Today I buy my favorite green tea. And eat Yunnan-style fresh “bacon” with fermented greens. In a village of Chinese refugees given Thai citizenship in exchange for turning over their weapons. One kilometer from the border with Burma. Can you get any more Thai than that?
Vietnamese Breakfast (#2)
We returned to the coffee shop for another round of breakfasts. This time I had the two eggs with various kinds of pork and a sandwich on the side. Doctored up with garlicky chilli sauce and white pepper, the eggs were tasty, but not transcendent. On the side we had numerous market snacks, including ripe jackfruit segments, crispy fried sour ribs, coconut custard atop sweetened black sticky rice, and sweet shredded coconut set in coconut cream and steamed in a banana leaf packet. It was more than enough.
After breakfast we visited one of Kasma’s favorite vendors in the market for spices. I picked up the essential Hunglay curry powder and a few additional items. I wonder whether I should have purchased more?
Rice Paddy Walk
Shortly after starting down the highway, we pulled over across from a set of fields and wandered onto the land. Kasma has visited here before, so there was no reason to believe we were unwelcome, although I can’t imagine this happening in the U.S. We walked on the raised land (like a narrow levee) between rice fields, soybean fields, watermelon fields, and garlic fields until we reached a small house and chicken coop where we spoke with the owner and viewed some of the specialty crops. A raised kitchen garden hosted moringa, okra, lemon basil, and loufa plants. A bucket of naturally fermenting fertilizer was very fragrant. There also was a disturbingly unsteady bamboo bridge across a stream to add a sense of adventure. As a person who has never seen rice or soybean plants, or fields being flooded for planting, this was informative, but it was hard to hear the commentary in such a large, spread-out group, so not as informative as it could have been had I been toward the front of the line.
We stopped at Phasua Falls briefly to use the bathrooms and grab some quick waterfall photos, and we soon were back on the road.
We visited a Hmong hill tribe village that is not very sophisticated about marketing its handicrafts. I still managed to spend a lot of money here on a small vest adorned with needlepoint designs, e.g., butterflies, and on the back the lettering NIKE and a needlepoint swoosh. Priceless.
Ban Rak Thai
Back on the road, we postponed our visit to the Agro-Tourism Center and drove straight through to the refugee village of Ban Rak Thai (Love Thailand Village). This town is much more developed than I remember, with numerous shops lining the road as it winds around a lake. We stopped at G Lee, the town’s original tea shop and home to its best Yunnanese style restaurant. It’s tricky conducting a tea tasting for 15 people and there was a bit of confusion, but the bottom line was: wonderfully fragrant “first dew” or “morning dew” green tea; very nice oolong #17 tea; oddly delicious “milk green tea”; average jasmine tea rolled in nice pearls; and ginseng tea that doesn’t do anything for me. I bought 12 bags, which should last me quite a long time. (I got a tip that the fragrance will hold longer if I freeze the tea I’m not planning to use immediately, but in my freezer, that could well ruin it.)
After this burst of shopping, it was time for the feast of pork. A fat pork leg with crinkly skin, sitting in some of the star anise flavored cooking broth, sat waiting for us. We received steamed buns (which I found tastier if moistened with the cooking liquid) to accompany the pork leg. Our second pork dish was thinly sliced pork belly stewed with preserved vegetables (primarily mustard greens). It’s uncured bacon in yet another tasty form. An appetizer platter featured delicious oil-roasted cashews, sliced raw sour sausage, fried sour ribs, quartered thousand year old eggs, and cucumber slices. Quite an odd assortment, but mostly good. A black chicken soup was quite unusual, with gray skin and very dark meat. It’s not due to the cooking method: it’s simply a different breed of chicken, sometimes called a silky. A salad of astringent slivered tea leaves topped with tangy mackerel could be an acquired taste, as the tannins become more apparent the more you eat. The chayote greens with garlic were good, but the locally farmed tilapia tasted a bit muddy to me. To cleanse our palate we had both pomelo segments and cubes of local papaya. A pumpkin custard provided a wonderfully rich finish to an already over-the-top meal. We wandered the shop in a daze and I picked up just a couple more bags of tea.
As it was getting late, we dropped the Agro-Tourism Center completely and sped back to town to pick up some altered clothing. I took the group on a detour to the post office for some boxes (apologies to all for the long wait) and we alighted back at the resort with our purchases.
Dinner at Fern Restaurant (#4)
After an intense 90 minutes on wi-fi, we returned to town for a fourth night at Fern Restaurant. We started with Shan-style chicken (“oop gai”) since Fern does a better version than Kai Mook. Slices of sour pork were paired with crunchy raw vegetables, picked ginger, and a spicy dipping sauce. Crispy fish were mixed into a rich, tasty curry with Thai eggplants and pea eggplants. We also had a soupy curry I can’t recall tasting before, with chicken, basil, green beans, pea eggplants, tree ears, and of course chillies. It had an interesting herbal flavor, but was harder to love than the other dishes. Finally, we got a re-do on the ivy gourd leaf (dtam leung) salad, topped with ground pork and chunks of Chinese sausage in a dressing you never want to stop eating. I think it might be the same dressing as winged bean salad, another addictive dish.
For dessert, the restaurant portioned out slices of four different confections from the market: two Shan puddings (one lighter and a bit more elastic, the other more gooey, and tasting a bit of caramel); a Shan sticky rice snack; and Shan cake, which reminded me of the texture of the steamed white cake available at some Chinese bakeries or dim sum houses (but with much more interesting sweetening).
We took one last stroll through the Mae Hong Son night market. It’s Friday and there are additional attractions: more vendors, and a group of out-of-tune music students raising funds for their “scolarship.” There will be many more shopping opportunities on the trip; in fact, they start just after breakfast.
Tomorrow we depart from paradise down the curviest highway on our trip. With enough ginger, we should make it to Pai without losing our breakfasts or lunches. We’ll overnight there before returning to a real city, Chiang Mai.