Second of all, I got quite the culinary shock yesterday. After all the bitching I did in my last post about the lack of novelty here, I’m eating my own sour words for breakfast. I remembered the other day that many years ago there was a tiny, shoebox sized Asian Market in an ugly but useful part of town. It turns out that the Market is now slightly larger but located in the arse end of the industrial section of Fairbanks; but the best adventures are the ones that take you into uncharted territory. Sometimes you end up with the Holy Grail.
Here’s a short list of what I found in this poorly marked storefront: durian fruit (no kidding! It was frozen, but who cares? Durian, by the way, stinks to high heaven but apparently tastes really good), balut (what’s that? a fertilized duck an embryo inside, boiled and eaten in the shell), loads of octopus, beef blood, pork blood, keffir lime leaves (this was my favorite find), salted black beans (like the ones in Korean restaurants), saffron flowers, fish balls (not testicles, more like meatballs), gunpowder tea, and tasty little anchovies that had been fried to a crisp and coated in sugar and sesame seeds. I could go on.
So why does a Market like this exist in the Tundra? The Asian population in Alaska is at 5%, which is higher than the national average. There are, by my estimation, in a town of less than 100,000 (we are, after all, the Fastest Growing Small Town In America!!), 11 Thai, 8 Chinese, 5 Korean, 3 Japanese, and 5 generic Asian restaurants. I’ve always wondered why this is. Here is Bob’s theory, the white, Alaska-born part-owner (his Vietnamese wife is the other half) of the Asian Market: In the days of yore, when men were men and few women had little interest in roughing it in the Wilds of Alaska, some men decided that they would mail-order their wives. Most of the orders were filled by places like Thailand and Korea. I can’t imagine what some poor, young Thai girl in the 70’s thought when she first stepped off the plane into “America” and found herself in the Circumpolar North. She probably started a restaurant so that she could afford the plane ticket to get the hell out of here and back to Thailand.
Also, Bob reminded me, there are two army bases and one Air Force base in town, both of which increase the Asian populations here and the familiarity of Asian food on the local palate.
So, last night I brought home a significant booty:
And with that, I made a delicious but paltry imitation of Thai food. Just because you have the ingredients doesn’t mean you will get the proportions right. I have a lot to learn about Thai cooking, but at least I have a source for the ingredients now. Next entry: “How to Cook an Octopus”