Despite my uncomfortable and worrisome, bubbling and unstable abdomen, I decided to brave the trip to Warorot Market, an enormous warren of shops.
Typical of markets throughout Asia, this one filled the three or four stories of the concrete building, plus all the space in the side streets adjacent to it.
At home, we go to a supermarket to find everything we need in one place. We go to a department store to find all manner of items under one roof.
In Asia, the exact opposite is true. When you want shoes, why not have all thirty shoe stores side by side, back to back, so you can comparison shop and get the best bargains?
Why go to three different groceries to get those fresh greens, when you could walk down one aisle and peruse the produce from fifty vendors in a matter of minutes?
The sheer number of vendors can become overwhelming, and not being able to read things, coupled with unfamiliar sights and bizarre smells, was almost unbearable. I passed several booths with animal parts hanging for sale to eat, and the smell of death and fermented fish sauce just about made me puke right there.
I knew what I wanted to get, so I tried to find it as quickly as possible. I bought some dried strawberries, which I use in my Christmas variation of Trail Mix Clusters (find the recipe here,) and spiced cashews. Cashew nuts are fried with oil, chilies, sugar, salt, garlic and kaffir lime leaves.
I bought the peanut version of this addictive snack when I was here four years ago but couldn’t find it this time. Perhaps too many people are allergic to peanuts these days? I got two bags, so I can try to recreate the flavors at home.
The other thing I wanted to try was a sampling of the intriguing sweet snacks. Asian sweets tend to be served not as dessert, but as snacks between meals, and often include ingredients we don’t use in Western desserts, such as taro, corn, and beans.
I stood for several minutes just staring at the spread at the most popular shop in the market. (Oddly, I only saw one shop of this type…why not one dozen?!)
Eventually I snapped some photos and picked out one each of a half dozen or so snacks. The woman got disgusted with me when she asked me to choose between pumpkin or sweet bean cupcake-looking thingies.
I shrugged and shook my head, because making decisions can be difficult for me on a good day (I’m a Libra, okay?), and I was already out of sorts, with the scary, unstable stomach thing going on. I really did not have a preference for either one, nor did I have the presence of mind to try to say as much in Thai (not that I know how), so I just stood there, feeling like an idiot, yet not willing to make a choice.
She said, “Choose one!” and scooped up a bean cake and threw it in a bag for me.
I took a tuk-tuk (motorcyle in front, spacious covered wide seat in back) back to my guesthouse and cooled off for a bit before heading to visit my massage therapist friends.
Here is what I got:
The round sweet bean cupcake was okay, nothing I’d necessarily long to try again.
The custard rectangle (Mao Geng Hai) tasted like ordinary custard, not something I like.
The green sticky rice cake was yummy, flavored with coconut milk. It was called Khao Niaow Ghao.
The green round balls with coconut, Ha Tom Kiaow, I did not like at all. They were obviously flavored with pandanus leaf, a palm-like leaf used to impart a nutty aroma to desserts and rice dishes throughout much of Asia. The taste and smell reminded me of steaming ti leaves to make lei in Hawaii, not something I want to be eating.
The brown and clear, multi-layered rectangle that smelled like coffee (Woon Cafe) tasted slightly sweet, slightly salty, like a coffee gelatin.
The reddish-brown rectangle Peua Gwan is similar to Hawaiian kulolo, a chewy, sticky cake made from taro and coconut milk. But this one had a more refined consistency, as though it had been made from mashed and strained taro, rather than the more chunky texture of the dessert back home. It was a little like bubble gum when you first start to chew it, after you get the stiffness out, but before it becomes rubbery: soft and a little chewy.
The whole bag of snacks cost me 80 baht (about $2.40 U.S.).
My massage friends didn’t want any sweets and warned me that eating so much would make me sick to my stomach (although that was already the case, so it was kind of a useless warning.)
But I explained I only wanted to try them, so I cut a sliver off the end of each one to taste. I only liked the green sticky rice, which was too sweet to have more than one bite, and the taro cake. I set aside one bite-sized piece of that one to have after dinner.
My friends were much more pleased by my gift of a bag of large Fuyu persimmons, which are just coming into season. They ranged in price from 35 to 60 baht for a one-kilo bag (approximately four hefty persimmons.) Guess which ones I bought? Yup…35 baht. Actually, 36, since she didn’t have correct change. (About $1.05 U.S.) It pays to shop around, even when you are spoiled for choice.