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Thailand

Bourdain’s Field Notes

A frequent comment on food websites is that I should avoid discussion of politics or social conditions and concentrate on the food. My host, serving me a humble but tasty Lao-style larb, could be missing three of his limbs, but God forbid I ask the question, “Hey there, fella, what happened to your arm and legs?” Because the answer might intrude on someone’s vicarious eating experience.

So there should be much rejoicing in Chowland that this episode of “Parts Unknown” is all about the food. Ironically, it takes place in one of the most politicized environments on Earth: Thailand, where it seems that every time we go there are civil actions, military coups, changes of government. I’d like to say that the politics of Thailand are just too complicated, too fast-changing, too impenetrable for me to understand, much less explain—hence my focus on food and drink. But that wouldn’t be true.

Fact is, I chose to focus on eating and specifically drinking around Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand simply because I was fortunate enough to go there with a uniquely qualified guide: Chef Andy Ricker, the man behind Portland’s and New York’s Pok Pok restaurants. He may be a farang—slang term for “foreigner”—but he’s been moving back and forth between Thailand and America for 20 years or more and, well … Just eat his food sometime and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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