Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Spice(s) of Life

After we returned from our first visit to Singapore last fall, the first thing that struck us was how salty American food is (even Asian food in America). It’s not that food in Asia is tasteless - far from it! But instead of salt, the main flavoring could be any number of things: curries, chilies, or an array of complex spices might permeate a dish. And almost every dish is unique: you can even go to a wet market, find the curry guy, tell him what meat and vegetables you’re planning to cook that night, and he’ll whip you up a custom dried curry perfect for your meal. The sheer variety of tastes is unlike anything we experienced in the US.

And now that we’re here for the longer term, we’re taking full advantage of this culinary adventure. Thai food, in particular, has become a new addiction, especially for my better half. Although we frequented several nice Thai places back in the US, I have to admit that the food there seems a little anemic by comparison. Perhaps they never believed us when we asked them to dial up the spice, or perhaps it’s the inescapable advantage in Singapore of having Thailand itself practically next door.

Regardless, the Thai food here is unsurpassed. Take, for instance, A-Roy Thai - a small but highly recommended establishment tucked into a row of retail stores not far from us on the East Coast. We’ve tried quite a few green curries by now, but none compare with A-Roy’s. Every bite is rife with flavor, and the pungent spiciness of chilies enhances beyond imagination. The complex curry taste, the texture of the unusual Thai eggplants, and the aroma of the basil make it a memorable dish.

We’ve developed a sort of ritual when eating this kind of Thai food. There’s that first whiff of curries and chilies. A reverent spoonful of the mixture placed over the fluffy rice. A small bite of flavor that piques the interest of your taste buds. And then the spice starts to work its way through. Then that crucial sip of cold water (or for some serious cooling, Thai iced tea with milk). A deep breath. Then you’re ready for the second bite.

And so it goes for nearly an hour. Pretty soon, there’s a bit of perspiration on my head, even though the rest of me is quite cool. Given all the steps involved, it takes us forever to finish our small bowl of green curry - but it’s worth it.

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