Stories From The Floating Market, Pattaya

Any destination we head to, the husband and I definitely make it a point to visit the local bazaars. A stop (or two, or three!) at the local markets is a great way of getting exposed to the culture and traditions of the place, at the very root level. And, of course, it teaches you a whole lot about the food of that region – the ingredients that the locals use, the ways in which they cook, their indigenous foods, et al. Thailand was no exception. That was how, one bright and sunny day during our recent holiday in Thailand, the two of us headed to Pattaya Floating Market, with the bub in tow. And, hey, this is a floating market – a market actually on water – and how do we not check out that?!

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A group of tourists being rowed around the Pattaya Floating Market, in a small country boat

Internet-shaped impressions of the Pattaya Floating Market

The little reading I did on the Internet before we headed out to Thailand told me that if I was charmed by the idea of floating markets, the ones in Bangkok are what I should be visiting. All of Thailand used to commute via waterways in the olden times, trading in markets included. While transport in Thailand is presently largely by road, the waterways still exist, as do the floating markets. Bangkok has several of these floating markets, many of them as major tourist attractions, while a couple still operate as hard-core trading centres. Most Internetizens suggested visiting the Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa floating markets in Bangkok, and against going to the one in Pattaya. According to them, the Pattaya floating market is pure tourist trap, messy and filthy, a hotbed for scams of various types.

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The entrance to the Pattaya Floating Market

As luck would have it, we never got a chance to visit any of Bangkok’s famed floating markets on our holiday. It just never happened! This left us hugely disappointed and, tourist trap or not, we decided to head to the Pattaya floating market, to get a feel of the place if nothing else. And you know what? We weren’t disappointed one bit. Agreed, the market is chaotic, there are some tacky things around, and that there are better ways to learn about Thai culture and heritage – but, we loved the Pattaya Floating Market!

Pattaya Floating Market left us with a vast range of emotions – happy, awe-struck, sad, angry, overwhelmed, all at the same time. Overall, though, it left us feeling enriched for having visited. We are glad we chose to visit the market, in spite of there being conflicting information about the place on the Internet. We are glad for the opportunity it gave us to get a wee bit closer to Thai culture and heritage, food and traditions.

Postcards from the Pattaya Floating Market

Let me tell you about the experiences that stood out most prominently for us, at the Pattaya Floating Market.

Food, food and more food

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Whole frozen Thai mangoes being sold at the Pattaya Floating Market

One of the things that strike you as you walk around the Pattaya Floating Market is the humongous amount of food that is on offer. Food being cooked and sold on boats, food stalls lining the water, fresh fruit, roasted chestnuts and sweet treats – there’s food, literally, everywhere!

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One of the durian sellers caught in action at the Pattaya Floating Market

Fried octopus, various kinds of grilled fish, whole frozen mangoes, various traditional Thai desserts, palm fruit juice, snake fruit and durian, noodle hotpots, the most beautifully presented milkshakes and ice creams are some examples of the food we came across here. Some of the eatables here didn’t look very hygienically prepared, while some others were just fine – take your pick carefully if you decide to eat here. There wasn’t much on offer for vegetarians, though, apart from the milkshakes, ice creams and desserts.

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Khao Lam, a traditional Thai dessert being sold at the Pattaya Floating Market

Dirty waters, but charming nonetheless

Charming as the Pattaya Floating Market is, one can’t help noticing that the waters on which it stands are far from clean. The waters are filthy and murky and, as we walked around, we kept wishing this part had been better maintained.

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You can choose to explore the Pattaya Floating Market by boat or walk along the shopfront and check it out on foot

We chose to focus instead on the prettier sights the market had to offer, instead – the rows and rows of shops, some with rather interesting merchandise on sale, the big bus-like boats that ran on the water ferrying people around, the Thai Cultural Village tucked away within the market that offered us a glimpse into the real Thailand, a huge Thai water buffalo making the rounds of the market and posing for photographs, the ongoing dance and music shows, and artists at work busy making glow-in-the-dark paintings that you find all over Thailand.

