Friday, 12 August 2011

[Event - Fair] The Danson Park Khanom Massacre; Visit Thai Festival of Bexleyheath

Location - Danson Park - Bexleyheath, Kent [UK]

Before the food from my last ridiculous eatscapade had so much as even cleared my oesophagus allowing me to take my first gasp of non-food obstructed air, I found myself at yet another mindless indulgence of the calorific kind. This one was another of the country-centric variety, this time concentrating on a particularly endearing cuisine to me: Thailand. Precariously, the main area of interest, were the Khanom Wan Thai's - Thai Desserts. My downfall. My weakness. My sworn, delicious, enemy.

As usual, boredom played its part in relenting this onslaught of calories unto me once again - in another fit of cerebral nullity, I lurked forth onto Google pondering as to whether or not the United Kingdom held any Food Festivals of note, particularly of the international kind, as it would give some cheaper interim scope on trying out the world's delicacies. Unfortunately Google did not help by throwing plenty of results and thus providing ample opportunity to gorge. And one was located a mere 30 miles away. May as well..

Having researched broadly on Thai cuisine, I was immediately struck by a solitary notion - despite having gone to Thailand for a Spring Holiday in 2000, everything I had turned up was completely alien to me. Was there really a culinary scene in Thailand beyond Tom Yam soup and Sweet & Sour Pork?! C'est Impossible! Whilst my memory tends more towards the Goldfish spectrum of useless, there are sporadic pivotal moments in time I do occasionally recollect - I remember many from being in Thailand, including one of my sisters' meals considering of Shark steak at Ko Phi Phi Island. For me? Squat. Diddly. Just Tom Yam and Sweet & Sour Pork. Obviously something that would have to be rectified. Just, why did it have to be during this period of perpetual self-taxidermy (>_<). Without a Guide or a Plan in order to structure meals, I packaged a notepad in order to provide some semblance of systematic proceedings to the gorging, and a camera to attempt to keep my hands too busy to create a food-engorging vortex at the stalls. This would prove fruitless.

Som Tam Salad vying to divert attention in vain from the legions of curries
Khanoms, khanoms, khanoms.
Caught in the moment - awesome meets awesomer

As the above pictures show, only three pictures were managed, before I could resist no more. Despite lunch still being at least an hour away. I feel no shame. Just fat.

As there was no real structure to proceedings other than to hoard, destroy and eat everything in sight, I shall just list yet another chronological kill list, with a small excerpt reviewing the victims, though it would must likely take form of the attempted articulation of guttural noises:

~ The First Ones to Cease ~

  • Lod Chong Nam Ka Ti [ลอดช่องน้ำกะทิ] - Pandan Noodles with Sweetened Coconut Milk

Duped into this one thinking it was a light, refreshing drink. It was glorious. As it has a basis of coconut. As with seemingly everything else in Thailand. Devoured rather quickly, and annoyingly, rather filling, considering it was nowhere near lunch time just yet. Essentially just a chilled coconut drink with some largely flavourless but nicely chewy noodles
  • Khao Pod Tod [ทอดมันข้าวโพด] - Sweetcorn Fritters
Corn, Batter, Deep Fried. I challenge anything wrong to be found with that trifecta. So it turned out - delicious. Very sweet corn aroma still permeated through despite the torture of being deep fried, and despite that, not heavy at all, as there was not a great deal of batter seeing as the fritters are only loosely shaped by dint of the awkward nature of the kernels. The chilli sauce, pleasantly NOT of the neutered bottled variety, added only a slight and well judged hint of sweetness and a spicy zing to cut through. Lovely. And my token vegetable serving!

~ The ones that made it home ~

  • (On the plate) Sai Krok Isaan [ไส้กรอกอีสาน] & Moo Ping [หมูปิ้ง] - Northern Thai Sausage & Barbecued Pork on Skewers

A rather ubiquitous selection, seeing as they were evident at basically every one of the food stalls, my selection naturally fell on the first one came across. The sausage was reasonable, and I am now safe in the knowledge that vampires will not trouble me, seeing as the sausage was predominantly made of garlic. Almost overpoweringly so, but it was still rather nice. And also rather versatile in its dual purpose as vampire deterrent. The skewered pork, whilst being the most annoying thing ever to remove from the skewer, was lovely - just the right amount of sweetness, combined with a nice char, and it's barbecued. So, not really much to go at fault, even if they tried.

