Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Khao Soi

Now doesn't that look delicious?  Noodles with yellow curry, pickled cabbage and shallots, with chicken and topped with pork rinds and lime.  Yum yum!

This is my absolute favorite lunch.  About once or twice a week I get it for a little under a dollar at my favorite restaurant.

Flashback to Sukhothai/mid June: I had just parted ways with my French frends and had gone back on the bus to Chiang Mai.  It's 3 in the afternoon and I'm hungry.  Back then I only knew the names of five or so Thai dishes, and those were all I ate because I was so determined to order my food in Thai.

So I walk into this restaurant and say, "Mee Khao Soi mai kap?" which means, "Do you have Khao Soi?"  The woman who runs the place says, "Khun phut Thai geng!" which means, "You speak Thai well!"  This is a standard reply from any Thai person to  foreigner who says a word or two in Thai.

Because nobody was there and because the restauranty owner is so extroverted she can't go two minutes without talking to somebody, she pulls up a chair and talks to me.  We speak in both Thai and English, and I go through the basics about who I am and where I'm from, and what I'm studying.  She told me her name is Pan, and she is fifty-two years old and divorced with one son about my age.  She's in the process of selling her home, car, and everything she owns to pay for her son to go to Australia and work on his Ph.D.

There are some people I meet that leave me thinking, "Watch out for this person!  They're going to have a big impact on your life!"  Pan was one of those people.  I left the restaurant and thanked her.  Next thing I know I'm back at my apartment complex and I bump into her.  Turns out we live in the same place!

So I go back the next day and ask if she has my favorite curry dish, Kaeng Matsaman.  As Kaeng Matsaman is a southern Thai dish and I'm stuck in northern Thailand, I've had no luck finding a place that serves it.  Though Pan, being the nice person she is (and wanting my money at the same time) she said, "Tommorow I make Kaeng Matsaman just for you!"

So anytime I want a certain Thai dish made, I go to her and she'll make it for me.  Being the nice guy I am, I let her keep the change.  After all, what's a dollar to someone like me?  But to someone like Pan, it means a whole lot.

Another important thing is that Pan is nearly fluent in English.  Every day at lunch I practice Thai and she practices English.  She's helped me out by letting me borrow a workbook she once used when she was teaching foreigners how to speak Thai.

I am grateful for Pan, becuse if it wasn't for her I have no idea how I would have come so far on learning Thai.  When I first met her I only knew a couple words and phrases, but now I've been able to have conversations (even if they're basic) with Thai people.  Not only that, but she's introduced me to some great food that I know I'll be cooking for friends in the future.

Just the other day I was at Pan's Kitchen and I told her, "I'm thinking of going to Bangkok soon."  As I'm sitting down and eating my Khao Soi, another forienger comes in.  He's by himself, so I said hello and invited him to my table.  His name is David.  Coincidentially David was heading out to Bangkok that afternoon.  So Pan comes over and says to me, "If you want to go to Bangkok, you go together."

And that's the beginning of the next jouney I'll talk about.  To be continued...

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