The point of Thai Food

20 10 2009

Over on the For Forks’ Sake blog, the author poses a bit of a conundrum, what’s the point of Thai food, and he compares it to a popular weekend prime-time goggle-box viewing Strictly Come Dancing.

In many respects I see where 4FS is coming from. Thai food is more often defined in terms of what it’s not, than what it is. Thai food isn’t Indian, though it can be spicy and the Thais and Indians share a passion for herbs, spices and fresh flavours that give exotic undertones to their food. Thai food isn’t Japanese, though both cuisines use much more fish than many others. Thai isn’t as niche as Vietnamese or Malay whose restaurants have yet to penetrate much further than odd pockets outside the metropolis. And finally it’s not Chinese, though they both make use of the same styles of cooking such as steaming, deep frying and stir frying which make them closer than we might imagine.

It’s easy to see then, how 4FS feels ill at ease with Thai food. Given the ubiquity of food from the part of the globe east of Europe, and how ingrained it is into our collective psyche, it’s clear we’re more comfortable with things that have a definite provenance. In their own ways India, China and to some extent Japan have been a part of British culture for approaching a couple of hundred years. In the Fusion Food post yesterday, I discussed some cuisines that had adapted themselves to the Western palate. The Balti and the Tikka Massala being examples of Anglo-Indian (subcontinent) food: similarly chow mein (although invented in the USA rather than Europe) is an example if Westernisation of techniques and ingredients from the Far East.

And this is perhaps the point. Who cannot enter a Chinese or Indian restaurant and choose the evening’s feast with much more than a cursory glance at the dishes. Words such as aloo, dhal, saag, Kung Po, wonton and the like are utterly familiar. The average Briton probably knows upwards of fifty words from the Indian subcontinent without realising (aside of course from borrowings such as khaki) through avid study of restaurant menus. On the other hand Thai can seem completely removed from one’s experience, who can argue that for most people, taeng kva, thua ngork, or tod mun are as familiar as a rogan josh or sweet and sour dish.

To return (finally!) to 4FS’s analogy, Thai food is indeed somewhat like Strictly Come Dancing, in other ways not. Latterly we have seen the muscular and overpowering contender voted off, and unlike Calzaghe, Thai food should be delicate and considered. The archetypal safe and ultimately mundane oxo-mum has similarly left the building. Unlike what Bellingham represents Thai food should be exciting, intriguing, and offer a window into the sort of exotica with which we are unfamiliar. With the departure of Grande Dame Arlene, Thai cuisine is a departure from the old and comfy.

OK, so I’ve laboured and stretched a point probably beyond recognition; I agree with 4FS that sometimes it’s hard to see the point. Luckily around these parts we are spoiled by several good Thai restaurants, and each time I go to one it evokes the same frisson that I felt the first time I went to a “foreign” eatery. Each time I discover another unlikely confluence of consonants that translates into an exciting taste experience.

For me, that’s the point.

Thanks to the For Forks’ Sake for giving me the idea, and you gentle reader for putting up with my drivel!


Cooking, Grand Designs and Randomness…

11 10 2009

Well blogosphere… the mini meatloaves went down a storm, and made tasty leftovers AND left over enough raw mix to freeze to have nearly the same again at a later date! Three meals out of a bit of onion, carrot and beef – bargayno! Of course in true stewpot stylee I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe a little… maybe check it out in another post!

It’s been a funny old week – in between bouts of cooking and kicking back, it’s been conference/budget/2010 preparation for work too, which has been in turns, arduous, boring, irritating and fun – in unequal and somewhat random measures. Caught up with a few field-based colleagues I’d not spoken to in a while, reminisced about the “good old days” (though nostalgia isn’t what it used to be you know), and had a drunken chat with my manager (he was drunk, me not so).

Visit to Grand Designs Birmingham on Friday – very disappointing unfortunately. More and more like a Sunday market with people trying to flog the cheese graters, mandolines, juicers and all the other gadgetry that you sometimes find in those irritating five-minute “infomercials”. I think that Grand Designs has really lost its way this year – maybe due to the financial climate, maybe due to underpolicing of the entry criteria. Sadly ironic was having the Jean-Christophe Novelli restaurant (very swish!) right next to some barker yelling “it chops, it grates, it slices – 123 and the flap comes off for easy washing. I’m not going to charge you twenty quid, I won’t charge you a tenner.. if you bought this off the telly it would cost you…. ” and so forth. Just seems a little wrong.

Also wrong was the cookery demo stand – bright shiny Gaggenau appliances (hard to imagine any more expensive and luxury brand of appliances for the UK) bang next to the “Discount Appliance Centre” replete in all its glory with tacky sticky-on letters of the type you use on wheelie bins (and all of them not quite in line with each other). Looking down the list of demos, only one name that I recognised, John Burton Race – all the rest were from various restaurants in Brum – have to say the one I watched while my colleague dipped off to the ladies’ room was uninspiring – any passion he used to have in food had clearly evaporated.

Quo vadis Grand Designs? The paramedics are working hard on the defibrilator to try and pull you round… but it seems to me you’re getting drawn to the light at the end of the dark tunnel and it could be wings and a harp for you if things don’t change. Just a hint, if you get there, don’t try and tell St Peter that a mock tudor portico would add a few grand to the value of his property if he just got rid of those démodé pearly gates.. eternity is a long time you know…

It’s been a while…

8 10 2009

Well blogfans (if you have reached plural numbers reading this!)… It’s been a while since stewpot’s bloggy thing had the champers broken on its pointy end and the old gel slid down the greasy ironwork into the virgin sea to start its life. Have I had any particular insights since then? Er… Nope. Has anything monumental happened (apart from the ritual humiliation of sales conference time) er… Nope. Have I partaken of any fine Cava and export strength gin? Er.. Well actually yes… I have also been cooking miniature meatloaves and soufflés (not miniature soufflés) and am currently experimenting with brining as a marinade for Saturday’s evening feast. More of all these when I’m back at the laptop not trying to rewrite War and Peace on an iPod touchpad.

Okay, so this is the first…

5 10 2009

dearly belovèd, we are gathered there today to enjoy a moment with the first ever real post to Stewpot’s bloggything… It’s not big, and it’s not clever (much like the owner) but it is mine own dear reader! Not that there are any readers…. nope.. none… I’ve got the analytics to prove it too! This is a hapax logomenon of a blog… googlewhacked if you will….  Previous attempts at keeping diaries (aged 8, 12 and 19) failed dismally after a week or so, so who can say how long this will last! Enjoy gentle reader while you might… if not… move on… I will have!