You could never accuse Thais of being sophisticated when it comes to wine. For a start the wine selection in Thailand is pretty poor and expensive. The local wines are also not world class yet are very expensive. So Thais don’t really have close connections with the “finesse of the grape”.
They do however have a knowledge of whisky particularly Scotch whiskey and they could possibly tell you regions of Scotland where the best whisky comes from. They know (the ones who drink whiskey) all the finer points and nuances of the “nectar of the Highlands”. Mind you the single most well known of such glorious beverage is “Johnny Walker” and each according to their own taste (and pocket) will quote their dream tot -“Johnny red” -“Johnny Black” and all the colours in between. Those of higher standing and fuller pockets will talk about “Famous Grouse” or “Bell’s” or “Bowmore Islay” or “Chivas Regal” and on and on. Yes There’s not a lot you can teach a Thai about Whiskey.
Myself I can’t stand the evil stuff after getting drunk the first time at fifteen at a Scotsman’s wedding although my palette is finely tuned to “tea” and as an Englishman it is extremely important to get the right tea and the right water at the right boiling point (yes I know that sounds daft but it has to be right at the “bubble”) and always sugar and milk goes in first. Then the required 3 minutes to “brew” (I hate that Lancashire word as in Yorkshire the beloved country we say “mash”). Ah yes the golden liquid can start a day for an Englishman like a medicine that boosts the whole engine of the human body and as we come from a cooler region than Thailand the heat of this lovely drink gets the body temperature ready for a hard days “graft” (just like a snake needs sunshine to get moving).
Wine to me is the same as it is for Thais-something that is wheeled out to look ” class” but doesn’t leave such a satisfying feeling. However now when it comes to the other golden nectar “beer” then we are talking about something to match “tea”. Coming from England where many types of beer are sold such as “mild” and “bitter” or “pale ale” or “porter” or “stout” -“barleywine” and “old ale” plus many more I started as a teenager on the “mild”. To me “bitter” was just that yet older men were mostly “bitter men” who savoured the nuances of the different labels -they would even travel miles to a pub noted for its bitter. I remember before all the local breweries were taken over by the big consortiums we would hear of “Tetleys bitter” “Sam Smiths” “John Smiths” and other ones. Now of course there is the new small breweries making their own brands of specialised bitter and people follow the pubs like we used to follow pop groups in our youth.
I of course became a “bitter man” after my apprenticeship with what the old ones called “kids pop” and once I was converted there was no going back and just like a religion I would spout the book of the bitter at every opportunity.
Now you may be asking what this has ever got to do with Thais -most of them have never heard of Bitter beer -they think Thai beer is beer but it is a different world -it is “lager” and the difference between lager and bitter is like the difference between a lion and a tiger.
Now getting to the “nitty gritty’ of this blog comes seed of the story. There are two things where a Thai can tell you in great detail about certain delicacies of everyday life in Thailand and the most well known one is “fish sauce”- yes that stinky liquid that makes the new visitor to the country “gip” as if to be sick at the fishy stink at every corner of the Bangkok street. Yet Thais will walk around and the first whiff of said liquid will have them drooling at the lips and want to eat. Just like a Brit will catch a smell of a fish and chip shop -he has to have some.
But wait this is only one of the life changing delicacies so important to a Thai. Then comes the main bout. This wonder mix-this glorious spice-this smell-this taste- this Thailand -a thousand ways to make it and a hundred ways to use it. A Thai will travel for the best just like we would travel for bitter yet theirs was a condiment not a drink -“NAM PRIK”.
A mixture of water -chillies fish sauce-sugar-tomatoes and a hundred other additives including local herbs and spices like basil leaves -or “cha hom” leaves or tamarind paste -a million variations of this wonderful sauce. And it can make a meal out of simple boiled rice. The bland and boring rice can explode under the influence of the right nam prik and make a true Thai meal-simple as that. Songs have been written about it and legends extol its virtues and every Thai knows who makes the best. Markets around the country have a nam prik stall and to the confusion of a farang husband like myself watch as my Thai wife looks and smells namprik as if it is a fine wine just as she does with “nampla (fish sauce). Yes Thai are discening and that is what makes Thai food simply the best. “Love Thai -Live Thai”.