There is a woman down the street who cooks me breakfast about every morning now. At the beginning of my time here I would go to her maybe three times a week, but now my day simply doesn’t seem right if it doesn’t begin sitting in her yard on her little plastic stools at a card table, greeted by her smile.
I immediately resolved to make this woman my friend.
The first time I walked into her stand, my third day in Thailand, she had a large banner with four pictures of food in a vertical arrangement hanging near her oven. I pointed at the image on top, and she laughed, smiled, and cooked it for me.
The next time I went to her, two days later, I pointed to the next one down, and she did the exact same thing. It was so delicious that despite my best intentions of trying everything on the menu, I’ve had that every single time I have been there since. It’s a plate of white rice, with a pork sausage stir-fry with green beans and basil in it, accompanied with one egg. The stir-fry and the egg, cooked over easy, are stacked on top of the bowl of rice. It’s amazing.
This is one of those places where the woman would cook you anything you asked her to, you just have to know how to say it in Thai. That limits me to rice, chicken, vegetables, sweet milky coffee, and pad Thai. I spend a decent amount of time pointing at pictures, unfortunate as it is.
After a couple of days of me pointing to the same picture, she taught me how to say it by holding it up before she handed it to me and repeating the name until I repeated it back to her, finally realizing she was telling me the name of the dish (this woman is incredibly sweet, with one of those smiles that make you feel like she’s a proud aunt). I understood the name of the dish to be “Kao Moo Sam,” phonetically spelled, but I suspect that rather than actually using the correct Thai name she just knows what I want when I say that even though it’s not totally correct. It’s like a language that I don’t share with the larger Thai national community, but rather a far more personal language between just her and I. At least that’s what I tell myself in my head to justify my seriously inept language skills. It’s for the sake of something special.
A few days after that, she made a coffee for another customer and held it up to teach me the name of that, then offered me one. It was also delicious, far better than many of the places around here that put way too much cream in it. My plan for friendship was slowly progressing.
It’s now gotten to the point where I don’t even have to tell her what I want. I walk in, wave at her and smile at her husband and nod, sit down at a table and crack open my book and within about ten minutes they put the piping hot meal and iced coffee in front of me. It’s beautiful, sweet, and it makes me feel like I matter to someone. It’s a special thing, and something that I have grown to appreciate far more in my time here when it doesn’t envelop me about everywhere I go. I resolve to read at least a chapter there every day over the course of breakfast, and then before I leave I pay them my 60 baht (about $2) and go about my day well nourished and feeling like I matter to someone. I would pay far more than 60 baht for what I get there.
The woman has a little cart that she pushed out onto the sidewalk where she will cook and serve people food to go, but you can also walk into her sort of walled front yard and sit at one of about four tables she usually has set up inside too. Her husband, a kind-faced and hard working older gentleman, also helps her. He doubtlessly is the best cook of the Kao Moo Sam. He always leaves the green beans crunchy and the basil tasty. Though they rotate who cooks it depending on who is nearest the stove, he is the one I always hope for. She makes the best coffee. On occasion there is a third member as well, a woman who appears about the same age as the first one. She’s nice too, I suppose. They look to be around forty to my eyes. They have a timid looking old yellow dog that comes out and makes the rounds every once in a while. He has the sort of rough, nit picked fur and misshapen stomach that accompanies a tired gait that you suspect would get a dog put down in the US. By Thai standards he appears well cared for.
When I go to the gym at the hospital on the other side of the canal from my apartment I have to walk right by their stand (they open by around 6:30 a.m. and seem to close by around 3:30 p.m.). I like to buy fruit on my way home from the gym. Though she doesn’t seem to know any English, she always points at the large bag of bananas or the lone pineapple I may be toting and smiles and laughs in a sort of way that makes it look like she’s proud of me. It warms my heart more than I have the ability to express in words at this point in my life. Sometimes I don’t even need any fruit, but I buy some just so I can see her look of approval as I walk by in sweat-soaked workout garb. Bless her heart.