  • Khanom Gluay [ขนมกล้วย] & Kaek Hao Phak Kad [เค้กหัวผักกาด] - Banana Pudding & White Turnip Cake
A lunchtime dessert and portion of vegetables respectively [or so I convinced myself], these were merely meant as supplements and as such, was not expecting too much. Au contraire however, the banana pudding being rather quite, ironically, banana-y, down to all the veins evident in the flesh. Rather hearty and enjoyable, other than for the fact of knowing just how sugary banana is. The turnip cake was a surprise, predominantly as I had no idea what turnip would taste like - it was suggested all it needs is a bit of soy sauce, but I beg to differ, as it was just fine on its own. Not a spectacular morsel, but it was nice all the same - almost a bit like cassava in taste, without the dreaded carbs! Ergo, win.
  • Khao Tom Mud [ข้าวต้มมัด] - Banana Leaf-wrapped Steamed Banana & Sticky Rice Cake
A dessert, wrapped in a charred banana leaf, not that any further excuse were needed to indulge. Plus it was available at the first stall, so replete with added convenience. What emerged was a dinky and delicious looking sticky rice cake, with a filling of banana - wow. Why sticky rice has never so much as merged into my life previously [apart from the one isolated occasion long ago, no idea where/when/why/whom] is unbeknownst to me - it is awesome. Especially when steamed, forming a dense cake, and with the charred side of the leaf allowing a bit of a crunchy layer, even multi-textured! A light coconut profusion just ups the scale.
  • Takoh Bai Toey [ขนมตะโก้เผือก] - Coconut Cream Jelly
Straying ever further into the realm of "the hell is that?!" desserts, this little treat combined a world of complimentary flavours in a tiny little parcel that at once, seemed so right. Obviously, being topped by coconut cream, again, it was right anyway. Combining a coconut cream topping a water chestnut jelly with a couple of kernels of sweetcorn, the sweet and savoury combination was exquisite. The light jelly and coconut cream provided a gentle sweetness to the crunch and earthiness of the corn to create just, a rather lovely surprise. 
  • Khao Niew Sangkaya [ข้าวเหนียวสังขยา] - Sticky Rice with Custard Slice
More sticky rice, therefore more unabated approval. This time topped with a slice of custard. Random? Perhaps, but another great combination - the sticky rice being red in this example proved a bit earthier and more savoury, which just worked perfectly with the dense, egg custard, adding just a little crunch as well for good measure. Lightly sweet, to the benefit of my long overdue bout of crippling diabetes with this influx of desserts, quite a different yet endearing treat. Though I would say that of sticky rice topped with entrails. Sticky rice has the power of boundless ability to create bliss from skank. 
  • Khanom Chun [ขนมชั้น] - Coconut & Pandanus Leaf Jelly
One I was not expecting much from, yet seemed to over deliver. Fairly sure the first time such a thing could be said of jelly. Finally after battling with the spidey-web levels of stickiness, the first bite through the incredibly dense jelly revealed. Heavenly coconut. Hence, heart. To remain objective though, this was supplemented by just a hint of a grassy, earthy tone, presumably from the pandanus leaf juice. This one enticed more with its peculiar texture than anything, as the flavouring was nicely subdued, but nevertheless, still a pleasurable treat. This is getting boring, as it would mean nothing would be thrown away. Hmph.
  • Khanom Mor Gaeng, I think [ขนมหม้อแกง] - Egg custard slice
Being presented with a brick, which I overhead being "Custard", it was yet another blind enterprising whilst lunging the first bite. I overhead correctly - a nicely rich, obviously egg based custard. Not much else really to be added. It was eggy. It was sweet. There's a lot of it. It's annoyingly nice. NEXT. 
  • Foi Tong [ฝอยทอง] - Sweetened Egg Yolk Strands
By dint of its rather orthodox ingredients list[Egg yolk. Sugar. Plastic Container Holding it. Sticker on Box denoting the ingredients. Air in container.], I was expecting a rather monochromatic experience. And largely it is what I received. It was very yellow.


Whilst oddly not tasting rather emphatically of just egg, more egg, and then some egg again, its crunchy texture was rather quite peculiar. It was like eating crispy seaweed. In fact, its taste was not too dissimilar to the sweetened crispy seaweeds. Just, eggier. However, in being just a bit too sweet, it was perhaps my least favourite of all the hoards of desserts amassed, but that is not to undersell it, as it is in excruciatingly decadent company. Bah. 

