Early last week I was in Prachinburi, two and half hours’ drive to the east of Bangkok, near Cambodia. It is a vast, elegant province of rice fields and quiet communities in which it was easy to imagine that neighbors might have known neighbors for generations.
We made our way back towards Bangkok at the end of the day, driving past night markets full of food and families, circles of children hatching schemes, and people gathered outdoors to watch the evening traffic and gossip.
I am now, more than two years into our stay in Thailand, familiar with this sensation of the day closing under the hazy orange glow of a tropical sun. It is a time of day that feels the same, I would imagine, in many parts of the world. A time when we slow down and turn our thoughts toward more personal pursuits.
Driving across the country on my return from Prachinburi, I felt the simultaneous sense of newness and familiarity that comes on so often here. There is a balance in our lives these days that allows us to hold tight to our traditions while embracing something entirely new. I feel it as I watch Frank at the stovetop making laab moo with as much ease as he once assembled a turkey sandwich.
These experiences have become a fundamental part of who we are. I imagine that years from now, pieces of this life we lived in Thailand will be an inextricable part of the lives of our children as well. They will never think twice when they smell the familiar aroma of lemongrass and mint while Frank makes laab.
Experiencing a different culture, whether for a few days or months or years, makes you understand that there are more things in common in all our lives than different. We all let down our guard a bit as the light in the sky shifts to dusk.
We all pick up bits and pieces from everyday experience and assemble them into our life’s story.
- 1 pound (460g) ground pork
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 2 green onions (scallions)
- 15 mint leaves
- 2 stalks lemongrass, just the bottom 2 inches, outer leaves removed and discarded
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
- ½ a whole shallot, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon toasted rice powder
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- juice squeezed from 1 and ½ limes
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (adjust for preferred spice)
- 1 cup cooked white rice
- 4 fried eggs
- lime wedges
- Transfer the pork to a medium saucepan or wok. Heat the pan, with the pork, slowly over medium heat until the pork begins to sizzle. Cook the pork, stirring to break it up into small pieces, until just cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, finely chop the cilantro, green onions, and mint. Thinly slice the lemongrass stalks. Add the herbs to the pork. Add the kaffir lime leaves, shallot, toasted rice powder, fish sauce, and lime juice. Stir to combine. Add crushed red pepper, to taste, and stir.
- Serve immediately with rice, a fried egg, and extra lime wedges.
- Combine the mint, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro and chop until very fine. Set aside.
- In a nonstick skillet, cook chicken with 1 Tbsp. water over medium heat. As the chicken cooks, break it apart with a spatula so that it stays in small pieces. Keep the chicken cooking slowly, reducing the heat if it begins to brown. When the chicken is cooked through and still moist (there should be moisture in the bottom of the pan), remove it from heat.
- Add all remaining ingredients to the chicken, including the finely chopped herbs, and mix well. Serve immediately, with sticky rice.