Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Alternate titles:





First of all, to get it out of the way, where are the best restaurants? Hong Kong and San Francisco. The competition and comparisons are such that poor restaurants fold. Besides eating frequently at high profile restaurants, in both places I have been to waterfront establishments, patronized by dock workers, and found the food to be very good. That is the best test.

Of the foreign places I have lived in for an extended period Viet Nam had by far the best food. But that was no contest when you consider the HHs in which I lived. (I use HH instead of saying hell hole so I don’t offend. I‘m a sensitive guy.)

Here’s the list:

Okinawa: So soon after WWII that it hadn’t been rebuilt. (The place had been destroyed.)

Guam: A beautiful place but 99.9% military in the northern part of the island, where I was.

Peru: On the Southern Peruvian Desert. That was a place where insects couldn’t live, let alone people. When we had a day off we could drive 50 or 100 miles to a cantina for a warm beer, with a large chunk of ice plopped in, and a meal. I liked their food but it was hardly representative.

Iran: It was somewhat similar to Peru but for different reasons. My job required me to drive around the country quite a bit. There were lots of people but few facilities for travelers. Luckily I had discovered a dish in Tehran that was served everywhere. It was chicken kabob. No matter how remote the village, if they had a restaurant (some places had none), they served chicken kabob.

I have very fond memories of that dish. It was a mound of rice with a large butter patty melting on top. That was topped by a generous slice of sweet onion and a barbecued chicken leg and thigh. I tried to get it at an upscale Iranian restaurant in Orange County. They pretended to not have heard of it. It was probably too pedestrian (read inexpensive) for their purposes.

Knowing how to order that one dish in Farsi gave me some comfort as I drove alone throughout Iran even though my vehicle was well stocked with emergency food.

With that history is it any wonder that Viet Nam was like a gastronomical paradise to me? The French had been there 100 years more or less. They had trained chefs throughout the country. Good to excellent restaurants were everywhere. There was a restaurant in the central coastal town of Nha Trang that had a star in the Michelin Guide. There are restaurateurs in France who would kill (and probably have killed) for a single star in the Michelin Guide.

Which brings me to Thailand.

First a little story. When eating out The Jungle Princess is inclined to order a multiplicity of dishes, all of them meant to share, I suppose. So I search the menu for something that looks good. I saw ‘baked catfish’ for $3 American. I expected little catfish fillets ot catfish cubes with tooth picks in them. Something in the order of an hors oeuvres . For $3 how much can you get? Would you believe a whole 10 pound catfish? Head, eyeballs and all.

She laughed at me when she saw the expression on my face. She had ordered enough food for three and so had I. I was learning that food was inexpensive here.

In general, Thai food is an acquired taste. It is predominantly seafood and, as prepared, the hottest I have ever tasted. It is too hot for me and I am accustomed to hot.

Just ordering seafood might bring some surprises. I have seen, amongst The Jungle Princess’ food, little black things with eight or more arms, reminding me very much of a spider. I wish I could write that when she put one in her mouth, a single black arm was squirming from between her lips. That didn’t happen, but wouldn’t it have made a better story?

There are many ethnic restaurants here and there are American items on every menu, so the traveler has that to fall back on. I must report though, the quality is widely varied.


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