Therapy in shopping and chopping
The fleshy innards of skinny and green eggplant made frequent protagonists on our plates at 6pm. Depending on who felt inspired (and hungry), Irene or I would sautée the slender tubes in bubbling coconut milk, soy sauce, and vinegar and cushion their final presentation with a pillow of noodles. Our meals didn't resemble the table art from our favorite reality cooking shows, but those plates held evidence of our dietary independence and resurfacing domestic skills.
Whenever I could squeeze my week out for a drop of free time, I would strap on my bike helmet, mount one of our non-road-worthy cruisers, and pedal to the nearby farmer's market, which was many kilometers away. Irene would request eggplants and bok choy for her vegetable medleys, and I complemented the cart with extremely long string beans, lemongrass, and eggs that rarely made the bumpy ride back altogether.
We are two young adults - 26 and 28 - who highly value the world travel portion of the job, but this appreciation doesn't silence the biological drive to nest. Within the first few weeks of living in Thailand, we purchased strings of lights, photographs of lantern releases, and bowls for table decoration and our frequently rejuvenated cornucopia of fresh produce. For me, each installment of eggplant from the market indicated a new week of meals prepared by my culinary wiz of a roommate, the co-builder of our Thai nest. Ceiling fan whirling above us, we would settle into the small leather couch with bowl under mouth, often after an exhausting class or a day of constant meetings.
The eggplant provided therapy. It was our comfortable routine.
Overloading on what I already loved
Sliced and sautéed to a brown crisp. Diced by the bucket-load. Chopped and swimming in olive oil, microwaved to make the classic fried garlic condiment. Thai food is heavy on the good stuff, the smells of which you love to reek. When a recipe called for garlic, ginger, coconut milk, or curry paste, my wrist went loose, sprinkling enough to be advised against.
I knew I was addicted when I got hit with the Salmonella. Darn American food in Thailand. Two days of nausea post-chicken sandwich didn't allow my regular consumption of the spicy, the sweet, the salty, or anything particularly dense in texture. This situation is torturous in a country that prides itself on its multi-sensory and multi-faceted food choices. Then came two days of extreme dehydration, unfortunately emphasized by a fall to the ground. Never have I had a facial wound until my skull hit the ground of my bathroom, and I awoke with my nose pressed into the juncture of the tile wall and tile floor. Whatever food I could stomach had to be the equivalent of Ned Flanders in food world: simple, bland, and nearly impalatable in bulk.
Intense garlic meant I had the strength to stand upright, time to meditate with a knife and a root, and a stomach equipped to take on Thailand full-force.
Sudden realizations can alter lifestyles
I'm starting to believe–regardless of that which your mind is cognizant–the body knows it's growing and evolving. I remember having a light-bulb moment that meatloaf didn't have to be repulsive (especially when slathered with ketchup).
What used to be flavorless and unappetizingly spongy became a vegetable I enjoyed in our nightly meals in Thailand: mushrooms. These weren't special to the region but just an ingredient my 'live-in chef' used often. When marinated in vinegar or tossed in a hot sauté pan with soy sauce or coconut goodness, opinions changed. A new realm immediately opened to this ingredient-focused mind. I didn't even know how to clean these fungi until then, oblivious to their textural eccentricities.
I keep mentioning to our students that this phenomenon occurs constantly, with no warning, regarding foods, flavors, experiences, and beyond. All of a sudden, we're okay with what we formerly weren't (and of course, the opposite is always possible). I'm inclined to believe these mini-epiphanies are more perceptible on the road where they can be constantly questioned.
There's not an of-age waver of the red, white, and blue that doesn't wax poetic about the condensation on the metal shell of a frosty beer. It's second only to baseball as a favored summer pastime. Chang, like any mass-produced lager, is not particularly tasty, but a palette of something cold and comforting is one of the first things I plop into the bottom of my grocery cart.
How do you let loose and take the world in at dusk, country?
Staring at a wall of liquid depressants, I imagine myself asking the general public this question. I extend my first vein outward, attaching myself symbiotically to my host. If I can do nothing else in the way of assimilation and immersion, I can give patronage to a local company, grow opinions for different brands, and await the inevitable dialogue of an innately social nature. Having a local cold one at night makes me feel connected even when I act like an expat in a bubble.
As one can learn of a culture through their ingredients and cuisine, so can a traveler engage in the easiest and most therapeutic transition from home to elsewhere. A cold libation means no matter where you are, you're there, and you're assembled enough as a displaced, discombobulated human to find your lips.
It was a term in a bubble, but at least that bubble smelt delicious.