Friday, November 9, 2007

Day eight, Back to The Hug

Ae and Pu-yan were happy to see us return and welcomed us onto back into their home. We were encouraged to finish watching Happy Feet with Pu-yan as Ae went to tell his wife that we were back. It was wonderful to watch a family go through their nightly routine as they invited foreign guests into their home. Similar to last time, were asked what we would like for dinner and to drink. So like anyone trying to fit in, we asked him what he wanted us to eat, after all, we were in his house. He recommended chicken curry over noodles and fried chicken with ingredients, and then a honey-pineapple smoothie to cut the spice. Then he allowed us the honor to enter his wife’s kitchen to learn the traditional ropes of their cuisine.

The kitchen was hot, a lot hotter than the luxury ones I had worked in at home. Sweat ran down my back, and then down my legs as I tried to find a place to stand where I would not be in the way. It was a tight fit to have all the equipment, the three of us plus the occasional staff member, and to actually turn out a product. But it was worth the heat in the cramped corner. The woman, known only as the wife, lit a large gas burner with a lighter with more confidence than I would have had. A blackened, well-seasoned wok then rested atop of the flame. Coconut oil, star anise and a strange pod entered the picture, and just before it reached its flash point, chicken that had been chopped previously went sizzling into the worlds hottest pan. Followed by large slices of ginger, a spoonful of chicken powder, a small spoon of sugar and two soy sauces. A few drops of water hit the pan with a loud noise and steam billowed into an already too hot kitchen. Extra firm tofu was tossed in to help stretch the dish out. Spoons were handed our way to check for seasoning. On approval, the contents of the pan were poured onto a clean plate, and garnished with spring onions and black pepper.

A new wok was already on the fire with oil starting to smoke. Just as before, chicken screamed out its last fight, as the coconut oil over came the small pieces. After confirming that we are in the “medium heat” bracket, a huge pile of red curry paste was scooped on the chicken. The paste was caramelized instantly. The toasting of this curry paste coated the humid air with a spicy oil and brought out smells I have never experienced. Some sugar, two soy sauces, black pepper, chicken powder and yellow curry powder marched into the pan as if they all knew their number. Water from a small tabletop pitcher coated all the ingredients, and again we were given spoons. The dish was hot and the curry was hotter, but it tasted like I had just licked the Night Bazaar from one end to the other. The flavors were powerful and the ingredients were simple. Fresh whole grain ramen noodles appeared, and went for a four minute swim in the bubbling curry. With the wok tipped sideways, this tantalizing mixture of chili, noodles and protein, went sliding into a large bowl, suitable for use on the table. Two mountains of jasmine rice, the traditional fork and spoon set, and the dishes made before us made their way to the table where our smoothies were waiting.

Somewhere between the fresh ingredients, the experience of the hot kitchen and the company of our new friends, we had the best dinner in all of Thailand. Ae started to set up his sound equipment so he could show off his talent. He covered some American songs including Stairway to Heaven, which he didn’t know the words to, among others. Like most musicians, on a live stage, he introduced his songs with stories of how they came to be. His English was broken but understandable. Then he said something ironic, considering where we were a few hours ago, but unforgettably chilling.

“This song for brother, he is one year more…” He then paused to think about the words and the situation. “I use condom… he did not. So one man more to HIV, lost this year. This is for brother, when it should have been me.”

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