Like many other mornings, yesterday I walked the back roads to the Tha-nin market. It’s a good two miles through Thai-only neighborhoods. I always get to see exciting things. Monks collecting alms, well-dressed cats, ninja street cleaners, spirit houses with refreshments and gifts. I love markets almost as much as I love museums, especially here, in Thailand. They are friendly, colorful, and full of exciting opportunities.
Always fashion conscious, I bought a pair of mauve plastic sandals to leave at the neighbors’ door whenever I visit. I also bought potatoes, tomatoes, passion fruit, and a couple of pork tongues, but we won’t dwell on those right now. Suffice to say that the Thai word for pork is mu. You’d think that means cow, but you’d be mistaken. Thais stared, laughed, and told each other: Look at that Farang buying mu tongue! She’s going to buy Bamboo worms next, and cook them for dinner,” or something to that effect. Nope. No more Bamboo worms for me. I tried them once. They taste like rotten wood. Worse then fried crickets. Or scorpions, for that matter.
I also bought a rainbow of plastic bags with variously textured fluids that I intend to eat, though I’m not sure what they are – curries, probably. I finally bought a couple of things I’d never seen before. Plants, I suspect. The vendors assured me they are food and delicious, but what else would they say? Don’t buy this, it sucks?
One was a bag full of dark-purple waxflowers that have something to do with passion fruit, the vendor suggested. The other had small white cylinders about one inch long and one thick that I got for ten baht – about thirty cents. The squash lady insisted. She knew me for a sucker, since I bought the humongous slice of pumpkin she pushed on me. Aroy, aroy, she said. That means delicious.
I bought them. Now I don’t know whether to eat them raw, cook them, or feed them to my enemies. I think I’ll try them on Steve. It may be a challenge, though. He has this strange hang-up: he doesn’t eat things he doesn’t know.
That becomes a contentious issue whenever I buy, order, or eat things. Like the other day, when I bought a bag of shiny orange-colored strips from a street vendor. They were only 20 baht, and I was hungry.
“What is it?” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“And you bought it anyhow?”
“How else will I find out what it is?”
He shook his head and declined. I ate them. They were fried chicken and they were delicious.
It’s the same when we go places. I often feel inspired and take a left – or a right – away from the road I know. To where? I don’t know, and I’ll never know unless I take it. That led to some of my best discoveries, like the Thai all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu or the dog cafe, where, for the price of a coffee you can spend quality time with specially appointed dogs, even though you aren’t allowed to pick them up, feed them or wake them up.
Is it always a success? Of course not. It often turns out to be a waste of time, a dump, or a culinary disaster. Like the red bags with warm canned sardines in tomato sauce, or walking through the Hai-Ya crematorium, where the air was thick with the stench.
But trying new things and going to new places will open your way and expand your horizons. You’ll laugh at yourself. So will everybody else, of course, but you’ll have the best stories to tell over dinner. So, if you want more adventure in your life, do as Yogi Bera said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Update: After extensive research, my Thai friends informed me that the purple wax flowers are God’s yup. Yes, God’s yup. Helpful? No. We probed further. Google translator got us to okra. I’m not an okraologist, but I can assure you that they aren’t it. We agreed they are Rosella flowers – a relative of Hibiscus, used to make a loved drink. They’re red, crisp, and mouth-puckering. I’ll wait for them to go bad, then throw them away.
The white cylinders are sugar cane. They’re both snacks and entertainment. You chew them to enjoy the sweet juice, then spit the rest. We organised a spitting contest.
Second update: I made the Rosella into an interesting drink. I served it to Steve, but he declined. You think I gave up? You don’t know me. Yet.
Rada Jones MD is an Emergency doctor in Upstate NY, where she lives with her husband Steve and his black deaf cat Paxil. She authored three ER thrillers, OVERDOSE, MERCY, and POISON.