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The week that I recently spent in Thailand is the longest I have gone without a green smoothie for six months. I did however have the opportunity to try some new greens. I always find it exciting to discover new taste sensations especially when in the form of simple raw fruit and vegetables.
If you have ever eaten seafood in Thailand you will already know that the oysters there are huge as well as inexpensive.
On this trip, our oysters were served with a side of a raw vegetable that I had not tasted before. It was called cha-om and its botanical name is Acacia pennata.
This vegetable has a very distinctive flavor that is difficult to describe. Not really bitter. I would say more aromatic. In Thailand, it is often eaten raw or combined with eggs in cooked meals. I also learned that it is used as a medicine to treat headaches, digestive complaints, food poisoning and snakebite.
Another green, which was new to me, was betel leaf, which has nothing to do with the betel nut, aside from the fact that they are commonly eaten together. The Thais eat these leaves raw in the dish Mieng Kham and this is the way I tasted it. In this dish a variety of different foods are put inside the leaf such as coconut, peanuts, galangal, chili, shallot, and this is combined with a sweet sauce and then rolled up.
Although I didn’t strictly avoid cooked food in Thailand I had no problem eating raw most of the time. We found a restaurant that we really liked called Hemlock and there one of the dishes we chose included a platter of fresh raw vegetables that surrounded a small portion of shrimp salad with fresh herbs and spices.
This dish allowed me to sample two more new raw vegetables in their pristine state. The first was wing bean, which is crunchy with a very mild flavor.
The meal also included sliced galangal which is a root very similar to ginger but without the spiciness.
At this restaurant, we also discovered a very delicious salad that was based on banana flowers with a sweet and mildly spicy dressing with roasted chili. This was one of my favorite meals during the trip and I am going to see if I can recreate it using entirely raw ingredients. I just hope I can find the banana flowers in the markets here.
One of the great things about Thailand is that you can find amazing food that is really cheap. The meal we had in this restaurant cost us under $10 and we had four dishes. If you are traveling on a budget you can buy meals on the street for less than a dollar that is often as good, if not better, like those in restaurants.
Thailand is very friendly to those on a raw food diet with an abundance of young coconuts and fresh tropical fruits. The Thais also make very good salads including the famous Som Tum, green papaya salad, that you can find practically everywhere.
If you are a strict vegetarian you will want to be careful because fish sauce and dried shrimp are often added to salads so be sure to specify that you don’t eat seafood. It may be a good idea to learn a few phrases of Thai so that you can specify that you don’t eat animal products.
While I eat a raw vegan diet most of the time I do eat some animal products occasionally. I may go for a month or more on a completely raw vegan diet but if I start to feel low on energy I do eat some fresh seafood, eggs, or free-range organic chicken.
Personally I relax a little more about my diet when I am traveling. I found on this trip that I was gravitating more towards seafood. I think this was because while I was eating a lot of fruit I was lacking the grounding effect from greens and the seafood helped to provide the balance.
Fortunately, unlike the Balinese who boil or fry everything until it is past the well-done stage, the Thais know how to cook seafood perfectly so it is just slightly underdone. This makes it light on the digestive system and easy to absorb.
After my trip to Thailand, I am feeling very inspired to create some raw Thai recipes. For me, the flavors of Thai food have so much life and I can’t wait to start exploring the realm of raw Thai food.
thank you for facilitating your simple and on-point insights on eating habits. i didn’t even know what phytochemicals were or did.
if you hadn’t sent out that ebook on raw foods recipes i don’t think i would’ve started incorporating so many fruits and vegetables to my diet. i had heard of the raw food diet but it had the word “diet” in it and whenever i heard about it i always had better things to do!
i visited a friend in queens ny and bf they picked me up i bought 5 small ripe mangos and they were so sweet–one for each of his family members. while we enjoyed them mangos we started a conversation about the benefitis of eating raw. so the baton gets passed along! 🙂
Mangoes are one of the joys in life and certainly a wonderful way to bring people together to discover and appreciate raw foods.
You are so right that we shouldn’t think of eating raw foods as a diet. It is really a way of life that is so natural and just getting back to eating in tune with the way our body is designed.
So great to hear that my writing is reaching out even if in some small way.
i like to add herbs and spices on the foods i cook.***
Thanks. It’s encouraging to see that it is possible to eat raw in Thailand.
How do you ensure that you don’t catch anything (like Hep.A, Typhoid, etc) especially from the water and raw vegetables, etc, especially if you don’t have any vaccinations (for obvious health reasons)?
Well I’ve never had a problem with hep A or typhoid while traveling. Hep A and typhoid are both not really a problem in regard to eating raw food but is more of a food hygiene issue. Hep A is usually caused by inadequate hand-washing. Typhoid can show in the water and to avoid this we never consume drinks with ice or cold water unless we are sure that bottled water is being used. This is often the case in many of the places that cater to tourists.
Fruits with peels are safe and raw vegetables are only likely to be an issue if they are washed in tap water. This could occur in some of the smaller local restaurants but there are many places that will use bottled water to wash their veggies.
But the truth is there is always a risk in tropical countries and I have had to deal with parasites – though this is not in all cases due to eating raw. Even bottled water is not always safe, in contrast to popular opinion.
Grapeseed extract is something you can use – we add a couple of drops in a large bottle of water as a preventative in case of amoeba’s or bacterium. Periodical parasite cleanses are also advisable especially if you frequently travel to the tropics.
Actually “betel leaf” is never eaten. What you actually ate is (in Thai) called “bai cha plu” whereas betel leaf is (in Thai) “bai plu.” What you ate was actually “wild pepper leaf.” There’s a blog here by Thai cookbook author Kasma Loha-unchit that clarifies things: http://thaifoodandtravel.com/blog/betel-leaf/
Very interesting. Thanks for the clarification.
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