Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ghost of Red Curries Past

This is my first time in Bangkok, Thailand.

Till now, the only time I’d come face-to-face with anything remotely Thai was the Thai Red Curry I’d made for our first cook-at-home dinner date, hardly a month after we’d first met. I remember going halfway across town in search of lemon grass and galangal, lugging all my provisions (along with a jar of homemade red curry paste) three floors up to Prat’s bachelor pad in Cox Town, Bangalore and haphazardly throwing everything into a pot with coconut milk and letting it stew, all the while thinking, “Please God! Let it be good!” The vegetables got overcooked beyond recognition and the fiery red gravy sent rivulets of sweat running down our temples before we could clean the first serving off our plates, but Prat dutifully pronounced it a success (even as he gulped down ice-water straight from the bottle), no doubt adhering strictly to that golden rule of romance: “Thou Shalt Not Criticize.”

Fast-forward to four years later, and here we were, dragging our jetlagged selves up to our 8th-floor room at the Bangkok City Hotel, hungry, tired and sleep-deprived. Sweating from the intense heat,and my stomach growling from hunger, I opened the leather-bound menu of the restaurant, already dreaming of a cold chicken-salad sandwich and a glass of iced tea before I could finally sink into the pillows and sleep off my jet lag. Instead, what met our eyes were pages and pages of numbered items alongside pictures, written first in Thai, and then transliterated to English: Kaeng Phet Pet Yang, Tom Yam Kung Nam Khon, Tom Kha Gai …. Incapable of making any decision that did not involve fourteen hours of sleep, we blindly pointed at the safest-looking-picture/ most-easily-pronounceable-name of the lot, rung up room service and said “Panang Curry”.

And what should appear at our door, but a steaming bowl of exquisitely spiced, perfectly flavoured Red Curry. The meat cooked to perfection, the gravy an appetizing milky red, with slivers of galangal,julienned Thai basil and a smattering of crushed peanuts floating on top. We ate in silence, and as he sopped up the last drop of coconut-milk gravy from the bottom of the bowl, the words escaped almost involuntarily from Prat’s mouth. “Wow! So, this is how it is supposed to taste!”  

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Well, you can imagine how that ended!

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