Thursday, March 02, 2017

This summer I'm hoping to get a dog, and once I do it will be harder for me to travel, so I decided I had better take the Trip of a Lifetime beforehand. This was supposed to slide neatly in between deadlines for my new novel, although that didn't quite work and I ended up having to submit the latest draft from a guesthouse in Mae Hong Son. I've just arrived in Penang after nine days in northern Thailand.

The best thing I ate in Thailand, out of 79 separate dishes, was nam prik ong at Sorn Chai in Chiang Mai. I heard about Sorn Chai from the EatingAsia blog, who evoke it better than I can. I was emotionally shaken by this nam prik ong.

The worst thing I ate in Thailand was nam phia at Laap Chiang Mai which is not in Chiang Mai but in Mae Hong Son. This is an algae-green condiment drawn from the rumen of a cow. It was the most unpleasant thing I've ever been served in a restaurant context, worse than the boiled silkworm pupae soup I once had at Han Shin Pocha in Queens, worse even than Fernet Branca. However, I would still recommend Laap Chiang Mai! You don't have to eat the nam phia, and it came as part of a pretty memorable meal: raw laap, nam phrik kha, and pork intestines straight from the barbecue (which was placed out in front of the shop, practically in the road, like an attractive hitchhiker trying to wave down drivers).

I don't have much else of value to offer, because the best places I ate fell into one of two categories: either 1. I heard about it from EatingAsia, Austin Bush, or Eating Thai Food, who are all much more knowledgeable than I am; or 2. I took a punt on a place and loved the food but had no way of finding out the name because I don't read or speak Thai.

Among the latter I would count many of the best som tams (papaya salads) I had, such as the one pictured below, from a place on Thanon Panglor Nikom in Mae Hong Son. I like my som tam like I like my Scotch – flabbergastingly pungent – and these did not disappoint. It was only in the cab to the airport at the end of my time in Thailand that I learned how to request that style – "som tam pu pla ra" – but I was generally able to accomplish the same thing by gesturing frantically at the jar of salted black crabs.

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