Friday, October 14, 2005

Scattered musings

This is going to be film-lite and self-indulgent, so feel free to skip this one. The last few weeks I have to admit I just haven't been feelin' it with regards to film-viewing. Not burned out, not bored, just busy and flighty enough to be easily drawn to other things.

- The NYTimes has a lip-smacking write-up about food in Bangkok: It makes me want to go to Sripriphai (i.e., for non-Gothamites, the Queens restaurant regarded by many as one of NYC's very best and most authentic Thai places) again really soon. (Brian Darr, I hope you'll leave some general impressions about real Thai cuisine in the comments.) The writer's friend, Robert Halliday, sounds like a real character--knowing Hungarian and Thai, studying Russian lit in college, combing Bangkok for fried-light-spicy-tangy-salty-peanutty goodness, writing psuedonymous film and music reviews. The allusion to Monet that he makes comes off as kind of insufferable but in general this is a sort of person I like hearing about: idiosyncratic polymath bon vivants. How does one get to be like this?

- And just as I'm intrigued by Mr. Halliday, I have found myself really fascinated by Paul Bowles lately. I only know and own one book by him, a collection of travel writings, and the other day I gave that to a friend (and I don't know if either of us was clear on whether I lent it or gifted it to her--doesn't matter much). But I am seriously interested into delving into his fiction and more of his nonfiction. Bowles spent a total of 52 years in Morocco, as well as 7 on his own private island off the coast of Sri Lanka. At times I'm very taken by the idea of expatriation or even just peripatetic indulgence. And if (like Bowles) one can do it all while fashionably dressed, cheers. Then again the truly exciting prospects of this kind of travelling are probably attainable when you are (also like Bowles) equipped with a big account and an entourage.

- Perhaps I should move to a modest apartment in a little town in Nation X and just kind of subsist by doing odd jobs and writing freelance. (I'd love to be a film or cultural magazine's correspondent from the sticks of South America!) The problem is that a lot of the best food is located along the equator (which is ridiculously hot and prone to monsoons, etc.--no good). And in the end I think I'm too much of a wuss to ever expatriate to anywhere that would actually be cool and original.

- Speaking of wandering, here's a great line from indispensible cultural icons of my childhood: Calvin says to Hobbes as they're walking, "What would you say if someone called us a pair o' pathetic peripatetics?"

- Next film book to buy: Amos Vogel's newly reissued Film as Subversive Art. I can almost taste it.


girish said...

Zach, I ordered the Vogel book on Amazon a month ago but as far as I can tell, the release (scheduled for Sept 15) has been pushed back, because they haven't shipped it to me yet. Bummer.
I own an old tattered used copy that I bought at an outrageous price ($45) over the internets, before realizing it would ever be reissued. But now I'd like a brand spanking new copy.

Brian Darr said...

There's no doubt that Thailand is a food paradise. In fact the #1 reason why I selected the country for my TEFL experience was my confidence in being able to find good vegetarian food. Indeed, I never have eaten better (or healthier, or less expensively) than during that year and a half. Choosing Chiang Mai was a particularly fortuitous accident. It's got to be one of the world's greatest small cities for vegetarian eateries. There were perhaps 50 in the city limits, which represents one for every 5000 residents or so.

Of course, being a vegetarian greatly restricted my adventurousness when eating at non-expressly vegetarian food stalls and restaraunts. Many of the specific details in the article were outside the realm of my own experience. I agree that the greatness of Thai food is the mixture of flavor groups often kept intentionally seperate in other cuisines.

I'm not terribly fussy about the many Thai restaraunts in San Francisco. Of course I have favorites and those I avoid, but though I notice a lot of ingredient substitutions, I'm not usually terribly bothered by them. There are certain things I definitely miss though; looking at that picture of the mangosteen has me salivating. And I'm reminded that I need to try to find a good place for sticky rice desserts; I'm sure there's one somewhere around.

Mainly I miss the price though. Eating at food stalls or small restaraunts was so inexpensive that it was impractical to ever cook for myself, a habit I could not afford to keep upon my return. And now I wish I'd had the incentive to learn how to prepare a few Thai dishes!

ZC said...

Girish, if the official release for Vogel's book has been pushed back, I think someone has neglected to tell stores. I've spotted it in two places already, and it's not even like I've been hunting for it (knowing that it'd be readily available all over after the reissue). I bet Amazon will send it your way soon.

Brian, Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines, although I'm no expert on it. Tonight, luckily, I made my way to Sripraphai with my friends and had a great meal. I was a vegetarian for a few years although I've gone back to eating meat (nothing but positive associations with the veg. experience though). I guess Thai food is more vegetarian friendly than equally great Vietnamese food because it doesn't have the ever-present fish sauce?

I was trying to describe mangosteens and durians to a friend today, which was weird because (a) I've never tasted either of them, and (b) my friend is from Hawaii and is no stranger to tropical fruits. I hear you about the prices for all these things, though. I am fan of street foods (and luckily have an amazing dosa cart with great South Indian vegan fast food near my place of employment) and wish that Thai food extended to street stalls in New York, too.

girish said...

Thanks, Zach, great news.

Mmmmm, dosa...
I'm South Indian and my mom makes killer dosas. I used to wangle books and tapes from my classmates in middle school in exchange for invites to our home for masala dosa dinner. Shameless.

Brian Darr said...

Actually, fish sauce is pretty close to ever-present in most Thai cuisine as well. In most restaraunts you either have to specify "no fish sauce" or explain that you're a vegetarian. Everyone I encountered was familiar with vegetarianism because monks are supposed to adhere to a strict no-animal diet, and there are lots of reasons why other Buddhists might try that diet for at least a period of time. The majority of the vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai are near temples and follow religion-dictated standards. These standards also include restrictions on garlic and onions, so if I was hankering for dishes using those flavors I'd either go to a more vegetarian restaraunts sprung up around the tourist trade, or else to a "regular" Thai eatery and pull the "no fish sauce" line. Many restaraunts would simply substitute a certain kind of soy sauce for the fish sauce, and mushroom sauce in the place of oyster sauce when that was called for.

I didn't make it over to Vietnam, where a very different sort of Buddhism is practiced. It may be that fish sauce is more ever-present in Vietnamese cuisine because of differences in religions, but I really don't know.