play on Echo and Narcissus. It was delightful.

We bow in the morning to the Buddha and sing songs. I had delicious breakfast –jok rice porridge with the vegetarian fixins, and Thursday means delicious vegetarian lunch. I love my job. I live in the countryside outside the amazing city of Chiang Mai. I’m not in a relationship, nor do I have a permanent place to live, and I’m still looking for a home for my dog, and these are about the only things making me unhappy. My life is pretty darn good here.

A man from Barcelona told me there was a German bakery nearby. Tomorrow is the day with the fresh bread, but he suggested that I could ride my bike there before the sun set tonight. I got directions and was off down the rural roads of Thailand. I passed by what has been called ‘the Thai mini Grand Canyon’ and it is quite spectacular. I continue on to another rural road, canal road, and eventually the bakery. It was about a 20 minute bike ride.

Thai version of the mini Grand Canyon

Thai Grand Canyon outside Chiang Mai

One thing I’ve learned from my travels – always trust the German bakery. Germans know bread. There seems to be German travelers and expats all over the world and so in the most unlikely places the German bakery appears. Jo’s bakery was no exception. Jo was out of bread, so I bought a stollen (some people would scoff and call this a fruit cake, but I love it), Manchego cheese, lamyai honey, and quark that was homemade and about the most delicious thing ever.

Cycling home was so pretty. Although I sometimes worry about dogs, I stopped at a small roadside market looking for fruit and butter, and I had a cute little poodle type dog attack me with kisses. I need to learn the word for butter.

Doggie on my bike

Although I don’t have a proper kitchen, I was able to make a salady concoction of tomato, capers, quark, garlic, a pinch of salt, olive oil and Manchego for dinner – yum. Stollen, quark and honey for dessert, with a glass of red wine to top it off, also lovely. I am pleased with my little adventure after work today. I need to do some more exploring and some more figuring out how to live here. It will come slowly. I’m very thankful for so much here.

Just a Typical Day in November

Just a Typical Day in November

A friend and former colleague of mine hadn’t heard from me in a while and asked for anecdotes of a typical day of mine. Here you go:

Waking up it wasn’t quite as cold as yesterday, meaning it was around 68 rather than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not kidding that it does actually make a difference. I heard the song of several birds and the chirping of geckos. Leaving my lakeside guesthouse, put on my flip flops, bike helmet, and cycling shorts under my skirt, I wai and “sawadee khaa” the gardener.

My lakeside view

I ride down the dirt road past the harvested rice field to the other dirt road next to the busy paved road. On the second dirt road there is a canal between me and the busy street, but on the grass on the side are the Asian type cows, and one calf. They are so peaceful lying there. I have no fear of them because of how docile they are even though they are at least 5 times the size of the dogs who I sometimes fear here.

Thai cows on the way to work

Cow and leaf roofed hut

After the bridge, and crossing the busy road is an undertaking – motorbikes whizzing by, songthaews (these are basically pick up trucks with a red roof top that serve as taxis – song = 2 thaew = row because they have 2 benches in the back) actual pick ups, and cars, people walking, trucks full of people pulling in front of me and stopping, it’s scary. I should buy mirrors for my bicycle. I get across the street and then head down a third dirt road that leads to my school.

Canal and cows

My school is an amazing work of art. That’s really all I can say. Pictures show how nice it is, but don’t really do it justice.

Panyaden School in late November

I eat breakfast of papaya and Thai rice soup, then we salute the flag, sing and prostrate to the Buddha, and then the students have class.

flag raising

Debating the pros and cons of dams with a pen as microphone.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time in the wall cubby hole

Lunch is buffet style, homemade, and delicious

buffet style lunch

Teachers and students and teachers eat together. Staff and students all wash their own dishes.

vegetarian Khao Soi

There are 4 sinks in a row to make it simple to wash and rinse while conserving water. From what I’ve observed, the students like doing it.

little ones washing dishes

I enjoyed teaching the Pacific NW Native American tale “How the Raven Stole the Sun” story in our mythology unit. The students love it and have never heard anything like it. I had to deal with a silly behavior issue, but it’s manageable. My school director agrees with how I handled the situation. It’s nice to feel supported in decision making. It’s Wednesday so it’s free yoga after school. Another reason to I love my job.

rice harvest time

Cycling away the guards open the gate and say “Khap” each day as I leave the school. I never cease to delight in the simple beauty of the rice field.

rice harvest time

The air smells of burning field smoke. I ride through occasional clouds of tiny flying insects.

getting back to my guesthouse, the room has been cleaned – fresh towels with no gecko poop on them…yet.

The internet isn’t working very well. I go down to the restaurant closer to the source, it still isn’t working. Talk to some British teachers in training with their CELTA course in progress.I order the chicken Indian curry – they make it vegetarian for me without me even asking because they know I don’t eat meat. Very kind indeed. I drink a Bia Chang. While eating something falls from the ceiling, and almost lands in my dinner. I think it’s probably a gecko, but actually it’s a good sized frog. This makes me laugh.

I get frustrated and give up on the internet. I talk to people from Iran, Ireland, Slovakia, England, and of course Thailand. A British guy plays ukelele and sings in the garden by the lake and makes us all laugh with his never ending looping medleys.

CELTA students and me at Nugent Waterside

I talk in Spanish to an English guy who taught in Ecuador when I was in Colombia. I go to bed too late to the sounds of chirping insects and the occasional barking dog in the distance.

I have an endless amount of mosquito bites on my legs, I don’t have a kitchen to cook in, I have to give away and find a new home for my dog who I love, I am working tomorrow, which is Thanksgiving, but I am happy because I still love Thailand.

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

This title sounds like a bad pick up line, but it’s true – I unabashedly love Thailand. Where else in the world can you stay in a nice clean room with a bathtub in the center of the city, but on a quiet street for $8, have a lovely vegetarian Thai dinner in a restaurant for $1.85, then get an hour long massage for $4.80? It’s ridiculously good here in Chiang Mai.

Sometimes it’s the little artful ways things are presented. The beautiful textiles to tropical plants hanging, and tiny fish swimming in a bowl. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea:

Beautiful Thai silk

Flower arrangement in a bowl

This is a store in Chiang Mai

Then, there is simple and artful food presentation. The dishes pictured here cost between $0.60 – $1.25.

Fried tofu with corriander and spices in a completely biodegradable leaf bowl.

Vegetarian green curry with rice

Spring rolls being made

There are always the little elegant touches all around the city of Chiang Mai:

Elephant door knocker

Flower market

Golden wat and mountain view from a guesthouse in Chiang Mai old city

What makes Thailand such a special place is the people. Thai people are some of the warmest, gentlest people on the planet. Trying to speak a little Thai goes a long way. I am still a complete beginner, but I try to speak a little bit each day.

The little girl who was intrigued with me while I was eating breakfast.

The funny and friendly Jara, and Kapoon his dog, from Kavil Guesthouse. This is Kapoon doing the wai guesture (putting hands, or in this case paws, together in a prayer position when saying hello and thank you) Sawadee Khaa! Khap khun khaa! (Kapoon is a girl dog).

Then there is Yaya. She and I have had loads of fun together. She invited me to participate in this Buddhist celebration at Wat Sumpow and the lunch afterward.

Thailand is one of those places that surprises me everyday with just how warm and beautiful it is.

Suay maak!