Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This Little Piggy Went To Thailand

This Little Piggy Went To Thailand

I just finished a delicious lunch of some small pork ribs and fresh bread today in Bangkok. Mouth watering good! It got me to thinking how much pork has been a factor in some of our travel adventures. In fact, it is interesting how differently pork is viewed in various parts of the world.

When we lived in Turkey we were pork deprived. As a Muslim country, the consumption is forbidden in the Koran and as a result there were basically no pork products available when we were first there. When we would fly home to Canada, via Frankfurt, our breakfast in the Frankfurt airport was always bacon and eggs. It was like a drug injection for a junkie. On our return trips, we would always buy ham, bacon and pork chops in the airport stores and then ration it out slowly over the ensuing months in Turkey. 

One day, I met an expat who told me that there was now one butcher in Istanbul who sold pork. That news was like waving a treasure map in front of Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. I was directed to find an unmarked store, beside a Shell service station in a destitute part of Istanbul, with no further information. My initial search was hopeless as there was no evidence of a butcher shop anywhere. My eyes finally noticed a collection of street cats patiently hanging out around a doorway. As I approached, the door opened and a man tossed out some meat scraps to the cats and I had found pork Nirvana. 

The owner of the shop was Greek and had opened a pork store to basically service the expat community. I have never felt more successful at anything than arriving home bearing a packet of sliced ham, bacon and other luncheon meats. For the next year or two, I made dozens of trips to the secret pork store, usually accompanied by another salivating foreigner who was suffering pork deprivation.

Fast forward fifteen years to our three month stay in Thailand. Obviously, the Buddhist faith does not have the hangups that other religions have about pork. Pork products are everywhere. 

The Thais love pork more than they love beef or chicken. Sidewalk vendors often sell pork on a stick or pork kebabs. Most restaurants serve ground pork, minced pork or stir fried pork in noodle, rice and soup dishes. If you want, you can eat bacon or ham, pork chops or pork ribs. As scarce as it was in Turkey, it flourishes in Thailand. Good quality beef is rare and is available on a more limited basis. 

One of the more unappetizing looking pork dishes is boiled pork hock. This unattractive offering was also very popular when we lived in Poland and was called Golonka. It is pretty difficult to make a large pork hock or knuckle, sitting in a broth of beer or juices, look tasty or appealing, yet they are often seen bobbing about in large pots of Thai soups in the street markets like floating mines waiting to detonate. 

We usually don’t make our travel plans based upon what kind of meat products are available in our destination country. Our experiences have shown that there are some pretty extreme alternatives in different countries, so you just have to be aware. Porky Pig would love Turkey and avoid Thailand at all costs.

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