Ai Dtim (That’s Ice Cream to us English Speakers)

November 25, 2009

The other students who were with me for our vegetarian cooking class shrieked when they heard the cha-ching, cha-ching of an ice cream vendor pass the restaurant.

Ai Dtim! You dtim. We all dtim for ai dtim!”

The Thai version of the ice cream truck had passed.

“You have to try it,” they insisted.

“Put rice on top.”

“And make sure you get it in the bread.”

“Bread?” I asked.

“Yeah–ice cream sandwiches…real ice cream sandwiches.”

“Make sure it’s not in the square thing.”

“Yah–it looks like it’s in a keg,” they explained.

“Okay, I’ll look out for it,” I promised.

Yesterday I heard the familiar ringing and spotted a woman wearing a pointy hat, pushing a keg on wheels.

Ai dtim?” I asked.

She opened the lid to show me. Deep down was some white substance. There was a row of small bread slices. This must be the stuff.

“Okay,” I said, and pulled out my camera.

She pointed to the bread and to some plastic cups.

I knew to choose bread.

She leaned over until her entire arm was buried…

A Keg-O-Mystery

and filled the bread with miniature scoopfuls while I snapped pictures.

Fill it up. I don't want an empty bottom.

She drizzled milk from a can on top, then pointed to a plastic container filled with peanuts. I nodded my head.

Just a drizzle'll do ya.

She was going to hand it to me, but I remembered the rice, so I pointed to the other plastic container. She unscrewed the top. Inside was cooked sticky rice.

Okay, I’ll try it…

She put a mini scoop of sticky rice on top, then more canned milk. I had her hold it while I took a photo and paid my 10 baht (30 cents US).

Want a bite?

The first few bites were coconut milk. I loved it. I couldn’t tell if it was only coconut milk, or it had dairy milk in it as well. It went perfectly well with the crunchy peanuts. Surprisingly, the bread made a nice combination.

The sticky rice was strange, along with milk that wasn’t sweetened; it must have been evaporated milk, and not sweetened condensed milk, as I had thought it was.

As I got further down, the ice cream changed from coconut to nearly tasteless vanilla. So there must have been a combination of the two in the keg, and she obviously strategically planned it so the vanilla part went into the bread, soaking the bread as it melted. Very interesting.

Not sure I’d eat it again, if I had to have both flavors. I’d want only the coconut milk kind, with peanuts. If I could have only that kind, I’d definitely eat it again. Better listen for that bell.

When’s the last time you ate something so interesting?

Pad Thai for Breakfast

November 24, 2009

I went back to my favorite, May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant, not wanting to experiment with breakfast. I get that way with recipes sometimes, going back to tried-and-true old favorites rather than trying new things, because when I get too many flubs and just want good food, I want good food!

Good old Pad Thai to the rescue. Not everyone knows the Thai name, but everyone has probably had some: Thai Fried Noodles.

Possibly the most well-known Thai dish, Pad Thai

The chewy rice noodles were perfectly complemented by the cooked-to-perfection vegetables, including carrot, onion, Chinese broccoli (gailaan), won bok and bean sprouts. The baby corn had a fresh flavor, lacking the metallic taste so often found in the canned. Dollops of spicy-creamy peanut sauce dotted the top. I was happy my chopstick abilities are up to snuff, or I would not have been able to pick up the crunchy peanuts that were used as garnish.

At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to jog home in order to lose the weight I’m gaining from all the delicious food (and some not so delicious, too.)

Taste From Heaven

November 23, 2009

Yesterday I tried a different vegetarian restaurant, Taste From Heaven, which supports the work of the Elephant Nature Park, a haven for elephants rescued from the hands of abusive owners or those who are otherwise unable to properly or adequately feed or care for them. It also helps remove older elephants who are no longer wanted because they are “not valuable.”

Unfortunately, the food was awful, frankly. I had the set lunch menu for 99 baht (about $3 US) and was able to choose one appetizer and one main dish. I chose mushroom fritters, which tasted like salt and chilies and nothing else.

Disappointing Mushroom Fritters

My main dish, eggplant stir fry, had a bit more flavor but was still overpoweringly spicy, despite the fact that I ordered “mild.” The main flavor was the eggplant itself, which was paired with chiles, salt, and soy, plus way too many green onions for even my liking, and I love onions.

Mild Eggplant Stirfry was almost too hot to eat

I might give them another chance, because they have an extensive menu, and I am more than happy to support the Elephant Nature Park, but I was extremely disappointed with that meal.

Samosas and Banana Lassi

November 23, 2009

I couldn’t resist the temptation to have some Indian food. There are two restaurants in my neighborhood here, and one was closed, so I tried the other one. This one is New Delhi Restaurant on Ratchawithi Road, near the intersection with Ratchaphakhinai Road.

Like most places, it looks unpretentious enough: a few tables roadside and about eight more inside, just a step up onto the platform and under the roof. The man sitting at the front looked unfriendly and bored, watching people go by. But he was actually quite sweet, making suggestions to people as he took their orders, and encouraging me to add the cilantro-mint sauce to the samosas.

I decided on two samosas and a banana lassi, since my stomach was feeling a little gurgly and unstable, and I know the beneficial bacteria in yogurt not only helps to balance the digestive tract, it also helps improve immunity.

The creamy, tart yogurt was in perfect harmony with the apple banana, which has just a hint of “green” flavor to it. I could taste the touch of salt along with the sweetness, something I think many of our desserts at home could benefit from.

In Asia, it’s quite common to add some salt to your dessert, which balances the sweetness and makes it not cloyingly sweet, as desserts can be.

