Saturday, December 30, 2006

Meal 39. Thai Thom Yum Kung

When I see all the ingredients Bibi has gathered around her to prepare the Thai meal, I am seriously intimidated. I give up ever recreating this meal before she has even started. When she tells me she's planning to open a Thai restaurant, I feel somewhat better...I'm dealing with a professional here.

Like Mike (from my Chinese meal), Bibi is a "European" name, as her Thai name is too long and complicated to pronounce for most Westerners.
Most Thai have a nickname, and even the
kings are not known by their full name! Bibi says:"We just call them King nr. 5 or King nr. 9."

The official name for Bangkok is so long, there's even a special song to help you remember is. Mostly it's just called Krung Thep, which roughly translates into "City of Angels". Anyway, Bibi isn't even from Bangkok!

While I'm helping her remove the heads of the big shrimp for our soup, she explains how she needs to be in a good mood while cooking: "I have to be in a good mood for the food to taste good! If I'm in a bad mood, the dishes somehow always turn out too salty or too sweet..."

I'd never heard that before!

As she is cooking for non-Thai, Bibi has been so nice as to adapt the level of hotness to our tastes. She says what we are eating is "children's level". She herself always brings a little box of chili powder whenever she's eating out or at a restaurant. This way, she can surreptitiously add a bit of spice to the dishes that taste very bland to her.

But even within Thai adults there is a variation in what people can stand. Bibi's aunt cooks such spicy food that Bibi's father will not accept dinner invitations to her home anymore!

Our meal starts with little snacks; egg rolls, meat patties and frothy omelet. The omelet is so airy because it's poured into the pan from great heights...Bibi jokes:"We will pour it from the second floor, if we want it to be really light!"

The spicy Thom Yum Kung, brings a nice flush to my cheeks and every spoonful springs a new surprise of mushrooms, coriander or shrimp. Somehow I find it impossible to make good pictures of the food this time. Especially of the main dish, white rice with Beef Curry Matsaman. This is a special recipe, originally only eaten in the King's Palace, according to Bibi. "Every dish has a story in Thailand."

I feel blessed to be able to taste it on this cold rainy winter day in Holland.

As a final lesson, Bibi shows me how to make a spring roll with a napkin (photo at right). I still feel as if I'm in a course about Shakespeare before even learning the alphabet! If she does indeed open a restaurant, I will be the first visitor.

Click here for a simplified recipe for Thom Yum Kung.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Meal 38. Burkina Faso Chicken Gizzards

Moussa is my host tonight, from Burkina Faso, "the land of good people". As happens more and more often during this project, I have to admit I've never consciously met anybody from this country before. When Moussa hears me speak in French, he exclaims "Ah! It's as if you I'm hearing a Mossi woman speaking! Your accent is exactly the same as the Mossi ethnicity in Burkina!" Somehow the mix of French learnt at school and while travelling in Africa, mixed with Dutch and American accents, led to a similar way of speaking...
I was warned that Moussa is a very good cook, but that he has a penchant for using "organ meat", a first for this project, I must say. So it is no surprise to see what (as a veterinarian, not as a consumer) I recognize as chicken stomachs, also known as gizzards in proper English. They are being marinated in oil, vinegar, onions, garlic and salt.
While I get a complete workshop in how to prepare Burkinese food, Moussa tells me more about his childhood. While he is the oldest son of a large family, he was raised by his great-grandmother, "the woman who has loved me most in life".
"She always gave me everything, we were so attached, that when I slept, she slept. When I awoke, she got up as well!"
But all good things come to an his case, when his great-grandmother died, at the ripe old age of 106. He found it hard to cope without her.
By this time I have not only learnt how to marinate gizzards, but lamb as well. And how to fry plantain, aloko.
I have to say, the gizzards are pretty tasty, and I appreciate their chewiness. The plantains are also good, but not new to me, as the gizzards are and the Lamb with Peanut Sauce. I knew there were countries in Africa where peanutsauce was popular (from a favorite "graphic novel", Aya de Youpogon, which plays in Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso's relatively rich neighbour).
After a surprisingly delicious meal, it's time for tea. This involves a gunpowder tea, mint leaves, a tiny tea kettle and the pouring of tea from great heights, dozens of times! The end result is a very strong "men's tea". It's like a stiff drink, and keeps some people up all night. Moussa tells me, in Burkina Faso the men get excited and call out: "Ataya, ataya!" when the tea is brought out. I can imagine the scene, somehow.

For those who are adventurous and can find gizzards at their local butcher: here is the very simple recipe.