Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooking Lessons from a Street Vendor in Thailand

On a humid afternoon in November, I found myself slowly wandering through the outdoor food markets of downtown Chiang Mai, Thailand. A cornucopia of vibrant and enticing food stalls and souvenir stands littered the pathways as vendors competed for my business.

My stomach and brain have never had such a conflict...

Stomach: "Wow that sushi looks amazing"

Brain: "It's 10 THB ($0.33 USD) a piece. How long has it been sitting there? It's a 1,000 degrees outside. Don't be an idiot."

Stomach: "Oh! Tiny little quail eggs?!?!"

Brain: "Come on... Those look raw... RAW EGGS IN A FOOD STALL? Really, I mean REALLY?!?"

Stomach: "Mmmmmm fried shrimp...grilled squid... Oooooh Pad Thai..."

Brain: "Fine. Deal."

The shrimp and the squid were good; however, it was the Pad Thai that sealed the deal.

An inconspicuous food stand within a small market in northern Thailand ruined Pad Thai for me for a long, long time - it was some of the best Pad Thai that I've ever had.

40 THB ($1.31 USD) ruined my chances of finding comparable Pad Thai in DC.

Now to be fair, the mere allure and excitement of my surrounding environment certainly heighten my sensations and most likely, automatically enhanced the positive memories. So for "scientific purposes" (was this really the best Pad Thai ever?), I had to, you know, go back again...two days later.

But why this vendor? Why him among all of the other food stalls?

Bright vibrant colors and fresh looking ingredients

Colorful blue bowls with rich purple onions, bright orange shrimp. Fresh juicy limes. Freshly cut chives. Seeing those colorful  ingredients was the foreplay of this dance and my mind was building together the meal before it was ever even made.

Color matters. It's not a deal breaker but rich vibrant colors are only going to help you - a rich sensory display to get her mouth watering.


Prep then cook

The cook wasn't chopping then sautéing then slicing then searching for spices, it was all in front of him, ready to go. So prep first. Lay it all out. The actual cooking part requires timing and (probably some concentration), food prep doesn't. So prep first and make her your sous chef.


Interactive cooking

Three aisles down, there were bowls upon bowls of Pad Thai. Sitting there, steaming hot, waiting to be purchased and eaten. I was certainly hungry so why didn't I just choose those pre-made dishes?

The Pad-Thai-to-ruin-all-other-Pad-Thai was made right in front of me...in like 3 minutes. It's awesome to see a cook in action. Sautéing a heap of onions, wilting the rice noodles. Egg cooking separately.  A handful of chives, a scoop of dried shrimp, and a splash of sauce. It was art. 3-minute, 40-THB art.

Do the same when you have her over for dinner. In this reader poll, most dates wanted to see the person cooking the dinner. They don't want it to be 100% complete when the door is open. There's no build up. Have some appetizers ready and pour two glasses of wine. If she offers to be your sous chef, great. Otherwise, I'm sure she'll have no problem having wine and eating cheese and fresh bread as she watches a guy cook for her. 

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