Plan a trip for amazing Tastes of Thailand

Update:01 Apr 2010
THOSE THAIS! IT’S NOT AS though the world isn’t already in love with their cuisine; they feel they have to promote it in a dazzling extravaganza of music, dance and food. Thus, the Amazing Tastes of Thailand, a week-long festival, was heralded by elaborate ceremonies in Bangkok’s Central World last September.
On an afternoon made sultry by the hot tropical sun, food vendors on the open courtyard of the huge, modern mall sell spices and seasonings, dried fish and fresh fruits, rice cakes and barbecued chicken.
I drift towards a cooking demonstration in one of the stalls. What luck. The chef is demonstrating how to make tom yum goong, my favorite Thai soup.
Charles Buranasingha is from the Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant and he speaks with gentle intonation as he stirs the chicken stock that is to form the base of the soup. Next, he cooks Pad Thai, a noodle dish seasoned with equal parts of tamarind juice, fish sauce and sugar, topped with scrambled eggs, chives, ground peanuts, chili pepper and bean sprouts. Again, he makes it look so easy that I resolve to try his recipe as soon as I get home.
In the evening, a formal dinner at the Convention Center welcomes food writers from cities as far away as Stockholm, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome. Booths surrounding the dining hall sell handicrafts, ceramic ware and elegant silk fabrics. Fresh fruits and garlands of garlic hang from a trellis, while jewelry of polished silver and gold glitter from velvet cases. The program devolves into cultural performances, tumbling acts and traditional dances, which enliven our six-course dinner that includes Golden Thai Pastry Cups with Minced Chicken, Marinated Deep-fried Prawns, Tom Yam soup, Steamed fish with Red Curry Sauce plated with Steamed Bok Choy and Black Mushrooms, as well as Fried Rice with Prawns.
The opening ceremonies of The Amazing Tastes of Thailand were actually the culmination of our week-long sojourn in Bangkok and Chonburi. The trip started with a welcome dinner in Ramayana Restaurant, a buffet that included roasted lamb; fried rice; crab legs; tender, moist, very sensual salmon sashimi; and fresh, sweet shrimps with a traditional dip of fish sauce, chopped chilies, lime and sugar.
Journey of discovery
The next few days were a journey of discovery that brought us to, among other places, a 100-year-old market sitting on the banks of the Prawet Burirom Canal. Dried fruits and baskets, plastic plates and brassware, fancy toys and home décor, dates, nuts and vegetables were sold in stall after stall. At the far end we found ducks cooking in large vats filled with liquid simmering in Chinese herbs. Porntip Makornpan, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Singapore, ordered a couple of ducks for our group, whereupon the vendor deftly chopped them into serving pieces. Dipped in a sauce of lemon, chilies, garlic, sugar, vinegar and coriander, the mahogany-colored ducks were tender, with a flavor that alternated among sweet, spicy and sour.
As we sat on wooden benches held up by stilts over the brown waters of the canal, the vendors brought in steaming hot bowls of noodle soup replete with fish balls, thinly sliced pork, spring onions and bean sprouts. Just as we were seasoning the soup with chili powder, vinegar and, as we were instructed to do, some sugar, a lady came and sprinkled the top with chopped peanuts, lime juice and more sugar. Thai dishes, we were told, often have sugar added to them, to balance the heat of the spices and the saltiness of the fish sauce. As if to confirm this, the wing bean salad that we were served next was similarly sweet, sour and spicy.
Just before reaching Pattaya, we had a second lunch of seafood at Jarin Restaurant: garoupa fried to a crisp, garnished with large cloves of garlic, swimming in a stream of sweet sour sauce; fried cuttlefish with peppers and onion; crab sausage, which reminded us of the que kiam back home, and a free-form omelet filled with miniscule oysters.
In line with the Amazing Tastes of Thailand program, we attended a cooking demonstration the following day in Tamnanpar, a restaurant set in the midst of Rayong’s lush tropical forest. The restaurant is like a secret hideaway that seems to have sprouted by itself among the surrounding trees. The tables and chairs are made of polished wood, while the columns that hold up the roof are actually tree trunks. Swans glide gracefully on the ponds that act like a catch basin for the water winding down through a path of rocks.
I had eaten in this restaurant a few years back and was glad to discover that the food was still as good as I remembered it to be. The roasted duck was golden brown and crisp, and made more vibrant by a honey-flavored dip. The fresh prawns with a light curry sauce were cooked to perfect doneness, and for dessert there were sweet, juicy pineapples, star fruits, dragon fruits and bananas the color of morning sunlight.
Disneyland of fruits
The fruits came from the nearby Suphattra Land, a 380-acre plantation that one might well describe as the Disneyland of fruits. Here we were taken on a tram ride past 28 kinds of fruit trees, such as the spiky dragon fruit, passion fruit entwined on a trellis and large rose apples, or what we know as macopa. We got a chance to taste just how sweet these fruits are in one of our stops, where attendants served us as much as we could eat of bananas, mangoes, pineapple, balimbing, papaya and pomelo—all served with a tantalizing dip of salt and chilies. There was also an abundance of durian, already peeled and ready to eat.
Fruits are in abundance in Bankok market called Or-tor-Kor.
Fruits were likewise in abundance in a Bangkok market called Or-tor-Kor, but this time in an urban setting. The Thais certainly know how to present their fruits artistically. Ripe, golden mangoes were fanned out like rays of sunshine in a basket while the rose apples were packed in clear plastic bags on layers of green leaves, as if they had just been picked from a tree. Even the durian, already scooped off from their thorny rind, looked so inviting cradled in white paper cones (and they didn’t reek of their infamous smell). Many of the stalls were selling cooked food too, and if only I lived in Bangkok, I would have bought the fried liempo that looked like bagnet, the dried fish that looked like spicy daing, and the skewered pork that looked like Pinoy barbecue. In the end, I just settled for some sweet mangoes with sticky rice.
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