  • Khanom Mun [ขนมมัน] - Coconut & Sweetened Cassava Morsels
A recently introduced food item to me, and one which I rue as it has almost been exclusively presented to me in the particularly healthy inclination of being deep-fried as tempura, not that its inherently nefarious starchiness needed any further help in the war on my flanks. Nevertheless, it was interesting to experiment this time with a sweetened variety. Which was of a completely different texture to the potato-like crumbliness expected. Obviously when lots of sugar meets starch, they do form a rather glutinous texture, which is entertaining for some. Like me. That and there was coconut, so, failure-proof essentially, though not much in the way of cassava was evident other than a slight denseness right in the middle of each morsel. Not that cassava has much in the way of flavour anyway. 
  • Khanom Tom Bai Toey [ขนมต้มใบเตย] - Coconut Covered Glutinous Balls with Nut Filling
More glutinous rice. More coconut. Now with added nut filling. Similar to the other coconut strewn treats, but this time with an added explosion of a dense, predominantly peanut, filling which just melds perfectly with the genteel sweetness of the coconut. 
  • Med Kanun [เม็ดขนุน] - Sweetened Split Mung Beans with Egg Yolk
Another diverse treat, comprising of a sweetened mung bean melange with the same sweetened egg yolk strands previously mentioned added into the mix. The result is much the same, in that the mung beans have little flavour of their own, barring a sweet mush with a slight earthy bean aroma [who would've thought!], with an addition the egg yolk making itself known [oh hai!]. Quite pleasant, if not as coma inducing as some.
  • Khanom Tarn [ขนมตาล] - Steamed Palm Heart Cakes
One of the more "normal" offerings, in that it is simply a steamed cake. Of Palm hearts [or so I think]. So still quirky enough to warrant its demise in my belly. And not much stands out, other than, blatantly, the coconut, but also its relative lightness - it is not grossly starchy or doughy at all. A bit bland, but otherwise, s'aright. 
  • Khao Niew Mamuang [รวมมิตรข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง] - Mango with Sticky Rice & Coconut Milk
I heart mangoes. I am newly infatuated with sticky rice. On top of that, this is such a proliferate dessert that it should in theory have been refined to divine levels of awesomeness, not that there is much more to it beyond the mentioned ingredients. Jeebus. I experienced one of those moments, where life is reaffirmed. New purpose added. Beyond subsistence, this isn't subsistence, this is crack in fruit form - the crack distillate. I have nary a clue of the mango seasons, though regardless of such, the mango in isolation was very sweet, and the sticky rice had a lovely, yet soft suffusion of sweetened coconut with a light saltiness. Combined, and the Reese's Pieces phenomena of sweet & salty amalgamation of destiny have once again come to fruition. The mango is just perfectly balanced with the creaminess of the coconut, and supported by a lingering slight saltiness that just reduces capacity of much cohesive thought to null. All the while, filling me with starch and sugar and not caring. Absolutely. Delicious. 
  • Tod Mun Pla [ทอดมันปลากราย] - Fish Cakes
Another staple, another weaksauce reason for destroying myself with food. Excuses be damned. However, never having tried fish cakes until recently, I am still unsure of what to expect from the Thai variants. This one was formed of a paste rather than a shredded/chopped patty, which seemed a bit "pre-packaged" to me, despite the whole peas dotted around. Taste-wise it was pleasant enough, nothing noteworthy really. More excuse to try more.
  • Saku Sai Kem [คาคูใส่เค็ม] - Tapioca Balls with Peanut & Turnip Filling
Having difficulty in understanding exactly what the farge this was due to some communication failure, I was hoping to be able to have some direction in order to balance the couple of savoury purchases with the container inventory's worth of desserts. I am still unsure what these are classified as, yet it is of no issue, for they are rather exquisite. From what I understand, it is a tapioca-based dumpling, with a peanut and turnip filling, which sounds savoury. Which it is not, rather it is quite sweet, yet with an aroma of sesame and garlic from the cooking. There is more though - when the chillies and coriander are combined with the dumplings, they just create an ambrosial mix of the spicy zing of the chilli cutting through the rich nut filling, and creating essentially, a Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce, in your mouth. Rather lovely, if confusing. Makes my hands smell as well.
  • Gaeng Keow Wan Gai [แกงเขียวหวานไก่] - Green Chicken Curry

The ubiquitous Green Curry, such a Westernised name in order for the legions of worldwide appreciators to instantly recollect this curry. Which makes only one of an astronomical number of other "ubiquitous" curries from Thailand, posing the annoyance of knowing exactly where to start from in order to gain a reference point. Such was the case for me, compounded by the fact that all food stalls essentially served up the same dish. I only went for the Green Curry for I struggle to know which reason; I think I was scared off by one stall that gave me a spoonful to taste of just the top layer of oil, and because it was the stall that was foreigner friendly. Perhaps the servant was kind of attractive to.

