“We need more lard!”
I looked across the table at Theresa. It was hard to hear over the din of the loudspeakers blaring what, despite any evidence of laughter from the other patrons, must have been Thai comedy. “What did you say? It sounded like you said we need more lard!”
She pointed down to the steaming aluminum dome in the middle of our table. Various meats and vegetables were starting to smoke, seared by the heat of the glowing embers beneath them, with no fats to help them cook.
“Ah, yes. More lard. You know, that’s not something I ever expected to hear you say.”
I motioned the waiter over to our table, who instinctively knew what the issue was, and he provided us with a plate of more lard chunks. Placing one on the top of the dome, the food started to cook more peacefully, if somewhat less aligned with our ideas of healthy eating.
Violet attempted to pick up her mysterious food item out of the steaming water in the basin surrounding the dome, and dropped it once again, making that her fourth attempt at eating… whatever it was she was trying to eat. It was shaped like a Hello Kitty head, coloured and all, and made of either pasta, or pressed fish, or perhaps some kind of sausage. Finding out what anything was seemed somewhat difficult, as everyone spoke only in Thai, and we were the only Farangs present.
Smoke was drifting in from the side of the large open air dining hall where they were turning firewood into coals for the table top barbecues, adding a campfire feel to the whole event. The restaurant itself was little more than a huge open air arena, with corrugated tin sheeting for a roof, and several long tables of food waiting to be cooked.
We had decided that, being right next door to us, it would be worthwhile to check out the restaurant known as Sukuntra Moo Katah, aka ‘Hot Pot of Thousands People’. What we were quickly learning was that open-air Thai barbecues were primarily frequented only by Thais, and that it would be wise to go to one in the company of a Thai who speaks English. We were making do, though, and most of the food we had picked seemed edible.
The selection at the buffet was quite amazing, and the experience of cooking food right at your own table was a novelty. It was a little freaky to have someone rush up to your table with a bucket of burning hot coals to put under your BBQ bowl, but they moved with the fluid ninja-like grace that Thais seem to possess in all things that makes them able to careen through the world on the verge of disaster but never causing harm.
For an all you can eat (and cook) buffet, $4 a head seemed reasonable. If there had been more that we felt comfortable eating, we would have a much better time of selecting meals, and would probably have eaten there on a regular basis. To anyone who has ever visited the Chinatown of a large city, you will know that anything which can be eaten without making you immediately ill can, and will be eaten.
Take Thanin market, a large Thai market just a few blocks from our house. Along with a vast array of fruits and vegetables, noodles and meats, there is a wide selection of crickets, silkworms, locusts, scorpions and beetles available, mostly fried, and quite edible for those of brave stomach.
I suppose with almost half of the world living in Asia, it makes sense that the definition of food includes anything that is edible, not just delectable, but I draw the line at some things. Cyrus once managed to convince me after eating a deep fried silk worm that I should partake in the culinary experience, and it wasn’t too different from eating any other crispy fried snack, but my mind could not let go of what I was eating enough for me to want a whole bag of them. Or to ever eat one again, for that matter.
I couldn’t help feeling on some level that some things may be inevitable, but that does not make them decent, and, as the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” We needed to be a little cautious in Thailand, as that could be just about anything. It was a wise time to become a vegetarian.