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A vendor selling snacks by the water, at the Pattaya Floating Market

The tall, tall, tall drag queens

Drag queens are everywhere in Thailand, and the Pattaya Floating Market is no exception. Standing on tall, tall, tall stilts, they welcome you at the entrance. They are dressed so gorgeously you can’t take your eyes off them! They are all smiles, posing candidly for cameras from across the globe.

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The beautiful drag queens who welcomed us at the entrance to the Pattaya Floating Market

My heart hurt for them, these drag queens. Were they being forced to dress up and pose for pictures, thanks to poverty? Was the smile plastered on their faces just for the sake of tourists? Just how happy were they on the inside? Well, at least, they were living in a country that doesn’t make a big deal of it, that accepts people as they come.

Some interesting souvenirs

Most of the stuff up for sale at the Pattaya Floating Market is shiny and pretty, sure to catch your eyes. Crazy shoes and glamorous earrings, funky purses and dresses, Thai elephant statues and paper umbrellas, cute dolls and keychains are some of the stuff that is on offer – the same things you would come across anywhere else in Thailand too.

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Traditional Thai dresses for little girls on sale at one of the stalls in the Pattaya Floating Market

We didn’t really shop here, thanks to the astronomical prices for stuff we were being quoted at every stall. All we bought were some little cute souvenirs to get back home with us, which we felt were reasonably priced.

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An artist making a glow-in-the-dark painting, at the Pattaya Floating Market

Great photo ops

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Colourful popsicles on sale on board a boat, at the Pattaya Floating Market

Touristy, commercial and a bit filthy as the Pattaya Floating Market was, we found it fascinating nonetheless. We were charmed by this and that, and ended up walking around the market for hours on end. We took countless pictures – I think we actually went a bit crazy here taking photographs. Who can resist, considering the innumerable gorgeous photo ops available here?

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So many, many, many photograph-worthy nooks and corners here!

Every single lane you turn into is pretty, in a quaint sort of way. You would inevitably want to capture all of that in frames! If you love photography, the floating market is definitely not something that you should miss, I say.

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A ‘hanging bridge’ at the Pattaya Floating Market, which made for a wonderful photo op!

The wonderful Thai Cultural Village

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A show, at the Thai Cultural Village in the Pattaya Floating Market

A little makeshift village in the midst of the Pattaya Floating Market, the Thai Cultural Village offers a peak into real life in the country. There are live stations where you learn about the various types of dried food stuff available in Thailand, silk cultivation in the country, music and dance forms and, of course, Thai massage. For a first-time visitor to Thailand, this place can offer invaluable learning about the country under a single roof. Yes, quite touristy, but quite informative too if you look at it the right way.

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A model Thai herbal bag used for massage, exhibited in the Pattaya Floating Market

All visitors to the Thai Cultural Village are treated to a little free-of-charge session of Thai massage. A hot cloth pouch filled with ancient Thai medicinal herbs is used, quite a common form of massage in the country. We found the massage quite relaxing and rejuvenating after our long, tiring walk around the market.

The plight of the long-necked Karen

The Karenni (also called the Karen or the Red Karen) are an ethnic minority tribe from Myanmar (Burma). They have a distinct dressing style of their own, including the wearing of several thin brass rings around their necks to make them appear long. For this reason, they are also called the Long-Necked Karen. Several hundreds of these Long-Necked Karen fled to neighbouring Thailand over the years, thanks to political unrest in their own country. As most of these Karen were illegal immigrants in Thailand, they are not official Thai citizens and opportunities for them stay limited. The Thai government has bestowed a couple of villages to the Karen (maybe considering the huge potential of these villages to become tourist attractions?), to make their own, to reside in and earn their living. These habitats of the Karen draw tourists by the horde – many interested in photographing the long-necked women and/or buying the various handicrafts that they make.

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One of the long-necked Karen women we met in the Thai Cultural Village, Pattaya Floating Market. She knew little English, and communicated with us using hand gestures, but was happy to have her photograph taken.

