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Archive for February, 2011

Thong Lo Grilled Pork

Michael Babcock, Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Thong Lo View

View of Thong Lo from Sukhumvit road

We love the street food in Thailand and Thong Lo has its share of delicious things to eat, including grilled pork. Since Kasma has her small-group tours stay in the Thong Lo area, i’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the years. Thong Lo (pronounced closer to “Tawng Law”) is the name for Sukhumvit Soi 55. Thong Lo is generally considered an upscale neighborhood; nonetheless, as nearly everywhere else in Thailand, there is ready availability of all kinds of delicious street food. In addition, there are numerous store-front restaurants that are well worth a taste!

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Street Vendor

Getting closer to grilled pork

I like to graze along the street. Some of my favorites are the grilled bananas, the sticky rice with mangos, pork leg rice and Northeastern-style charcoal-grilled sticky rice (Kao Jee).

There’s one vendor who I have extreme difficulty just walking by, without stopping to make a purchase. It’s found on Thong Lo just a little ways in from Sukhumvit Road on the lower-numbered soi side, just a little bit further in than the shop with Mangos (and Sticky Rice); a bit further down is my favorite place for Duck Noodles.

I think most Westerners thinking of grilled meat on sticks in Thailand would immediately think of satay. This vendor sells another kind of grilled pork called (Moo Bping), translated by Kasma as Grilled Marinated Pork on Skewers.

Grilled Pork Vendor

Grilled pork vendor


Grilled Pork

Delicious grilled pork

Moo Bping has wider slices of pork than satay and a different marinade. A good moo bping includes a small slice of pork fat, grilled in with the other slices of meat. Rather than being served with a peanut sauce (as with satay), it comes with a hot and sour dipping sauce. Actually, I don’t mind eating it without the sauce: at least at this street stall, the meat is quite succulent and already well-flavored from the marinade.

Unless memory fails, it is 10 baht for a fairly substantial stick. Try a couple!


Update: Unfortunately, between writing this entry and posting it, this vendor has disappeared from Thong Lo. I’m going to leave the entry up for two reasons. One is that it is a very typical street food operation and similar grilled pork vendors can be found all over Thailand. Two is that it is the nature of street food that vendors come and go. Luckily, if you walk back to Sukhumvit and turn right, there was another moo bping vendor already set up and selling.


The following articles are also about Thong Lo street food.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011

Thai Diet Changes

Michael Babcock, Monday, February 14th, 2011

Like any country in the modern world, the traditional diet in Thailand is undergoing some change. I recently came across an article in The Nation, one of the two main English-language newspapers in Thailand, titled Heart disease the biggest killer. Here are the main points:

Donuts

Donuts in the Mae Hong Son Market

“Heart disease is killing more Thais, and the only way to reduce the risk is to control weight, exercise and develop good eating habits, Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit warned yesterday. He said the mortality rate of heart disease in Thailand was 2.6 per cent, compared to 4.9 per cent in other countries, and the consumption of alcohol, smoking as well as eating excessive fat, sugar and salt were all contributing factors.”

The gist: heart disease mortality is lower in Thailand than other countries but it is increasing.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

If the rate is going up, my first thought is to look at how the diet has been changing. The most visible change that I see on my travels, is that each year I see more and more Western-style desserts and breads around. The other visible change is I now see soy oil sold everywhere – shelf-after-shelf in the supermarkets and vendors in many open-air markets selling soy oil in plastic bags (exposed to the sun). More and more restaurants appear to be using soy oil, relatively cheap compared to traditional oils such as palm oil, coconut oil and the animal fats. There has also been a proliferation of convenience stores selling processed foods (rather than traditional kanom or snacks) along with Western sodas and heavily-sugared fruit drinks.

Cake House

Cakes for sale in Bangkok

If the Thai people are eating more and more refined carbohydrates and replacing traditional, healthy fats with vegetable oil, it is no surprise that heart disease rates are going up; after all, this is exactly what happened in the United States during the 1940s & 1950s when heart disease rates soared as animal fat consumption went down and vegetable oil consumption went up. Sugar (a highly refined carbohydrate) consumption was going up at the same time.

One reason for the change in fat consumption (from traditional more saturated fats to soy oil) in Thailand is that the medical establishment is very aggressive in pushing the so-called “heart healthy diet,” which recommends limiting fat consumption, particularly saturated fats. As in the United States, this has led to people replacing healthy fat calories with carbohydrates, often refined. Kasma has several Thai friends who are very worried about eating fat but place no limits at all on eating carbohydrates.

Waffles

Waffles at a Skytrain Station

The problem with limiting fats is twofold: 1) most people replace them with carbohydrates; 2) eating fat is more satisfying and you get a feeling of fullness, which makes it hard to overeat; not so with carbs – it’s very easy to keep eating carbs or drinking sodas and adding calories and carbs to your system.

