I have only recently gotten back from Thailand, and I do miss the culture and food. Mostly the food. I got back to Rutgers and within hours I was at H-Mart, a Korean market that carries a lot of products I knew I would need to recreate my favorite Thai dishes. I had the recipe book from our cooking lesson, and I used it to guide my shopping list. I got lots of coconut milk, some fruit, spicy sauces, jellies and more. But there were a few ingredients I even asked them about at the market, but they said they didn’t carry pandan leaves or guangal, key ingredients in many Thai soups. At first, I was shocked. How could this Asian market not carry these basic ingredients. But of course, it was actually a Korean market. I had forgotten one of the biggest lessons I had just learned from the trip. In America, we often group all Asian cultures together, and don’t bother to look into the nuance of each country’s customs. In Thailand, I learned all about how they have specific chili’s with a distinct taste. In Thailand, they have their own system of writing and many regional dialects within the country. Just one country south, in Malaysia, they have their own script! Which is different from Chinese, which is different than Japanese, and so on. Of course H-mart didn’t have Thai specific ingredients, it was Korean!
Must recreate these dishes!
So of course, when I was making my Tom Kha Gai later that night, I used a few substitutions. In the end, I think it came out pretty good, and made me feel like I was back in Thailand. As I move forward from this trip, I will always be seeking Thai food, and thinking about how complex every place is. It means something different to whoever you talk to, and it will always be its own place in southeast Asia, with a distinct culture, and even within the country itself.
First glimpses of the USA