Beef In Thailand
Recently I was back in the States on some family business, and I was invited over to a bar-b-que. There were hamburgers and hotdogs and chicken on the grill, but I only had eyes for the sirloin beauties sizzling provocatively in their own marbled fat – the New York strip steaks and the T-bones. With a simian yell, similar to the apes at the beginning of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, I fell upon the luscious beef and devoured it in a trice. Still slavering, I waited for the coals to cool off so I could lick the melted steak fat off of them. By the end of the day I looked like an early Cro-Magnon man after a mammoth hunt; filthy with meat juice and wild-eyed with the lust to kill.
That’s what lack of good beef can do to a man. Keep it away from him for too long and he will revert back to the primal jungle beast he is, once he sinks his canines into a good plank steak again.
In Thailand you can get a good hamburger or good fried chicken, and the sea food is superb, not to mention all that they can do with pork.
But beef is not the métier of the Thais, especially when it comes to steak. They butcher it awkwardly, cook it badly, and try to conceal the crime with oceans of HP sauce.
As an English teacher in Thailand I had to live on a modest budget most of the time, so I welcomed those dinner invitations that came my way from Thai friends.
Unfortunately, this often involved jawbreaking moments at the table when they would serve up what they thought a farang wanted most – a slab of overdone, vulcanized and carbonized beef. My hosts would anxiously await my opinion, as I chewed and chewed on the unappetizing piece of leather they had gone to so much time and trouble to prepare for me.
When they would ask how I enjoyed it, I would simply reply, sticking the beef cud in the side of my mouth like a quid of chewing tobacco, that it was delicious – at which point they would pile my plate high with the rest of the beef (no dummies; they sure didn’t want any of it!)
Now this is not to say the Thais don’t know their way around a cow – as long as it is a water buffalo. They can butcher one of those critters to a ‘fare-thee-well’. But there’s not much meat on a water buffalo. What the Thais are after is mostly the organs and the offal; they boil that stuff up into disgusting soups and stews, along the lines of menudo.
Expecting a Thai to know how to barbeque a steak is like expecting a farang to recite by heart one of the Buddha’s sermons.
In recent years a lot of frozen beef steak has been imported into Thailand from New Zealand.
Now, I don’t want to start an International Incident, but I have sampled some of that imported Kiwi steak. In my mind I can see those New Zealand ranchers, picking out the steers to butcher and flash freeze for the Thai market:
“Oy, Hubert! There’s one that has mad cow disease; see the drool? Grab him! And get that carcass wot the flies have settled on over there on the dung hill – that’ll make grand rib eye for those blessed expats in Thailand!”
I won’t deny that if you know the right people and have enough money, you can get a passable steak in a place like Bangkok. But the price is astounding. And you still might get bushwhacked.
Consider this: for 30 baht you can buy a large bowl of hearty noodle soup, replete with bits of chopped boiled eggs, vegetables, bits of chicken or pork, lots of noodles, and a savory, piquant broth that gives your tongue goose bumps; if you want to try a steak it is going to run you around 700 baht, and there is absolutely no guarantee that you will get anything but an inedible slice of something that would work better as a belt than a meal.
It’s enough to make a man go back to the Marmite bottle . . .