We stopped at a market on the side of a busy street where food vendors spanned a city block. Fresh vegetables, crispy fried fish, pounded chili pastes and meats on sticks were abundant in every direction. The aromatic, foreign scents flooded my nostrils and triggered an overwhelming sense of curiosity.
Our guide, Po (who is the son-in-law of Kent, whose story of heroism and altruism blew us away), was on the hunt for a variety of delicious Thai ingredients for our dinner. He walked to the back of the market, greeting everyone on the way, and arrived at a vegetable stand offering more shades of green than a paint store. He carefully chose bitter melon, long green beans, chilies, broccoli, cilantro, garlic, mushrooms, peas and carrots. I was excited to see what creation he had in mind!
We left the market and continued the journey up the mountain to his beautiful cabin. He fired up the generator and unpacked his loot of ingredients. Jess and I were each given a chopping board and a knife and began chopping as Po heated the wok.
In the middle of the counter, Po placed a pestle and mortar, and I knew it was about to get real. Po’s chili-paste game was strong! He pounded the green Thai chilis with garlic, shallots and fish sauce. Watching him create this fragrant, spicy mixture brought me to tears, not only because of my intense interest in food but because the capsaicin was burning my eyes!
In the wok, Po placed all of the vegetables and began to flash fry them but then disappeared into the darkness carrying a machete only to return moments later with a beautiful banana flower. He chopped them up and added them to our stir fry! I was salivating at this point and couldn’t wait to dive in!
We sat down to devour the masterpiece that had been set in front of us. The colours were vibrant and the aromas were overwhelmingly beautiful. Spice, sour, salty, sweet and umami were all present and in perfect harmony. The tart bitter melon was paired with a sweet, tangy sauce and the mushrooms added an earthiness to the silky banana flowers. Last but definitely not least, the rice that we paired with our meal was a big, fluffy cross between Japanese rice and Thai rice. The best part about it was that Po grew it himself! I was extremely impressed by Po’s hospitality and master chef skills. Well done, Po. We’ll be back!