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My horizons have been broadened

There are moments where you taste something and it makes you want to delve even more into that style of cooking or that cuisine. This may sound pretty pedestrian to some, but it was an eye-opener for me: Thai food. It was only a plate of pad thai, but it was amazing. A little tangy, a little sweet, a little bit of heat, crisp and fresh bean sprouts on top along with the crunchy peanuts. I'm not even sure how authentic it was, but it blew my mind and I want more! I live in rural Iowa with not many ethnic groceries to be found, other than Hispanic stores. The closest I'd ever come to Thai food before today was reading about it on Chow, or watching it on the travel or cooking shows. So close yet so far away!

Fortunately, my roommate got a new job in a nearby town that has a pretty diverse Asian community. On a whim, we decided to step into the restaurant advertising Thai food and try it. It was a little hole in the wall restaurant that looked like it used to contain a KFC, with a sad-looking buffet against one wall. One look and my roommate and I decided to order off the menu instead, and we were glad we did! She ordered tom ka gai (sp?), since she likes spicy, and I opted for pad thai, being in the mood for noodles. The portions were huge for such low prices and I nearly didn't have anything to bring home for later. My roommate, unfortunately, mistook a chunk of green thai chili for a green bean and spent a good amount of time in the bathroom trying to cool her mouth. Her entire face was bright red, eyes and nose running. The girl running the front of the restaurant was very apologetic, but we were laughing our backsides off at the entire situation and told her that it was alright. I also got a few giggles out of my bubble tea, which was extremely sweet but a lot of fun.

Before today, I was one of THOSE people. The one who thinks that eating sushi rolls containing smoked salmon and cream cheese is pretty darned exotic and who would probably prefer just a burger or a plate of questionably Italian pasta. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long and happy relationship with ethnic food.

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  1. Thai food is wonderful. My husband and I talk about the clean, crisp taste of it. Go back and work your way through the menu.

    I think Thai may be my favorite. Most of the ingredients you should be able to buy even in Iowa.( Not knocking Iowa, my nephew lives there and misses certain fresh food and ethnic foods). It is fairly simple to cook. Check on line for recipes and expand your food experience.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Janet

      Oh, I plan on it! There's a Chinese grocery across the street from the restaurant, actually, we just haven't worked up the courage to go in and check it out lol I plan on trying pho the next time I'm there and my roommate has her eye on yellow curry.

      1. re: spellweaver16

        Those first visits to an ethnic grocery can be very intimidating--you feel like everyone's watching you. Just smile and ask about stuff--if they speak reasonable English, you'll be fine and generally they will be eager to help. The Asian groceries by me tend to have clienteles from various Asian countries, and English is the lingua franca, so it works out for us non-Asians.

        Pho is Vietnamese--if they have other Vietnamese foods, try the banh mi sandwiches. They can be amazing, much better than what the word "sandwich" brings to mind.

        1. re: coney with everything

          That's exactly it. We're determined to go in there now, though. I think my roommate was definitely inspired, she made homemade stir fry tonight and it was great!

    2. Viet Nam gave a small town Russian-American boy his first introduction to real Asian food 41 years ago. We love Thai, both in restaurants and cook-at-home. Our son is moving to Phuket in 2 weeks and I am already dreaming about visiting and chowing down! Hole-in -the -wall ethnic food rules! Congrats.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Passadumkeg

        Thanks :)

      2. Oh, Geez! I've been eating Thai and cooking it for almost twenty years. I love the raw freshness of some dishes, like larb and then the big noodles with beef or shrimp. Whole fish with spicy sauces! I was fortunate to have a very upscale and creative restaurant near me, in the Dallas area and another good one in Denton. It helped me be a better cook and then I had two Thai employees and we would bring dishes to work and share. What fun! You have so much to look forward to.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Scargod

          Discovering Thai food will certainly broaden one's horizon. Most discoveries here have broadened my girth.

          1. re: Veggo

            "for almost 20 years"... in your forties? Me too. My cartharsis was my first New Mex. red chile enchilada at Jaramillo's Mexatessen in Grants, New Mexico in 1969. Love at first bite!

          2. re: Scargod

            And I'm definitely looking forward to it! I know the first thing we're going to do the next time we get to Des Moines is look around for more ethnic restaurants to try.

          3. welcome to the wide world of flavor!

            as a side note, the bathroom is the worst place to cool one's mouth from spicy food. the spice is in oils, oil just floats on water, so rinsing water in an over spiced mouth will only spread the oils over more area. plain rice, dairy, those are the sorts of things u want

            1 Reply
            1. re: thew

              Yeah. I think she wanted to hide, since her eyes and nose were running lol The waitress was really nice and brought her some soy milk, since they didn't have regular milk at all. Roomie said that it worked pretty well.

            2. I love Thai food. If you like noodles and you liked Pad Thai, you must try Pad See Ewe next. It's not too scary and it tastes wonderful! It's wider noodles sauteed with egg in a black bean sauce that's light and sweet. It's one of my favorite Thai dishes.

              I also enjoy the soup your friend got. You should also try Tom Yum, which is the same thing without the coconut milk, usually. Eventually you should branch out into the Thai basil dishes or some of the curries. I've tried panang which has a sweet peanutty flare and isn't too spicy.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chew on That

                I was eyeballing the pad se ew, too :) Definitely on my list to try! I tried to get my roommate to try a bite of my pad thai, but she wasn't interested. All the more for me!

              2. If you would like to cook some Thai (quite easy), a good cookbook is The Original Thai Cookbook by Jennifer Brennan. I've been cooking from it since early 80's and all the recipes I have tried have been quite good. Probably out of print, but I am sure you can find it on amazon or ebay. Also--a good source of Thai ingredients can be found at Amazon.com. Because we live in a very small rural town in the mountains, I order most everything even a little exotic from Amazon.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pepperqueen

                  Thanks for the advice! We love Amazon.com, I don't know why we didn't think of that earlier.

                2. When you're at the Asian grocery, snag some jasmine rice, a tub or two of Mae Ploy curry paste (I like 'em all, but am never without green and red), and a few cans of coconut milk. You'll be able to put together some pretty tasty Thai food at home with those refrigerator / pantry staples and fresh ingredients from your garden or local market. Beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, green beans, peas, eggplant, asparagus, potatoes: nearly anything can go in a Thai curry. And you'll be surprised at how easy it is to make.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    I'll definitely keep that in mind! Thanks :)

                  2. Thanks for sharing your story! Reminded me a little bit of when I started to like fruit- based sauces with savory meats over the standard brown gravy or such. The world sort of opened up a bit wider.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: scuzzo

                      Oh, I know! It's been interesting how my palate's matured over the past few years (I'm 25). Sweet/savory combinations is one big thing I noticed liking all of a sudden.