The Karen villages are quite on the outskirts of Thailand and not very easy to access – at least not with the bub in tow – so we dropped the idea of visiting them. Personally, I’m quite conflicted about wanting to visit the Karen habitats and not wanting to. We were, however, happy to note that there were stalls by a couple of the Karen in Pattaya Floating Market’s Thai Cultural Village. We dropped by, and were thrilled to interact with them (a task that was not at all easy considering their extremely limited knowledge of English). It surely felt like we had stepped into a documentary by National Geographic! They happily posed for pictures for us, too.

Everything was going fine till we came across a little wooden enclosure, not unlike a pen in a zoo. A lone Karen child was walking around, 4 or 5 years of age, calling out to passing tourists and smiling at them. Many got out their cameras to take pictures. ‘Burmese refugee child!’, our guide cried out, excitedly. At that precise moment, my heart shattered into a million pieces and I lost all interest in the place or taking any more pictures.

Too much to take in

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Various touristsy knick-knacks for sale at the Pattaya Floating Market

Like many indigenous markets around the world, the Pattaya Floating Market too is a bit too much to take in in a single visit. It gets overwhelming after a while – the crowds, the touristy-ness of it, the scale of the market. We kind of zoned out after some time, a plight brought about also by the fact that it was a supremely hot day and our little daughter was getting crankier by the minute. Thankfully, there are benches laid out here and there, and we took short breaks in the midst of checking out the market, which really helped refresh us. Please do bear this in mind when you decide to visit, too. I don’t think we managed to do justice to the market, in the few hours we were there. We probably need a few more visits, a more leisurely frame of mind, and more congenial weather to do so.

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The bustling ‘food’ area in the Pattaya Floating Market. Literally scores of families were milling around here, lunching by the waters.

Thankfully, our drive to and from the floating market, our entry tickets and boat ride had all been arranged for beforehand by our hotel – I don’t know what we would have done if this hadn’t gone as smoothly as it did. I had read a number of stories on the Internet of tourists getting scammed here and being charged an exorbitant entrance fee, and was super scared! If you plan to visit the Pattaya Floating Market, I would suggest you do so via the tourism desk at your hotel too.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual journey through the Pattaya Floating Market, and that this post offered you helpful tips to plan your visit here too! Do let me know, in your comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Butterfly Pea Lemonade| Colour-Changing Magic Lemonade

Today’s recipe is a magic one! Christmas time, the season of Santa Claus and fairies and unicorns and secret gifts and all that, eh? 🙂

Now, this is a simple lemonade recipe at heart, but a magical, colour-changing one! When served, this drink is a pretty, deep blue. Squeeze some lemon into it, and it changes colour to a gorgeous purple! Let me hasten to add that this happens very naturally, without the help of any artificial colouring agents. The secret ingredient here is butterfly pea, a beautiful blue flower that grows in several Asian countries, including parts of India.

Also called Shankapushpam, blue pea, cordofan pea, Asian pigeonwings, bluebellvine, Darwin pea and Aparajita, the scientific name of the butterfly pea is Clitoria Ternatia. The blue flower is used as a natural food colouring in several parts of Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. Adding a few of these flowers while cooking infuses the dish in question with a lovely blue colour – it is, actually, quite difficult to believe that such a brilliant blue colour can be achieved in food this naturally, without any chemical involvement at all! The colour of the food further changes to purple or pink, depending upon what ingredients have been added to it.

So, how does this colour-changing happen? It is simple science. Butterfly pea flowers contain a high concentration of something called anthocyanin, a pigment whose colour depends upon the amount of acidity present in its environment. When added to plain water, the pigment makes the water blue. Add something acidic to the water – like lemon – and when the pH level changes, it turns purple. When the acidity increases further – say, the addition of more lemon – the water turns a pretty magenta or pink.

Thanks to being rich in antioxidants, the butterfly pea flower aids in relieving stress, improving blood circulation, bettering eye health, and nourishing one’s skin and hair. This is precisely why the flower is widely used in South Asian countries in various food products as well as skin- and hair-care products.

