A Maggot in the Lotus
Last weekend I was entertaining. Rather than cook something Western I decided to showcase my talent (or lack thereof, as it turns out) for Thai food. Admittedly, this was a little foolhardy. Most Thai people are very particular about their food and analyse it in far more detail than your average Westerner would. Most Thai recipes include a comment about how the food should taste, along the lines of “first sour, then spicy, then equally sweet and salty”. Get the balance wrong and it will be noted.
My menu was straightforward:
- duck salad (Thai style) with rambutan
- tom yam gung (a hot, sour prawn soup)
- hor mok (steamed finely chopped fish and other seafood in a spicy coconut milk custard).
At least, it was straightforward until I went to Tesco-Lotus to do the shopping. The first problem was that they didn’t have any duck. And the second was that they didn’t have mussels. (I’d wanted to serve the hor mok in mussel shells; this curry is usually served in banana leaf cups, but serving it in mussel shells is a rather more elegant presentation.) After a bit of thought I substituted beef for the duck – not that Tesco-Lotus had any nice steaks or similar, so I made do with some tough old cut which I marinated for a few hours first. And as for the hor mok, I settled for serving it in ramekins.
The beef salad turned out pretty well – though apparently not quite as spicy as it should be, so I was told – though my sinuses and tear ducts beg to differ. The other two dishes weren’t so good. The hor mok had a good taste, but I hadn’t ground the curry paste quite finely enough in my enormous granite mortar, I’d not added enough fish sauce (leaving it under-salted) and there was rather too much coconut milk for the quantity of fish. The tom yam gung – using a recipe from a relative of HM The Queen none-the-less – was a total disaster. It was strangely cloudy, and neither spicy nor sour. The prawns were fished out and consumed, but the soup itself was left untouched.
A friend made the pudding – taro root cooked in a heavy syrup and chilled served with salted coconut cream. It may sound a little strange, but it works really well. However, I still don’t know how I’ll ever get my saucepan clean again!
But back to the subject of Tesco-Lotus – or “Lotus” as it’s generally called in Thailand. (Actually, it’s more like “loh-tut” since Thai people, for the most part, can’t pronounce “s” at the end of syllables.) I usually shop there because it’s rather more convenient to get to than Big C (which opened a little over a year ago), plus it seems rather more hygienic: Big C has sparrows flying around inside doing what sparrows do. My opinion changed somewhat earlier today. I picked a packet of red curry paste from the shelf in Lotus. (I only make curry pastes from scratch when I’m entertaining – it’s such hard work grinding the ingredients by hand.) I then noticed a movement at the back of the shelf: it was a large, fat, sleek rat. I jumped back in surprise. A couple of middle-aged Thai women looked at me askance until I explained what I’d seen.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba wrote:
“The honey in the flower or lotus does not crave for bees; they do not plead with the bees to come. Since they have tasted the sweetness, they themselves search for the flowers and rush in.”
When it comes to Lotuses of the Tesco variety, it’s not the sweet honey that attracts the bees, but rather the lack of a decent alternative.