Those are fish. Alive fish. Can anyone guess what is missing from this picture? A Thai market is not for the faint of heart. There are a lot of animals well on their way to your stomach. Come to think of it, it’s not for the faint of nose either. That ‘way of all flesh’ perfumes the air. But it is an amazing thing to see. We went to Klong Toey as a part of the Helping Hands cooking class, a program that donates most of its proceeds to providing clean food and water to people in Bangkok’s slums. Our Thai chef lead us around the market pointing out things like the strawberries from Chiang Mai, now in season, and the pounds and pounds of rice, Thailand’s staple and large export. She also pointed to more unusual things, entire pig’s heads, a tradition for the fast approaching Chinese New year, and the notorious “Isan” foods, frogs, bugs, dried squids. She was very clear, “Thai people no eat. This for ISAN people.” You wouldn’t know it but ISAN people are also Thai, they are just from the north. According to people in Bangkok, at least as far as I can understand them, no one is quite sure what goes on up there but it’s surely demonic and mysterious. Alexa and I kind of want to go. But I’m going to have to come to terms with eating bugs….
Yum. Dead frog. Already peeled for me! OR, I could get the alive frog, netted just to the left. Difficult choices. There is, however, a lot more to the market than the arguably unappetizing sights and smells. Long rows are devoted to countless bags of spices, fruits, and types of rice. Some stands, like the one below were making spicy sauces for the food and stuffing them into Thailand’s go-to container, the plastic baggie. Literally EVERYTHING you buy gets its own little carrying baggie, even coffee, and it’s not without reason! The heat is so intense that everything starts perspiring little beads of water or melting into itself.
Alexa and I loved the market, despite loud chickens caged below their dead friend (I know!) and smelly dried fish. Imagine the smell of wet cat food, that tuna smell, then add shrimp or squid, then add however you imagine ‘dried and roasting in the heat.’ It’s bad. But there is so much to look at, really so much to imagine, since I can’t identify half of the things for sale. It’s especially exciting to check out what baggies Thais have collected. Many had strawberries and little accompanying containers of chili and sugar, a mix that comes with any fruit bought on the street. It’s pretty tasty if you like the combination of sweet and spicy. As we learned later in class, that sweet-spicy is the foundational balance in Thai cooking. Pad Thai, for example, has a sour lime, lemongrass and chili spice that balances with actual sugar used in frying and the sweet decoration of toasted peanuts that garnish the dish. I can’t resist noting, though no one should be surprised after yesterday’s post, that this is taste poise achieved in balance across opposition! I’ll post some pictures of the exciting and harrowing trial of my limited culinary skills tomorrow. I’ll try to give some pad tai advice too, but proceed with caution, I’m no cooking blogger.