Have a nice cup of (pink and white frothy) tea, why don’t you?
Here is what I tried this week: a “geisha green tea latte”… that was not green at all, but looked like a strawberry and vanilla milkshake, only hot.
I read a lot of inventive things on blogs such as RocketNews24, which has articles about the weird and wonderful flavours of food products in Japan, mainly (chocolate-covered squid, anyone?).
So, what did a geisha green tea latte taste like? It actually tasted like green tea…with rose-flavoured milk froth. It was pricy at $5.20.
Would I have it again? Probably. I like milk shakes, and I like rose-flavoured herbal tea, so a hot green tea milk shake tastes pretty good to me.
When I was a young adult in New Zealand in the 1980s, cafes offered coffee or tea, and that was it. If you ordered coffee, it was usually a spoon of Nescafe stirred into just-boiled water; if tea, you still usually got actual tea leaves in a tea pot. But there was no, “Will that be English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Orange Pekoe or decaf, with skinny or whole milk?” The only choices were black and white, sugar or none. My great-grandmother was disturbed when she discovered I didn’t take sugar. “A girl needs sugar in her tea – it’s good for you,” she maintained. (She also felt it highly disturbing that I washed my hair in the morning before heading off to uni. I would, she said, catch my death of cold, one of these days).
But back to choice. So great are the choices these days that what we finish up with often doesn’t resemble the original product at all. My husband recently ordered a “low-fat decaf latte, no sugar”. The waiter retorted, “Why bother?” and we all laughed.
When I first came back to Australia in 1993 from my first two-and-a-half-year stint in Thailand, I was appalled by the amount of choice in the supermarkets of Melbourne. Who needed 50 different types of breakfast cereals? I would stand in the aisles, just staring at the burgeoning shelves. I hate breakfast cereal anyway. My favourite breakfast is congee with chilli, fish sauce and chicken, the way they do it in Thailand. Or reheated left-over rice, with a raw egg stirred through. But toast and marmite or toast and tahine will do if I have to have a western breakfast.
In Thailand in the early 1990s, supermarkets were evolving but they were still not the most usual way Thais shopped, except for canned goods and other packaged products such as instant noodles. They mostly went to markets with fresh unpackaged and unprocessed produce.
Supermarkets had a limited choice (unless you wanted hair-care products), but always great were the lean chicken, truly free-range eggs with the yellowest yolks, delicate quail’s eggs, and luscious prawns ($1 worth was plenty for the two of us for dinner). In the vegetable aisle, we soon learnt to choose Thai vegetables, because such things as potatoes and carrots were pitiful, if available at all. Straw mushrooms, aubergines of all sizes down to the bitter pea-size ones for green curry, red capsicum, snake beans, snow peas, baby corn, spring onions. The best buys were the pre-packaged vegetables and herbs for recipes, just enough to add to your tom ka gai, tom yum or gaeng keow wan that night. A packet, which cost just a few baht, would contain, for example, kaffir lime leaves, a couple of sticks of lemon grass, garlic, chillies, a lime, and so on.
Now, of course, supermarkets in Bangkok are huge, swish and unrecognisable from what they used to be. I’m pleased to see, though, that they retain their “Thainess” among all the expensive imports, and that you can still buy those little packets of herbs and vegetables.
When I first went to Thailand in 1990, you couldn’t buy a cappuccino, really. Some restaurants had what they called cappuccino, but it was regular coffee with whipped cream on the top.
No matter – I used always to order nam manao (Thai lime-ade) when I was out, anyway: lime juice, soda water, salt and a little sugar syrup, the most thirst-quenching drink ever.
Sometimes, mistakes end up being the best recipes. I remember one time, we decided to have dinner with some friends who lived in the same apartment building in Mung Thong Thani (Nonthaburi province), which was then a small village but is now a satellite city. Here was what the village and its supermarket looked like in 1991:
Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991, about 1km from the apartment building where I lived. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann
You wouldn’t recognise it today.
Anyway, we were just to bring over to our friends’ place what we had planned to have for dinner, they would add theirs, and we would all share.
I had been planning to have prawns and stir-fried zucchini – wonder of wonders, since I hadn’t seen a zucchini before in a Thai supermarket and had found one that morning.
Or so I thought.
When I went to cut up the “zucchini”, I found that it was, in fact, a cucumber. There was nothing for it but to put it in with the prawns, anyway. I cut it into long crunchy ribbons and added it just before serving over rice. I also used garlic, chilli, lime, thinly sliced capsicum, fish sauce and a touch of oyster sauce. It came out so clean and fresh-tasting, and I still make that recipe today.
Sometimes the combinations you make by accident are the best.