2012 began on a slightly unusual note for me: the New Year marked my virgin attempt in cooking for Mr. P’s family in Udon Thani. My mum-in-law has heard about my new-found interest in the kitchen—Mr. P was always telling her of our homemade concoctions—so she requested to taste my cooking. Cooking a Chinese dish was a much safer option as the folks would not have any basis for comparison, as opposed to, say, som tam. I decided on bak kut teh because its thick, peppery broth is most likely to satiate Thais’ strong flavours-inclined palates.
And of course I had to rope in Mr. P to assist me in his mum’s kitchen. We were so focused on the bak kut aspect that we only prepared pork ribs, needle mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and garlic cloves, in addition to the spices pack that I purchased in Singapore. Then as we were simmering the stock, we suddenly thought of using black soy sauce and chillies for the condiments, and scampered onto the motorbike to the neighourhood provision store while we had the sister-in-law buy fresh coriander leaves on our behalf. By the end of our bak kut teh endeavour, it was as if half the village knew about my cooking attempt. It was a tad embarrassing.
Meanwhile, my father-in-law and brother-in-law whipped up laap kai (Isaan-style minced chicken) from scratch, including killing a chicken, slicing the meat off the bones and chopping it to bits. When we placed all the dishes on the floor—Isaan meals are traditionally eaten off the floor—I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the pot of bak kut teh beside the bamboo-woven basket of khao niao (sticky rice), a culinary staple in northeastern Thailand. Eating bak kut teh with laap kai and sticky rice was a novel experience for all of us, but seeing the family happily dipping balls of sticky rice into the bak kut soup? That was a priceless cross-cultural moment for me.
My 2012 resolution? To improve my cooking even more so I can fix up more dishes for Mr. P’s family whenever we are back in Udon.