April 23, 2013

Have you ever appeared on a billboard? — work, fun and food in Phitsanulok



Organizing my photos and writing about our trip is wearing me out, as I'm sure it's testing the patience of my readers, but my husband has requested I keep going to preserve our memories. Today I'm covering my husband's speaking engagement at a University in Phitsanulok, and also some interesting Thai food in a unique restaurant.

Our three day jaunt to Phitsanulok had two main purposes — my husband gave a conference talk to professors from five universities, and we got to visit the historic town of Sukhothai, where a UNESCO site preserves the ancient Thai capital, documenting the first period of Siamese art and the creation of the first Thai state. (You can read the long description of Sukhothai, here.) There was a third purpose as well which was to shop for gifts. This post will cover day two of our visit.

On our second day in Phitsanulok, (I wrote about our first day here) rather than visit museums as had been planned for me, I chose to attend Ken's talk at the university. After a simple lunch of vegetables and rice provided by the university, we were off to the conference room.  Do you see the photo above? It's an image of the billboard with Ken's photo that greeted us as we approached the entrance to the college campus. Seriously, if it had been my photo up there I might have jumped out of the car and run away.


Professors and teachers are revered in Thailand, and even as the professor's wife, I was given great respect and attention. Students wanted to bring me snacks and beverages and carry my purse — it was a little unnerving as I like to keep a low profile and it wasn't easy to do. However, one of the snacks I was given was a local treat of fried bananas made from a type banana that grows in the area, and they're so tasty that I was grateful to be the recipient of such a unique treat. They are unusual, small bananas that are finger-sized and very firm and chewy. They are addictive, and though I wasn't planning to, I ate the whole boxfull.


The bananas also can be found dried, and we bought boxes to bring home for our kids and for us. If you ever find yourself in Phitsanulok, look for the fried bananas!


The dried bananas are not really like anything I can describe —  firm and chewy. I'm not sure if the fried ones are made from fresh or dried bananas, but I think dried. The Thai name is bang krathum which translates to "sun-dried banana."


After the lecture, we were taken to see the King Naresuan Shrine and Wang Chan Palace Ruin. Phitsanulok was the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great of Ayuthaya (reign : 1590 - 1605). The shrine commemorates his life. Inside the small white building you see in the photo is a statue of the King and an altar.


The statue of the King is a little hard to see clearly because of the lighting, but you can observe the flowers and other offerings brought by people who have come to ask for favors or good luck. While we were there a woman came in with so many large plants she had trouble fitting them on the altar. The Thai people regard the monarchy with great reverance.

After returning to the hotel and resting a bit, Ken and I went back to visit the temple near our hotel. After spending time at the temple, we browsed the open-air market next to the temple and bought an embroidered dress for our granddaughter. It was a completely impractical white dress, but so cute, and at only $6, I couldn't resist.


We went to dinner at a very beautiful restaurant where the cooking is unusual rather than typical Thai — for the meat eaters. (I would have photographed the display but I didn't want to feature all the meat.)


For the vegans, it was rice and veggies. Please don't take this as a complaint because I'm always thrilled to receive vegan food, but it was interesting that no alternative to meat, like tofu for instance, was available.


In addition to the vegetables, we also had two soups. I don't remember what this one was.

The little round balls are mushrooms, in case you were wondering.

The soup you see above was galangal soup. Galangal, in case you aren't familiar with it, is similar to gingerroot in appearance. It is harder than gingerroot and has peppery overtones.  The soup was really good but many, if not most, of the things in it were not edible — things like hard slices of galangal and kaffir lime leaves — so mainly it was the liquid that was consumed.


This was an interesting dish. You make a little pocket with a betel leaf and fill it with chopped gingerroot, chopped limes, chopped peanuts and sauce and pop it into your mouth. We had special sauce without fish. Eating the leaves was a challenge for me because I am neurotic about not eating raw food I can't peel when traveling in other countries, but I'm happy to say I didn't get even a tinge of stomach woes on our trip. Maybe because ginger is good for digestion.


For dessert there was one of the icy-fruity things I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn't so fond of. I think the frozen part was flavored with pandan — a tropical plant that is used a lot in Thai cooking. The leaves give a sweet taste to foods. Pandan tea is a popular drink, as are bottled pandan beverages.


