Articles in Culinary Travel
The strips of texture, it turns out, that I thought might be strips of mushroom, is young bamboo, grated. There are mushrooms. There is onion, red chili and spring onion, a mix of intense and subtle flavors. The rice noodle roll is somehow sensual in texture; the fish plump and decadently fatty and warm. Perhaps another nine on the mouth orgasm scale.
Old Phuket Town is cool to roam and the outdoor market is is a great lunchtime spot. I relish my final days of “freedom,” which is what traveling typically feels like. Not like I am not free at home. But traveling, I am free from most commitments, I guess. And there is freedom of seeing so much and doing so much when it doesn’t feel like doing but like “being” in a novel place.
The next morning, Sunday, we drive right down the island to the family-run Beach Restaurant at Thong Krut fishing village on Koh Samui. It’s a fave or Richard and Barb. And it’s fabulous.
My outsize shibori scarf is the most useful item in my luggage. You can use it to cover your shoulders at the Big Buddha temple in Koh Samui, sit on it on grubby bus seats, keep the sun off your arms and shoulders with it, don it in the evening to add a touch of elegance, dry yourself with it, wipe your hands on it when you’ve eaten, use to to keep you warm when the breeze comes up of an evening and lots more.
“You’re living a fantasy movie-set lifestyle,” I comment. My mind travels to where they could be living. In a village in England. OK. English villages can be charming. But this is exotic and there’s no fog and we’re outdoors and the beer is cold. Tables in the sand. Fire artists on the beach. Warm ocean for paddling. A Tiger beer and sixties music in the background.
It says “traditional Lao stew” on the Mango Garden restaurant menu. They do themselves an injustice saying on the menu that the dish has sweet basil, coriander, spring onion, chili, young eggplant — and I choose the beef for the meat option — period. It is, in fact, a pretty good version of the Lao specialty, Or Lam, which the manager admits to when I ask her and point out the wood ear mushrooms, the twist of lemongrass and the yard-long beans.
The Luang Prabang night handicraft market is good for browsing and bargaining. The Luang Prabang night food market is good for indulging what with all the barbecued meats and fish and sausage and a pigs heads and all manner of meaty bits and bites cooked over fire on grills.
Exploring tastes, traditions and cuisines while traveling — and savoring how other cultures eat, drink and make merry even in restaurants close to home or in ones own kitchen — opens up a whole new world and preserves culinary traditions.
Almost stop in at a place called Chill. But not quite right, even though what “right” is, I won’t know, till I find it: a Lao breakfast menu at a pretty elegant place that also has a bakery. When I search I find it in my Rough Guide too. At Café Le Ban Vat Sene on Sakkaline Road I sit outside and order the Khai Jeun Jaeo Mak Len (omelet cooked with herbs and served with tomato relish, sun-dried beef and sticky rice) 30,000 kip and Lao coffee.
Snap some shots at a Chiang Rai flower market. Head back to pick up bags from The North hotel. Then 90 seconds to the Chiang Rai bus depot. A red bus this time. Local “milk train” bus. Three tiny ceiling fans. I head for the long back seat so I can put my backpacks in the large open area between me and the regular double row of double seats.