When warm weather hits, there’s nothing I want more than Southeast Asian food. I want all the chili, all the lime juice, cilantro, Thai basil and green onion, palm sugar, brown sugar, fish sauce, peanuts, shrimp. I don’t care where in Southeast Asia my meal is from, nor do I care whether it’s stuffed inside translucent tacky skins of rice paper, flash blazed in a hot wok, or served cold with crunchy cabbage leaves. I want it all, insatiably, want my kitchen littered with red onion skins, my fingers rank with garlic’s stink. I want take-out pork grilled so that it’s sour and sweet and above all hot with tiny half moons of chili that sear the tender skin beneath my nose.
Not far from where we live, there’s a park whose real name no one really knows – we all just call it Thai Park. On weekends when the weather is nice, women and men set up small stands and cook. They sit on the ground or in low chairs with their makeshift hot plates and equipment, sauces lined up in plastic bottles, pre-made noodles and curries quickly heated in oil and a hot skillet. There’s crispy-fried fish, eyes crusty with panko, there are summer rolls and fresh dumplings, steamed buns, wok-shook vegetables with peanut sauce, pork belly fried with a toothy crunch of cartilage, spicy soups and salads quickly tossed together, dressed with liquid from those mysterious unmarked plastic bottles.
There’s tapioca pudding cool with coconut, milky Thai iced teas and coffee, steamed sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves and slices of sugared mango and mint.
You see? It’s all I can think about, these flavors that heat you up and cool you down, that fill you up and keep you wanting more.
What started this season’s obsession was nothing more than a routine trip to the Asian grocery store to pick up a new bottle of fish sauce and some tahini paste. » Continue reading this post…