Looking for Thai Cuisine

Next month, I’ll be visiting beautiful Thailand – a nation of which I already have some limited experience. I went there with two friends in the closing days of the 20th century – December 1999. (OK, perhaps the century actually finished a year later. Like, whatever!)

Anyway, we were there to arrange a World Harmony Run, and add Thailand to the list of nations that participate in this tremendous event. Unlike other nations, such as our homeland of Australia, we didn’t arrange for an event that traversed each city and town. (The roads in Thailand are perhaps not safe for such activity!) However, we stayed in Bangkok, where we staged some small but wonderful ceremonies.

This time will be a different experience. There will be another World Harmony Run, but the organising team will be somewhat larger – and naturally, the event will be on a much larger scale.

Also… the dining experiences should be different. This time, I’ll be lucky enough to stay in a nice hotel. Last time, we stayed in one of those notorious, rundown dives where the backpackers spend their time… until we found a slightly nicer place. This was no five-star resort, but it had a phone, which was essential for our task. (You might remember that, in those days, we didn’t all walk around with globally-adaptable mobile/cell phones. It was only seven years ago, but it already seems like another aeon!) This is a completely non-profit event, with no financial sponsorship. We don’t even ask for donations – which usually means that we can’t stay at the Hyatt.

As with many Asian countries, Thai food is legendary. From my dim memories of the culinary delights, it deserves that reputation – although, between trying to arrange ceremonies, talking to media, and even running around town trying to find a helium tank (for balloons, of course – and no, we couldn’t find any helium, and had to blow them up ourselves and stick them on poles, for those who were desperate to know), I was mainly grabbing take-away food or fruit.

One night, a couple of us decided to go to town and have a proper meal. It was not a typical experience. The thing we liked most about food over there is the way that a vendor could simply show up and set up an outdoor restaurant along the main street, then pack up again and leave at the end of the night, as if (cue spooky music) he'd never been there. Our favourite restaurant, therefore, had an address of “no fixed abode”. We were a little disappointed to discover that, on that particular night, we couldn’t find it.

So instead, we walked around, trying to find an good alternative. My friend is very selective about food, so we wandered the streets for some time. Every eating place looked fine to me. But then, I was getting increasingly hungry. After a while, a place that specialised in frozen cabbage would have looked OK! (Sadly, there was no such place.) But my friend was more particular. “Not the right place,” he said, after every place we saw.

Eventually, I saw a place that looked brilliant! Suddenly, I was happy that we’d walked past every other place. It was worth it, just to find the right place: a Mexican restaurant! It was clean, friendly, and the food looked heavenly. “Yes!” I cried. “Let’s eat here!”

My friend, of course, was less impressed. “We’re in Bangkok! We should be eating Thai cuisine, experiencing the culture – but you want to eat Western-style food? It’s not the right place.”

We were fast running out of potential “right places”. “Look, I know we’re in Thailand, but there are some really good things about the West," I fumed. "For starters, nobody starves!”

He was taken aback by this, perhaps surprised that walking around aimlessly for an hour wasn’t something I especially enjoyed doing. However, he wasn’t keen to eat Mexican that night. But he got the point. The next Thai place we saw, he decided, was “the right place.”

The noodles were bland, as was the sauce. The vegetables and beancurd were boiled, and what they lacked in flavour, they presumably had in healthfulness. To make the meal more exciting, I splashed on plenty of chili sauce and poured salt over it (something I rarely do with any food). It wasn't my ideal cuisine. But perhaps, on that particular night, it was the right place.