Food, Intestines And Other Entrails
I have a theory about food: whatever you were given to eat and that you liked when you were 3 or 4 years old, that’s what will make your mouth water till your dying day. For my part, despite my obvious Thai name, I spent my early years in countries
bordering the Mediterranean and mother’s family all came from there. So I’ve always enjoyed tasty dishes, thoughtfully prepared, lots of salads, fruit, rice, pasta and so on.
A few decades later I’ve ended up in small-town Thailand, Khon Kaen in Isaan to be precise. It’s a lovely place, low cost of living, clean air, couldn’t be happier. If that’s what you’re after, there’s no shortage of hanky panky here but obviously nothing to compare with Pattaya or Bangkok. Nevertheless it’s dead easy to get to the capital when we want, just 6 hours on the air-conditioned bus. We even have a couple of restaurants here serving up my sort of grub. For example there’s a great little place run by an Italian who brought his mother over from Turin to help out. She makes her own fettucine and the pasta sauces are out of this world. Their pizzas are the best I’ve ever had and people visiting from Bkk say the food at this place is just as good as anything they’ve eaten in the capital (where I must admit, the choice of Italian restaurants is excellent). It’s probably because of this place in KK that I rarely eat any Italian food when I’m in Bangkok and usually head off to the Lebanese restaurant in the basement of Ploenchit Plaza, just by Villa Market, instead.
However I digress again: have you ever noticed that everywhere in Thailand you almost never see a local in a restaurant serving non-Thai food, unless they’ve been dragged in by a farang? So just what, you may ask, do locals in Khon Kaen eat when they go out to a restaurant of their own choice? The answer often is literally ‘shit’. But please read on before you send me abusive emails, accusing me of being patronising to the Thais and telling me to go home if I don’t like it here. I love it here!
‘Tilac’ had a birthday some weeks ago and she told me she wanted to invite about 20 family members and chums plus their kids over for a celebratory buffet. As the cost was only 79 baht a head, I replied that would be fine. There’s a big multi-storey temple in KK by the lake; Stick knows it and he’s even put some photos of it on this website. Well on the other side of the temple is a dual carriageway: cross that and you’re almost at the buffet restaurant. This is how the system there works: imagine a circular hole about 18 inches across cut in the middle of the table, under which they place a bucket full of hot coals (or charcoal briquettes or something). They then put a pan of water over the hole and a bit of chicken wire over the pan: so, starting from the bottom, it’s the bucket of hot coals, pan of water and the chicken wire. Next the water starts to boil and lots of steam oozes out of the top of this contraption, the signal for the customers to head for the buffet.
To digress yet again for a moment, for most of us ‘meat’ means skeletal (or voluntary) muscle, from the legs, back, rump, ribs, shoulders and so on. Presumably, the large and small intestines, spleen, gall bladder, bile duct, rectum, anal sphincter etc are discarded in the abattoir. Not here apparently and I was soon to find out why the cost of the buffet was only 79 baht a head when ‘Tilac’, family and chums all returned with plastic bowls overflowing with these very same organs all wobbling and slithering around. Intestines, gall bladders, recta (plural of ‘rectum’, second declension neuter, for anyone who was lucky enough to miss out on studying Latin), stomachs and oesophagi (second declension masculine) were then all carefully placed on the chicken wire, in the most delicate fashion using chopsticks. After all of the organs had changed colour, they were eaten, with lots of exclamations of ‘Syep yoo’ (that’s Isaan for ‘Aroi maak’). Did you know that gall bladders go from green to rusty brown after 5 minutes of steaming? Well you do now. Don’t even think about the smell! The other thing that worried me is that the intestines weren’t empty. So, to return to an earlier statement, they were definitely eating shit as the animals hadn’t been starved (I think the correct term is ‘depurated’) before being slaughtered.
Luckily for me, ‘Tilac’ seems to have fallen out with most of her chums all of whom clearly enjoyed this experience, so we won’t be going back. Mind you, the singer in the band they had there was f…ing gorgeous but I never got her ‘phone number.
Busy day, so sorry, comments to follow tomorrow.