Regardless, how did it turn out? I just feel the greatest satisfaction whenever I eat a curry that is full flavoured, thick, and aromatic. Which is precisely how the vast majority I have tried at restaurants are not. I guess the above qualities are hard to recreate with "just add water" packets. The now requisite perfume of coconut was delicate yet evident, with a slight sharpness of the basil and lime leaves abound, the bamboo shoots also adding much of the same. I had mine with egg noodles purely to try and stave off the other evils I was consuming on the same day in terms of starch content, but their consistency was just perfect for the curry, with a nice thickness helping to easily manage it in the fact of my usual spaghetti/noodle handling deficiency. One quirky and pleasant detail were the carrots, that were not only cut in an odd shape but also seemingly grooved, which helped to cling sauce onto them. A lovely and light curry, and "Green" ticked off. Now which to select next, from Red. Yellow. Massaman. Panang. Jungle..
  • Khanom Wan Ruam Mit [รวมมิตร] - Tapioca & Mixed Fruits in Sweetened Coconut Milk
A giant fish bowl with a sign containing the words "Sweetened Coconut" were all the temptation I needed. And it was a struggle to make this last three whole servings. Evidently of the fresh coconut milk variety, seeing as any resting period served to split the coconut milk into its various constituents, it was refreshing, divine and delicate in equal measures. Containing as far as I know, tapioca, water chestnuts, a multitude of faeries and mystical creatures, they added little other than a compelling melange of textures, especially the water chestnut with its chewy exterior flesh giving way to the soft crunch of the centre. Absolutely delicious, and far better sampled by the spoonful than I would think it would have been with the provided sewer-pipe straw.
  • Guay Jub [ก๋วยจั้บ] - Pork Entrail Stew with Flat Rice Noodles
Straight from the rather meek and sensible - in nature, not in volume, that was apocalyptic - possibly helped by a slight misreading in my research. In and amongst my want need infatuation for exploring flavours, and a somewhat thin grounding for loving tripe, despite having had it the once before [ok, twice, but the first experience was the more memorable, despite being over 10 years ago], when I spotted this dish being served at one of the only stalls with a foreigner understanding staff, I immediately ordered what I had thought was just Pork Tripe Stew, to add some variety to the infinitesimal variations of the ubiquitous Thai Curries. What I did not know however, is that tripe was just an "ingredient". Amongst the many. Not that it would have stopped me, but it looked sinister, it smelt, interesting, and a quick research revealed the name "Viscera stew".

So. Despite the most vile sounding of descriptions ever possible, a tentative sip of the soup revealed. A surprise. This, was actually rather appetising, it didn't taste of concentrated evil. It was rather sweet, with a clear prominence of star anise in the broth. When eating the dish outright, it was surprising in that despite the clear evidence of the dreaded liver, and not actually knowing the hell I was eating, I rather enjoyed it. The flat wide rice noodles [woot, gluten free!] were rather quirky, and absorbed the broth's flavours nicely, and the whole dish was quickly consumed, awkward textures, disgusting descriptions and all.


The United Towers of Awesome
No lights were actually on during the taking of this picture, an ethereal, almost divine glow befalling upon this tower of calorific epicity.


Despite the exaggeration, excess and repetitive nature of such, I came away from this experience - if only vaguely so - enlightened. Only so much can be drawn from a festival of its scale, in a country not of its origin, and with little preparation or knowledge of what to expect. However, what I did experience has helped introduce me in one swift move, not only to a more respective view of the culinary geography of Thailand, but in eating the most disgusting of described dishes, I also feel like I have broken another boundary - beyond my waistline - of denying myself of experiences through ignorance and unsubstantiated notions of preference or otherwise. In eating viscera, I think I am now ready to eat my way through anything, allowing me to fully experience what countries have to offer [obviously a much needed abstinence period..]; I think I'll even confidently affront Shirako. Actually. No. Am I really feeling this grandiose from overeating out of boredom? Maybe not, I am however mildly elated at having added ever so slightly to my knowledge of another cuisine. Albeit 11 years late from actually visiting the country in question.

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