One task that has proven surprisingly difficult is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the one that we've had in the works for the longest. Even before planning for this trip began, we've wanted to emulate the trick used to good effect by some of our widely traveled friends, who have on different occasions gotten their hands on a wallet card, lovingly handwritten and carefully folded, saying something to the effect of "house special". One was in Mandarin for a unicycling trip to China, which they presented to the waitress or chef at off-the beaten path restaurants as a conversation starter and invitation to authenticity, a way to break out of the assumptions that might be built up around a group of laowai appearing in a restaurant that doesn't get too many foreigners. Another such card is handwritten in Thai is presented by way of passport or shibboleth at any putative Thai restaurant in the States, for the amusement and possible the vetting of the chef. (I suspect his is less of a request and more in the manner of a doctor's note, to the effect of "The gringo can take it. Make it Thai hot.")
|An attempt was made, but this is *not* "the special of the house"|
I also talked about the idea with a Thai flight attendant on the DC to Abu Dhabi leg of my flight. She was (perhaps stereotypically) enthusiastic about sharing her country and culture, but when I tried explaining our project, she was nonplussed. After some cajoling she eventually wrote down a phrase, but never seemed to click with the concept. When I had an opportunity to have the phrase translated by our expat host he explained, with a knowing laugh, that the result was "I want a plate of delicious food."
The idea may not be a complete bust, however, because further discussion with our host lead to a more culturally meaningful area where such pride of place will come to the fore. In Chiang Mai and Krabi, respectively, Northern and Southern traditional cuisine will be on display. Chiang Mai is famed for complex, milder dishes that blend sweet with savory, whereas Krabi exemplifies the southern cuisine where spice is life and your safety is not guaranteed. So in Bangkok, perhaps the best you can do is ask for (and almost certainly receive) a plate of delicious food, but it seems that asking for "good northern cooking" or "good southern cooking" may evoke the right spirit.
|Fried green chiles with chicken; Ayutthaya floating market |
(Photo: Brittany Morton)