The decision to fly to the other side of the world, like most decisions in my life, happened spontaneously. My parents had the idea first and before my mom could even finish the sentence, “Your dad and I are going to Bangkok” I had invited myself along.
“You can join us,” my mom explained, “but I don’t want you hung up on Danny 2.0.”
I was still musing over my latest man-of-the-minute pulling a disappearing act.
“But I actually liked this one,” I said.
“Well obviously the feeling wasn’t mutual,” my mom sighed. “So stop caring so much.”
8,263 miles, three plane rides, 5 in-flight movies, a Ruth Reichl novel, and countless bottles of sake later I was scarfing down sweetened catfish garnished with fried kaffir leaves wondering if enough distance and enough Thai cooking could make me stop caring.
I devoured glassy pad thai noodles topped with chunky prawns and tender pulls of duck sautéed with bok choy. A fiery basket of fried chicken wearing a fuzzy coat of pork sung. Julienned sea-green papaya textured with airy pork rinds. Next, cubed pork, fried to a crisp and served with rolled rice noodles, cooked al dente in a swampy broth. Then, I ambled down countless steaming sidewalks to taste every exotic treat from local street vendors: Fat cigars of spring rolls, tossed in a plastic bag with sugared chili sauce and consumed via a single wooden skewer. A sticky, salted rice dessert, folded into a pyramid of baked green ti leaves – a tiny toy treasure. An anonymous protein, fried in a shallow wok and emerging as a hardened tangle resembling a bird’s nest.
To experience Bangkok’s cooking – the open wok scene happening on Yaowaraj, or the kind happening behind those dingy garage restaurants, is like a rite of passage. For Bangkok cannot be separated from its heat. Not in its weather. Not in its food. Miniature green peppers were buried in the som tam like hidden firecrackers, and each discovery lit a match to my tongue. But I continued to shovel more forkfuls down my gullet. I didn’t mind that I was often eating out of plastic bags, sans napkins. And I didn’t mind that beads of sweat rolled down the back of my neck while slurping boiling tom yum, because I was intoxicated by its complex broth, a marshy bowl of snap and salt. And as my teeth cracked through tiny catfish bones, I just worked through them, marveling at the flavor of the sweetened glaze. But Bangkok’s street grub isn’t for everyone. It’s an act of bravery – you often have no idea what you’re eating. You have to be willing to sweat, then cry. And that’s when you get tough.
It’s a lot like getting through heartbreak.
By the time I was departing from Bangkok I had built an iron stomach, and had gained some perspective on my love life back in L.A. I still cared. I was human, after all. But it no longer hurt.