Bob Dylan's 115th Dream
by Bob Dylan
I went into a restaurant
Lookin' for the cook
I told them I was the editor
Of a famous etiquette book
The waitress he was handsome
He wore a powder blue cape
I ordered some suzette, I said
"Could you please make that crepe"
Just then the whole kitchen exploded
From boilin' fat
Food was flyiing everywhere
And I left without my hat
One of my readers wrote, "Did you incur any bad effects from eating those exotic foods? I would worry about food poisoning."
Well, nice to have the question and I'm happy to give an answer. Before I went to Thailand, I was concerned about that too. When I got my shots for travel, they had a nurse whose specialty was travel medicine. So she gave me some advice about food, which I followed pretty closely. Here were the rules she gave me.
1. Drink only bottled water.
2. Don't have ice in your drinks, as they were likely made with the local water.
3. Brush your teeth with bottled water.
4. Only eat fresh fruit that you peel yourself.
5. Don't eat food that would have been washed as it was prepared, such as lettuce.
6. Don't eat eggs, unless the yolks are fully cooked.
7. Any food that has just been cooked at a high temperature is safe to eat.
8. Because of that, rice, noodles and soups are always safe to eat.
All but the eggs rule were focused on things in the local water that my body might not tolerate. The eggs rule had to do with some bug that had been known to infect some poultry in Asia.
I stuck to those rules pretty well. When I first got there, I told Por what the doctor had said, since she was the one who would order and/or prepare most of the food we would eat. I quickly became known as the guy in our group who didn't want ice (though I really did, almost always), but I stuck with the program! And drinking bottled water was no problem, as it is available everywhere in Thailand, because of the heat, and after all, Por works for a company that sells bottled water. I was smart enough to always ask for Namthip (their brand), only accepting substitutes when it was not available.
Brushing my teeth with bottled water was just plain weird at first, but I soon got used to it and could do it with very little water after a while. I also had to learn not to open my mouth in the shower, something I found I was used to doing and missed be able to do. Let the shower water beat on your face, but keep those lips closed tight. Ugh!
The eggs rule was the hardest for me, as I was used to having two eggs sunny side up nearly every morning, with the yolks nice and runny, which I always felt was the best part. In fact they were the favorite part of my mornings. In Thailand I ate a lot of cooked yolks, scrambled eggs, eggs cooked in soup, and so on. Finally I began to weaken. When we went to Chiang Rai near the end of my fourth week, someone brought me a beautiful egg, sunny side up, at breakfast. We were at a very nice hotel. I looked both ways, crossed my fingers . . . and ate it. Oh, it was soooo good. Having sinned, I think I had one or two more after that. If you look at my article, Please Pass the Mums, you'll see that runny yolk.
Ice was a bit of a problem too. In the US, my favorite drink at a Thai restaurant is always Thai Iced Tea. There it is, right in the name of the drink! But I resolved to stick with the bottled water and mostly did, plus some hot tea, hot chocolate, milk, orange juice, bottled soft drinks, and bottled beer. With the beer I had to ask for no ice, as the Thais always have ice in their beer. And I would have too, if it weren't for that travel nurse.
But when we first started going on the road, I cheated inadvertently. Every morning we would drive for a while and then Por would stop at a gas station and go in to the Amazon coffee shop and get us both a nice cold drink. It was always one of those tall slushy drinks with green tea, never coffee, all whipped up nice and cold. I never saw them make it, as Por always got the drinks. But it was probably all blended with ice, right? The first time I had it, I thought that the tea would have been made with boiling water, so it would be okay. But no, dummy, once it's tea they had to dump it into a blender with ice to get that frosty slushy drink! Duh!
It was so good that I just kept having it, like nearly every morning that we were driving to a new town. I never had any bad effects from this violation of the rules, thank goodness. So maybe I've created a new exception rule that says those drinks are okay.
So did it work, all my care in following the rules? Yes, at least for nearly all of the first four weeks. When we went to Pattaya for a weekend with three others, I chuckled to myself with some pride when I learned that two of the four Thais that weekend got diarrhea, and I didn't!
