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Day 3 of the food tour saw us go off the beaten path in ancient Ayutthaya.
En route to our first temple of the day, we pulled up on the side of the road to watch a local woman making pancakes. No doubt her speed and skill comes from her experience, but I had never seen anyone do anything like this before.
She was making Roti Sai Mai, made from wrapping some Persian fairy floss up inside the pancake, rolling it, then popping it in your mouth. It’s definitely a strange sensation in your mouth. The fairy floss, even though it is different in texture to the usual sugar fairy floss, is nonetheless still sugar and quite sweet. It’s a weird combination in the pancake as well, but it was still fantastic to see how they are made and to try a treat that is common in this area.
Our time at Wat Maha That allowed us to really see the destruction of these buildings, and the attempts in later years to reconstruct some of the collapsed parts of the temples.
One of the prominent features of this area is the Buddha head that appears to have been swallowed up by the tree roots. For obvious reasons, it is one of the most photographed icons here. With such amazing things around us, almost beckoning us to touch them, or sit near them, we had to always keep top of mind that we couldn’t.
Touching Buddha or sitting on them is a definite no-no. As is climbing up on walls to get to them or to reach a higher vantage point. The best course of action is really to keep your hands to yourself and to not climb anything other than stairs (unless otherwise signed). Equally noticeable is a large number of Buddha around the temple that have been beheaded. Further evidence of the destruction at the hands of the Burmese.
Making Persian fairy floss
Whenever I return from a trip, I am always asked about my highlight. Usually, my answer consists of one word….everything. Whilst there might clearly be some places that are higher than others in the pecking order, I come from a position of feeling incredibly privileged to be able to travel and experience other parts of the world, that to me it is all a highlight. That being said, I would have to say that the next activity would certainly make it onto my highlights reel if I were to have one. To me, this epitomised getting in amongst the locals and experiencing their world.
Persian fairy floss. Some had heard of it, some hadn’t. I remember it being served to me once on a dessert back home, and I remember it being sold in a gourmet providore store in Brisbane for quite a price.
As we arrived at a house, we saw some machinery set up in the garage underneath. Here in the smallish confines of the garage, in the Thai heat and humidity, a number of family members work tirelessly as they share the duties that are involved in bringing simple sugar and water to life as the delicate Persian fairy floss. Their friendliness knew no bounds and they were happy to explain to us each step they were taking, showing us clearly how it all comes together.
The first part of the process is relatively simple, albeit on a grand scale, with litres and litres of water poured into a hot wok, followed by kilograms of sugar. This is the toffee making stage, where the sugar and water are heated to form a dark caramel coloured syrup. The heat under the house is stifling, with the hot gas bottles that are firing up the toffee only adding to the temperature.
Once the toffee is ready, it is handed off to another family member for instant cooling. This is done by continuously spinning the wok around and around in a barrel of ambient temperature water. Despite the amount of toffee in the wok, this part of the process doesn’t take long at all.
On this particular day, they expected to process 100 kg of sugar which would, in turn, make 150 bags of the fairy floss, which they would sell for 20 baht each. (approx 27 baht to the $AUD). My thoughts turned once again to the price of the fairy floss I had seen in that store previously. At $A13, the imported product at home was clearly excessively priced when compared to the local price for under A$ 1!
Whilst the toffee was cooling, another family member was making the roux, a mixture of flour and oil that is combined with the toffee in one of the strangest, yet effective, processes I have ever seen. The roux when mixed in helps the toffee to separate it into strands.
It’s hard to believe until you see it, but each batch of toffee results in about 2 million strands being produced. But all of this takes such hard work. The toffee is stretched and str…..et……ched over and over again using nothing more than two tiny wooden rods and the pure muscle of the family member given the task. Check out the video, it is absolutely amazing to watch.
Visiting a boat making yard
The day was an eclectic mix of local sites, none of them in anyway related to each other, but all showcasing local Thai environments and activities. One of these was the shipbuilding yard with some boats that quite honestly looked more like artefacts, and then the stroll through the rice paddy, getting up close and personal with grains of that rice is such a part of everyday life here in Thailand.
The Japanese were one of the nationalities to have a presence in Ayutthaya, and although no longer there, the Japanese Village is now located in the area where the Japanese were believed to have settled. The Village has a media room where you can watch a documentary on their role in this area, various museum displays, and some beautiful gardens. It also is home to some great bathroom facilities, which are always a welcome sight whenever you travel in Thailand.
Lunchtime in amongst the rice fields
And what would a food tour be without food? We’d been good tour soldiers all morning, soaking up the history of the area through a variety of visits, so now it was time to get serious again, and explore the more regionalised food of this area. With a menu written entirely in Thai, Acland was our saviour again in ordering a feast for us all to share, as we sat overlooking the main road in the middle of rice paddy land.
An old rice mill
Continuing the education was a visit to a now-defunct rice factory. Whilst no longer operational, the equipment is all still in-situ which allowed us to get a sense of how the rice was processed. Built entirely out of timber, and old stuff at that, it wouldn’t take long for a fire to turn the whole thing into a pile of ash!
We had lined up a Thai massage for our free time this afternoon. Whoa, what an experience. Two Thai women turned up in our rooms and without going into all the detail that I am sure you don’t need, it was hilarious. Let’s just say I’m probably not quite as liberal as they are when it comes to getting my gear off, so there was a bit of a tug of war going on for a bit until I realised I wasn’t going to win and just resigned myself to letting them get on with it. There were two really funny moments. Unlike the soothing, calming voices I am used to when I get a massage, combined with the cascading sounds of waterfalls or rainforest music, instead, we got the constant babble of the two Thai women. The classic was when her Nokia phone rang (complete with the original Nokia tune) and she answered it !! The second funny moment was when they were trying to sit my husband up. At six foot high with really broad shoulders (and half asleep) they couldn’t get him to budge. Suddenly the two of them were behind him, trying desperately to push him up. In the end, I had to poke him to get him to move. Ah, the serenity!
And dinner….well, it is a food tour
Dinner tonight was at a local restaurant and as you can see below, continued to excite our taste buds. Apart from the green mango salad, we haven’t eaten the same meal twice. And even eating green mango salad is different from one place to the next. I particularly like mine with a good hit of chilli.