The restaurant building itself was quite wonderful. It was a converted traditional Thai house of multiple large rooms, both indoors and out.

By the time we finished dinner we were all exhausted and ready to head back to the hotel to rest up for our last day in Phitsanulok.

In case you are interested in more about Thailand:
Thailand post #1
Thailand post #2
Thailand post #3

26 comments:

  1. I would have been like you, being uncomfortable with the attention. Although it is nice, especially when you get something delicious like those bananas. Oh my! I would have eaten the entire box, too.

    The buildings there are all so pretty. I'm amazed at them! It looks like there's something to see at every turn.

    The food all looks very pretty, as well. Lots of veggies, although that is kind of strange that they would put so many inedible things in the soup.

    I think it's great that you're documenting this trip. It's so interesting to see and read about!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The things in the soup were all to add flavor, and the flavor was great, but I agree it seemed strange to me, too. :)

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  2. Your trip sounds really exiting and I am glad you are preserving it here and sharing it with us!
    I have eaten those bananas before. They are awesome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you mean the fried ones — very addictive!

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  3. Whoa, check out Ken! That's awesome! The bananas definitely sound intriguing, and I am so surprised that YOU at the whole box! I don't blame you about being cautious about food. Despite my love of spice, I have a sensitive tummy. Lookin' like a fun trip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Ken was a little embarrassed. About the bananas, yes I ate them all, but what could I do? Once you start eating them it's impossible to stop — good intentions are useless.

      So, are you willing to suffer to indulge your spice thing? I thought you ate lots of spicy food. Too much spice tends to upset my stomach, too.

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  4. Those bananas sound and look quite interesting. I wonder if they're available at the Asian supermarket, I'll have to remember to look around for them next time I go. The food looks great especially since it sounds like it's more of meaty type of restaurant.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe the dried ones (not the fried) are but I've never seen them here. I was told they are a local product and only available in one area of Thailand. If you find them, I'd be interested in knowing.

      The restaurant was definitely of the meaty variety.

      Delete
  5. I don't know, Andrea; I think I'd prefer my face on a billboard to someone wanting to carry my purse. Admire me from afar!

    I'm curious as to whether or not all of the people you spent time with were interested in the fact that you were photographing your food? You did get beautiful shots and the vegetables look divine. The betel wraps are so interesting: all that ginger and unpeeled lime- must have been an interesting senstion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Abby, if you had seen the billboard you might change your mind. It was BIG. I always had my camera with me and was taking lots of photos so people were used to it. When I mentioned how beautiful the food was (and it was) and took photos, it seemed like our hosts took it as a compliment. At least I hope so. I tried to be discrete, and if it seemed like taking a photo wasn't a good idea, I deferred. I'm too shy to ever be a photojournalist so I missed a lot of good shots.

      The betel wraps were much mellower tasting than you'd think, and I don't know why since ginger and lime seems pretty intense. They were really good. Have you seen any betel leaves at your local market? :)

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    2. There's a rumor swirling around NY that some restaurants are disallowing food photography in their dining rooms b/c "it's a distraction." I'm wondering what they are trying to avoid?

      I've never seen betel leaves! I was meaning to google to see if it was related to the betelnut.

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    3. Maybe they are trying to avoid people who stand up and take photos with a flash, causing a distraction. Sometimes it's so dark that it's flash or nothing, but I try to take photos as unobtrusively as possible. I hope restaurants don't start banning photos.

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  6. Sold, sold, sold. I need to get there pronto. Fab food, gorgeous sites and the best people. F-stop is a professor--maybe I can convince him we need a trip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you definitely convince him. Maybe he can wrangle a speaking engagement. I think the best time to go would be during the Vegetarian Festival, and the best place to celebrate the festival would be in Phuket or Chaing Mai. I've never been to either of those places but they're on my wish list.

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  7. Well thanks for keeping up the posting, because I'm really enjoying reading them. And seeing your family members' photos randomly strewn across billboards internationally. That too. This evening we went to eat at Bandung...next best thing???

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  8. Hmmmm.... I just made a comment that I'll never be able to recreate (and then the site deleted it or something) but basically I said you should keep it up because I like reading your posts. And seeing your family members' images plastered across billboards, internationally :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. But isn't Bandung Indonesian? You have to go to
      Sa-Bai Thong on Odana Rd. That's the next best thing, and very good according to our Thai friends.