But my luck turned on 15 November 2012 when we made the all day drive from Bangkok back to the Lampang area. We stopped for lunch along the way and we had this food.
I loved the Hor Mok (on the blue plate and close-up), which is curried fish, steamed inside banana leaves. I had never had it and when I first started eating it, both Jackie and Por looked at me to see whether it would be too spicy for me. No problem, I loved it. It was my favorite part of the meal. There was a much spicier entree, but I passed on that one, as I always did with the super spicy stuff. This restaurant was also the first place we found that had Foy Thong for dessert, which we had been looking for ever since I had the Foy Thong in the home-made cream puff by the DPU campus in Bangkok. I was full of joy and confidence at the great lunch I was having!
Well I wasn't. When we finally reached Lampang many hours later, they told me we had stopped six times so I could use a toilet. And some of those times were just barely in time. Jackie was masterful in finding facilities on usually very short notice. Once we reached Lampang, Jackie and Por had a nice big dinner, a sort of celebration of the end of our long drive. I didn't dare put any more food into my body. The next day I mostly fasted, drank some Sprite and ate a little bit of yogurt. That evening we went to Por's family home, where she coaxed me to eat some soup, after telling me to lay off the milk products.
She also dumped a packet of orange colored salts into my bottled water, which she said would help with my dehydration from the diarrhea. AND her mother came to us with a tea cup that held six or seven plant leaves with instructions for me to eat them. Okay, I wasn't about to argue, so I chewed up the leaves and swallowed them, washing them down with the now orange colored water. The leaves tasted very bitter, but I got them down pretty fast and then they were just a memory. And then as Por was driving me back to my hotel in Lampang for the night, I realized I suddenly was feeling the best I had felt all day long! Before she returned to her family home for the night, I told her to tell her mother that the herbs she gave me had helped.
Okay, well it could have been the orange salts in the water, I suppose. But wasn't it smarter to attribute it to the herbs? I think so!
The next morning we set off for Myanmar with a great couple from Lampang who are friends of Por (and now mine), also employees of Thainamthip. Along the way that morning, we stopped at a gas station and Por got her usual cold drink at the Amazon coffee shop. I was being cautious because we had quite a distance to drive and I didn't want any repeat performances from two days earlier, so I passed on the tea this time.
Por disappeared for a while as we were sitting outside the coffee place and talking. When she returned she had a bag of peanuts in the shell, which the others began to eat. Por encouraged me to try some. I'm thinking, "No! How easy are peanuts going to be to digest?!" But I watched them opening the shells and before long I took one that Por handed me. I opened it and looked down to see purple peanuts in the palm of my hand. What is this??? I popped them into my mouth and discovered they were soft, not crunchy, not salty, and tasted good, but more like potatoes than nuts!
Once I ate those boiled peanuts, that was the end of my concerns about food. When we stopped for lunch a little later, I ate a nice big bowl of soup with pork and for the rest of my ten days in Thailand, I was back to normal with my eating.
So that one episode was my only difficulty with food in Thailand. So what did it? Was it the somewhat spicy Hor Mhok? I guess I'll never know. At the time my attention went more onto the Foy Thong. There seemed to be a lot of it and it was pretty rich. We took some as an order to go when we left, along with orders of the related desserts, Thong Yip and Thong Yod. I never ate any of those orders.
One final note about eating Thai food for five weeks. In the US, I weigh myself every morning when I get up. I like to be able to spot it right away if I start to put on some weight, before it gets out of hand. Well in Thailand I rarely saw a scale, so I wasn't able to follow this practice. But I figured I was eating very healthy foods, so I should be okay.
I was right. In the week before I went to Thailand, I was weighing around 185-186 pounds. While in Thailand, I made no effort to diet or limit my intake of food. I ate as much as I wanted at every meal. I almost always had a large breakfast, often no lunch to speak of and usually a large dinner. In the over two weeks that I've been back, my weight has been a very stable 184-185 pounds.