I recently returned from holiday in Thailand with my sister, Sheldeen and her fiancé, Roan - the first in many years that didn’t revolve around eating in top restaurants. I was instructed to leave work at home - my laptop and all else relating to my career.
Directions from Sheldeen, who I hadn’t seen for a year or so as she had been teaching English in South Korea, went something like this, “fly into Bangkok and go to Khaosan Road to meet at McDonald's”. The minute we met up I was handed the most delicious, thick, sticky-pork rashers on a skewer. That’s when I knew the trip would be about food, flavours and culinary experiences. I fear to count up how many of those pork rashers I consumed during my time in Thailand. I must hold the record!
I have often heard that visitors should not eat street food in the East. Well, with hygiene spray in hand, these comments were not holding us back. I was amazed at how reasonably priced and delicious the food was. Every mouthful I had was perfectly cooked. I must admit to being a little cautious so I ate more the skewer-type foods that had just been grilled in Khaosan Road. Seafood was a no-no and plated dishes I left for later in the holiday. Think savoury, glazed livers, pork rashers, chicken strips grilled or fried to perfection. I also reminisce over those hot, crispy banana pancakes/rotes freshly made at the end of Khaosan Road. They are what a foodie’s dreams are made of!
On the way to ‘our’ island, Koh-Chong we downed one or two Singha and Chang beers. A few packets of crispy, sesame-fried seaweed proved irresistible too! They seemed so much healthier than the potato crisps we get here and would make a quick snack when you need to impress guests.
I am not in favour of the instant noodles available here so I was interested to investigate the pot noodles in Thailand from the 7-Eleven stores. I was met with a pleasant surprise when I tried the creamy, Tom-Yum pot noodles - definitely a healthier option to a burger in the early hours of the morning. However, nothing could compare with sitting in the little plastic chair-and-table hut that became our favourite eatery. Oan’s provided us with delicious Thai food. By the time we left ‘our’ island we had eaten everything off her menu twice over! Her soups were a taste sensation - good, quick and promised to cure a long night out. Tom Yum by far was my favourite of all.
I can truly pen this down as the best foodie experience I have ever had - yes ever; and I have had the privilege of eating in some of the best restaurants in the world. This was genuine value for money. Oan’s food, simply made with generous lashings of love and care, was inspirational. Each dish was made fresh to order and presented at exactly the correct moment. This meant one person might be served before the other guests and could be finished eating before the others were served. This took some getting used to but it made sense when freshness and flavour were paramount.
Sheldeen is Pad Thai (a stir-fried, rice noodle dish typical of street food) crazy - to the point that she compiled a Pad Thai dance. Yes, my family can be creatively different at times! This robust noodle, tamarind, bean-sprout and peanut dish screamed flavours and textures of mouth-smacking goodness. Another winner was coconut sticky rice with the freshest-of-fresh, juicy mango. I’m battling to put into words how special this combination was.
The last recipe is a favourite of Travis Finch, one of my chefs at Hartford House - one mouthful and he is transported to Thailand. He spent four and a half months in South-East Asia so we worked together on these recipes, by memory rather than actual recipes. We also had to use ingredients available here in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands so these recipes are not traditional but carry the flavours we remember. Basic items such as pig-ears mushroom and lime leaves were among the stumbling blocks.
This was one of my favourite photo shoots with photographer Karen Edwards. We delighted in tasting all we photographed and this took me straight back to happy times with Sheldeen and Roan. It was a holiday of note - even though my luggage and I were separated for the duration of my time away; and I came back with a sprained thumb as well as cholera.
Here is to Thai flavour combinations in your home kitchen - happy cooking.
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Visit www.jackiecameron.co.za to find out more about my women's chef range, JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME and all my foodie adventures. I always look forward to hearing from you. Jackie Cameron (Head Chef: Hartford House - 033 263 2713). For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on FACEBOOK. Find me on Twitter - @jackie_cameron.