“Where do you wanna eat?”
“Up to you.”
“Good, let’s go to Sizzler.”
That’s all it takes to set Noom – my bar boy friend and current love of my life – off and running, leading us to wherever it is he’s then decided we should eat. I know when he says he is hungry he already has a place picked out. Sometimes, because of where we are, the ‘where’ is obvious. Noom is a creature of habit. But he’s also Thai and would never presume to make the decision on where we will eat. Until he’s given me the opportunity to do so. But a bad call is a bad call. And it can be ignored even when you are Thai.
Me not being the one to ultimately decide where we eat is part of our routine now. He knows I’m not fussy about where we dine. With some exceptions. My dining habits are different in Thailand than they are at home, I tend to go with the flow. There are still a few rules to live by, such as no fish, but for the most part wherever he decides we should chow down is fine with me. But it took him a while to figure out how to make that selection, trying to make sense of the farang mind is not an easy task.
Noom assumed because I nixed the idea of eating at a set of street carts for dinner one night that I didn’t like Thai food. And then looked at me in bafflement when we went to the Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant, instead. Pondering that choice, he assumed I didn’t like to eat from street carts. And then was further perplexed when that’s where we had lunch the next day. I could have explained the difference to him, but keeping the boy off his pace is a good thing. They say familiarity breeds contempt. Of that I’m not worried. My motivation is more about keeping him confused. And off his feed.
For a while Noom always suggested restaurants that offered farang food. Even Thais know a steak dinner is a winner in most Westerner’s minds. At least until they’ve tried steak in Thailand. Thais don’t really get beef. But then if you’ve ever seen a Thai cow you’d understand why their attempts at steak fail so miserably. I was glad when that little fake Parisian steak place in Patpong closed shop. It was Noom’s dinner choice, in deference to my assumed taste buds, far too often. Knowing he selected that restaurant with me in mind made it difficult to turn down. The meat they served as steak there was equally difficult in getting down.
Noom has his own preferences and rules about dining. Well, rule. Unless you count anywhere, anytime, anything as a rule. As a convert to Hinduism Noom no longer eats beef. It’s one of that faith’s rules that he can understand and he follows it quite religiously. I admire his devotion, but then removing beef from your diet for a Thai isn’t quite the same sacrifice it would be for someone from the west. Like me. Noom prefers that I too observe the no beef rule. As with so many areas of my daily life in Thailand in which he considers it is his duty to take care of me, at dinner time he wants to take care of my soul too. But his no beef rule gets a bit tiring at times. And I long for the days of dining at that fake little Parisian restaurant in Patpong.
Noom likes nice restaurants. I don’t know that he appreciates the quality of food so much as that he enjoys the status of dining there. That he also gets to treat the wait staff in an imperious manner is a dessert in its own right. He usually snickers about the price of various dishes, quietly, slyly, comparing how much cheaper the same dish can be had elsewhere. To him it’s a joke. To him it is a perfect example of how foolish people can be with their money. To him it’s yet another chance to laugh at the oddities of farang. He never quite finishes that equation, that we are dining there and paying the exorbitant prices, but that’s the type of thing about him that makes him so endearing to me. The massive quantity of food and variety of dishes he orders at 5 star restaurants, not so much. The boy is not a cheap date.
Noom has finally figured out that it is not the food I’m opposed to at the street carts he likes eating at come three o’clock in the morning, but that I’m not hungry at that hour. He knows I will nibble on a piece of barbecued meat on a stick in the early hours, more to be good company than out of desire, and typically buys one for me before leading us to whichever full Thai meal cart he’s selected as the winner that morning. And I’ve finally figured out the boy needs sustenance around 3:00 am even if we’ve been in bed sleeping for a few hours.
In the past, he was always quiet, making sure not to disturb my slumber when he’d get up to try to find a snack to satisfy his hunger. When his need finally dawned on me, I started stocking up on frozen microwavable meals from 7/11. They’re really bad. But Noom loves them. I didn’t mention them the first time I bought a stack, but he found the stash late the first night. And then came back over to the bed to wake me up so I could show him how to work the microwave. Politeness will always lose to a hungry Thai boy’s chance at a hot meal.
Big surprise. Imagine that. Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that we are at MBK now could it? Noom is a big fan of the food court there. Normally, in life he is always quite decisive. At MBK’s food court, he can take an hour to decide on what he wants to eat. He is the proverbial kid in a candy store. The ‘what’ changes often. That his tray will be overloaded with food is a fact I can rely on.
