Thailand: Come hungry

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If you’re into food, I’m not sure there’s a better travel destination than Thailand. From a culinary standpoint, this country is a goldmine. Not only is the food here delectable, it is also astonishingly affordable. I arrived in Bangkok in mid-December, weary from two months of travel in India. Within moments, however, the culinary delights of this new country had me reinvigorated.

Before I even checked into my hotel, I began sampling the street foods – pad Thai, mango sticky rice, fresh fruit shakes. The sheer volume of fruit in Thailand is enough to make your head spin. Mango, banana, pineapple, papaya, watermelon… the list goes on and on. I began to feel incomplete if I went a day without a fresh fruit shake.

My travels in the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” took me to all the usual tourist spots – Bangkok, the islands in the south, and Chiang Mai in the north. If you ever get to Thailand and are as fanatical about food as I am, then the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is not to be missed. They close down Ratchadamnoen Road to traffic and pedestrians can stroll from one end to the other, buy a silk scarf or other regional handicraft, and sample an array of local foods from sweet to savory.

On the savory end of the scale, there was grilled corn-on-the-cob, skewered fish and chicken on the grill, pad Thai made-to-order, and a unique selection of deep-fried insects. I never got daring enough to try these, but friends who did said they were simply “crunchy.” I’ll take their word for it.

My travels through Southeast Asia will take me briefly back through Thailand. Needless to say, my stomach is already grumbling in anticipation. So if you’re looking for a food-based holiday, consider Thailand…

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To travel is to eat

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If you’re anything like me, then you believe that one of the main reasons to travel is to experience new cuisines. I’ve had my fair share of variety on this trip so far, and I haven’t even left India yet. I began my culinary adventures at an ashram in Varanasi, where the food was reliable, but not very exciting. By the end of my month-long stay there I was happy to leave curried vegetables and white rice behind. Since then I’ve sampled many other kinds of Indian cuisine. This country is enormous, so it’s not surprising that there is a wide variety of food.

Even though I’ve not traveled to the south, dishes from this region are delicious, dosas in particular, a kind of crêpe filled with potatoes and other vegetables. I am also now a full-fledged fan of Tibetan cuisine, which I discovered in Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. There is one restaurant in particular there, Gakyi, which serves momos (dumplings) to die for, and Tibetan brown bread that I now crave daily. I tried to ask for the recipe, but to no avail. Guess I will have to experiment when I return home.

On more than one occasion, I have been told that Kashmir is a must-see destination, and Kashmiri food alone was enough to convince me. Favorites from this region include Kashmiri naan, naan filled with dried fruit and nuts, and Kashmiri tea, a delightful concoction of tea, black or green, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and a hint of saffron. This I have been shown how to make by my Kashmiri friends, and I plan to make it a staple of my diet upon my return.

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to experience its cuisine. It is also a great way to connect with people. Everyone eats, and there is nothing like sharing a meal to bring people from all walks of life together. So as you travel, don’t forget that to refuse a meal or a taste of something new, you might also be missing out on a chance to connect with new friends. Bon appétit!..

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