I’ve never really taken to the idea of travelling around South East Asia, but a visit to Singapore a few years ago changed all that. The variety of cuisines and aromatic combinations of food on offer at Lao Pa Sat market and every shopping mall food court enlightened my tastebuds to the promise of Asian food way beyond just the Indian curries I was used to consuming. So, when I arrived in Bangkok on holiday with my parents, I was anticipating a hearty food fest sandwiched between sight-seeing and shopping.
I may be a foodie, but I confess that my even my usually accommodating palate has boundaries. After three days of eggs and tinned chicken sausage for breakfast at our hotel, I surveyed the limited choices on our breakfast menu for something different and ordered a Thai red curry instead. To give you a bit of context, Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, but I’m quite traditional in my tastes. I’m more of a Full English or Eggs Benedict kind of girl. Coming from Goa in India, I’m used to rice with curry for lunch or dinner, but never for breakfast.
On the first day of breakfast at our boutique hotel in Sathorn, my mother and I stared round-eyed at a huge bowl of congee layered with eggs, pork mince and liver floating atop noodles in a white broth that arrived at the table next to ours. We wondered how the guests who ordered it could stomach something so strong that early in the morning. So, later that week when the Thai red curry and rice arrived at our table, my parents, went bug-eyed and my dad asked incredulously, ‘Are you really going to eat that?’
At eight in the morning, my stomach was willing enough. I switched off my brain and erased expectations of the traditional eggs and sausage from my mind. I hoped that my resounding ‘Yes’ sounded resolute. Armed with fork and spoon, I stared at the plate of brick-red curried chicken tinged with dark orange on the outer edges; a neat mound of steamed jasmine rice lying next to it. I took a deep breath and scooped a chunk of curry into my spoon, along with a dollop of rice. The combination of flavours exploded instantly in my mouth. First came the cloying sweet taste of palm sugar melted into rich coconut milk. It was quickly followed by the taste of thai basil combined with the sour tang of kaffir lime juice that made my tongue tingle. Finally, came the slow burn of red chilli that settled at the back of my throat. Combined with the sweetness, its burn dissipated into a wonderful blend of aromatic flavours dancing inside my mouth.
I tasted a hit of coriander and in a moment was reminded that many of the ingredients that went into making this dish represented the mixing of influences from Malaysia, China and India into what we now called Thai cuisine. India alone has over a thousand years of shared history with Thailand, and Buddhism was obviously not the only export to Thailand; so were the cumin and coriander seeds I could just get a hint of on my tongue. Then, there are the chillies that give the dish its famous red heat. We can blame the Portuguese Discoveries for bringing them across from South America and the Caribbean to their colonies in the East and though their caravels didn’t stay long in Thailand, they left a fiery, lasting impression behind.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stop spooning mouthfuls in and I was disappointed when my plate was empty. My brow beaded with sweat despite the air-conditioning in the small dining area. I blamed the red chilli, but would never hold a grudge against it. I already knew that I couldn’t leave Bangkok without another hit of that sweet pungent delectable dish that was absolutely addictive.
Later that day, I had a fantastic Duck Thai red curry with basil and pineapple for lunch that hit the spot and made it official: I’d become a Thai Red Curry addict.