Colin and I love food that is both tasty and nutritious. Satisfying our taste-buds at the same time as feeling like we are being good to our bodies is the way we like to eat most of the time (i.e. those times when we are not engaged in hedonistic over-indulgence, comfort-eating, nervous twitching, social pressures to be polite or to have adventurous palates, and so on and so forth…etc, etc).
When traveling, it can be quite difficult to maintain a balanced diet. We usually try to save a bit of money by choosing accommodation that includes breakfast. Occasionally the breakfasts are outstanding; most are basic, but acceptable; but the worst involve eggs fried to a crisp in copious oil, white bread halfheartedly toasted, and instant coffee served with powdered “Coffee Mate”, which does not contain any dairy products, being comprised of 61% glucose syrup, 34% vegetable oil, and “nature identical flavour”. It’s also difficult to eat well when we are on the move. The food on offer at bus-stops or on boats often revolves around packaged, processed food, or fried rice and noodles from a dodgy-looking kitchen. We’ve taken to bringing along our own snacks on the road, but one cannot live on roasted peanuts alone – well not for too long, anyway.
The meals where we have more choice about what to ingest have gone a long way towards balancing out such stodge, but we were still very excited to get to Pai and see brown rice on the menu of nearly every restaurant. God bless the hippies!!! (If only they could rule the world, McDonalds might not exist. But then I suppose that leather shoes would be unavailable and work and school would be optional. Actually, I could live with that.) Tofu, falafel, salad, and vegetable juice are everywhere to be had in Pai, and for a week, our hearts, minds and stomachs (not to mention, our colons) basked in wholesome and tasty fare.
Phad Krathiem Prik-Thai, or stir-fried tofu and vegetables with fried garlic. The garlic is actually pre-fried to an intense crisp and sprinkled over the vegetables at the end. This was the first dish I ate in Pai, and I had it 4 times in total, relishing the simple flavours and chewy rice. It also cost only 30 baht, which is about $1.25 NZ, so I could order a beer too. (Wait, does beer cancel out the brown rice?)
Falafel plate – really, really good falafel, with warm pita, gorgeous hummus drizzled with olive oil and sumac and mixed salad. On the side were provided yoghurt and mint sauce for drizzling, and a variety of pickled vegetables – eggplant, capsicum, cabbage and mild chilli.
Rice and vegetable salad, eaten while surrounded by a forest of wheatgrass in various stages of growth (no, I didn’t try a wheatgrass shot – the small rat we saw sniffing around the trays put me off). The salad has a base of brown rice and shredded green papaya. A variety of sliced vegetables were added (cucumber, tomato), and herbs (mint, coriander). The total was tossed in a very gingery and lemon-grassy dressing, and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. Consumed with mango lassi and a beetroot and apple juice.
Phad Hau-Pee, or “Boiled and Fried Banana Flower with Vegetables”. I have eaten banana flower several times in Asia. It’s usually finely sliced and used in salads, where it is almost flavourless, but adds a pleasing fiborous, crunchy texture, not unlike the soft part of a lemon grass stem. This dish, a local speciality of Pai, tansformed banana flower into a vegetable that resembled button mushrooms – in colour, as well as texture and flavour. This formed a nice, chewy contrast to the other crunchy vegetables in the stir-fry.
Khao Pad Mou – fried rice with chicken and vegetables. Yes, more brown rice, this time enhanced with a bit of frying and the addition of, well, chicken and vegetables. Nutritious food and psychological comfort in each bite 🙂
Vegetarian Phad Thai – ok, Phad Thai is a bit cliche in terms of Thai food, but there is a reason for this. I just love the soft rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, slivers of eggs, and the topping of crunchy crushed peanuts and lime. Usually there is chilli too, but not in this version. I added some chilli to mine from the innocent little jars behind the plate. I first thought they were quite mild, and added some more, not realising that it had a delayed effect…fire, pain and sweat followed, and I now have more respect for Thai chilli.
Even hippies like treats, so our Pai kai also consisted of this delightful mango pancake from the kitchen at our hotel. Soft, ripe, sweet mango, fluffy pancake, drizzled with mild runny honey that was sucked up by the hot pancake…it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Fortunately, Colin had ordered a banana and chocolate pancake at the same time so I got to eat 80% of this one. Divine. We had one again the next day (shared with impressive civility, I must say).
Can you just make out the small glass in the lower left-hand of this photo? In it is the nicest mojito I have ever tasted. It was made with plenty of sour lime juice and crushed mint, but the best part was the sugar that was added – raw, brown sugar that didn’t fully melt, so that one or two crystals of crunchy caramel made it into each mouthful. The photo also shows Colin just about to be thrashed….
Still on the “all in moderation including moderation” buzz, this is another Pai specialty that made my knees weaken and Colin’s lip tremble (as I insisted that he save me the last two bites). It’s a dense banana cake topped with a thick coat of rich, smooth ganache, and sandwiched with a cream cheese filling. It’s the slight sourness of the cream cheese that elevates all this richness and sweetness into Perfection. The cake is from the Muslim Bakery, one of the flashest eateries in town. The bakery is festooned with garish baskets of fake flowers and hanging grapes, but the goodies on offer are more than able to hold their own.