My family thinks I’m stalking Andy Ricker. I wouldn’t say I’m stalking him, although, I’ll let you make that call later, but I’ll admit I am slightly obsessed. I feel as though I’m following a few steps behind him through Chiang Mai, My Places on google maps mirroring his Instagram feed.
I will say that I am extremely envious, and not because his Pok Pok NY has a newly minted Michelin Star, or that his cats are so much more photogenic than mine (that MAY play into it a bit . . . why can’t Jack stick his tongue out JUST ONCE for a pic?)
More because he can walk through a Thai market, and if there is something he doesn’t know (which is highly unlikely), he can ask the vendor what it is and how to cook it. He can describe the Thai dishes on his Instagram feed, without using any Thai food cliches like “it was awesome!” “so spicy!!”
It’s been a long time since I’ve lived somewhere where I often have no idea what the ingredients are in the bowl in front of me. It takes me back to my first night ever in Asia, Tokyo, September 1985, I refused to go to the Shakey’s pizza in the lobby of my hotel (some of you fellow English teachers can remember that lovely Takadanobaba Hotel? I bet Rick Kondo can even remember the name and his room number, I can't even remember the name of the school where we worked), instead, I went to a conveyor belt sushi bar where this cruel, and most likely drunk, salaryman next to me treated me to a plate of natto. I know he did it just to see what it it would be like for a gaijin throw up all over the counter. I had no idea what it was, but I politely shoved the whole thing in my mouth (at least I didn’t further embarrass myself by trying to bite it in half) and, I did NOT fulfill his fantasy, I kept it down. Twenty years later, I had the best natto ever, at an izakaya in Shinsaibashi where they beat the egg yoke, no white, until frothy, added the natto, more beating, just the right amount of karashi and shoyu . . . perfect with a chilled Dewazakura.
After over 30 years spent working, eating and drinking my way through Japan, both as an English teacher and a "sarary-uman", some late night crash courses at the Takahiro Kitchen Table (my fondest memories of Japan), Friday nights at the counter of Rikimaru,
and by following my Williams-Sonoma Japan coworkers around some of the best markets and restaurants from Sapporo to Fukuoka (and more than a few bowls of excellent ramen), I can do what Andy can do in Thailand, anywhere in Japan (except for the cooking part). I can navigate any Japanese market or restaurant.
So here I am, planning our first big road trip since Zeke’s little adventure, and I find myself stalking Andy Ricker (ok, there, I admit it), through his Instagram feed, saving My Place stars around Mae Hong Son. Now, at least, I can read the names of the restaurants written in Thai, but I still don’t have any idea what the dishes are or what’s in them. What the heck is alawa?? Ask me in two weeks. I may know how it tastes, but I probably still won’t have any idea what’s in it.
So, thanks to Andy, any restaurant I talk about on this blog, I can’t take any credit for finding. Just look for the #thankyouandyricker. I can’t take credit for the old school (literally, since the restaurant is in an old schoolhouse complete with chalkboards and beautifully yellowed photos of the royal family lining the walls) kanom jeen all-you-can-eat buffet,
or the amazing stewed pork, cowboy hat lady (click on the pic for her YouTube clip),
or my introduction to Thailand’s world-class coffee at Ahka Ama, and Yes!, Phad Thai #5 near McCormick Hospital IS the perfect balance of not-too-sweet, salty and a hint of spicy (and I love how they wrap it up in a banana leaf).
The list goes on and on. Oh, and how could I forget? Andy’s happy place with the dirt floor, complete with the Thai Mom owner, with whom you can magically communicate, without sharing a common language, with the best ne muu kai. I can only remember how to say this dish because it sounds like I’m asking a Japanese toddler if they're sleepy, nemui ka? (I can rarely get a pic before Frank starts to devour everything),
or the fried tilapia with red curry that Frank and I were lucky enough to sample in May before the restaurant closed its doors (figurative doors, since none of the above restaurants actually have doors).
Although, I think I found better chicken than S&B out here in Mae Rim,
and now that kai jiao is my family’s favorite Thai comfort food (my daughters say the ones at school are the best), I can say, the one I had at Pok Pok LA in June, the first bite made me wish I had ordered at least 3 for the drive back to SF.
So, Andy, if I would ever be so lucky as to catch your attention, the invitation is always open. Next time you’re in Chiang Mai, hit dalaad siriwattana with Frank and get one of those hunks of pork he’s been drooling over, the one with the skin attached, the one that is too big for just our family, and come out to Mae Rim and cook, eat and drink, you and Frank can talk pork, charcoal and cookbooks. OK, I might pick your brain a little about some of the stuff we’ve found in the markets here, like the eggs they serve with the stewed pork, the huge, golden, soft boiled eggs,
that I unknowingly bought from my fried chicken lady at the roundabout village, who proceeded to inspect them, holding them up to the light, discarding a few, before she sold me her last six eggs. I half expected them to hatch as soon as I got them home. Instead I soft boiled them and they were those eggs! Huge, yokes the color of a neen's robe,
creamy and so delicious, perfect for my girls’ breakfast soba. These are no ordinary chicken eggs, and too small for duck . . . What the heck are they??
Oh, and can you please bring me a bottle of Tumeric Som?? I've been hooked since trying it at Pok Pok Noi last April. I'll have some pblaatuu for Jamuk and Yindee.