Initially when we visited MBK around meal time Noom would lead me to any one of the numerous farang restaurants. When he finally realized I enjoy Thai food, he headed off down the long aisles to the backmost area of the 6th floor and I had my introduction to the Thai food court. It’s become one of our favorite spots to grab a quick meal in Bangkok. And when I mention the need to drop in at MBK, like Pavlov’s dog, Noom’s stomach starts rumbling.
You’d think as much as he likes MBK’s food court that he’d be able to make a beeline for the place when we’ve decided to drop in for a bite. Left to his uncanny sense of misdirection, I’d starve to death before we’d hit the right floor. But it is important to him to lead the way so I follow along behind him, up the escalator to each floor where he stops, checks to see if I give him the ‘this floor’ look, and if not heads over to the next set of escalators. The fifth floor, where they opened an international food court (bad food, bad selection, high prices) always gives him trouble. He knows that’s not the right floor, that it is not the right food court, and that I’m not going to lead him astray, but he sees the signs and his psyche wants to follow the arrows. Or maybe it’s just that his stomach senses the nearness of food. The song of the sirens is hard to resist.
Food courts can be found all over the city. Every large shopping mall or large department store has at least one. Most are inexpensive, most offer enough variety that anyone can find something they’ll like. I’m not a big fan of the one at the Big C across from Central World, but they have a water fountain where you can get free water so it ranks as Bangkok’s #2 food court in Noom’s opinion. He’s not too happy with the food selection there either, but that free water is hard to pass up.
Regardless of their location, food courts all operate the same way. Entering, you exchange baht for coupons. And then peruse the large number of individual ‘restaurants’ than line the court’s perimeter. After ordering, paying for, and getting your plate of food at one or more of the places (and drinks are usually offered at their own specific place) you grab an empty table out in the middle of the court. Repeat as necessary. Any left over coupons can be converted back to baht when you are through with you meal.
I’d always thought a food court was a great place for a quick bite; the variety of food on offer should please any palate. But then I took a group of travel friends to the one at MBK one afternoon. Noom made his usual circumnavigation of the place, stopping at every other place to order yet another dish. I headed to the stall I like best, a place that has a pork dish loaded with garlic. Or maybe that’s a garlic dish sprinkled with pork. We grabbed a table, waited for a while, and then I went in search of my friends who’d failed to show up at the table. Turned out the girls weren’t so much lost as at a loss about what they wanted to eat.
The variety to choose from wasn’t a plus in their minds. There were too many options, too many unknowns, too much to consider. I never considered that a food court could be an overwhelming experience. They ended up handing their stack of coupons back to me and headed to a small Japanese place just outside of the food court’s environs where a manageable menu awaited. And ordered a meal they could have had at half the price if they’d braved the food court.
Regardless of how many dishes are sitting on front of Noom – and it is always a lot because the boy can eat his weight in food – whatever is sitting in front of me is too tempting for him to let pass. I understand the Thai style of dining. You order a variety of dishes and then everyone eats a bit off each dish. But one small plate against a tray overloaded with dishes should be a heads up that Thai style dinning rules have been suspended for that meal. Unless you are Noom. If I’m hungry, I’ve learned to order two dishes of whatever it is I’m planning as a meal so there is enough to satisfy us both. And I’ve learned then to eat my portion quickly before it too disappears into the bottomless pit known as Noom.
Noom likes the garlic pork dish I usually order too. Once, when I ordered something else, he looked at my plate in disgust and then got up and ordered the garlic/pork serving he was missing. He knows, however, even though I may screw up what I order as a main dish, at the MBK food court I always pick up a plate of mango sticky rice. It’s a great local dessert, perfect for finishing off any meal. Or yet another part of your main meal if you are Noom. I’m more than willing to share my pork/garlic dish with him. But keep your damn hands off my mango sticky rice.
As with whatever else I’ve ordered, with mango sticky rice I’ve learned the best move when dining with Noom is to order two servings. One for him, one for me. The first time I wisely did so, he noted that we both had our own dessert. And then promptly set about eating mine. Bastard. Fine, two can play that game. With an empty plate in front of me off of which I‘d only had two bites, I reached across the table to start eating his. Noom pulled it away, out of my reach, shook his head, and laughed. Even when you are hungry, playing games with farang can make for an enjoyable meal.