Living in Surat and Housing

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  • Western Cooking in the East by Amber McCarthy 2012

    When we first started looking into teaching abroad, one of my concerns was whether or not I would be able to cook. At home, I cook almost every single day. I love cooking and I love not following recipes. When I learned that Thai homes rarely have kitchens, I was sad, but I guessed I could live for a year without cooking. When we first arrived, our house was equipped with one burner (runs on propane tanks) that a previous teacher had bought, but there was not a single sink in the whole house, so clean up was a bit of a pain. Where we live now has an outside kitchen with the same burner, but we have more space and a sink. It's a much easier space to work in, but you can make any of the dishes below with just a single burner, a pot, and a pan if you’re willing to work in a small area and deal with the clean up.

    Once you get here and have been here for a few months, you will start to tire of Thai food. Sure, you can eat it everyday and be fine, but sometimes you just want some food from home without spending a ton of money on one of the western restaurants in town. We have shopped around town and found where to get some great ingredients to make some delicious food from home. Some of the ingredients are a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it.

    The easiest, and probably our favorite thing to make, is grilled cheese. You can get bread anywhere (we usually just pick it up at 7-11). The cheese is the trick. Sure, you can use that nasty processed crap, but what's the point of even eating? Tops, Big C, Makro, and Tesco Lotus all sell real cheese. Tops is the most convenient place to get a chunk of Australian cheese in either Tasty or Bitey flavors (both are a bit like a white cheddar). However, if you can get out to Tesco, they have some delicious aged cheddar from New Zealand for the same price. If you’re willing to drop 800 baht, you can also find blue cheese, goat cheese, and all kinds of other weird cheeses that are expensive back home, and way more expensive here. Now here's the trick to making an awesome grilled cheese: mayo. Instead of putting butter on the outside of the bread, use mayo. It's a restaurant trick. It's way easier to spread and it adds some zing to your sandwich.

    The main thing we miss from home is breakfast. I am a potato fiend and we were used to eating eggs all the time. Eggs you can find anywhere here (don’t buy the pink ones), but the potatoes you see around town are some sort of yellow/Yukon potato that are not even close to as starchy as a good ol' russet potato. Luckily, we stumbled across really cheap baking potatoes at Makro. Makro is just like Costco and most things are in bulk. If you need baking soda or baking powder, do not buy it here! I now have a pound of baking powder and afterward saw that they have tiny packs at Tops. Oops. Also like Costco, as we realized at check-out, they require a membership card. Since you are a farang, just look confused (shouldn't be too hard) and they'll just scan another person's card for you. Well worth it for the potatoes.

    Another item that you can find at 7-11 is canned tuna. You can also find pasta noodles, tomato sauce, and Campbell’s tomato and cream of mushroom soup at Big C. These items come in handy if you want to pair your grilled cheese with tomato soup, for making simple pasta, homemade mac and cheese, or for making a sorta tuna casserole.

    Moving on to other vegetables, I recently found amazingly delicious (ripe smelling and tasting) hydroponic tomatoes at Tesco. 50 baht for 6 tomatoes. That has been my favorite find. We also just saw hydroponic lettuce at the Sunday night market. Another great find as salad as we know it is rare in Thailand. Salad dressing is a bit of an issue unless you like the idea of pouring flavored mayonnaise on your salad in the form of “salad cream”. I saw sesame dressing at Tops, but if you really like salad,
    you should bring some packets of dry Italian dressing mix (or ranch, but mayo is a bit pricey). I would also recommend bringing a few packets of dehydrated refried beans. A company called World Market makes them.

    So, if you love to cook, you can still make it happen as long as you have a burner, some space, and some creativity. Also, if you're good at cooking while camping, you'll be good at cooking in Thailand. I have included a few recipe ideas below, but you have many more options. Michael made the best curried potato salad for 4th of July and Janet makes some killer biscuits (but she does have a small oven), so there is a lot of room for modification. None of the below recipes are necessarily healthy, but the whole point of this is for comfort, so comfort food it is. Bon apetit!

    One Pan Breakfast Scramble for 2

    2-3 baking potatoes from Makro
    1 medium onion (if desired)
    5 eggs, beaten
    a handful of cheese, grated or cut
    oil, butter or margarine
    salt and pepper

    Shred the potatoes. I couldn't find a grater, so I had to buy a papaya peeler. Whatever works.

    Heat oil/margarine/butter in a pan over medium heat and add chopped onions. Cook until opaque and then add shredded potatoes. Salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes and then flip potatoes to brown on the other side. Salt and pepper again.