I’m glad The Nation mentioned eating less sugar, though, as usual, they also want to demonize fats. I’ve recently blogged about the so-called “heart healthy diet” in A “Healthy” Diet. The evidence I’ve seen indicates that traditional fats (animal fats such as chicken fat and lard as well as olive oil, palm & coconut oil) are necessary for good health while the new-fangled oils, the polyunsaturated oils such as soy, are of dubious benefit.

Increasingly, doctors are saying that an excess of carbohydrates in the diet, particularly refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) are the likely cause of many diseases, including diabetes and coronary heart disease. For instance, see the recent Los Angeles Times Article “A reversal on carbs”, which has the subhead “Fat was once the devil. Now more nutritionists are pointing accusingly at sugar and refined grains.” One of the best books on the subject is Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) by Gary Taubes published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. After studying ALL of the evidence about diet and disease, Taubes says:

Corn Yogurt

Corn yogurt, very sweet!

“As I emerge from this research, though, certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on the existing knowledge: 1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. 2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis—the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.”

The rest of his conclusions, each one meticulously researched and considered, are available at Read an Excerpt: ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’.

As for salt, it may surprise you to know that when all the evidence is considered, the jury is still out on the dangers of salt consumption. I’ll again quote Gary Taubes, this time from his consideration of salt in The (Political) Science of Salt:

“While the government has been denouncing salt as a health hazard for decades, no amount of scientific effort has been able to dispense with the suspicions that it is not. Indeed, the controversy over the benefits, if any, of salt reduction now constitutes one of the longest running, most vitriolic, and surreal disputes in all of medicine.”

If you’re concerned or interested, check out the Taubes article above as well as
The Great Salt Myth, by Paul Rosch, M.D. One thing to keep in mind is that most table salt and the salt in processed foods is not natural salt: it is the chemical sodium chloride. In its natural form salt contains all kinds of minerals and other elements. Sodium needs many of those minerals and elements to be utilized effectively by the body.


The information in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult a qualified and educated healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.


Check out Michael’s blog on The Other Side of Thai Food.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011

Thai Culture – Heart Culture

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, February 4th, 2011

The language of a people reveals a lot about their culture. I was reminded of this when a tour member on one of my trips asked me one day what the word jai meant. He had been hearing it repeatedly in the lyrics of Thai contemporary and folk music.

Flowers

Flower offering

Jai means “heart.” The word appears prevalently in the Thai language, not only by itself but more so as part of numerous compound words and phrases. In Thailand the heart and states of emotions—rather than the mind and reason—are foremost in the way we relate with the world. In fact, heart and mind are inseparable in our language, as shown in the word jit-jai, which means both heart and mind, soul and spirit. The state of the mind reflects the condition of the heart, and vice versa. The two are not split and do not function in isolation.

While cultures in the West subscribe to the philosophy “I think, therefore, I am,” Thai people are more aptly characterized by the statement “we feel, therefore, we are.” We are concerned about our own feelings, and we are even more concerned about the feelings of others, for we acknowledge that we do not exist in isolation but in relationship to all those around us. Each individual is an integral part of his or her environment and not separate from it. Therefore, maintaining social harmony and a heartfelt state of peaceful coexistence are very important values in our society.

Temple Offering

Temple offering

The following commonly used compound words and phrases exemplify how Thai people comprehend the world with their hearts. To “understand” someone or something is expressed by kao-jai, which means to “enter the heart,” and when we misunderstand, we kao-jai-pit, or “enter the heart wrongly.” These terms apply whether the understanding pertains to a human relationship and an emotional expression or to the intellect, such as understanding technical information and business instructions.

When we make a decision to take a certain course of action, we “fall into our heart” (dtoklohng-jai), and when we change our mind, we “change our heart” (bplien-jai). When we approach our work with interest, we “take our heart and put it into” that work (ow-jai-sai), but when we can’t concentrate and get distracted, we are “not putting our heart where it should be” (mai-ow-jai-sai). When we see eye-to-eye with a friend, we share the “same heart” (jai-diow-gkan), and when we trust someone, we can “place our heart” with that person (wahng-jai). When we try to uplift and give encouragement, we give “strength and energy to the heart” (gkamlang-jai), and when we allow our children to make their own choices, we say to them “Dtahm-jai,” or “Follow your heart.” When we are generous and kind to others, we have a “good heart” (jai-dee), but when we are selfish, our heart is “narrow” (jai-kaep). When we feel let down or disappointed, our heart is “heavy” (nak-jai), but when we are joyful, our heart feels “cheerful and refreshing” (cheun-jai).

There are hundreds of other heart expressions in common usage and new combinations continually emerge as people spontaneously attempt to express their inner states and processes. Jai is tangible; it can be felt. The heart that beats in our chest is none other than hua-jai (“head of the heart”). It keeps us alive and is the place where our soul and spirit reside.


See also: Kasma’s article on Heart Values in Thailand.


(Click on an image to see a larger version.)


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, February, 2011