April 29, 2014

The Best Lunch Ever: Thai Iced Tea + Spring Roles + Tom Kha Soup

This is literally my favorite lunch in the world. From Siam Cuisine in Kerry Town, Ann Arbor. If you ever stop by the Farmer's Market on Saturday, you have to stop by Siam and order anything on the menu + Tom Kha soup + Thai iced tea. 

There's a distinct flavor in the soup that some people don't like. I actually didn't like it when I first had it. And the time between the time I first had it and the time after was a long one -- it hadn't been since overseas in Thailand a few summers ago that I actually tasted whatever that flavor is. I think it may be citrus leaf...I'm not quite sure. But whatever it is, it is in this soup.

So besides being delicious, it's sentimental. I know I'll never be back to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project where I was stationed. I'll never be in a room with all 13 of us who volunteered. Not in Thailand and not here in the USA. Not everyone was American. I've tried at least 5 different Tom Kha soups from other authentic Thai restaurants and none compare. At all. So every spoon full of this particular Tom Kha soup brings me back to Phuket, Thailand.

Back on the sloping steep rain forest trails of the gibbon reservation. Back inside the tiny bungalow where all 13 of our tiny mattresses were laid out on the floor...and where there would be the occasional lizard in my suitcase. Where breakfast was always an assortment of fresh dragon fruits, jam stuffed cookies, and mosquito/red ant bites. We wore the same smelly tee shirts over and over again because we all packed lightly, didn't have much to choose from, and it didn't matter what we smelled like because the gibbons always smelled worse. Where we climbed inside gibbon cages the size of my bedroom with buckets of sudsy water and brushes--and scrubbed. Where we'd touch each palm together and bow our heads slightly as a greeting. Where it was totally rude to cross your legs or point your toes in someone's direction. And worse even to touch someone's head. Where "na" meant around 10 different things depending on your inflection. Bamboo grew meters over our heads. Spiders were the size of my face. We bathed in cool water warmed by the sun and stayed up late on warm nights out on the covered deck with a few amplifiers and guitars and would sing and play and sing and sing. Where technically, we weren't allowed to handle or touch baby Emily -- the tiniest rescued Gibbon of them all -- but the Thai supervisors knew we wanted to, so sometimes they would suddenly "forget something" or need to find a pen and ask one of us to bottle feed her while they were gone for a moment. We'd walk down to the 7-11 several blocks down from the site and the cashiers would smirk while we looked in awe at the sour milk and yogurt and rice cakes and red bean pastries and Thai scripture on glass Coke bottles.  Everything about them amazed us -- the Westerners -- and everything about us amazed them. 

It's possible that without all of the memories, Tom Kha isn't as delicious on its own. But last I was there, I wasn't the only one who ordered it -- so I must not be alone in my obsession. 

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