I was introduced to these flowers for the first-ever time on our recent holiday in Thailand, in our hotel spa. I dropped in to the spa for a massage, and was served a warm blue-coloured tea with a wedge of lemon on the side. I was stunned to see the tea turn purple with the addition of the lemon, and wondered why on earth would they be using something so artificially coloured in a spa that claimed to use only traditional Thai methods and natural ways of healing! It was much later that I came to know that what I was offered was, in fact, Butterfly Pea Tea and that the blue was entirely natural. I had to pick up a packet of dried butterfly pea flowers in a Thai departmental store to get back home (very reasonably priced, I must add) – and good I did that too, for they cost an arm and a leg online!

On its own, the butterfly pea extract does not taste like much. It has a mild woody taste, not unlike green tea. I am not particularly fond of that, but when mixed with something else – like rice or lemonade, for instance – the woody taste gets masked by the other ingredients. This Butterfly Pea Lemonade tastes just like regular lemonade, but is much more healthier thanks to the addition of the flowers. The colour-changing property of this lemonade makes it a perfect drink for parties – especially Christmas parties. Instead of pre-mixing it, serve it with some lemon on the side, and watch your guests’ mouths open with wonder as they see their drink change colour! Just imagine how much kids will love this – mine did, to bits!

Enough said. This wondrous flower needed this long-winded introduction. Now, without further ado, let us check out the proceedure to make this Butterfly Pea Lemonade.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  1. 1 tablespoon dried butterfly pea flowers
  2. 3 cups of water, at room temperature
  3. 6 tablespoons of sugar, or as needed
  4. Lemon halves, as needed
  5. Chilled water, as needed

Method:

  1. Heat the 3 cups of water on high flame, till it comes to a rolling boil.
  2. Add the sugar to the boiling water, and mix well. It will dissolve immediately. Let the water boil for a minute, then switch off gas.
  3. Add the dried butterfly pea flowers to the hot water. Close the pan with a lid, and let the flowers steep in the hot water for 20-30 minutes. By this time, the dried flowers would have let out their colour into the water, which would have turned a bright blue.
  4. Strain out the flowers from the water (you can choose to keep them in, too!). Allow the blue extract to cool down completely.
  5. When you are ready to serve the Butterfly Pea Lemonade, fill up as much of the blue extract as you need in serving glasses. Add some plain chilled water to the glasses, as needed. Taste and adjust quantities. Serve the glasses with lemon halves on the side.

Notes:

  1. For those of you who are interested, I picked up the dried butterfly pea flowers at Big C, a departmental store in Pattaya. The store stocks most traditional and contemporary Thai products, priced quite reasonably.
  2. If you are planning a visit to Thailand or have a friend or relative flying in, dried butterfly pea flowers are something you could ask them to get you. They are also available online, on websites like Amazon, but they are heavily priced.
  3. I haven’t worked with fresh butterfly pea flowers in my kitchen, so I’m not sure how they need to be used. If you have access to them, you may try using them instead, in this Butterfly Pea Lemonade recipe.
  4. In Thailand, these flowers are used in rice-based dishes, cocktails and mocktails, bakery goodies, ice creams and patties, among other things. I have not yet tried any of these things out, but I am simply amazed at the world of culinary possibilities these little butterfly pea flowers have opened up for me.
  5. You may use a healthy sweetener – like palm jaggery, coconut sugar or honey – in this lemonade recipe, instead of refined sugar, too. However, I am not sure how that would alter the pH level of the lemonade, and alter its colour.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog HopThis recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is #FlowersAndFruits, wherein members are cooking recipes using fresh or dried flowers and/or fruits. I chose to make this Butterfly Pea Lemonade for the theme.

I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #256. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Liz @ Spades, Spatulas & Spoons.

 

 

 

Coconut & Mango Pulav

Coconut and mango is a classic combination, one that is much loved. The two flavours marry beautifully, which is why they are found together in many dishes like Sticky Rice With Mango, Mango & Coconut Smoothie, Mango & Coconut Bliss Balls, and the like. The dish I present to you today – Coconut & Mango Pulav – uses this classic ingredient combination again, in a very Indian way.

This Coconut & Mango Pulav tastes lovely. The coconut flavour comes from fresh coconut milk, and I have used some of the dried, sugared mangoes that I picked up while holidaying in Thailand recently. I tried out this pulav recently at home on a whim, and it was an instant hit with everyone.

