Homestyle Chili Paste

Along with the best plate of rice I’ve ever been served, was an amazing dollop of chili paste on the side. Talking to the young woman who ran the restaurant (she couldn’t have been more than 25, and was at least 6 inches shorter than I was), she proudly boasted that it was her father’s famous recipe, known throughout town.

She proceeded to educate me that this type of chili paste- clearly speckled with the fermented black beans that the DiploMan and I love so much- is special to this area. Two small jars and a few large ones were all that remained from the Fall harvest. Fall Harvest? All that is left? I asked what she meant. She went on to describe that her family only makes the chili paste once a year, in the fall, when peppers are at their best. In the fall, peppers are their driest, which makes them most suitable for crushing into a thick chili paste. Like canning and preserving, this old-school method of making chili paste once a year proves that homemade is always better than store-bought.

We took the small jar home with us- and even among our 8 or so bottles of various chili pastes and sauces that are accruing in our fridge, I am starting to regret not having bought the large one.

Fried Chicken, Thai Street Style

All right Brooklyn, I’ve been reading about your fried chicken frenzy going into 2011, but I’ve got someone I’d like to wager up for a challenge, Bobby Flay Throwdown style.  While in Phuket one evening, the DiploMan and I came across a cluster of food vendors, akin to a U.S. farmers’ market set up without the farmers (kettlecorn, pretzels, and apple cider, only).  On our way to find dinner anyway, we decided to grab a couple of beers at the 7/11 down the street and plunk down on the curb of the small parking strip, taking turns going back and forth for our “small plates” dinner.  What ensued was one of my best meals of the trip.

Certainly the highlight of this hodgepodge meal was the fried chicken.  “Meena’s Fried Chicken”, as advertised on the side of the rickshaw cart, employed four people, all with specific duties.  There was the fryer, who scooped out chicken cuts from a nearby cooler by the armful to dredge in batter and fry in two large woks, filled with green onion and chili.  There was the hacker, who, once the chicken was out of its hot oil bath, took a cleaver to the steaming hot cuts of chicken and with a few solid swoops, hacked each fried hunk of fried goodness into perfect little finger-licking pieces.  This hacker would also, between batches of chicken, pack up little bags of sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce and tie them with a rubber band, all in one fluid motion.  There was the packer, who would take the cuts of chicken that you threw at her (indicating that Yes, these are the ones that I want) and pack them in a clear plastic doggy bag lined with paper, along with the sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce, calculating the amount due as she went.  Then of course there was Meena herself, overseeing the process and counting money.

The chicken came out of the fryer in batches according to cuts.  First, whole chickens were laid out which, assuming that was the way they did fried chicken, we bought right away.  40baht- just about $1.30!  Though the batter sang to us like little crispy juicy salty angels, we were slightly disappointed that the meat was bare and that we had to chew around little chicken livers and hearts.  And of course the head, which as in China we’re still not quite sure what to do with, we topped apile of discarded bones in front of us so that it looked like some psycho’s chicken graveyard.  However as soon as Meena’s crew was done with the whole chickens, a batch of legs and thighs came out (snatched up too quickly, before I knew I had to pounce on the chickens I wanted), followed by wings and finally, breast cutlets.  We tried these all; the wings my favorite (cutlets, B’s favorite), all while sitting on a curb, lips moist with a coating of oil, wishing that all my Brooklyn buddies could get a taste of these.

staring down on my bag of chicken goodness

I’m on a boat!

During our stay on the Similan Islands, we ate some pretty traditional Thai grub on the deck of a small boat, used to shuttle snorkelers from one point to another.  The chef on board was a tanned, afro-haired smiling buddha of a man in bare feet (the health department in NY would surely have a fit), and cooked up a king’s feast for ten of us in a small, nine foot square “kitchen”.  My stomach was doing flip-flops in my gut so I couldn’t hold down too much of the food, but it was a lovely home-cooked Thai meal, perfect for watching the lovely Thai sunset.

Thai Iced Coffee

Richer, milkier, silkier than the versions I used to order back home, the iced coffees and teas in Thailand were out of this world.  The two women working behind the cart, mother and daughter, are like two witches concocting a magic brew.  They know the perfect ratios of coffee/tea to condensed milk to ice cubes to sugar to powdered milk, scooping and pouring each of these ingredients with warp speed and precision.