When June, my friend from high school, announced on Facebook that she had published her cook book “Happy Thai Girl” I suddenly remembered all those Sundays in Okinawa when I woke her up to cook for me.
It’s wonderful to see a lifetime passion come to fruition in the form of a cook book, an e-book, a companion website with blogposts, TV appearances, book signing events, free recipes, and mentions in newspapers and magazines.
June introduced me to the green papaya salad known as “som tum.” She not only showed me how to make it but also gave me a mortar and pestle made from stone. On Okinawa, we grew our own papayas and tiny hot chili peppers.
Each Sunday, after playing four consecutive church services, I’d end at the church close to June’s house and wake her up. “I’m hungry,” I’d whine. She’d get up, make rice, and a fresh som tum.
Between college in the USA and graduate school in London, I backpacked through South East Asia. On the plane from Taipei to Bangkok, I befriended a Thai lady named Dang sitting in my row. I told her about my friend June who introduced me to Thai cuisine. [This will be the subject of a future blog post or book — adventures in Thailand and beyond.]
In Bangkok, I ordered my first Thai dish — som tum. The second dish I ordered was stir fried pork with chili, garlic, and basil. This was a 25 cent meal in an alley with a stray dog sitting under my table.
Whenever I ate at a Thai restaurant, I would order these dishes as a test of the chef’s ability to create authentic Thai cuisine.
In the years I lived in Europe, I was often disappointed when restaurants substituted shredded carrot for green papaya. They said that some Europeans had trouble digesting green papaya. I would rather believe that green papayas were hard to find and too expensive to use. The quality, not to mention the authenticity, of Thai food in some Thai restaurants outside of Thailand was sometimes questionable.
I loved Thai food so much that I once registered for a Thai cooking class in Singapore. I wanted to expand my repertoire of Thai cuisine, after Dang (my friend whom I met on the airplane) introduced me to other Thai salads, stir fries, and curries. Hungry and tired from a long day at work, I was eager to dive into freshly-made Thai food. Little did I realize how much time was needed to wash, cut, chop, and prepare the million ingredients. While this was going on, I eavesdropped on my classmates — housewives who exchanged dramas of their day. I must have shown my discomfort and desperation, for by the time the teacher offered us the cooked dish, all my classmates motioned me to eat it. That first class was also my last.
Needless to say, I look forward to getting June Williamson‘s new book and preparing my kitchen for Thai Cooking Made Easy. Until then, I’ll watch her videos online!