This is a pressure-cooker dish, a one-pot meal that can be put together in mere minutes. It makes for a different-from-the-usual lunch or dinner, perfect for busy weekdays or lazy weekends. Kids will love this Coconut & Mango Pulav – mine did!

Let’s now see how to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 3):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1 cup thick coconut milk
  3. 4-5 beans
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. 1 small carrot
  6. 2 tablespoons shelled green peas
  7. 4 green chillies
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon oil
  10. 2 small bay leaves (tej patta)
  11. 4 cloves (laung)
  12. 4 cardamom pods (elaichi)
  13. A 1-inch piece of cinnamon (dalchini)
  14. 4 large pieces of dried mango (with sugar)
  15. 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

Method:

  1. We will first prepare all the vegetables we need to use in the pulav. Peel the carrot and chop finely. Chop the onion finely. Remove the strings from the green beans, and chop them finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep the prepared vegetables aside.
  2. Wash the rice thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water.
  3. Now, heat the oil in a pressure cooker bottom. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon (broken into two), cardamom and cloves. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
  4. Add the chopped onions to the pan, along with the chopped carrot and beans, and the shelled green peas. Saute for a minute.
  5. Add the washed and drained rice to the pressure cooker. Saute for a minute.
  6. Add the 1 cup of coconut milk and 1.5 cups of water. Add in salt to taste and the slit green chillies. Mix well.
  7. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
  8. Meanwhile, chop the dried mango into small pieces.
  9. Mix in the finely chopped coriander and the mango bits. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I have used Sona Masoori rice here. You may use any other variety of rice you prefer.
  2. The heat in this pulav comes only from the green chillies. Adjust the quantity of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the dish to be.
  3. Use only a minimal amount of vegetables in this pulav. Only mango and coconut are supposed to be the dominating flavours here.
  4. I have used dried mango from Thailand here, which had some sugar in it. It was quite soft, so I just had to chop it into pieces and add it to the pulav. There was no need to soak the mango.
  5. Increase or decrease the quantity of dried mango you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.
  6. I have used 1 cup of thick home-made coconut milk here. Alternatively you may use 200 ml of store-bought coconut milk, which roughly comes up to 1 cup.
  7. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav.
  8. I have used refined oil in this pulav. You may use any oil of your preference or ghee, instead.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #253. The co-hosts this week are Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

Grand Palace & Temple Of The Emerald Buddha, Bangkok

The temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok was one of the reasons the husband and I finally undertook that long-pending trip to Thailand, this October. 9 long years ago, while we were honeymooning in Thailand, it was at this very temple that I made a vow – a vow to come back later, with any children that the future might bring into our lives.

Our secret connection with the Emerald Buddha

We were shy newlyweds then, on a tour to the temple not unlike many other Indian tourists. The Thais place immense faith in the Emerald Buddha, housed in the Grand Palace (the former residence of the country’s royal family), and strongly believe that no prayer goes unanswered here. When we visited, back then, the aura of sacredness came off the place in waves. When our tour guide mischievously suggested that the husband and I should pray to the Emerald Buddha for a cute baby girl, I went ahead and did just that. I prayed for the husband and I to lead happy, healthy lives together, vowed to Him that I would come back with our cute little one to see Him again. I kept my pact with Him this October, introducing Him to the cute and little (but also, super naughty and super frustrating) bub. The experience made me feel all light-hearted and warm inside. Touchwood.

People’s expressions range from ‘Whhhhhatttttt?’ to ‘Squeee! Just howwww romanticcccc is that!’ when they hear this story. I’ll leave you to decide on that. I’ll just say that, back then, the prayers came straight from the heart, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. This post is a glimpse into the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, through my eyes.

About the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace in Bangkok refers to the former residence of the royal family of Thailand, since 1782, which is when it was constructed by King Rama I. It is not a single structure, but rather a collection of a number of buildings, halls, lawns and open courtyards, and a temple. Considering that these buildings were slowly added on over the years, their styles of construction are quite different from each other. This asymetry is evident as soon as you enter the main gate of the Grand Palace, but the painstaking detailing and prettiness of each building will not fail to blow your mind away.

