Making Food Memories in Bangkok
We approached a boat with one of the longest lines at the market selling a fermented mussel-and-squid omelette, which was topped with dried shrimp and sugar paste and paired with offal soup. The soup was made with pig pancreas, windpipe, spleen, and blood cake. This might sound unappetizing, but it was one of my favorite meals of the trip.
The cook was in her 70s, and you could tell she had been preparing this dish her entire life. One hand fanned the smoldering coals on the floor of her boat while the other splashed beaten eggs against the wok, forming a perfect skin for the omelette. Without hesitation, she gripped and spun the wok for even cooking, then added the mussels in before folding it into a perfect, parcel-like shape. Then, she ladled us each a bowl of the pork stock filled with tender bits of meat and organs.
The Magic’s in the Preparation
The ingredients might make you think that this wasn’t totally out of my comfort zone, but it was the preparation of the dish that made it special: The vendor cooked the dish on a small boat at noon. It was 102 degrees with unrelenting humidity, and there was no refrigerator nearby. The meat had probably been caught or prepared earlier in the day. The mixture of heat and scent was overpowering as flies swarmed the boat.
The majority of cuisine sold by street vendors is cooked with nothing but a few hot coals, (hopefully) recently purchased meat, a small wok, and an age-old recipe that makes do with the few ingredients available. It wasn’t my typical eating environment or preparation technique, but because of that, I welcomed the experience.
The environment might scare off someone used to somewhat sterile American cooking, but it didn’t affect the taste of the end product. The fermented mussels were savory, and pairing them with the sweetness of the shrimp paste and the light taste of the egg made the dish perfect. But what won me over was the offal soup. I had tried this stew before, but the cook’s broth was more complex, and the organs were perfectly braised. I had to ask for a second bowl.
The overwhelming sensory experience, the extremely uncommon cooking environment, and the memorable taste of the food were what made my time in Bangkok unique. Immersing yourself in something new and unfamiliar is necessary for an enriched life, and who wouldn’t want to make new memories by trying good food?
For me, creating new food memories is essential for my success as a chef, but as an individual, it’s what makes my life interesting. The most enjoyable food memories come from times of discovery and exploration, so try something new when you have the chance. It might not be in Bangkok, prepared on a boat, or involve pig organs, but it’s a step in an exciting direction.
Blake Beshore is the co-author of the James Beard Award-winning book, “Notes from a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession,” and is the co-founder of Tatroux LLC, a growing culinary arts publishing company. Connect with Blake on Twitter and Google+.