Crisp samosas, stuffed with curried potato filling, and cilantro-mint sauce

The samosas were perfectly crisp and crunchy, without being heavy or oily, despite the oil stains on the red tablecloth, which were there when I sat down. The filling was flavorful and light, not overly spicy, and not tasting like it just mashed potatoes inside, like other samosas I’ve eaten have been.

As I left, I told him the man it was delicious, patting my stomach. He smiled broadly, which transformed his face into one of a boy. That alone was worth the 100 Thai baht I paid (about $3 US.)

The Travelers’ Curse: The BRAT Diet

November 20, 2009

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.

Too Fat to Fit in the Airplane Seats, but I Came Here to Chiang Mai to EAT!!

November 17, 2009

Well, I made it to Chiang Mai this morning without incident…the first time in a while that I can remember. No lost luggage, delayed flights, obnoxious passengers, etc. Yay.

It’s hot and I’m dripping with heat rashes all over. 86 degrees F, 30 degrees C and dry. So I’ll need to get used to that. But I went to a vegetarian restaurant first thing after I got here. Okay, third thing–unpacked, showered and waited til my body temperature went down.

THEN I went to a vegetarian restaurant that was new to me (but a well-established one and well-known amongst vegetarians, apparently.) May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant is a typical tiny place here, with two roadside tables and five tables in the narrow shop, which is more like a wide hallway, with the diners and the computer and register at the front and the kitchen at the back end.

May Kaidee's mixed vegetables, tofu, and rice noodles in a spicy peanut sauce

I had a bowl of thin rice noodles with vegetables and a mildly spicy, creamy peanut sauce. Lovely. And my first fresh fruit drink.

Refreshing blended papaya shake to chase away the Thai heat

I settled for papaya, not so exotic, but it helped beat the heat, plus I figured the added vitamins and minerals (I think there are minerals in papaya…maybe I’ll look it up later and get back to you…) would help rehydrate me.

I took photos but do not want to attempt to download them now. The entire meal cost me a whopping 80 Thai baht. That’s less than $3 US. Yup! Why do you think I came?!

In fact, I chuckled to myself as I walked down the street afterwards. I squeezed myself into the seat on the flight from Narita, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand, my thighs sore from being smooshed the entire 7 hours. And I thought, I gotta lose some weight. These Japanese people are all so skinny, they fit in the seats just fine.

Yah, it didn’t help that I was sitting next to one of those yahn-ki boys, the ones who dye their stringy hair a pale shade of maple-wood-colored brown. This guy had rectangular glasses and a sticky, shiny, black vinyl purse.

At any rate, his knees stuck out like chicken wings and I wondered what on earth it would feel like to be so skinny, you could pull your knees up to your chest in the airplane seat. I had to suck in my gut just to get the seatbelt fastened. Yeah, I had three layers of clothing on so I wouldn’t freeze on the frigid plane, but still.

So after my meal, I thought, lotsa luck trying to lose weight when you came to Chiang Mai for vacation. People asked me why I was going to Chiang Mai. Basically, to eat!

Actually, I have a lot of work I plan to do here also, some studying and brainstorming and the like, but why not do it where every meal is an adventure for the palate? Besides, with prices like those, even if it tastes like crap (and it almost never does,) I can afford to take risks.

I wanted to be sure the food tastes good there before signing up to take a cooking class from them. The last time I was here, four years ago, I had planned to take an Indian cooking class as well…until I ate at that restaurant and the food was bland. No sense learning how to cook from someone whose food tastes junk. (Like I tell my father, I’m not going to learn how to use a table saw from the guy with missing fingers!)

But you can’t say I’m not trying. I asked for a room on the top floor of my guesthouse so I am forced to climb the stairs every day to work off at least half a smoothie or something…bye.

Bubur Pulot Hitam, Sticky Black Rice Pudding

September 8, 2009
Sticky Black Rice Pudding is a Vegan, Whole Grain Dessert

Sticky Black Rice Pudding is a Vegan, Whole Grain Dessert

For dessert at our final dinner in Malaysia, we were served a warm rice pudding, accompanied by sliced papaya. It was the perfect ending to three weeks of lip smacking.

Although the main ingredient, black glutinous rice, may be hard to find, the dessert is very simple to prepare. And you can’t beat it for unusual appeal–how often do you eat something so dark purple, it’s black?

A Vegan, Whole-Grain Dessert

If that isn’t reason enough to try it, assuage your guilt by knowing it is actually a whole grain, full of fiber and vitamins from the bran and germ, which are left on. While not as tacky as white glutinous or sticky rice, the grains have a chewy, nutty flavor that is perfectly offset by the accompanying salted coconut milk.

Look for black glutinous rice in Asian markets. I was ecstatic to find it in Chinatown, Honolulu, and I jumped right in, testing and concocting, to develop this recipe.

In Malaysia, a pandan leaf is often added to enhance the aroma, and palm sugar or a combination of palm and white sugar are used. To my non-Malaysian palate, omitting the pandan leaf and substituting brown sugar were not offensive. On the contrary; this is going to become one of my favorite desserts.

Alina’s Bubur Pulot Hitam,
Sticky Black Rice Pudding

1 can coconut milk
1/4 tsp salt

1 c glutinous black rice
2-1/4 cups water

6 TBS brown sugar

Combine coconut milk and salt. Stir to dissolve salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Combine rice and water in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and cook on medium-high for about 30 minutes, until water is absorbed and grains are tender.

Check near the end of the cooking time to be sure it doesn’t burn, and add a small amount of water if necessary. Older rice needs longer cooking time and will absorb more water.

Remove from heat. Leave covered and let sit 10 minutes.

Add brown sugar; mix well. Set aside to let cool.

To serve, put warm (not hot) rice into a bowl. Spoon salted coconut milk over it. Serve with sliced fruits, such as papaya, mango, peaches, etc., if desired.