The various buildings that the Grand Palace houses, visible as soon as you enter. Can you notice the mixed architectural styles?

By the year 1925, the royal family had completely moved out of the Grand Palace. However, there are a few royal government offices that are still functional here. Parts of the palace grounds are open to visitors, who come in droves. Even as I write this, the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha within are among the most visited sites in Thailand by tourists.

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The entrance to one of the structures in the Grand Palace. Can you spot the crowds of tourists?
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Just how beautiful is this structure at the Grand Palace!

Wat Phra Kaew (more commonly known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha) is a chapel located within the palace grounds. Apparently, King Rama I had the temple constructed in 1782 to house the 60-foot tall statue of the Buddha that he had carved out of green jasper stone. This statue exists in the chapel till date, and is considered one of the most important Buddha idols in Thailand.

Our experience at the Grand Palace

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A pretty mural we came across in the Grand Palace. This was a part of an entire series of similar murals, all of which apparently depict the Thai version of the Ramayana.

It is a hot and humid October afternoon when we visited the Grand Palace for the second time. The taxi we hire drops us off at the designated spot for the same, from where we proceed walking towards the palace. Only to be stopped by a smiling local, dressed formally and wearing some sort of a tag around his neck – he goes on to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed till later in the day, that we should probably head out to some of the other surrounding tourist attractions and come back post that. The husband and I sense something fishy about this, and walk away saying we would check with the tourist information desk at the Grand Palace anyway. Only later do we come to know this is a popular scam around here – a way to make tourists part with some of their cash by making them go on unnecessary tuk-tuk rides and visiting spots they hadn’t planned for in the first place.

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A structure inside the Grand Palace. Just how pretty are those ‘ball’ trees?
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One of the many ‘bearers’ we spot at the Grand Palace, holding up the many pillars and blocks present here

The Grand Palace is very much open, as we suspected already. We buy our tickets and head inside, not opting for the services of a guide or an audio tour. Instead, we decide to rely on the maps freely available to tourists at the ticket counter, and tour the premises ourselves. Swarms of tourists walk in with us. Thankfully, the Grand Palace premises are huge (almost 2,20,000 sq mt., to be precise), and it does not feel stiflingly crowded inside.

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A demon guarding the temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Grand Palace compound. Check out the detailing on the idol! There were six huge ‘demons’ like these, every single one crowded with people who wanted selfies with them!
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Check this out! Beautiful detailing on one of the walls within the Grand Palace premises

The premises of the Grand Palace are extremely neat and well-maintained, just as I remember them from our visit all those years ago. The traditional golden-coloured Thai monuments glitter as they catch the rays of the sun, as does the fine detailing in crystal, glass and gold detailing that seems to be everywhere. Personnel from the Thai Army and Police are everywhere too, infusing order to the movements inside the palace compound. All over again, I am entranced by the place at the first glance.

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A beautiful, beautiful white-and-blue structure within the Grand Palace premises
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Statue of a Chinese guard spotted at the Grand Palace

I can understand why a visit to the Grand Palace proves to be quite overwhelming for some tourists. The droves of tourists, the hordes of uniformed guards, all those monuments, all those different architectural styles, all that detailing and bling, a highly sacred Buddha in the midst of it all – it can be too much to take in and process. The husband and I take it really easy, for this very reason. We have no agenda in mind; we are not there just to check the place off a long checklist. We have come prepared to stay for a few hours’ time, simply walking around and taking in the scenes and sights and sounds, one little piece at a time, taking breaks in between just to sit in silence. I can’t say we understand the entire layout of the Grand Palace or figure out the many stories associated with the place, but I can definitely say we thoroughly enjoy exploring it at our own pace. This way, our visit turns out enriching and oh, so rewarding.

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The surroundings of the Emerald Buddha temple. Again, the same mix of different architectural styles.
Outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha

Walking around, we reach Wat Phra Kraew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and get inside to pay our respects. The inside is cool and refreshing, a welcome respite from the heat that is beating down outside. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, so I have no pictures of the idol to show you. However, we are surely left breathless by all the ornate work in and around the temple.

