Food Connects Across Cultures | THAILAND

Our second night staying on the Coconut island, off the eastern coast of Phuket, I had one of those travel experience that you only read about in travel novels or magazines. One where the language and cultures couldn’t be any different from one another, and we were still able to find common interested and enjoy one another’s company. My wife and I were invited, after finishing our dinner, to an older Thai gentleman’s table to split a bottle of local Hong Thong rum, but we found out that it was about so much more than just the rum.

As some background to how we got here, well, my wife and I were on our honeymoon trip to Thailand where we were bouncing around from beach town to beach town in Phuket (Southern Thailand). The last place we were staying was a place called The Village at Coconut Island. It was a resort that looked beautiful, so we decided to splurge and stay here for a few nights. Compared to the rest of the places we had stayed, this resort really lacked the amazing Thai culture we had grown to love in our short time here in Thailand, not to mention the restaurant was drastically more expensive than we had been used to. So we decided to go on recommendation, to a small, local restaurant a few hundred yards down the beach from the resort to a place called, The Coconut Seafood Restaurant.

Walking up to the restaurant, from the dark beach, we immediately realized this was more of our style, and drastically more authentic to what we’d seen around the country. A simple corrugated roof, held up by bamboo an 2×4’s, with a dozen tables scattered throughout, with a single, Sheetrock wall to divide the seating from the kitchen, witch looked to be no larger than 10’x12’. The entire restaurant had nothing separating it from the outside or from the sounds of the beach, lit by a few hanging bulbs from the roof’s support beams. And this was perfect, as we ate our delicious Thai style noodles, squid dish, and fried crab, split with a few Chang beers.

The food, unimportant to this story, though it was amazing. See, we were the last patrons in the restaurant, as it was passing 9PM. We’d paid our bill, but were still enjoying the warm night by the ocean. THat’s when our waiter came to us with a half full glass of brown liquid, indicating that it was from the gentleman at the other side of the restaurant. It was rum! And another glass shortly for my wife Courtney. We cheers from across the bar, over, and over, and over again until we had finished our glass. Then, as circumstances would have it, a torrential rain storm rolled through with no warning, and we had to seek shelter under in the restaurant. To which, we were invited to the table of the older gentleman, and the man who was our waiter. And that’s when the night began.

The older man, spoke little to no English, but with the help of the waiter, “Bang”, who spoke fantastic English, we began to connect. The older man, whose name is pronounced “Gietz”, was the oldest brother of the family. Our waiter was the middle child, followed by introductions to his youngest brother, the nieces, nephews, sisters, wives, any everyone in between. And this was indeed a family restaurant, started by Gietz four months previous, and now providing work for his entire family. Gietz was the brains behind the business and helped start it with his recipes, and Bang helped execute the logistics of it all. Obviously, Bang explained this all to us.

Throughout the evening, as the rain continued to fall, Gietz continued to pour some very, very stout glasses of Hong Thong, to which we cheers with the Thai version, “Chokh dī”, which means Good Luck. They wanted to know where we came from, and what our home country looked like. We showed Utah on a map, but really got a reaction when we showed them photos of our mountains, the immense snow, the orange desert, and our cabin. We shared photos of wildlife like Elk and Moose. They explained what animals they have. We went back and forth, through his younger brother’s translations, talking about whiskeys, our countries, where we had been in Thailand, what we saw SCUBA diving, and of course the food.

What topped off the night, besides the rum in our drinks, was when Gietz ordered a pumpkin pie-like desert, served in an actual pumpkin. Being the novice Americans, we started by only eating the filling, to which Gietz quickly corrected us. He grabbed a fork, sliced a piece of pumpkin and the filling, and fed it to Courtney, then myself. Unusual, I remember thinking, but was immediately assured by Bang that this was a very important part of the culture. Gietz was feeding us, as a father would his family. After hearing this, we were very honored, and Gietz indicated that we were all his friends now, and, if he had time, he would love to see our country.

Unfortunately, we had an early morning the following day, and couldn’t spend all night drinking the remainder of the bottle of liquor. Courtney then discussed the potential of taking a cooking class, to which Gietz was very honored and accepted. They were going to learn how to make Tom Kha Soup and a Noodle dish. We were so gracious, and tried to inquire how much they would want for such an experience, to which they declined any payment. Gietz said it would be his honor to teach someone his passion, as a gift of given that they are supposedly taught in Buddhism. It pained us to not be able to partake in this lesson the following night, as we were not feeling too well after nearly two weeks of nonstop moving around. But their hospitality, kindness, and laughter will be one of the best traveling experience that I’ve ever had to date, and will cherish forever!

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