Welcome to The Life Change Blog. An ongoing collection of articles about Life Change and Thailand.
Almost everything is strange in Thailand; you pay your electricity bill at the 7 Eleven convenience store where at the same time, if you feel a bit peckish, you can buy a hamburger with a bun made from sticky rice. I can ride my motorbike without a crash helmet the wrong way up a one way street and wave at a policeman and not even raise an eyebrow. Foreigners are tested for Elephantitus before work permits are issued (so John Hurt wouldn’t get one) and if I really wanted to freak myself out I could toddle down to my local baker and buy a sweet sausage roll covered in chocolate sauce.
Over time it’s easy to become blasé about the strangeness of Thailand and in so doing overlook the truly exceptional, and you have to admit that putting one of the most exquisite and expensive shellfish in an omelette and selling it as cheap street food is pretty exceptional by any standards. It’s like discovering that Mc Donald’s are serving Caviar Burgers, and giving you a choice between coke or a half bottle of champagne with your Happy Meal.
For some quirk of fate the only other dish that is traditionally served from the ubiquitous Phad Thai street carts are Oyster Omelettes. Phad Thai, as I’m sure you know is basically just stir fried noodles. It’s the national dish and literally means “Fry Thai” and you can order it everywhere from up market restaurants where it will arrive decorated with succulent giant shrimps and intricately carved vegetables, to little street carts at the side of the road that serve it on plastic plates. But, it’s the lesser known option from these little carts which really gets me excited.
The omelette is typical of Thai street food; prepared in seconds and cooked over a fiercely high heat until the edges turn crispy. It’s either made with oysters or mussels and if you’re lucky sometimes both. Like its cousin Phad Thai, it’s usually cooked with some bright green chopped spring onions which work really well with all the other flavours and look amazing next to the splash of bright red sweet chilli sauce.
The softness of the plump little ozone oysters and the crispiness of the alkaline omelette are a perfectly balanced combination of textures and flavours. It’s like Disney World for your taste buds. It really does make you feel happy. As I’m writing this I can’t wait to eat another one. It’s like getting off Big Thunder Mountain and immediately queuing again for another ride. It’s mood altering without all the fuss of taking drugs.
It took me ages, and many burnt frying pans of gloop to realise there was a secret ingredient to this simple looking dish. Adding oysters by themselves to an omelette adds unwanted liquid which quickly turns everything into an unpleasant kind of boiled oyster and egg sludge. It’s a million miles away from the delicately balanced flavours and crispy texture achieved from the street carts.
I asked some Thai friends what the secret was and they didn’t really know what I was talking about. “Why would you want to cook your own when you can buy it on every street corner?” Good question and one that I don’t really have an answer for, but never the less the desire to cook it myself burns inside me like a sizzling steak on a griddle pan.
Do you think there is a law in Thailand which prevents foreigners hanging around Phad Thai carts? I hope not. I wondered whether the Phad Thai guy at my local market was going to get an injunction against me.
Eventually after several hundred orders (well a lot anyway) and many surreptitious glances stovewards I discovered the secret. I am happy to reveal that the secret ingredient is tapioca flour! On further investigation I discovered there are specially prepared brands of Thai flour made from blends of tapioca flour and corn flour that crafty cooks add to all kinds of things to make them light and crisp.
So next time you’re feeling like you need a little “pick me up” don’t go for the Prozac and all those other sinister SSRI’s, give your Life Coach and Counselor a miss and simply seek out the Phad Thai street carts in Chiang Mai (believe me its worth the trip) and just say the magic words “Hoi Tod” and you will receive a meal in moments that will change your life. Make sure you ask for it crispy with the sweet chilli sauce on the side. Do be warned though, you will want another one, but don’t worry it’s perfectly legal. I hope.
Hope you enjoy these Life Change Blog articles. Happy eating.
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