Monday, January 18, 2010


I’ve got a new favorite morning routine here in Chiang Mai. It’s evolving, rather than set, but the essentials include a brisk walk to the daily market at Chiang Mai Gate a generous mile away, and then a pause for a glass or two of traditional Thai coffee from a vendor there. The walk is great first thing in the morning, under usually hazy skies, the sun just coming up and the traffic light, people heading groggily to work and other chores, often wrapped in a scarf or jacket against the morning chill.

But there’s something a little dangerous, or perhaps the word dangerous is too strong, let’s say risky, about a routine. That’s why I try to keep it evolving, of course.

This morning I was given a much-needed kick in the pants in that direction by an email from a friend named Jim. I’d written him a quick note to say I was just headed out for coffee, and describing the coffee women: “She makes traditional Thai coffee and tea, also has soft-boiled eggs on offer, and that wild Thai "toast": white bread toasted carefully over low charcoal, than buttered with some kind of yellow grease, then dusted with white sugar and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and finally put on a plate and cut into four or five "fingers".  The egg and the toast are 5 baht each (about 15 cents?) and the coffee is double that, and comes with a side of clear tea.  I never have more than two coffees at a time, and have never managed the courage to have the toast.  I just watch others eat it!”

Jim wrote right back: “Now there’s the difference between us: I’d have ordered the toast right off, wolfed it down and then had a second one!”

My timidity about trying sweet treats thus outed and exposed for the feebleness it is, I set off this morning with more ambition and in a different frame of mind. Instead of thinking of this morning coffee as a settled treat and routine, I was bumped back into that traveller’s mind/beginner’s mind attitude: look at everything freshly, and engage as much as possible. The alternative is to just find something comfortable and stick to it. That’s fine, but it eliminates a lot of possibilities for serendipity (and a lot of catastrophes too, yes of course!).

So this is a report on my toast and coffee: it was just spectacular! I had thought I could imagine what the toast would taste like, and anyway I’m not that big on very sweet tastes, and especially not in the morning. That was my excuse for skipping the toast possibility. And I do know that taste of sweetened condensed milk on bread, from eating the Thai classic ice cream sandwich: coconut ice cream served in a sweetish hamburger bun style bun, drizzled with sweetneed condensed milk. It’s a wild and crazy and quite delish combo on a hot day!

Nothing had prepared me for the deliciousness of this morning’s combo though. First of all, the toast had a little tender crsipness at the edge and a faint smoky taste from being over the charcoal embers. It came on a small plate with a small fork alongside and had been cut crosswise in half and then the other way in four, so there were eight perfect squares of toast. I impaled one, dipped it lightly into the coffee, ate it, and immeditaely felt very grateful to Jim for goading me into trying the toast. The sugar that is dusted onto the toast has a vanilla aroma, perhaps that’s the thing, but I think it’s just somehow a good marriage, the smoky mocha taste of Thai coffeee with this improbable Asia-Fusion toast. The coffee comes with clear tea, so you can rinse your mouth clear after each rich bite, and then start in and get another hit of intense flavour, eight times in all.

No, I did NOT order a second toast, nor even a second coffee. It felt perfect, the pairing, one to one. I paid my 17 baht, about 50 cents altogether, smiled my thanks, and headed off into the market, delighted.

I think I'll have to take the immersethrough people over for coffee and toast next week, don't you think?


Robyn said...

I think I prefer Malaysian kaya/coconut 'jam' to condensed milk, but charcoal-toasted bread really is 'the bomb'!

Something a local in a market in Lampang showed us, which you might want to try too: buy some freshly-fried crullers to eat with your coffee, but do it this way: tear up a cruller or two and drop it in the coffee. Let it absorbe the liquid, then spoon up. It's like a wonderfully rich and full-flavored coffee bread pudding!

naomi said...

oh, Robyn, yes, leaving those doughnut/cruller bits in the coffee is great. but then I always need a second cup, to have more liquid to drink...
And there's an elusive something in the sugar, that hint of vanilla, I think it is. Will go back tomorrow to investigate further!

Thomas said...

Lovely post, Naomi! Makes me miss the super cheap delicious iced coffee there, similar to what you made us for post-dance party coffee not one month ago.

Warm, crispy regards,

naomi said...

I went back again today and it was just as yummy. My friend Trisha wrote to say she thinks it's the noisy crunch of the toast that I feared... dunking solves that problem!
And Robin Hardy, do please write to me!!:

Mmm....that's good said...

I loved that coffee so much-it never tastes as good at home. I can't imagine the withdrawls I'd have had if you'd introduced me to that toast...mmmm. Enjoy and thinking about this month. Have a great week

Micheline said...

If you would have asked me about tasting these toasts I would have tell you the same thing as your friend. That said as a french canadian I always need to eat sweets for part of my breakfast.