Sunday, January 22, 2012

Salad Days

Recently Nut and I tried a new restaurant named Veggie Veggie, right over on Phra Sumen Road a short walk from our place. We enjoyed it because it was quite a bit different than the other restaurants in our neighborhood; its specialty is salad, organic salad. As a bonus in these hot and stifling times it is icily air conditioned. Now, I love Thai food as you know but I do miss the big salads I eat back in the states. Thais eat vegetables of course but they don't really do much with salad and when they do, the dressing they favor is a kind of plain white dressing that looks and tastes more or less like mayonnaise. Except that it's sweet. I swear, everything in Thailand is sweet. But that's another story.

First, let me give you some background.

One night in Chiang Mai a few weeks ago I got this compelling urge to have some farang food. I suggested this to Nut and although she adores Thai food and is as ethnocentric as they come, she readily agreed to try it. Off we went to the nearby Irish Pub for dinner. I can't recall what else we had that night but when I spotted Ceasar Salad on the menu I ordered one for each of us. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either and it was a far cry from the Ceasar I can put together with a blender in my own kitchen. The dressing was sweet, the lettuce wasn't romaine and there was no Parmesan cheese anywhere in sight but it did have croutons and shrimp. We enjoyed it for what it was, a cool, leafy green salad. Nut actually quite enjoyed hers and wanted to have it again. I filed her comment away for future reference.

Fast forward to the Terrace Bar of a luxury hotel near Krabi, a hotel we were checking out as a place to stay. It was too pricey for that but I figured as long as we were there we might as well take a break and have an iced coffee. On the menu -- Caesar salad, again. And again we tried it. It was served with a flourish by waiters wearing special little suits, as if that could make a difference. The verdict? Not as good as the one we had in the Irish Pub. More expensive too.

I said to Nut, "wait until we get back to Bangkok. I'll fix you a real Caesar salad."

So, a few days ago we drove over to our local Foodland, an upscale Bangkok market where you can get things like olive oil, anchovies, and Dijon mustard, things that are generally absent in normal Thai markets, things farangs like to eat. Farangs like me. Luckily, Foodland also had romaine lettuce and we already had a bag of limes in the fridge. I read somewhere that the first Caesar dressing was made with lime juice, not vinegar or lemon juice. Okay, all set.

We broke out Nut's old blender and I put together the dressing, one I've made at least a hundred times. Into the blender went the lime juice, anchovies and garlic cloves: I blended that until smooth. I added some salt, a Thai chili (instead of cayenne), some Dijon, an egg yolk and got the blender back up to full speed. I drizzled in olive oil until the mixture thickened and turned creamy. So far so good.

I poured the mixture over the torn up romaine leaves that had been thoroughly washed by my clean freak Thai girlfriend, tossed them with plenty of shredded Parmesan, added some slices of hard boiled egg, and put the dish before her. She tasted it, gave it a little chew, and then turned up her nose. Mai aroi! (translation: not delicious). I tasted my salad. Damn! The olive oil was stale. And so was the Parmesan. It was indeed, mai aroi. Double damn. She managed to eat her serving but flat out  refused seconds. And I, of course, not wanting to waste all those costly ingredients, ate the rest. Gulp.

That's why finding the Veggie Veggie was so notable.

Their excellent salads cost about 90 baht. Two cream-style soups are also available, mushroom and spinach, and we sampled both. They were pretty tasty. The place is nicely decorated and you can buy fresh greens to take home in bulk or as salad packs. Dressings are available in prepackaged serving size containers. They have wraps and sandwiches too.

A day or two later Nut went over to Phranok Market help her sister prepare for the Chinese New Year so I went back to try their Caesar salad. It was excellent. Not the same as my Caesar but good nonetheless. Croutons, bacon, and cheese bits over mixed super crisp organic greens, topped with a lovely tart dressing. Not bad for 109 baht (about $3 USD).

Veggie Veggie Caesar Salad

We've had the pleasure of entertaining several guests during the past couple of weeks -- Jane and Miles from Homer and Tina from Anchorage. Then today we said goodbye to my old friend Terry whom I last saw in college back in Buffalo in 1963. We talked and laughed about old times, old friends and the various watering holes where we hung out during our fraternity days. Our time together was too short. By prior agreement we steadfastly avoided talking politics, on which we've come to have widely divergent views. Just as well -- that might have spoiled an otherwise perfect visit.

Now Nut and I are free to "get out of Dodge" as the saying goes. We'll pack the bike and head up the road tomorrow, the road north to cooler weather and hopefully a new apartment in Chiang Mai. I won't miss the heat and hellacious traffic of Bangkok one bit.