… and they’re selling their vegetables in Tesco-Lotus.

Phak Phaay

This weird vegetable appeared in the supermarket earlier this week. The label said “Phak Phaay”. “Phak” means “vegetable” and “Phaay” is the English word “pie”.

Apparently, it likes to grow in mud so is often found around paddy fields where it can be a problem weed – particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s originally from the Americas and was introduced to Thailand in 1909 as an ornamental plant. It promptly escaped and invaded southern Burma.

Apparently it can be eaten both raw and cooked, and has a sweet, slightly bitter taste. Its slime can be used as a substitute for soap. To Linneus it’s Limnocharis flava, and in English, it’s variously known as Water Cabbage, Yellow Velvet-leaf, Sawah-flower Rush, Sawah Lettuce and Yellow Burrhead. But to Tesco-Lotus it’s simply delicious.


Today’s (Feb. 15) Bangkok Post newspaper had a most helpful article for all its readers.

Shovelling snow from the Bangkok Post

Next time there are major snow storms in Bangkok I’ll be sure to heed its advice.


St. Valentine has truly been taken into the heart here in Thailand. The supermarket shelves are lined with heart-shaped boxes. Romantic cards to proclaim one’s devotion are in the shops. Bouquets of roses fill the florists shops. And everywhere, just everywhere, there are toy stuffed bears clutching padded hearts.

This day is also the traditional one for young ladies to offer up their virtue to their paramour. The Bangkok police makes the rounds of the short time hotels to make sure that no underaged beauty is prematurely defiled.

In Thailand half a million people are living with HIV. And in 2009 (the last year for which statistics are available) 28,000 died from AIDS-related complications. So what do the boneheads of the Bangkok city administration decide to order? Nothing short of the removal of condom dispensing machines from all its schools for Valentine’s Day. Apparently some parents had complained that the presence in schools of these most persuasive of devices provoked unnatural and insatiable sexual curiosity in teenagers.

One can’t prevent teenagers from having sex. So how will the complaining parents feel when their little girl gets pregnant, their little boy catches syphillis, or is dying from AIDS?

I despair at the sheer boneheaded stupidity of this decision. Have years of promotion of safe sex in Thailand passed totally unheeded by Bangkok’s pencil pushers?


TrueVisions, the monopoly provider of satellite television, is a pretty dire operation. Endless repeats of ancient episodes of imported programmes such as ER and Martha lack mental stimulation. However, TrueVisions does make some of its own content. I thought that things were at a low point when they started broadcasting the contents of a panda’s cage twenty four hours a day, every day of the week. However, I recently discovered that there’s another 24 hour channel which films the inside of a coffee shop. Yes, all the thrills of watching people make and drink coffee.

In fact, this exercise in inane television, is a reality game show. Each week one of the contestants will be voted off by the viewers (if there are any) submitting a text message with their vote. The prize is to run a coffee shop for a year. Amazingly, this is the second series.

British TV viewers can look forward to the return of Big Brother to their living room. It seems that Britain’s most famous pornographer is poised to sign the deal for a further series to be broadcast on his Red Hot TV Channel 5. Big Brother was also made in Thailand, but it seems the format was too exciting for TrueVisions’ viewers, and the programme was pulled after the second series a few years ago.

Coming next, a thrilling, 24 hour reality series … Watching Paint Dry.


It all starts with a paste. Aromatic plant parts are pounded in a hefty stone mortar; garlic, ginger, lemon grass, galangal, Thai shallots, chillies (red and green) – quintessentially Thai flavours – all get the same treatment. There’s hardly a Thai dish that doesn’t start with a paste, be it a curry, soup, savoury snack, grilled meat or dipping sauce.

When I lived in an apartment in Bangkok I always knew when the neighbours upstairs were cooking: there’s be a steady thwock-thwock-thwock on the ceiling above as the unseen cook squatted on the floor and pounded her paste for that night’s repast.

There are plenty of dishes that we think of as Thai, but are really mutant Chinese food. For example, sweet and sour sauce in Thailand has no cornflour to thicken it, and the soy sauce is replaced by fish sauce. Stir-fried chicken with dried chillies acquires cashew nuts in its Thai incarnation, and soy sauce (again) is supplanted by fish sauce. (The use of fish sauce, rather than soy sauce is a common feature of Thai-Chinese dishes. However, increasingly fish sauce is being replaced by oyster sauce in Thai cuisine. For example, phat gaphao [spicy stir-fried finely choppped meat with holy basil] – virtually Thailand’s national dish, used to be seasoned with fish sauce, but the sweet, saltiness and rich unami taste of oyster sauce is far more prevalent nowadays.)

But to return to curry pastes. One can buy curry pastes in plastic sachets or glass jars in any supermarket, though the range is fairly limited. One can go to the local market where a curry paste vendor will dollop paste into a plastic bag for you to take away. But the dedicated cook will make his/her own. And here begins the first crisis: Thailand has banned the export of a wide range of herbs and vegetables, including Thai basil, peppers, chillies, Thai aubergines, bitter gourds (karelia) and saw tooth coriander. This preemptive move was in an attempt to stop the European Union banning the import of these ingredients because of high levels of pesticide – many of which are banned in Europe – and insect infestation.

(Many Thai people are aware of the issue of high levels of insecticide in food plants. In most supermarkets the “organic” section is both large and prominent. Sometimes it’s hard not to buy organic.)

Thai restaurants overseas now have a problem: they are cut off from their supply of essential ingredients. Some restaurants have taken to buying Vietnamese or Cambodian equivalents – at a higher price. Others have taken to importing pasteurised curry pastes from Thailand. Desperate times, desperate measures.


For consumers in Thailand things are also looking grim. Last month shelves were stripped bare of coconut milk. There’s apparently a shortage of coconuts caused by a plague sweeping the nation. Things are so bad that Thailand’s major exporter of coconut milk has halted export better to meet domestic demand.

And for the last couple of weeks there’s been no oil on supermarket shelves. It seems to be a problem based upon a shortage of palm fruit and consumers hoarding palm oil ahead of an impending price rise. It also appears that the government has been directing supplies to large food manufacturers, rather than to the retail market. The shortage of palm oil led consumers to shift to soybean oil. When all that disappeared they stripped the shelves of corn and sunflower oils, too.


It’s probably fair to say that I’m not the most romantically inclined person on the planet. After I’ve done the dozen red roses thing, the diamond ring the size of a pigeon egg, and the magnum of champagne well, I’m pretty much out of ideas.

Thankfully, Villa Market, which I visited earlier today (a Thai supermarket aimed at the wealthy, and at the stinking rich expatriate) has come to the rescue. On Valentine’s Day this year I’ll not be scrabbling for inspiration thanks to their kind handout.

Villa, Valentine's Day promotion, 2011

Idea #1: Spam With Bacon

Spam with Bacon

Idea #2: Jones Pork Little Sausage. (Not so keen on the little sausage – might be misunderstood.)

Little Sausage

Idea #3: Kleenex Tissue. (Might be necessary, even with a little sausage.)


Idea #4: If there’s no Kleenex to hand, there’s always toilet roll:

Toilet Roll

Idea #5: And if things don’t go quite to plan and there’s a little accident, one might end up needing these:


Idea #6:

I’m not quite sure where the olive oil, granola bars, prego sauce and frozen pot pies fit in with the romantic scenario, but as I said, I’m not the most romantically inclined person on the planet. However, I suspect the “Super Hard, Wet Hard, Madom G Long Keep Gel” might have its uses.

Suggestive hair products

(And the Gatsby “Hard, Supper Hard” does reflect my problems with deciding what to eat this evening.)