During the time I spend in Norway, me and my companions are on a sad imposed diet. The tiny village where I live and work during those months has only one small supermarket. Much as it offers a wide range of products, it lacks of freshness: most of the vegetables and fruit are imported from abroad, it doesn’t have a proper bakery and the selection of meat is poor and of low quality. Additionally, everything is very expensive and eating out isn’t really an option. The few tasty meals I have while I’m there is when someone catches a cod fish in the fjord, or in August when it’s possible to find mushrooms in the woods.
In September I leave Norway and go on holidays to the Mediterranean sea, this is the moment when I rediscover tastes and good meals at affordable prices. Last vacation in Corsica I couldn’t have enough olives, tomatoes, fresh bread and cheese that it was already time to change diet.
Then I arrived in Thailand, last October and I found a complete new food world not only in terms of products and flavours but also concerning the eating habits. One of the main differences is that here people eat out all the time while I’ve always been used to cook and eat at home. As convenient as it is to eat out it took me a while to adapt to this custom.
Finding the right places to eat has been a tough exploration at the beginning but by making mistakes I found my favourite sites.
Now my morning starts in the nearby Somphet market. At this early time people are preparing their stands for the day to come so it’s a perfect atmosphere to slowly wake up. I reach the stall of Tip, a local girl, to have my first meal, a bowl of fresh fruit. While she prepares it my sleepy attention is captured by the activities around me: the meat is being cut, the colourful trousers are being placed and the containers are filled with rice. In no time my breakfast is in front of me: papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit, banana, mango together with yogurt. What a great way to start the day.
One of my favourite lunch places is located in the hidden alleys of Chiang Mai: one gas and one wok, a big pot with stock and three women. At midday they’re too busy even to drink a glass of water but anyway they still smile warmly at you. You have to write down your order on a piece of paper, then place it on the cutting table and you can help yourself with free water. When your dish arrives you can season it with a variety of condiments such as fish sauce, dry and fresh chillies, sugar and peanuts. One of their speciality is a Northern Thai curry called Khao Soy.
When I was in Bangkok my friend told me that in Thailand it’s unlikely to starve since you find food at anytime, now I can confirm this. Even after conventional dinner time there’s always a wok stir frying something or a moving stall with fresh spring rolls, exquisite steamed dumplings, noodle soups or fried morning glory.
A great way to get in touch with the Thai cuisine is taking a cooking course. I did one with the Zabb-e-lee cooking school and I found out many things in terms of local products and recipes. I discovered different types of roots and I learned how to make the papaya salad, which is also one of my favourite Thai plates. The most basic and important thing about Thai gastronomy is the spice and not a single dish would exist without lemongrass, sweet basil or chillies!
Nevertheless, one thing is a two weeks immersion in the Thai food and another thing is living here and changing completely eating habits. I don’t miss my flavourless Norwegian diet but I do miss some flour products like bread and pizza. I’m not ashamed to confess I found an Italian guy who does a real pizza and that I ‘ve eaten there a couple of times..
Food is a fundamental travel component, the moments when I was invited to a home to eat, when I shared a meal or cooked for someone in remote places around the world are some of the best memories of my journeys and a great manifestation of love. It may be that the way we relate to food symbolizes partly the way we approach a new culture. It’s also likely that a country’s cuisine reflects some aspects of its nation.