Pancakes, Tonkatsu and a Sunset

It’s Saturday, so let’s have a food entry, shall we?  Not that we need any excuse for a food entry.

Pancakes

A notable aspect of Thai culture is the snacking.  There are always vendors handy selling food and Thais, not unlike Hobbits, eat many more meals in a day than the typical three.  Why do they do it?  Without a doubt, the answer has something to do with how fun it is to snack.

For the most part, Thais maintain their skinny figure because they aren’t over-eating, just nibbling a little here, a little there.  Most of these snacks are pretty healthy, too.  And since snacking is even more fun when it is done with others, they share their snacks with friends and don’t eat nearly as much that way.

From time to time, non-Thai foods manage to find their way into the snacking scene, probably with not so good results on the waistline.  Waffles are one example.  Many of the Skytrain stations have vendors who sell these small, yeast dough waffles.  They’re very sweet.

Then there are the crepe vendors.  We’ve started to see these over the past few years.  It is a take on the Japanese version of French crepes: cooked very dry and then rolled into a cone shape and filled with either sweet or savory fillings.  No Nutella here, though.

This week, though, I saw the strangest thing: one of the crepe vendors was actually making pancakes.  Yes, yes – I know that crepes are a type of pancake.  But these were big, thick, American-style pancakes.

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Surprised, I stopped and asked if I could take a picture.  She just looked at me like I was an alien but didn’t say no, so I snapped away.  I was on my way to lunch so I didn’t buy one and try it.  But I’ve now seen her twice in front of the Thong Lo post office, so I’ll have to go back and see what flavor they are.  You can see that she has some crepes prepared, too, on the front of the cart.

 

Tonkatsu

The largest population of legal foreigners in Thailand are the Japanese.  I’d imagine that the number of Burmese, Lao, or Cambodians may be higher, but many of them are probably not here legally.

One of the benefits of having so many Japanese here is that we can get pretty good Japanese food.  One of the items that I really like is tonkatsu, the pork cutlet that is breaded in panko and then deep-fried.  When done perfectly, tonkatsu is moist with a crunchy exterior, very flavorful, and not at all greasy.

Of course, average tonkatsu is a dime a dozen.  Recently, though, I read a review for Saboten restaurant, located on the sixth floor of the Isetan department store (a Japanese chain) at Central World Plaza.  Oh, this place makes good tonkatsu!

First of all, the place itself is very bright, beautifully designed, and obsessively clean.  The service is very good.  In general, Thai service standards are quite high, but here they bring it to an even higher level.  Every time someone approaches the table, they give a little bow, even if they are just refilling my tea.

The menu is simple: they offer only tonkatsu and only about six different varieties.  Meals come with a bottomless bowl of shredded cabbage, which you can dress with either a sesame dressing or a vinaigrette.  Rice and miso soup are also bottomless, although one of each is always enough for me.

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The tonkatsu is amazing: the panko are perfectly textured with not a drop of oil.  Nothing about the crust is soggy at all!  The meat is tasty and moist.  The sauce, which is mixed with toasted black and white sesame seeds that you grind yourself, is just a tad too sweet.  Another restaurant we know has a slightly spicy version that really is nice.  But all in all, this is good tonkatsu.

The best part is, it really is quite reasonably priced at about 300 baht.  Yes, a lot more than a 30-baht bowl of noodles from a street vendor.  But for what you get, it is a great value.

 

Sunset

Finally, let me leave you with this photo from Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro.  This comes courtesy of Prachya, who took it last year while on holiday there.

Ipanema Sunset

Normally I don’t post others’ photos, but when I saw it on his Facebook album, I thought it was so pretty that it should be shared with you!  I hope you enjoy it. 

Have a great weekend!

 

When “is” isn’t “is”

Moving from one culture to another is a big transition, especially if you want to make an effort to really understand the new culture.  One could argue that, try though you might, you’ll never fully understand it.  But over time, your understanding will at least increase.

We have a friend who moved here a few years ago.  He is making a lot of effort to understand Thai culture, reading books about Thai relationships (he has dated several Thais) and has taken some Thai language classes.

Along the way, he often has questions about specific situations, general practices, and other aspects of the culture.  Some questions are asked of me or other farang who have Thai partners.  Other times the questions are asked to Tawn or one of the other Thai partners.

I applaud his effort to learn about the culture.  It is an obligation, in my opinion, of someone who lives in another culture to make every effort to learn about, respect, and play by the rules of that culture.  The world is not our playground.

The challenge I face – and I want to point out that his intentions are wonderful because he’s asking because he wants to understand – is that he is a very analytical person, someone who sees things in a logical, rational, black-and-white way.  And the culture about which he is asking questions simply isn’t a logical, rational, black-and-white type of culture.

Tawn and I have discussed this a lot as we want to support his quest to learn about Thai culture.  And one of the things we’ve concluded is that any question you have about a culture rarely has a definitive answer.  There are no absolutes.  There may be generalities, but trying to conflate a generality with a certainty results in missing the finer nuances of a culture.  And it is within those nuances that the essence of the culture really lies.

It’s kind of like when you are learning a new language.  You are tempted to ask, “What does this word mean?”  But as Mme. Morel, the French-Vietnamese linguist who taught me several months of French at The French Class in San Francisco put it, “Words don’t mean anything.  The question is, how is the word used?”

Take the Thai word เป็น (“bpen”).  While it is often translated as “to be” or “is”, that really fails to capture how the word is fully used in Thai.  It is also used to indicate an ability to do something, the state of being afflicted with a malady, the state of becoming one thing from another, the state of being alive, and it is also used as a qualifying conjunction. 

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Helen James, author of Thai Reference Grammar, goes so far as to bold the text in her explanation of the word: “bpen is not a verb ‘to be’ … [instead, it] identifies a relationship between two noun phrases or between a noun/noun phrase and an adjective/adjective phrase.”

In short, เป็น isn’t “is”.  It is so much more.

In the same way, Thai culture isn’t this way or that way.  It identifies the relationship between people and between individuals and the institutions that make up Thai society. 

Given the unique relationship Thai society has with water – the heart of the country is essentially a flood plain, after all – the water motif is a suitable metaphor for the nature of Thai culture: a fluid thing that “is” one thing but is also so much more.