Really?! Three and a half months gone just like that? That’s it?
How does life do this? Twenty minutes ago I was in Bangkok trying to ignore the rivulets of sweat making their way down my back, scavenging street food stalls down diesel-perfumed alleys, stepping over mangey street dogs and piles of trash. And now here I am sitting in a hip coffee shop in Colorado, surrounded by people half as brown and twice as tall as the demographic I’ve been with for the past many months. It’s always a bit of a transition, coming back to America.
And as I try to come to grips with the fact that I will no longer have the amazing cuisines of Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia on my doorstep, I’m struggling with figuring out exactly how I could ever write a farewell to this trip. It’s been nearly three and a half months and it has all moved past me in a semi-conscious, feel-good flow. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the ups and downs of traveling alone, the amazing food in every place…it all will require some further digestion (excuse the pun) before I can properly sum it up. But it is good to be back.
I expect that I will miss a great many things about Asia – the sun, the smiles, the sweat, the squatty potties, the prices – just to name a few. But I can’t lie: the thing I’m already thinking about and already missing in my daily routine (yep, after 3 days of being back in the states) is the sweets.
I didn’t write a tremendous amount about the sugar situation on this trip, and that’s partially due to the fact that I very rarely took photos of the sugary things I found because I would literally devour them before I thought to get out my camera. You see, as much as I write about and cook and eat tasty meats and vegetables and am very passionate about eating for health, I am in reality a total sugar junkie. I. Love. Sweet. Things.
This is a fact I can’t deny, and fortunately it’s pretty easy to keep tabs on my little addiction when I’m home. I don’t buy sweet things, I eat Paleo and occasionally make a Paleo-friendly dessert, I use natural, whole food sweeteners when I do crave sweetness…it’s pretty in control. But there’s this thing about Southeast Asia – as it turns out, they love sweet even more than I do. In fact they put so much sugar in everything that it actually turns me off of a lot of things. (Ok, a few things. Like one or two things I had were too sweet, but I ate them anyway because wasting food is unconscionable). But they take it a little far. I mean really – fresh squeezed fruit juice with simple syrup? And ordering a coffee free from sweetened condensed milk and simple syrup is nearly impossible. It’s just everywhere, in every form – tea, coffee, ice cream, shaved ice with sweet jellies and hefty scoops of palm sugar syrup on top, white bread or roti doused in sweetened condensed milk and then sprinkled with sugar…not to mention the myriad variations of coconut pudding, steamed squash filled with sweet tapioca pudding, rice flour and coconut milk mini pancakes, sweet potato cakes, sweetened sticky rice with red beans and palm sugar…oh the list of overdone sweetness goes on and on. And these things are everywhere! Inescapable! Practically impossible to avoid! And really, can you blame me? These sweet coconut and rice flour pancake guys are topped variously with pumpkin, fresh coconut, sweet corn and chives. And they are one of my favorite things ever.
Of all the sugary things I enjoyed on my trip, the winner for me is this coconut ice cream: served in a fresh coconut and topped with sweet sticky rice, tapioca jellies, toasted peanuts and sweetened condensed milk! Holy wow. And they give you a cup of the fresh coconut water to wash it all down. Amazing. I’m so glad I don’t have a tally of how many of these babies I downed in the past 3 months. That would be more than a little embarrassing.
For most people it’s too much – and even I avoid the Thai iced tea and coffee entirely because it is just over the top to have more than on occasion – but in all honesty I’ve been running around like a kid at the fair, overjoyed to try new sweet things every day.
And even the fruit is sweeter here – plus, who can resist a bag of fresh pineapple or mango for 67 cents? Not I.
I must admit that I’ve always wished I were someone who ‘doesn’t really like sugar’ – one of those people miraculously impervious to the lure of sweetness, invincible against the American dietary agenda. I know multiple people with this amazing ability – reaching for French fries or chunks of salty cheese before coconut cream pie or a candy bar. I, unfortunately, am not that person. I can blame my heritage or my biological programming (more calories per gram?! Yes, survival is delicious!) or my American food culture, but at any rate I am a total sugar baby. It doesn’t help that seemingly every sweet thing in Southeast Asia has either coconut, banana, sweet potato or peanuts in it, and almost everything is gluten free. I am a slave to these things.
But now it’s back to my routines, back to ‘real life’, and due time to reel in the pre-diabetic sugar habits. No more coconut ice cream every day, no more coconut pudding pancakes in the afternoon, no more iced ‘coffee’. I will definitely be making occasional exceptions for these things (everything in moderation, including moderation…), but overall sweetness consumption will have to be tamed.
And oh to be home and resuming kitchen play time! How fantastic! My notebooks (both digital and real old school pen-and-paper things) are brimming with foodie ideas for the coming summer and I’m beyond ready to dive back into the creative culinary process, combine the knowledge and tastes I’ve gleaned from this trip and see what I come up with. Stay tuned!