It would be appropriate to say that it was my taste buds that led me to Thailand.
I remember the day when I first tasted Thai Red Curry in a restaurant in Delhi.
The chef inside me had a culinary awakening.
The mild, citrus and exotic flavour of the Thai red curry, the lilting fragrance of the blend of herbs and coconut milk made my knees go weak.
The feeling was akin to finding a treasure by accident.
But since I had no idea about what spices constitute this scintillating flavour, I assumed it was not possible to cook it at home.
When I reached Thailand, I was expecting to be greeted by this flavor. Much to my disappointment, I never got to see it mentioned anywhere on the menu at street shops. Over the course of biking around for two weeks in Thailand, I felt a bit dejected inside and wished for Indian food instead.
But where would I find Indian food in rural Thailand?
Two days ago, I went to a bicycle shop in Chiang Mai to tune up my bike.
In passing, the shop owner mentioned that there was an Indian restaurant close by. My nose pointed to the direction of the restaurant like a compass. Soon I found myself sitting with a plate of Vegetable Pulao, Dal Makhani and a buttery-soft Naan.
The first bite felt like homecoming.
Oh the perfect blend of spices from home!
Cumin spluttered at the perfect temperature, the hint of ginger julliennes and flakes of Kasoori Methi bringing the Basmati rice to life. A dollop of cream on dal simmered slowly overnight garnished with coriander.
I ate with a joy I didn’t expect to emanate from me. Funnily enough, I found myself to be patriotic in that moment!
Disillusioned by the prospect of finding the Thai red curry, I was ready to make peace with our own diverse cooking style back home.
But the chef in me still clung on to hope.
That night I got biking around Chiang Mai to discover the city. To my delight, I found a local roadside eatery labelled as Vegetarian-Vegan Friendly.
I walked in, hoping to find what led me to the country in the first place.
I looked at the menu and there it was :
Thai red curry with brown rice: 60 Baht
I ordered and waited patiently.
As the food was served, I could already smell the flavor I had experienced in Delhi.
The first spoonful felt like arrival!
The melange of coconut milk with the perfectly compatible combination of Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime leaf and Galangal spiced to perfection with obliquely slit red chillies.
That was the moment when I truly felt,
‘I’m in the Thailand that I always dreamt of’
I ate with a smile all throughout. The three lady chefs behind the counter knew what a difference they’d made to my day!
‘Aroy!'(Delicious in Thai) I complimented from my table.
They accepted it with giggles and grace.
Sitting back at the hostel after the meal, I wondered about the unsolicited culinary delight the day had turned out to be.
India and Thailand have had historical connections that can be traced back into many millennia. They’re long lost brothers belonging to the same family in a sense.
Much like Ginger and Galangal.
Ginger is a staple spice in the Indian household. Its earthy, strong and spicy flavour lends many Indian dishes a distinctive taste.
While Galangal, from the same family as ginger, looks similar but has a completely contrasting flavor. A much used ingredient in Northern Thai cuisine, it has an aromatic and citrus flavor with a signature aftertaste.
Today, through food,
I found myself in India while being far away from home
But I also found myself right in the heart of Thailand, courtesy the Thai Red Curry.
Now, I wonder where am I,
At home or at the destination that I seeked far away from home?
I am at neither.
I am just,
at the right place!