When I told people I was going to Thailand, and spending almost the entire two weeks in Bangkok, almost everyone tactfully hinted I was wasting my time and money. While it is true that I have still not seen elephants in Chiang Mai, or tanned at a resort in Koh Samui, I don’t regret my decision. Also, I’m not a beach person.
Another reason for picking Bangkok was the chance to stay with my friend Nikki and her family. Swapping the backpackers on Khao San Road for my high school friend I hadn’t seen in five years seemed like a pretty good deal.
There’s nothing quite like a family home when you’ve been sharing a room in student halls for six months. I must be well adjusted to Beijing, where the only inner city dwellings that aren’t apartments are ramshackle hutongs, as I was shocked when the taxi pulled up to a two-storied house with a garden and a backyard. Every moment I was at their home I awed by the peace of a house surrounded by plants – cultivated within the fence and growing wild in neighbouring abandoned plots. The calm of the evenings were disrupted only by geckos chirping and Nikki’s brothers practising piano downstairs.
Of course it goes without saying that local friends means local food. My knowledge of Thai cuisine was more or less that there would be seafood, lime, chili, mangoes and coconuts. Yes, I definitely ate copious amounts of all of these, but there was a lot that surprised me, in particular the breakfasts.
I am now used to seeing what I would consider dinner food being eaten for breakfast – savoury steamed buns and wonton soup are both popular in northern China. The difference seems to be that in China, these foods are generally breakfast food and are not often for later in the day. From what I saw on the streets of Bangkok (and mind you I’m no expert) all meals are equal. I often ate breakfast at the office with Nikki’s parent’s, who kindly provided me with breakfast, alongside their employees.
As employees arrived with their breakfasts I had the opportunity to take a look at what was typical. In the intense humidity and “feels like 39” degrees, starting my day with a steaming bowl of fish ball noodles from the hawkers downstairs, crispy fried chicken and sticky rice with chillies or the rice congee that had enough ginger to cure any non-existent-winter cold would not have been my first choice, but as I tried them all I couldn’t deny the appeal.
The heat outside is tropical; you wade through the air as it sticks to your skin, you feel blurry. In contrast you have sharpness of flavour, the spice of ginger and chilli, the intense sweet, salty, sour – managing to fight fire with fire, it readies you for the day.
Every morning after breakfast I left the air-conditioned office to take the subway (or the boat!) to a new part of town. In the subway stations and all along the footpaths there were other hawkers selling oyster omelettes, fried roti with condensed milk and milo powder, Thai milk tea and whole grilled fish. I was always tempted to have a second breakfast, but by the time I would have made my mind up on what to eat, it would have been lunchtime already.