or How to Avoid Chilli Related Gastrointestinal Injuries:
7-11s here are great. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before as I'm nowhere near a net connection, but they are. They have beer - Singh, the most popular Thai beer is rather good - coke, several different types of Red Bull, Bacardi Breezers, Pocky, bottled water, and all of the other usual 7-11 gear such as dodgy hot dogs (no, I haven't even considered it).
They also have something very important for the westerner eating out in Thailand: 500mL bottles of Yakult-clone.
Until we discovered this stuff (for a miserly 20.5 baht or 80 Australian cents) Rach and I both experienced our food-processing organs in some very new and exciting ways. We haven't had any food that was dodgy - it's all been fantastic tasting, fresh and relatively clean - but there has been a lot of chilli. Couple this with ingredient and (probably) local organism combinations that are a bit unfamiliar to our digestive tracts and you encounter a new and exciting way to experience food: external food path monitoring.
From the moment that chicken with chilli and basil leaves hits your stomach you know exactly where in your tubes it's located. It doesn't even taste insanely spicy - I've eaten much hotter meals in Aus - but somehow this food burns the inside like nothing I've ever encountered. After the stomach churning you can feel when it first opens out into the small intestine, follow its journey through the twists and turns and onwards to the colon! Oh, the colon! When Thai chilli hits your colon you know about it straight away. The process also takes a remarkably short amount of time. This isn't one of those time-lapse glacier journeys where you need to take out a lot of frames to see any actual motion. Your food is noticably on the move and you begin to dread the chilli-colon interface.
Well dread no more round-eyed traveller, cause you know where the 7-11 is (you go out the front of your hotel, turn left, or right, and walk for a while.. there's the 7-11) and you know that they've got a whole range of yakult-inspired, fermented, possibly happy-little-organism-filled dairy products. Now we all know that milk helps to neutralise the burningness of our chilli kettle chips (which I haven't encountered yet, fuckit), so we're aware that some kind of dairy chaser can help stop the burning in the stomach and the mouth, but this is a whole new type of burning. It's fast. If you have your dinner and then start looking for your dairy the bull of burningness has bolted, nicked your yellow pages and is half way to Aanderson & Co. China Importers. You might be able to catch it in time with the bucket of cold water but I don't like your chances. So you've got to change your technique. You've got to drop the stupid metaphor and drink that yakult-stuff before you even order your dinner. This gives your stomach a buffer-zone of whatever it is in dairy products that neutralises the caesin (I think that's how it's spelt) and prevents the flow of molten lava slash food into your tender tubes. You can eat your meal safe in the knowledge that you're not going to be focussing on its progress along said tubes for the next couple of hours. If it's particularly spicy you can follow it up with a yakultstuff chaser once you're out of range of the chortling chef, who's probably adding another kill-mark to the nosecone of his wok.
Well that's the technique I used this afternoon for my lunch at the Joy Luck Club Cafe (no idea whether this was named pre- or post-book/movie). The cafe was tiny, strange, friendly, and the food was spectacularrrrrrrrrrrrly good. Rach had some kind of fried mushroom with rice noodles dish and I had a salad consisting of pork, shredded carrot, cabbage, lime juice and chilli. LOTS of chilli.
Enough chilli that the chef hung around in the background after serving me to make sure that it was ok and I wasn't going to need medical attention. After I took my first mouthful I glanced up to see him hovering with an expectant look on his face. I smiled at him and he said "Good? Spicy?". It was Good, Spicy, enough that I wasn't quite up to speaking straight away so I had to satisfy him with a thumbs up and another, slightly glazed smile.