Skip to content

Peanut Butter Sticky Rice

Every afternoon, snack vendors assemble their carts and stands outside the gates of the Chiang Mai International School, and turn the street into one long market for after-school snacks and treats.  The CMIS kids are only a small part of their clientele.  The vast majority of their customers come from the Prince Royale’s College next door, girls who come down on motorbikes from Dara Academy, a single-sex Christian Thai school, and a few brave country boys in their orange robes who are getting their education down at Wat Chetupon.

The snacks are endless at these twenty-some stalls, as are the fat and sugar in them.  There is no “healthy option” here.  Even the shaved iced sundaes are laden with candy and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.  At one end, the stalls begin with the wildly popular deep-fried meat and fish balls, bubbling in a wok of oil, popped on a skewer and then dipped into sticky communal pots of sweet and sour sauce.  The Walls ice cream motorcycle parks in that section, too, driven by the kindly man who doesn’t care how long the children ponder their 12, 18, and 22 baht options.

From there, we pass the stall we know as the “fried tidbits” ladies, who purvey the world’s most delicious chicken nuggets, french fries, fried mini-hot dogs, fried Chiang Mai sausages, onion rings, even clumps of deep-fried spinach.  Next to her is the only “real” food offering: pork satay and sticky rice.  At this stall, Ascher has learned that anything, even spinach, is better deep-fried, and has cultivated a taste for processed meat products of all kinds.

From there follow more french fry vendors, sweet mixed drinks, shaved-ice sundaes, fried chicken, instant noodles, Chinese steamed buns with sweet pork or red-bean paste, soda-pop stalls, a stall selling packaged candy and toys, sweet rotis of all varieties, and another sweet drinks stall. Then come crunchy pancakes made of beaten quail egg batter and stuffed with fruit or chocolate or both, coconut ice-cream served in hot-dog buns, sprinkled with chopped peanuts and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, more fried chicken, another instant noodle stand, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and one last fried tidbits stand.

Our favorite stand is what we call the “spinny roti” cart.  These are an unusual roti: not the ghee-laden fried stuffed pancake of Indian heritage, but rather a thin spongy crepe rolled around candied pork floss.  The spinny rotis are all fine and well; sweet, but not too sweet, a nice contrast between the soft crepe and the thick sticky threads of pork floss.  But it’s the gambling for the spinny roti that makes that cart so magnetic.  Two spinning roulette wheels determine how many rotis the children will eat.  They drop a one-baht coin into the machine to set the shiny steel needle spinning madly, and then push a trigger to stop it, and see on which number it stops.  You can win up to five roti on a single spin, but you never get less than one.  And so the kids get two important Thai pop culture lessons for the price of one: gambling is fun, and pork tastes good.  On one memorable occasion, Camilla won twenty rotis on five baht worth of spins.  Upon her final win, the admiring crowd of high school kids that had gathered to watch sent up shouts of “sut-YAT!” (which translates loosely to “awesome, dude!”).  The spinny-roti guy hasn’t come around lately; we worry that he feels that he’d better try his luck elsewhere.

Needless to say, with this food revolution taking place right in front of their schools, Thai children are much heavier than they were ten years ago, boys and girls alike. There are now billboards advertising brands of insulin.  The better educated children at CMIS aren’t faring any better; they are even more obese than their Thai peers, as many of them are fed cheese-laden and processed American-style dinners at home as well.  We usually bring the kids fruit from home—New Zealand apples, bananas if they’re not too ripe, or Styrofoam trays of peeled pomelo–and then let them have something small from the snack stalls.  It seems almost cruel not to allow the kids to share in that bounty, especially as they will be returned to carrot sticks and granola bars in chilly kitchens all too soon.  Faced with such a tempting, colorful, delicious array, I better understand the Thai mothers who have trouble denying their children all those glorious treats.  Junk food, especially eaten at stone picnic tables in the shade with your friends, is really, really fun. 

%d bloggers like this: