Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Craving for chickenjoy

I am writing this blog from the Novotel Hotel in the mountains of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. It is a rainy day here, and last week, I was informed that heavy rains caused major flash floods that inundated the area where the night market is so there is not much activity there (hint, hint for friends and family who expect pasalubong). Chiang Mai probably gets as many tourists as the whole Philippines does in a year – that is how popular it is. The plane that I took from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was one of more than 10 flights a day, and it wasn’t a small plane – it was a 747 – a huge bird!

Anyway, what is so special about this place? Many people liken it to Baguio City, which is a major insult - to Baguio City. What nonsense – Baguio is ten times more beautiful than Chiang Mai. There are no pine trees here, and it is not even half as cold and mysterious as our mist-filled City of Pines. But it sure has a lot of tourist attractions – from elephant farms, to orchid and butterfly farms, to monkey and snake farms, to temples galores. In other words, they have the facilities. And yes, the hotels and malls and restaurants are world class. I liken it to the ambience of Iloilo City and the vast spaces of Davao City complimented by the facilities of Cebu City. Put all three together, and you have Chiang Mai.

What is amazing about Thailand actually is the professional way they treat tourists. To them, tourism is a legitimate business, not a personal accomodation. In the Philippines, we sort of do our cloying and personalized way of being hospital that almost borders on the ridiculous; as if our warmth as a people can make up for the fact that our public toilets stink to high heavens and some of our less honorable brethren rob tourists blind.

But please, before you dash off that angry denunciation of my Pinoy bashing, let me hasten to add that I do not think that our shortcomings are reflective of our weaknesses as a people. On the contrary, I think that these are clear indicators of our inherent creativity and innovativeness. If only our leaders are not corrupt and if only…well, you know the drill.

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is how you can take the Filipino out of the country but not take the country out of a Filipino. (And yes, this includes our penchant for collective self-mutilation. No one is more critical of the Pinoy than the Pinoy himself).

I have been here two days – and boy, do I have an intensity 10 craving for chicken joy. Sure, I like exotic food and herbs and all that – but the one food that you can’t find here is chickenjoy. I do not mean the Chickenjoy exactly, I mean greasy, satiating, sensory-filling food.
I went to a KFC outlet yesterday expecting a familiar taste. No cigar. Their friend chicken taste like fried tinolang manok soaked in curry – I guess there is no such thing as a global recipe. They do tweak the recipe to suit local taste. This reminds me of how Macdo’s and Wendy’s spaghetti in the Philippines are so sweet (yes, I am aware that Macdo only serves spaghetti in the Philippines).

The fruits here metaphorically (and obviously literally) grow on trees. Fruits are ridiculously cheap – no wonder they are standard offerings to Buddhist altars everywhere. For example, a kilo of rambutan costs 10 baht (about 15 pesos in the Philippines), a kilo of mangosteen costs around 15baht. Lanzones, longans, oranges, and dragon fruits are common fruits here. And wonder of wonders, lanzones here does not come with ants, which is not to say that they are not sweet.

However, the pineapples, papayas, and melons here taste bland. Nothing like the stuff we have in the Philippines. I took a bite of a pineapple yesterday and immediately had a major craving for Ormoc queen pineapples – those small orange pineapples that taste heavenly.

Anyway. Am only here for a few days. So I guess I have to bear with a few more curry-dipped chicken before I can sink my teeth into those juicy, crispy, salty, greasy chickenjoys!

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