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Some of the detailing on the walls outside the Emerald Buddha temple
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A mythological Thai creature that is half-woman, half-animal

We sprinkle some of the holy water from the temple over our heads, and gear up to walk around some more. By then, the sun was at its hottest best, and we are quite tired. We realise we should be heading out soon, and that is just what we do. On the way back, we capture a few more of the charming, painstakingly done sights that the Grand Palace has to offer.

A model of Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple, in the Grand Palace premises. Cambodia used to be a vassal state to Thailand (erstwhile Siam) in those days, and legend has it that King Rama I had this constructed so he could show people this beautiful temple from the other country that was also under Thai rule.
Rows and rows of cannons spotted in the premises of the Grand Palace. I kind of shudder to think that these must have been in actual use at some point of time.

Tips for travellers

  1. Visiting the Grand Palace can be quite an overwhelming experience for some travellers. It helps to take this place easy and explore it at one’s own pace, like we did.
  2. You can hire the services of a guide at the Grand Palace, if you so wish. He/she will help you understand the history of the place better. However, make sure he/she speaks good English, and do fix a price for the tour beforehand to avoid heartache later.
  3. Beware of tourist scams in and around the Grand Palace. Be careful with your belongings.
  4. Dressing conservatively is a must at the Grand Palace. Shorts and dresses that expose knees and/or ankles are a strict no-no. If needed, you can rent a wraparound from a stall located near the ticket counter.
  5. Photography is allowed everywhere in the Grand Palace, the parts that are open to public I mean, except inside the temple of the Emerald Buddha. The chapel is highly sacred to the Thais, and it is advisable to follow the rules and maintain the sanctity of the place.
  6. Entry fees at the Grand Palace are 500 Thai Baht per head, for foreigners, which is actually pretty steep.
  7. The palace remains open between 8.30 AM and 3.30 PM daily, except on special holidays which are usually announced well in advance.
  8. The Grand Palace gets really, really crowded with tourists! If you would like to explore it quietly, you would do well to reach before it opens, before the maddening crowds descend upon it.
  9. Walking around the huge premises of the Grand Palace can be a tiring, draining affair, especially in the months of summer and monsoon. Ensure that you don’t carry much while you walk around, wear loose and breathable clothes, and have a bottle of water with you as you explore.
  10. Do read up a bit about the history of Thailand and the Grand Palace, as well as a bit about Thai culture and mythology, and I can bet you will have a fascinating experience here. No time to do that? Check out the place at leisure, and then do your reading after you get back home – like we did.
  11. There are several places that you can visit around the Grand Palace – the temple of the reclining Buddha aka Wat Pho, for instance, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, and the famous Khao San Road. You may combine a visit to the Grand Palace with any of these places.
  12. You can use a cab, the BTS Skytrain or river taxi to get to the Grand Palace, or just walk down if you are staying nearby. We used a cab.

I hope you liked this post, and found it useful! Do tell me in your comments!

 

Agathi Poo Poriyal| Vegetable Hummingbird Stir-Fry From Tamilnadu

Last month, we finally made that long-pending trip to Thailand. This voyage had been waiting to be undertaken for years on end, and it did happen over the bub’s Dassera holidays in October. Thailand is where the bub turned 4, and we spent some happy days there, roaming around and exploring as much as we could. This time around, I saw Thailand from the eyes of a food and travel blogger, a completely different experience to the one I had previously, on our honeymoon. Among the foodie souvenirs I brought back to India from our holiday were these edible flowers, called Vegetable Hummingbird.

Walking around the aisles of Big C, a departmental store in Pattaya, I spotted this packet of flowers – labelled ‘Vegetable Hummingbird’. Apparently, these are flowers of the Sesbania Grandiflora, called so because their shape resembles that of the beak of little hummingbirds. The flowers, called Dok Khae in Thai, can be white, pink or red. They are used in several Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Lao, Maldivian, Indian and Sri Lankan. The Thais use vegetable hummingbirds, mostly the white ones, raw in Nam Prik, and cooked in curries like Gaeng Som. I was intrigued, and absolutely had to pick up a packet of these to carry back home with me.

