Independence Day

I celebrate each fourth of July (or “Thanksgiving” as it’s known in the UK) by taking a worming pill. It’s a common precautionary measure here in Thailand. Each year schoolchildren are lined up and fed one of these foul-tasting preparations by their teacher. What makes it worse is that you’re supposed to chew the pill, rather than swallow it whole.

Much of the risk comes from eating undercooked meat. Particularly in the north east (Isaan), salads are prepared with raw minced meat or fish, or only very lightly cooked meat. Here in the central plains when they make Isaan food they cook the meat more fully, but there’s still a risk. I suspect the Isaan tradition stems from two things: (1) the available meat is very tough and stringy, so mincing makes it more palatable. (In the case of the fish, freshwater fish are very bony, so mincing means you don’t have to pick out the hundreds of tiny bones.); (2) fuel has traditionally been in very short supply, and even now is expensive, so minimal cooking keeps down the cost.

The shortage of wood for fuel has also historically accounted for the rise of stir-fried and other quickly cooked dishes; slow-braised dishes are almost absent from the cuisine.

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