Living in Thailand for two months on a volunteer program has given me an interesting perspective on what a person is capable of eating. The conclusion I have come to is that the human digestive system is pretty much indestructible. Or at least Thai stomachs are.
I was placed in Dongkhui, a small little village 4 hours away from Bangkok, and for 2 months I lived with a host family who spoke close to no English while teaching in a Thai public school whose English teacher also spoke very little English. I relished the challenge, but I had to learn my survival Thai quickly. My survival Thai included the phrases:
• Put wa yang rai ______ pasa Thai? = how do you say ___ in Thai?
• Suwai = you are beautiful
• Khao jai mai khaa? = Do you understand?
• Mai khao jai = I do not understand
• Mai pen rai = no worries (used for situations ranging from ‘don’t worry about it’ all the way to ‘Hakuna Matata’)
Of course, integrating myself included eating absolutely everything, and I came to Thailand believing in my stomach’s ability to handle whatever I swallowed. My first night with my host family consisted of rice, boiled bamboo stalks, different types of brown curry, and papaya salad with fermented fish. Fermented fish, called Pla ra, is perhaps the most putrid tasting food I ever tried. It’s added liberally to many sweet dishes, and the combination of tastes is quite overwhelming. Already on that first night my resolve to eat everything crashed down at my feet. I asked – no, begged – them to stop putting more Pla ra on my plate.
I learnt to always ask what I was eating. The colors of the food range from a red brown to a dark brown to a green brown, and therefore it is very likely you will have no idea what you are eating. One time my host grandmother spooned a dollop of brown curry onto my plate, and just as I was putting it into my mouth my host mother whispered in my ear ‘frog’.
I also had a close shave when I almost ate rat soup. My host mother always tried to convince me to eat her favourite dish: chicken feet noodle soup. It’s basically a bowl with a mountain of pretty yellow taloned chicken feet. I said no thank you. I did, however, eat deep fried larvae, a fermented egg, and many other questionable dishes. Who knows, maybe I did end up eating a snake or something. After a while I stopped asking what I was eating, as long as it tasted good.
Although I have recounted a few of my more exotic eating experiences, overall Thai food is unbelievably delicious. Don’t be afraid of eating stall food. And Thai desserts are quite divine: coconut jelly, mini-coconut pancakes, milk syrup ice cream served between two slices of hot-dog bread, mango over sticky rice, and deep fried bananas. Not to mention that for dessert I would be served a whole bowl of exotic fruits: mangosteen, papaya, rambutan, dragon fruit, mango, coconut, dhurian, you name it. I ate like a queen.
Despite having had painful and burning diarrhoea for two months, I already miss Thai food terribly. I also have burnt off most of my taste buds, so eating the scharfe Currywurst during my time in Hamburg is going to be way too easy.