Vegetable Hummingbird, Agathi Poo or Bokful

It was only after I got back home and did some quick reading on the Internet that I got to know that these flowers are the same as Agathi Poo, quite commonly consumed in Tamilnadu in the olden days. With time, though, there are fewer and fewer families in South India using these flowers, sadly. I have never had them before, and had no way of knowing these were from our very own Tamilnadu – I lugged them all the way from Thailand! The family had a hearty laugh, at my expense, but I was thrilled to have had an opportunity to cook with something new to me! 🙂

The Internet also told me that these flowers are also commonly used in Bengali cuisine. The Bengalis call these Bokful, and they are dipped in chickpea-flour batter and deep-fried to make delicious Bokful Bhaja. I cannot help but marvel at these little similarities in cuisines throughout the world!

Both the flowers and the leaves of the Sesbania Grandifloraagathi poo and agathi keerai in Tamil, respectively – are chock-full of nutrients. The flowers have the power to ward off ailments like asthma, rheumatism and epilepsy, and to keep stress and anxiety at bay. Rich in calcium, the flowers have a cooling effect on the body, too. In Tamilnadu, agathi poo are used to make a lip-smackingly delicious stir-fry or poriyal, the slight bitterness of the flowers balanced by the addition of sugar, grated coconut, onions and/or beans.

Check out the lovely Tamilnadu-style Agathi Poo Poriyal I made using these flowers, under Amma‘s expert tutelage. It was, indeed, super delicious and made for a wonderful pair with piping hot rasam rice!

Agathi Poo Poriyal or Tamilnadu-Style Vegetable Hummingbird Stir-Fry

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

  1. 15-20 vegetable hummingbird flowers aka agathi poo 
  2. 1 medium-sized onion
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste (optional)
  5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  6. 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
  7. 3 green chillies
  8. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  9. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (rai)
  10. 1 sprig curry leaves
  11. 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)

Method:

  1. Open up the agathi poo and remove the stamen – the hard stalk within. Discard the stamen. Chop up the agathi poo finely – you should get about 1 cup of the chopped flowers. Keep aside.
  2. Chop the onion finely. Keep aside.
  3. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add the asafoetida and the finely chopped onion. Stirring intermittently, saute on medium flame till the onion begins to turn translucent. This should take about 2 minutes.
  5. Now, add the curry leaves, the slit green chillies and the chopped agathi poo to the pan. Add in the salt to taste, sugar (if using) and turmeric powder too. Cook on medium flame, stirring intermittently, till the flowers are cooked. This should take 2-3 minutes. You may sprinkle a little water if you feel the poriyal is too dry or is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Mix in the fresh grated coconut and cook for a minute more. Switch off gas. The Agathi Poo Poriyal is ready!

Notes:

  1. The agathi poo has a slight bitterness to it, and the onions, sugar and fresh grated coconut help to counter that. You may skip the sugar if you don’t want to add it, but I personally think it adds a lovely flavour to the poriyal.
  2. Agathi poo comes in red, pink and white hues. The white ones are less bitter and tastier than the pink ones. Thai cuisine makes use of the white flowers only, while Tamilians use the white, red and pink ones.
  3. Coconut oil or gingelly oil works best in this kind of poriyal. However, you can use any other kind of oil you prefer, instead, too.
  4. You may add finely chopped coriander leaves to the Agathi Poo Poriyal too. We usually don’t, in this kind of poriyal.
  5. Typically, only the heat from green chillies is used in this kind of poriyal. However, if you feel it is too mild, you may add a dash of red chilli powder too.
  6. Considering the vegetable hummingbird flowers are quite thin, they cook really easily. There’s no need to cover the pan while the flowers are cooking, but you may if you want even faster cooking.
  7. Vegetable Hummingbirds or Agathi Poo are quite fragile, and do not have much of a shelf life. They are best consumed straight after plucking or buying at a vegetable vendor’s, as the case may be.
  8. The calyx of the agathi poo – the greenish part at the bottom of the flower, which holds the petals together – is okay to consume. The stamen – the hard stalk within each flower – needs to be removed.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

I’m sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #251. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes.