To truly discover a new place, once should incorporate all the senses, not just sight – It is all very well seeing a place through a camera lens, but occasionally put the camera down and experience the destination, or you may as well stay at home and watch the travel channel. Travel and food are intertwined, fused together, inseparable. Smells and tastes can define a location as much as the scenery and it is often these senses that trigger memories of a good holiday. Why would someone travel to a new country, only to eat the same fish and chips that they do back home, when they can offer their taste buds a gastronomic adventure?
Throughout my travels, I have always been determined to eat local wherever possible, which has sometimes led to disastrous situations. Let me add at this point, that I am a vegetarian, so getting my point across of ‘no meat – vegetables only’ in a foreign country can prove to be quite a challenge when the locals don't speak English. Mime and gesture works for non-plant foodstuffs such as beef, chicken, fish or even pork, but have you ever seen anyone act out a squid, without looking as though they are having an epileptic fit? It's not a pretty sight, but laughter will get you through most situations. Add to this the fact that in Thailand ‘Moo’ refers to pork and not beef as one would expect, and you can see where I am going with this.
My curiosity will not let me walk past a food stall selling something out of the ordinary. This doesn't mean I will try it, but I have a burning need to find out what it is. Food on a stick is very popular I have discovered, and why wouldn't it be? No plates or cutlery required, and wooden sticks are biodegradable. This idea of food on a stick should be introduced to the rest of the world, but somehow it seems to be an Asian trade secret. It seems you can cook anything on a stick: various forms of meat and sausages, odd little balls of who knows what; fish, frogs and other unfortunate flattened creatures that resemble road kill. But as bizarre as some of these foods may appear, the enticing aromas cause an olfactory overload and you can’t walk past without your nose twitching in the air like a sniffer dog following a trail.
In my quest to eat and cook local, I have visited the Bophut fresh market several times. This is not a quick event, as I ponder and pause at each stand, trying to familiarise myself with completely unfamiliar fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce. From vivid purple eggplant, and red fuzzy rambutans, to the aptly named dragon fruit and rows of green and yellow hanging bananas, walking down the fruit and veggie isle is visually overwhelming.
I do wonder if anyone not born in Asia knows the difference between the vast array of Asian greens. My cooking repertoire would previously include your garden varieties of lettuce, cabbage, spinach and even, for an adventurous dinner party, pak choi. But here the selection of greens is endless, and I have absolutely no idea what they are called or how I should prepare them. Trial and error it shall be.
The meat isle at the market is not as appealing to the eye as the fruit and vegetable section, with whole pig heads and chickens with feet in the air as if they keeled over in fright. After recently purchasing a bird for a dinner party, I tucked its head away as a sign of respect, and because I just couldn't stand it staring at me anymore, eyes pleading 'I don't want to leave this earth as green curry!' So my food adventure continues, as I am determined to conquer the vast unknown.