To cook or not to cook

“mai aow pedd” – not spicy please

Enough of the serious stuff. I’m officially off the soapbox. For now, anyway. 🙂

There are TWO big reasons that I am an embarrassment to my Thai roots.

First of all, I can’t handle spicy food. Pathetic, indeed.

The phrase Mai Pedd (not spicy) is constantly on my lips. Brandon can eat spicier food than me. Actually, a few white guys in my circle of friends have Thai tastebuds, as in they can chomp on a prik kee noo (Thai bird chili) and don’t flinch.

All that odd look I get from noodles vendor when I asked for a Kueytiew Tomm Yum Mai Pedd (Tomm Yum or hot and sour noodle soup, not spicy). Love the tangy flavor of vinegar and lime, and the ground peanuts, but I can’t take the chili. Or asking for the Somm Tumm (papaya salad) vendor to clean out their spicy krok (mortar and pestle) because even the residual chili on the krok is too spicy for me.

I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. Ask my school nurse. I could be seen in her office at least once a week because of my geyser of a nosebleed, or bad stomach ache. So my mom eliminated chili pepper out of my diet altogether.

When Brandon and I go out to Thai restaurant, or even when we were in Thailand, we’d order our food Pedd Noi, a little spicy. With a white guy at the table, they’d assume it’s the Farang level of Pedd Noi, a distinctly lower level of heat than a Thai Pedd Noi. So, it’s HIM they’re toning down the spicy for, and not this Thai girl. Ahh…my face is saved yet again by having a Farang husband. 🙂

Secondly, I can’t cook Thai food to save my life.

For crying out loud, my friend Irena of Russian descent, can make Tomm Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup) that rivals a Thai restaurant. All I can muster is Kai Jiew (Thai omelet), Kao Padd (fried rice), Padd Pahk (stir fried vegetables), and Padd Sohm (apparently the cabbage stir fried with bacon and garlic is Princess Sohmsawalee’s recipe, hence the name) but that’s about it. I can yumm up some ham or sardines. (That is pretty much applying garlic, lime juice, chili, and fish sauce on something to make it hot and sour.) And so much for all those years in home economics, huh?

Oh yeah, and I can make steam rice on stove top, or over a camp fire even, in case there is no rice cooker to be found. At least I learned something from Red Cross Youth.

But that’s what you get when you grew up in a household with maids and cooks.

It is not common for middle to upper class Thai families to have a live in maid or two who not only do the housekeeping but cook. My family home actually is a 3-unit attached town home, designed by my dad. Back in the days, there were our family, my uncle’s family, and my grandmother under technically one roof. Each of the family unit had their own maid, plus the central laundry lady, gardener, and cook and her husband the driver who also cooked. The cook’s family also lived with us.

A few months before I was shipped out to Southern California for school in 1993, my mom enrolled me in intensive cooking class with our cooks. Almost every dinner, and Sunday lunch, I would help prepare the meals taking a few breaks to jot things down in my notebook.

My mom didn’t start out as a great cook either. There is a story about her burning rice when she and dad were living in Minnesota. Same situation applied, mom didn’t need to before because she had maids growing up. Amazingly, the pampered ol’ Dad was the one who cooked back then. But mom gradually learned, and took a few cooking classes. She still didn’t cook as much until when the cook planned her retirement. Mom picked up the duty and really got into it.

Now, she’s one hell of a cook. Ditto our maid Pueng who started off with my grandmother. She didn’t cook before either, but now…Oh – my – god! Pueng’s panang beef is the stuff Thai dreams are made of!

Here in Long Beach, I have a whole cabinet full of instant Thai food seasonings. Satay marinade, green curry mix, and this and that my mom taste-tested and sent over. The only thing I actually use on a regular basis is the instand Johk mix. Sure I can buy them in LA too, but it’s nice to get a package in the mail from home once in a while.

Half of this stuff I can’t use because of the chili content. It has to be super diluted, and then I have to build the flavor back up.

I eventually solved all of the Thai food issue. I always have a delivery menu of a Thai restaurant on hand, and at least one authentic joint close by. (Any Long Beach area reader, I highly recommend the Treasure Pot on Alondra and Downey.)

Sure, it is embarrassing when someone asks me, a Thai woman, if I could make Thai food. I may not be able to throw a Pad Thai together, but at least I could give a good restaurant recommendation.

Hey, if I can’t make them right, why bother trying? Let the professional do it and get a real taste of home instead of having to call the HazMat team to come clean up my kitchen.

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