Sometimes Food Bites Back
As some of you know, I’m presently in the sunny Southeast Asian Kingdom of Thailand for the month of November with my partner Edward. This trip fulfills our passions for international travel, food, cultural immersion and relaxation.
It’s always such an awesome adventure for us to travel in Southeast Asia. In our travels we’ve blessed to meet and interact with Thais in their environment and experience their unique culture of Sawasdee or Welcome. We are immediately greeted with a heart warming wai (bow, an ethereal gift of flowers bestowed upon its recipient).
The first nine glorious days of our trip was spent on the idyllic island of Koh Lanta, a two-hour ferry ride across the azurine waters of the Andamen Sea. The Swedes adopted this island as their home away from home two decades ago and have been partly responsible for keeping it a family friendly destination (Full Moon Party Free Zone). We stayed in a rustic bungalow on a beach called Kaw Kwang or Deer Neck; a spit of sand about 50 meters wide and 900 meters long with beaches on either side.
Our prescription dose of sea, sand and sun; it is also the beginning of our homecoming to the wonders of Thai cuisine and it’s myriad favors of spicy, sweet, sour and salt. Traveling with a foodie is serious endeavor. It takes patience and you have to pace yourself for the challenge of eating at least three meals a day plus snacks. Edward has been very accommodating in this venture and risen to the occasion despite lava hot curries, rice desserts and the complete unknown. I am eternally grateful, for the life of a foodie is an endurance race, sometimes requiring sporting of kaftans to cover ones distended belly and Alka Seltzer night-caps.
Besides taking a cooking class at Time for Lime, dining at all the new seaside restaurants and visiting the fresh markets on the island. We’re always on the prowl for those transcendent personal connections that are embroidered into the fabric of our soul. This gift from the Buddha was transported by Tuk Tuk (a moto with a meter square platform open-air sidecar with seats for passengers). I met Ivory on our 7th day on the island walking down the road to town with two big bags of dirty laundry. Ivory drove up in his Tuk Tuk and asked if I needed a ride. I was relieved to come upon a Tuk Tuk given the heat and my heavy laundry. I learned Ivory had moved to the island from Bangkok fifteen years prior and had a son with a Swedish/Indian woman. He hadn’t seen his sweetheart for three years since she moved to Norway for work. His bright engaged son Riu is almost five and quite the pistol. I learned Ivory was a professional chef with his own restaurant before the tsunami hit and wiped him out in 2004. He’s been saving his Baht since to open a new restaurant. I asked ivory about the his favorite restaurants in Lanta and he was honored to share.
I need to warn you up front, the Thais are serious about their food. Perhaps, this is part of the reason I love them so. Don’t be surprised to learn, Thais regularly eat 5-8 times a day. A Thai Chef is a master of many dishes, it’s not unusual to see menus that are a short story of the culinary theme. I’ve traveled with Thais before and you can be sure, they won’t embark on a trip (car, bus, ferry or plane) without a little spread of delicacies.
Ivory took us to one of his favorite seafood restaurants (Mr. Yat’s Floating Fish Farm, Restaurant and Homestay in the Tung Yee Peng Mangrove) on the last night of our stay in Koh Lanta. When I tried to find references about this place online after our memorable visit I found little to nothing. This is truly a Thai secret place. We arrived around five as the sun was beginning it’s departure and parked the Tuk Tuk at the beginning of the Mangrove, then walked a series of makeshift elevated walkways over the water, mud and mangrove trees. I had visions of this tall white guy falling through into the muck. After walking about four blocks we arrived at the rickety ramp descending to Mr Yat’s family compound. We were greeted like royalty and given the tour of the fish pens. As we walked the narrow planks between the holding pens, the fish large and small followed us as if they were waiting for us to fall in and become their dinner. It was kind of eerie. Riu, Ivory’s son got scared, I kneeled beside him and pointed at the fish.
All the fish gathered around to see what was going on and stared back at us. Before I knew it, a spotted fish had leaped out of the water and latched onto my finger. In utter shock, I quickly lurched back and proceeded to fling the fish into the pen with enormous crazy groupers. A frenzy broke out, the small pen was splashing and fish were leaping about to catch the small fish I had just sent to the grim reaper. Before long, the pen went silent and there was no sight of the poor fish who lept to fill it’s tummy for the evening.
Slightly stunned by the events of our little tour and fearing I’d have another fish added to by bill, I sat down at a table and proceeded to order squid with garlic and pepper and a Chang beer. Riu retired to the Yat’s bedroom to watch cartoons with the kids and recover from this traumatic experience with this strange farang. I caught a glimpse of a large monkey out of the corner of my eye over Edward’s shoulder walking down the plank towards us.
After an absolutely delicious meal and great company, we somehow made our way in the dark back to the Tuk Tuk and safety. Apparently, the amulet Ivory gifted us worked as we were saved from the mangrove to eat another glorious meal.