Sharing Food is an International Pleasure

Longon fruit

This summer has been a delicious indulgence of one traveling trip after another- and I’m not done yet!

Of course one of the best parts of getting out of your sphere of comfort and routine, is all the new and wonderful things there are to learn. I love the shift in perspective on my own culture, but I also just love to see how others navigate theirs.

We move at a certain pace in NYC, and we have learned to bob and weave amongst ourselves on subway stairs, crowded sidewalks and give way at markets. I can be pushed into a crowded train at rush hour and think nothing of it, and then get huffy when a person steps out of the same train and stops dead still in front of me to decide on intention of direction.

In Thailand there is a different pace. Chaing Mai is a smaller city, but to me was just as busy, noisy and dirty as NYC. Different, naturally, but remarkably intense. But I also found a remarkable grace and ease in all that hubbub, that we don’t have here. The word is Thai is: Sabai- which best translates as “easy”, or “easy going”, as in calm or unruffled. That is the Thai way. Sabai sabai. Remarkably babies don’t cry there and horns are rarely honked, it seems that everyone just accepts the grand ballroom dance of constant movement with grace.

peppercorns on the vine

Many  countries love their food, and I know that it is the best unifying elements of passion, appreciation and affection that we can show one another. It was remarkably comforting for me to feel the kinship with everyone I spoke to about Thai food, cooking and ingredients. Everyone was so remarkably helpful and enlightening, but more importantly- eager and passionate. Just like me.

The same peppercorns now dried

“Next time come to my kitchen and I’ll show you how”, “I don’t know the English word for this, but this is how we use this…”, “Please taste this, it’s something different, and tell me what you think”…. These were the phases I heard more often than not- along with the gestures and pantomimes when our communications failed us.

On this trip I was able to peel back another layer of Thai food. Much of what we consume here is to our American palate. Not too too spicy, not too too fishy, and mostly of textures we are comfortable and familiar with. But Thai food is so much more.
The Thai’s laughed at me and eyed me warily as I ate dishes in the traditional Thai way: spicy as heck. They waited for me to cough, sputter and weep, but instead I gobbled up every bite, and dabbed my lips with delight. One waiter brought me 3 glasses of water- lined up like soldiers- expecting any moment the onslaught to hit me- which it never did. I loved it. But what I really love is my developing appreciation and recognition of all the notes and nuances of authentic food.
Ginger

The Thai and East Asian generosity of spirit is everywhere- and it really has given me a sense of home away from home.
As I was leaving Chiang Mai I had a short flight to Singapore before laying over back to JFK. I was fortunate to sit next to a Singaporian man, Kuan, who was now retired and living in Chiang Mai. A smart man that got his education in the States and worked for years for his government. He refers to himself as fortunate and a man of unexpected opportunity and success. He had ease, grace and yes, he was Sabai.
He told me of the home he had purchased just outside of the city and the fruit trees that he was now farming. Naturally we got to talking about food and his trees and his love of it all. He had that clear insight of a man of years with the willowy strength of youth, and the sparkling look of love when speaking of his farm that a parent has when speaking of their children. 
As we deplaned and headed our way into the terminal he pulled me aside. 
In his bag he had several bunches of Longan fruits from his trees. These were just harvested and were gifts he was bringing to his friends in Singapore. He dove into his bag with to hands and pulled out a spilling mound of fruits. “Take these, I want you to taste my fruits and tell me what you think”. 

I cannot express my delight in that gift, and gratefully accepted them, then letting the fruits tumble into the pocket of my knapsack. I thanked him and we shook hands as friends- friends that food has brought together.
This is what makes the world such a small and wonderful place.

Comments

  1. Seeing the peppercorns and ginger like that was a treat in itself. Thx.

  2. Thank you Cathy! I hope to meet you in Portland- G