Travel for the Tastebuds

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My fondness for faraway places means that my comfort foods are a bizarre smorgasbord of Indian- and Asian-style curries, European baked goods, taco-truck carbohydrates, and mundane supermarket standards like Cracklin’ Oat Bran (the crack cocaine of cereals), mac and cheese, and Snyder’s pretzels. My husband, bless him, has come to embrace the oddity that is my appetite (mostly) and has been known to say, unprovoked, “Get your coat, we’re going for pho” or, using his best Homer Simpson imitation, “Mmm. Spinach naan!”

Some days, nothing reassures quite like the spicy-sweet combination of a pineapple curry, preferably served up on that fluffy, reddish-brown rice that fancier Thai places offer. And this was one of those days when I was determined to make my own. On my shopping rounds through our exotic local markets, I picked up a five-pound bag of tom mali (unhulled jasmine) rice, along with a ripe pineapple from Costa Rica, a pound of white shrimp from Ecuador, a bottle of fish sauce from Vietnam, some Thai basil from Hawaii, a few greenhouse-grown red peppers from Canada, and miscellaneous other items from all over the planet. My dinner had the same carbon footprint I’d have made if I’d hopped a flight to Bangkok, eaten curry, and flown back again.

I would be delighted to do nothing but eat locally, were I to live in a tropical wonderland where mangos fall from the heavens and seafood jumps out of the ocean and onto your plate, perfectly filleted and coated in a little something—let’s say ground macadamia nuts drizzled with sweet chili sauce. We have fairly abundant produce in the Pacific Northwest, but I miss California avocados, I love love love the spicy-sweet food of the tropics and the complicated aroma of Indian cooking. Kale is great, but how can it compete with the wonders of, say, dragon fruit or rambutan?! I’m sorry, Al Gore, but if I can’t travel myself, from time to time I like a plate that reminds me of the bright variety of the outside world.

My pineapple curry was imperfect, but it was my first try. I can’t repeat the recipe, since it was just a hack between a bunch of recipes I read online during the day. I did learn that the trick to a good pineapple curry is to let the coconut milk–based sauce stew for a while. Our seconds—with an added half-teaspoon of red curry paste—were so much better for simmering on the stove for an extra twenty minutes. Next time, I’ll sauté the onions (probably from Walla Walla, Washington), toss in the curry paste, the coconut milk, and the pineapple, and let it simmer on low for a good hour. Then, right at dinnertime, I’ll add the veggies and the shrimp. That will make for a thicker, more seasoned sauce, and the pineapple will be well stewed in the chili paste. There’s nothing like the amazing, sweet bite of pineapple offset by the sharp fire of red chili. Something about the combination of contrary flavors reassures a complicated person like me that everything is all right in the world.




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