This month I am guest writing the Rosa’s blog post. Just over two years ago I started as an intern in the head office at Rosa’s Thai Café. It’s been a jam-packed couple of years meeting some awesome people, becoming obsessed with chilli and learning all about Thai cuisine. But little did I know the best was yet to come – a trip to Thailand. Here are a few of my highlights.
We started off in Bangkok, later travelling to Saiphin’s hometown Khao Kor in northern Thailand for Songkran. Songkran is the festival of water and Thai new year. Not only do you get to wear very jazzy Hawaiian shirts but you get a good soaking from super-soakers too if you’re lucky. In Thai culture water pouring is meant as a symbol of washing away all of their sins and bad luck. The trip opened my eyes to a different side of Thailand both in terms of the food and the culture. We were joined by our wonderful photographer Palm (http://naurasuksomstarn.wix.com/naurarat), the real life wonder-woman Bee (point proven – http://www.beexoomsai.com/) and the lovely Xanthe Clay who wrote a great piece for The Telegraph.
Our first street food stop was at the famous hot-pot stalls next to Lumphini park. We let Saiphin order all the food (which was to become standard procedure). A bubbling caldron of spicy Thai soup arrived at our table with a plate of raw beef, prawns and some meat balls which look slightly dodgy but taste great. A rip of coriander here, a sprinkle of chilli flakes there and a generous splash of fish sauce and lime juice – our hot pot was ready. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy – the dish was everything that Thai food should be. Accompanied with some som tam (papaya salad –my favourite Thai dish) and a couple of plates of laab (minced duck or pork salad with red onion, roasted rice, coriander and chilli) it was the informal and mouthwatering intro to Thai food we were looking for.
We then headed to Silom, a Songkran water throwing danger zone. With Saiphin leading the way we settled down to another street-food stall, this time serving Saiphin’s favourite Nam Tok. It’s a spicy and fragant soup made with pigs blood and rich spices and also happens to be one of our most popular noodle dishes at Rosa’s Carnaby. Another meal after dinner? Why ever not!
Without a doubt the main highlight of the trip was staying with Saiphin’s family in the north. The food is different to the dishes we were eating in Bangkok. There is a great Laos influence, with less sugar and all the ingredients are local from the fields and rivers near by. No stone or bush goes unturned, they eat everything. Ant eggs, cows bile and crunchy little cockroaches to name a few.
On our first night we were treated to an enormous spread of food, eating on the floor Thai style. Meals in Thailand are all about sharing: Saiphin’s family cook together, sit together, and eat together. Plates were passed back and forth, whilst Saiphin caught up with family and friends. I nodded along pretending to understand, enjoying the food and probably looking like a right plonker. There seemed to be continuos giggling and laughter, a very special evening. Saiphin was treated like a celebrity for the evening, with a constant flow of family and friends pouring in to say hello. From this basic town in the hills of northern Thailand, I felt honoured to meet Saiphin’s family and it cemented just how far Saiphin has come from this small village in to the successful business woman she is today.
The food in the north feels much healthier. On our second day Saiphin cooked us Pak Wan, a vegetable sweet enough that we didn’t need to add any sugar at all. Its aroma blended well with Pla Kod fish and all those oyster mushrooms. It was healthy, fresh and a welcome change from the richer curries I was used to in the south.
Saiphin also taught us how to make Hua Toon – a rare root vegetable only found in a few areas of Thailand, specifically around Saiphin’ s home town. It has a mild and subtle taste – a little like taro.
We shredded it and mixed it with fresh ginger, “som tomatoes”, thai anchovies and Thai herb and spices. The finished dish was very refreshing, fragrant quite gingery and tasted very healthy.
Why can’t all days start with noodles and Thai coffee at 6 in the morning? As if the seven meals a day weren’t satisfying our ever expanding waistlines, we happily had a pre-breakfast pitstop after a trip around the local food market in Lhom Sak.
The local market was a real treat. Piles of fresh chillies, tomatoes, pigs heads, insects, garlic, galangal, dried squid, fried squid, Pad Thai in a bag… the list goes on. You can get pretty much anything, and because of the climate, the quality is beautiful. Lhom Sak put all the food markets in London to shame, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop.
On our second night at Saiphin’s home we celebrated Songkran and what a celebration it was. We all donned our Hawaiian shirts sipping on beer provided from our lovely friends at Chang. All the food was made fresh from our trip to Lhom Sak and the Mong market earlier that day. Saiphin rustled up some gems on the coal stove outside, whilst Bee and I shone our Iphone torches over pan for some extra light. The wonders of modern technology ey!
Saiphin cooked up a stir fried squid with kra prow sauce ( with garlic, chili, basil and the usual Thai seasonings and condiments) and a spicy tom yum soup. Whilst we munched away Saiphin’s aunty made a fragrant red chicken curry. There were steamed cockles, a delicious bamboo curry, mountains of sticky rice and pickled fish with garlic (which will be coming to a Rosa’s near you very soon). The picture above doesn’t do the fish justice. The fish is succulent, salty and is smothered in garlic, giving it that lovely pickled flavour.
However without fail the highlight of the whole trip was the journey to the local bar after our Songkran meal at Saiphin’s home. It was dark and the temperature had dropped slightly. I was in the back of the pick up truck being serenaded by Saiphin’s two aunties whilst they hugged me to keep me warm. The stars were out and the three of us were wailing this Thai love song as if our lives depended on it. Below is said love song by Pumpuang Duangjan, enjoy!
Xanthe Clay’s article for the Telegraph