Post Date: January 19, 2016
Categories: Essence Restaurant Group
At Essence, we believe one of the best ways for chefs to grow in their craft is to travel and experience new, unfamiliar cuisine. Our Pastry Chef Ana recently traveled to Thailand and Vietnam for the food and cultural experience of a lifetime. Here’s the scoop on Ana’s experience and the delicious cuisine she was able to discover:
The urge to explore has always been a part of my life. From a young age, my parents put an emphasis on memories and experiences over acquiring things. When my travel companion, Ryan Tobin, approached me about this trip, I knew it would be an experience that had the potential to influence my career and inspire personal growth, and I absolutely could not turn it down.
I boarded the plane on October 5, 2015 with two journals in hand: a yellow notebook for cataloging everyday reflections, and a small, brown moleskin with graph paper to write about the food. That journal sat on every table at which we ate, documenting each dish—its texture, flavors, heat level—as well as the atmosphere. I can relive my favorite food on this trip thanks to this journal.
Our trip began in Bangkok—talk about culture shock. There were so many street carts serving assorted fruits (durian, dragon fruit, mango), insects seasoned with curry, and unidentifiable meats grilled to order and served on sticks, with sides of corn and rice in plastic bags. Everything was served in plastic bags: coffee, tea, soup, rice, you name it. The street food of Bangkok was a roll of the dice, but an essential one.
Traveling north after Bangkok was a refreshing change in the food scene, and allowed us to experience Thailand’s smaller communities with its welcoming hosts and rich culture. Our days were spent wandering the streets between temples and the search for food, until we found the perfect café or restaurant, where we would sit for hours. The restaurant owners were always eager to share their favorite dishes. A few of their suggestions included Massaman Curry, Pad Ka-Prao (sautéed holy basil and minced pork, fried egg, and rice), and Thailand’s holy grail of desserts: mangoes with sticky rice. Exactly what it sounds like, and when served with a salted coconut milk, it’s one of my favorite dishes ever consumed.
From Chiang Mai we traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam for a week. Within Hanoi’s old quarter, I learned what it meant for a city to be alive. One of the most interesting aspects of my trip was waking up to a morning butcher setting up a table two feet off the ground right outside the door of my hostel. An old woman worked deftly and steadfastly with a cleaver to proudly display her trotters, intestines, ears, and noses to anyone who walked by. By lunch her table was transformed into a four-seat restaurant serving the best Pho (a traditional Vietnamese noodle dish) on the block.
In the winding corridors of the old quarter is also where I fell in love… with a sandwich. A Banh Mi encompasses the best of Vietnam while showcasing the influence of French occupation. This combination of crispy sausages, creamy pâté, crunchy julienned vegetables, refreshing cilantro, and fresh-cracked, long pepper all nestled within a toasted baguette makes the Banh Mi not just any sandwich, but the sandwich.
During the month of October, I was lucky enough to dive head first into an experience that will continue to shape my career and personal life. I was fortunate to eat food free of pretension amid fellow travelers from all walks of life, and through this I’ve learned to embrace the act of being simple: Eating good food with good company and great memories. I look forward to incorporating this inspiration into my dishes at The Green Well!