Have you seen the Sienfeld episode, “Can you Spare a Square”? In Sienfeld they were talking about toilet paper - however in Thailand - I’m referring to a napkin. Thailand has this weird mix: the spiciest food, and the smallest napkins. This may not seem like an issue, however, when your sinuses are running like a faucet due to the spicy food; you need more than a tiny napkin. A little stack of paper napkins sits on each dinner table, but when you grab one to try to plug up your gushing sinuses, you realize that they were no bigger than a square of toilet paper AND they were one ply! I couldn’t understand this…were they so budget-conscious that they didn’t want people wasting them? Did Thai people have some way of eating without needing to use a napkin? It baffled me for weeks. I would order my food spicy and leave a little mountain of crumpled up napkins at my table. It was kind of embarrassing, actually.
Regardless of the deficient napkin size, I got braver and braver with the spiciness factor when ordering. There was something very addictive about the spices there. I normally don’t love hot food, but in Thailand I found myself craving it. There are two types of food in Thailand: food made for Caucasian tourists, and then there’s Thai food. The tourist versions have the same names as the Thai food, but they’re missing one thing - the true Thai spice.
Sure - you can order curry and it will even say on the menu that it’s spicy (normally denoted by a star or chili pepper), and it will even taste rather spicy to our bland palettes. You will be completely satisfied thinking that you are eating real Thai food, but you aren’t. They’ve really left out about 80% of the chilies that they put in curry for Thai people. I’m talking about the kind of spice that clears your sinuses in mere seconds. It leaves your lips and tongue numb and it leaves your wimpy stomach in a knotty, nauseous mess a few hours after eating. This is real Thai food. At restaurants they call this Thai Spicy, if you want this intoxicating authentic experience - you order your curry ‘Thai spicy’ and know that you are getting authentic Thai food. However, I strongly suggest that you bring your own napkins.
I was fortunate; I was introduced to the concept of Thai Spicy on my Hill Tribe Trek with my guide “Hay.” He was so excited to cook for me because I was willing to try anything – even the rat that that villagers caught and ate. Yes, it tasted like chicken. After the Hill Tribe Trek - I was no longer satisfied with eating at tourist places - I was on a quest - a quest for the real Thai food. However - there were a few problems with this quest - it meant that I needed to bring my own napkins, and I needed a stomach of Teflon.