Thailand is obsessed with food, and nowhere more so than Bangkok. Days after I should have processed my visa for Laos and moved on, I linger here waddling from one food stand to the next. I’ve got good at casing plates of food as I sidle by, and pointing at anything that looks promising: ‘Same-same. One.’
Even in Bangkok where tourists scurry like cockroaches, street vendors still seem tickled when foreigners sit down with them rather than enduring another banana pancake at the guesthouse. Last night, I spotted a family dipping goodies into a hotpot on a tabletop charcoal brazier.
‘Sukiyaki. Beef.’ said the stallholder.
Sukiyaki. Just like the Korean barbeque places on 32nd St.
‘Same-same. One. And one Tiger beer.’
First they brought a brazier, then an earthenware pot of broth. A plate of vermicelli, cabbage leaves, holy basil and chilis followed. Then—oh sweet Jesus—a plate of raw tripe, cartilage, and tendon. The tripe was yellow like old net curtains, and the cartilage had the look of long slices of quince jelly. But I knew it wasn’t.
At the next table, the family whose dinner I ordered became enthusiastic. They crowded around to show me how to pick up the tripe and cartilage on a slotted spoon and cook it in the bubbling soup, adding the garnishes at the end. They smiled and nodded as they waited for me to pronounce on my first delicious bite. As I choked down the gluey mouthful, I caught sight of a handsome Swedish couple pointing at my dish from a few tables over.
‘Ah. We try. Same-same. Two.’
I smiled at my new Thai friends and said nothing to the Swedes. Hell, I can’t afford real dinner theater.