Last week I concluded my Thailand At Work mini series with Village Noodles a post about one of Wonderful Wi’s relations who was struggling to earn a living in their village by selling noodles and spicy papaya salad. In early June Wilai’s aunt finally gave up on her cooking venture and headed back to Bangkok and her previous employment at a flower pot factory. For the past six weeks Wilai has been cooking up a storm after taking over the reins at her Aunt Sawn’s premises.
Wi has been working seven days a week cooking noodles and preparing papaya pok pok (som tum or som tam) plus a few extra dishes and business has been excellent. On good days Wi is taking over 500 baht in sales but she is now starting to suffer from her long 70 hour working weeks with my telephone conversations with her often hearing the normally bubbly village lass complain:
‘ Hus…band, me wery wery tired…mark mark.’
Mid week business is fairly quiet and I have now convinced Wilai to rest from Monday to Thursday and only work the much busier weekends.
To the village women and indeed throughout Thailand som tum is the British equivalent of the BLT sandwich or bacon buttie and is an any time of day snack to be shared with family and friends giving the ladies a chance to catch up on all the news and gossip over a plateful of spicy Thai salad. To most men its a water to the eyes, don’t touch your flies type of gelignite dish that’s best avoided on a full bladder or an even slightly susceptible stomach.
Gunpowder’s quick burning mix of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate is more than matched by som tums blend of green papaya, red chillies, garlic, fish sauce, tomatoes and sugar to give a real som (sour) tum taste that can be so spicy that it would have had Guy Fawkes reconsidering the formula of his gunpowder receipe.
The Thai dishes pictured above are a typical sight in many Isaan village homes as families gather to discuss the day’s events and watch TV soaps. Grilled chicken, som tum and sticky rice is probably one of the most common meals I see when staying at our village house although fish often replaces the crisp cooked poultry.
The spicy salad is a real social dish and when I see groups of young Thai women sharing the spoils it never ceases to remind me of their western counterparts chatting over a mid morning coffee or early evening glass of wine after leaving the office behind. The grapevine is fed by shredded papaya and birds eye chillies.
Wilai’s papaya pok pok sells at just ten baht a dish and I wonder when the tourist spots of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket last saw the dish available at such low costs. Thailand’s resort prices (20 – 30 baht ) are still extremely cheap when put on a comparison with London, take a look at the prices of the Thai appetizer listed below. At those prices the dish should be authentic and the burn to your tongue as deep as the one in your wallet.
- Mango Tree Restaurant – Grosvenor Place SW1 £6.00
- Som Tum Thai – Southeast Portland £6.50
- Yum Yum Thai Restaurant – Stoke Newington High St. NI6 £8.10
Spicy food is very popular here in the UK with Thai restaurants ranking behind Indian restaurants in the UK’s choice of foreign eateries but certainly not lagging behind pricewise.
The meal in the photo on the right was savoured in a riverside restaurant in Nong Khai, north east Thailand and included an out of shot tom yum soup. The cost which included a bottle of beer was less than £10, proving what great value Thailand is especially outside of the tourist hotspots. London looks a real bum deal when compared to this.
If you are taking your first trip to the Land of Smiles and find a dish of som tum set before you, the finger licking style of Thai eating might be best avoided, otherwise a journey to the hong nam (toilet) may turn into a voyage of painful discovery. Those red hot chillies have a tendency to stain fingers and burn any delicate items they may touch. Be warned.
To make your own som tum then click on this link to Thai Recipes.
Photograph Isaan meal by Takeaway
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