Surely you’ve heard of the BRAT diet to cure diarrhea? Bananas, Rice, And Toast (white, plain). I offer you my Thai version: Bananas, Rice, And Tea.
Apple bananas, 15 baht per hand (about 50 cents U.S.)
The bananas were apple bananas, the smaller version popular in Asia, with a more tangy taste and firmer texture (to hold up to those delicious desserts, like bananas in coconut milk, bananas steamed in leaves with sticky rice, and tapioca and coconut milk pudding with bananas.)
The rice was the Thai version of something my grandmother and mother used to eat when they got sick, called okayu in Japanese. Not sure at this time what the Thai name for it is…if I find out, I’ll get back to you…
The tea was ginseng first, then grachai later. Grachai (said with a low tone) is Chinese keys, which is obviously in the ginger family.
Chinese keys, Grachai, for stomach upset
It smelled a bit like turmeric, looked like orangey mud, tasted bitter and earthy and had a bit of heat and pungency to it, just like fresh ginger and turmeric do.
It reminded me very much of the horrendously bitter “berbena con jugo de limon,” another herbal brew that I was served in the jungles of Ecuador, after pulling our boat through the river made my bronchitis worse….but that is another story!
My sister said I was being a drama queen, making faces with every sip, so I told her to try it. She gagged. It was the last time she drank my tea, and the last time I traveled with her (by choice, that is…but that is also another story!)
(Am I bitter? Perhaps–but not as bitter as that tea! ha ha)
Where was I?
Oh yah, the tea. The kind husband manager of the guesthouse, Jimmy, came up to my room on the fourth floor to check on me several times all day and night. I was supposed to have my vegetarian cooking class, but I was rudely awakened at 2:30 am with stomach cramps and the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. Or, since this is Chiang Mai, Thailand, perhaps a better name would be Moon Muang Road’s Revenge.
I’ll “spare you the gory details,” as my mother used to say…
By 8:00 am I was no better and went downstairs to ask them to call to cancel. I needed help getting back up and spent the day and night in bed and the bathroom, basically.
I asked for bananas, which he brought, along with tea, and some Chinese herbal medicine from their uncle across the way, who, coincidentally (although there are no coincidences in life, apparently) had also been sick the day I arrived, and had an extra vial.
They were tiny pellets which looked like they had been dipped in brownish-red royal icing and left to dry. He motioned for me to tip my head back and empty the vial into my mouth. I took a swig of liquid and managed to down them in three swallows.
“Guarantee you better by this afternoon,” Uncle said. “Guarantee.”
That afternoon, I would have joked with him, “I want my money back,” but 1) he wasn’t around, 2) he gave it to me free, 3) I had barely enough energy to open the door, and 4) I was in no @#$^ mood to joke.
I kept popping acidophilus tablets every hour, and by evening, I was thinking, I wish I had rice. Not that I was hungry, but I remembered the BRAT diet. I didn’t want to bother the hotel manager, either.
As it was, he must have read my mind, because he showed up several hours later, surprising me with a bowl of watery rice porridge, in a little plastic bag secured with a rubber band, the way they do take-out here, a tiny zip-top baggie of salt, and one mandarin orange. So kind of him.
Watery rice gruel, salt, and a mandarin orange: gifts from kind Jimmy, the guesthouse manager
He must have gone back down and climbed up again to bring me the cup of muddy grachai tea.
I’m happy to report that I am back in commission today and extremely happy to be eating more exciting fare!
What have I learned? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pinpoint what made me sick, which is frustrating, because I can’t avoid it if I don’t know what it is. I ate at restaurants I had eaten at before, where they cook the food when you order it. (On my last trip, I had gotten sick from places where the food has been sitting in trays for a while.)
I have been drinking bottled water and taking acidophilus tablets to keep the good bacteria outbalancing the nasties. Perhaps it was the fresh orange juice with ice. Ice is apparently suspect, because they don’t always use purified water to make it.
I haven’t been using bottled water to brush my teeth, just the tap water, but I thought once you’ve been to a place, you body gets used to the bacteria there and you’re fine?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t nice. Another woman in the guesthouse had the same problem, and I was just trading notes with a man at dinner (although his was from India.) Not the most enjoyable travel story to share, but important nonetheless.
I also was reminded of the kindness of strangers, and how the simplest acts can mean so much. How grateful I am for them. It’s one of the reasons I travel. It reaffirms my faith in humans, which can quickly erode if I bother to watch the news.
Finally, I have a few more possible remedies for when I travel through this part of the world, natural options that do not just squash the symptoms and leave me with unwanted side-effects. Nature is amazing.