      As for family members on billboards, this might be it. :)

      Delete
  9. Yep, another vote of thanks for writing up all the travel posts - I've loved reading them. And I love galangal too!

    I think the billboard picture is amazing! I guess a little freaky if you're the subject of it, but awesome nonetheless - not something you see everyday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Freaky is exactly the way I'd describe the billboard. Nice but freaky.

      Delete
  10. The soups look delicious and the vegetables so colorful and appetizing.

    I've had that betel wrap thing here at Thai restaurants but funnily enough they serve it with lettuce leaves here. I say funny because betel leaves are available and used in abundance in South India so I'm surprised the people at the Thai restaurants here chose to use lettuce instead.

    By the way, the reason your stomach was perfectly fine after eating those betel leaves is because they are excellent for digestion and also have anti-bacterial properties. :) People eat them here after heavy meals and we brew tea with them to fight colds and coughs.

    If you had to have a raw leaf, betel is the safest kind there is. :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I wonder why they substitute lettuce. I read about betel leaves when I got home so I knew they were used a lot in South India. Our Thai friends mentioned health benefits of betel leaves but all I could think of was "raw leaf," which I didn't talk about at the time so as not to be rude. Thanks for making the benefits more clear! I will look for betel leaves next time I'm at an Asian market.

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  11. Doing travel posts like yours take an incredible amount of time and work, and I too appreciate your efforts! They're definitely an education (which would please Ken, no doubt), and if you're like us, you'll be so glad you did them. I refer back to our travel (and housebuilding) posts more often than I'd anticipated.

    I don't need to tell you that the idea of my face on a billboard, even in a foreign country where no one knows me and I'm never likely to be seen again, would make my list of Worst Nightmares. Better Ken than us, right? :-) After reading about how revered teachers there are, I'm sure any American teachers (and probably several other nationalities as well) who read this will be putting in their visa applications to Thailand!

    I love their little snack-sized bananas! Like banana-flavored fingerling potatoes! I wonder if they're still talking about you there - that interesting American lady who only ate plants, took photos of her food, and ate an entire bag of fried bananas by herself. :-)

    I love the look of the outside of that little white shrine! So pretty! And the inside is so colorful.

    So odd about the lack of tofu! At least they had mushrooms. Hearty little mushrooms can redeem a lot of dishes, IMO. And the veggies are beautiful! The betel leaves dish does sound interesting - wouldn't have thought to fill the leaves with those ingredients, particularly! They sure do love their peanuts over there, don't they? Those orange fruity things in the dessert look kind of figgy to me. Between the humid heat and the food, I'd have lost a lot of weight on that trip. What was the first thing you craved when you got home?

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    1. I remember how much I loved your house-building posts — so much attention to detail went into your house choices! I was overwhelmed with the complexity and couldn't imagine undertaking such a project and doing it so well.

      Ah the fried bananas — I think of them often and am glad I took such a descriptive photo. If they were unhealthy, I'd have to say they were worth it.

      I was a little worried about a mouthful of chopped ginger and lime, but it was surprisingly tasty. I may have to go hunt down some betel leaves and try it again.

      Funny you should ask what was the first food I craved when we got home. It was Thai food of course! And because our local vegan Thai restaurant was closed, we had to drive across the bridge to the East side to visit their other branch for the lunch buffet!

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    2. I'm glad you enjoyed those house-building posts, and I'm glad to have devoted the time to creating them, even though time was in short supply then! You'll no doubt feel the same way about these Thailand travelogue posts (if you don't already!) :-) I can't imagine undertaking building a house again either, frankly. Got that out of our system! But thank you for thinking a couple of rookies did good job of it! :-)

      Nice to know that ginger and lime is a good flavor combo - I wouldn't have guessed it.

      And I wouldn't have guessed it was Thai food you were craving! How nice to have a local VEGAN Thai restaurant, even if it's closed when you need it most! :-)

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    3. Maybe we can go there for the all you can eat vegan Thai brunch when you are here!

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  12. tempeh chips and fried dried banana from Indonesia, visit www.from-bandung-with-smile.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

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