    Meanwhile, beat the eggs and shred/cut the cheese. However much you like. When the potatoes are nice and crispy, turn the heat down a bit and let the pan cool down. Pour in the eggs and mix around until almost cooked. Last, add the cheese, continuing to cook until eggs are done. It won’t be pretty, but it will be delicious. Serve with ketchup packets from the Pizza Company. **If you have a tight fitting lid for your pan, you can just pour the eggs in and cover and let it cook that way. It will be more like a frittata instead of the horrible looking mess that the above recipe makes.**


    Huevos Rancheros (requires that you brought dehydrated beans and preferably salsa)

    Refried Beans
    Cheese
    Eggs
    Salsa or chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers
    Sour Cream (you can buy small cups at Makro)

    In a pan, heat the beans (re-hydrate first if necessary). Stir in the tomatoes, onions and peppers. You want the beans to be a bit wet. Next, make little dents in the beans and crack an egg into each dent. Cover and let cook until your eggs are how you like them. To serve, just scoop out an egg, careful not to break it, with the beans. Top with cheese, sour cream and green onions. Serve with potatoes if you have an extra pan and burner (or you can cook them ahead and reheat).

    When French Toast and Pancakes Met and Fell in Love (You can use the below recipe, or you can buy pancake mix. You can get syrup at Tops)

    Bread (the thicker the better. Try a bakery, Big C, or Tesco)
    4 eggs
    1 cup of flour
    1 cup of milk.
    1 tbsp sugar
    2 tbsp oil
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    a pinch of salt
    vanilla and cinnamon, if you can find either. You can get cinnamon sticks for sure and grind them,
    but I haven’t seen vanilla yet.

    Beat the eggs until fluffy. Beat in everything else except the bread. Heat pan to medium/high. Dip bread in batter and make sure it's coated. Put bread into pan and cook until the edges look like they're crisping, then flip and do the same. Eat!

    I have been told that these freeze well, so if you have a freezer, there you go. They sell Ziplock bags at Tops.

    Mac and Cheese, Amber and Joseph style
    My college roommate and I made this concoction up and Joseph and I made this back home when we forgot to go grocery shopping and had to use up canned stuff. Some slight modifications here and it’s almost the same! It sounds weird, but just try it. If you don’t like tuna, you can always omit it.

    Macaroni noodles (from Big C)
    Cheese (you can use a combo of the good stuff and the crappy stuff if you want)
    Milk
    Butter/Margarine/Oil
    1 or 2 cans of tuna
    2 chopped tomatoes
    2 chopped shallots
    sliced mushrooms (If they look good. Try Tops and Tesco.)
    a few cloves chopped garlic
    chili flake/powder

    In a pot, heat your oil/butter/margarine. Add in the tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms and garlic. Cook until it looks good to you and then dump it all onto a plate. Fill the pot with water, boil, and then cook the noodles (DON’T OVERCOOK THE NOODLES! They keep cooking after you drain them). Drain all but a teeny, tiny bit of the water just to keep the noodles wet and return to the burner over low heat. Add about 1/2 cup of milk, some butter/oil/margarine, and as much cheese as you like. Stir until melted and it is a desired consistency. You may need to add more milk. Add in the tomato mixture and the tuna (drained). Mix. Add the chili flake and pepper to taste.


    Sort of Tuna Casserole
    Here we go with the tuna again, but it’s such an easy, cheap staple to work with! This is pretty easy and you can doctor it up anyway you like. You can also substitute the tuna for chicken if you want.

    Noodles (any shape)
    1 can of cream of mushroom soup
    1 onion, chopped
    several garlic cloves, chopped
    cheese
    oil
    Haitai Saltine crackers

    Heat oil in a pot and cook onions and garlic. Empty onto a plate and fill pot with water. Boil. Cook noodles. Drain. Add mushroom soup, onion mix, and cheese. Heat through. Serve with broken saltine crackers on top and a big glass of water. It’s a bit salty.


    No Oven Biscuits
    Janet makes some amazing biscuits, as previously mentioned, but she has an oven. I haven’t tried this particular recipe yet, but I intend to soon. You can also use this batter to make dumplings by dropping the dough into boiling water or soup.

    1 cup flour
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 cup oil
    1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)

    Mix dry ingredients. Slowly add the water while mixing until you have a firm and sticky dough. You can also put everything in a plastic bag and knead it that way.

    Heat the oil in a pan. Drop spoonfuls of dough into the oil and cook until golden, turning after a few minutes.

    TIP: Cream of mushroom soup (watered down with some milk) makes decent gravy if you want biscuits and gravy. Just add the meat of your choice if desired. Back home we made this occasionallywith veggie sausage links.

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    A few final tips:

    If you eat at the Pizza Company, save the package they give you that has a bunch of ketchup packets in it (I doubt you’ll actually want to use this on your pizza, so you should have plenty). It also has chili powder and oregano that comes in handy later.

    White pepper is delicious! I douse my eggs and potatoes in this back home, so I was stoked to find it here. Back home it’s like 12 bucks for a tiny container. Here it’s about a dollar. I’m stocking up before we go home. Give it a try. Joseph thinks it smells like horse manure, but I think it’s amazing. It also makes your coffee have a bit of a zing if you eat something with it and then take a sip of coffee.

    Don’t buy “bagels” or “baguettes” from Big C. It’s just regular bread dough that they shaped into a bagel shape and then baked until it became incredibly dry. However, do buy their croissants. Throw in a hot pan for a few minutes and you have a tasty, buttery treat.