x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A Thai party for the senses

A recent trip to Thailand delivered a tour of deliciously fresh, fragrant food.

Given the very nature of my job, it probably won't come as too much of a surprise that while planning a recent visit to Thailand, the promise of sampling lots of fresh, authentic food was a major draw. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, I eagerly envisaged stumbling from stall to stall, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on the hoof and getting to grips with the intricacies of a cuisine that I have long loved.

Then, a couple of days before I left on said holiday, disaster struck and I succumbed to a bout of sickness that forced me to take to my bed and sip away at flat lemonade for sustenance. By the time I boarded a plane bound for Bangkok, my stomach and I had not yet recovered from our weakened state, to say the least.

Consequently, and much to my chagrin, my first meal on Thai soil was an altogether anodyne one: a grilled cheese sandwich, ordered from room service and eaten while gazing longingly out of the window at the majestic city's skyline.

Step out into downtown Bangkok, as I did the next morning, and sensory overload is mere minutes away. The streets teem with sights, smells and sounds; the constant traffic rumbles away before grinding to a sudden halt; tuk-tuk drivers call out to their customers; and vendors - selling fruit, flowers, clothes, and of course, freshly cooked food - line every corner, adding vibrant splashes of colour, flavour and character.

Despite all my previous excitement, and perhaps because of my recent illness, I felt incredibly wary - shy, even - of trying anything new. I longingly watched people queuing up to purchase beef satay skewers or bowls of noodles swimming in clear broth, but couldn't quite force myself to get in line.

Sensing my distress, my friend prodded me towards a vendor selling hunks of bright yellow pineapple. For 10 baht (Dh1.25), a smiling man pressed a bag of fresh fruit into my hand, along with a wooden stick and a little pot of what I later discovered was chilli, salt and sugar. After just a mouthful, I was immediately converted - the fruit was unbelievably sweet and juicy and the chilli and sugar fizzed in my mouth like space dust from childhood.

Confidence boosted and appetite awoken, over the next couple of days I went on to eat balls of minced chicken plucked straight from the grill and soused in chilli sauce; barbecued whole fish with crusty, salt-speckled skin; pad Thai spiked with tamarind and countless bowls of salty, spicy, sour tom yum soup. Yes, I think it's fair to say that I found my food groove.