|Treat them well and chillies will work wonders for your dishes. (This picture really has little to do with the story; just thought the post needed an image, and since I open with the chilli...)|
It was the first time I had decided to wear gloves when handling chillies and only because I had to put on my contact lenses after that. The dish I was preparing was mango relish to go with Thai-style grilled chicken, or gai yang.
So after the task, I go put on my lenses and, well... imagine your eyeballs being bitten by a dozen red ants. Of course, I burned one eyeball first and leaped around quite a bit in the bathroom as if that would make the pain go away, and then jumped around some more when the second contact lens went in. For quite a time after that, my eyes kept tearing and my nose running.
Okay, so maybe those thick rubber gloves, the ones the British call Marigolds, would have been more effective – my thin plastic disposable ones were useless!
If not for the tastiness of the chicken and mango dish (used as a sandwich filling for the April Don't Call Me Chef column; see tab above), I would have blamed the universe for putting me through that pain. But this is gai yang we're talking about, a dish famous all over Thailand. A whole bird is spatchcocked, marinated with a combination of herbs and spices and grilled – sometimes at less-than-sanitary stalls set up by the roadside.
I first tasted this flavourful and aromatic chicken under such conditions many years ago. Travelling with my teammates by bus from Kangar, in Perlis, to Kota Bharu, Kelantan, for an inter-school sports meet, we broke journey in the Thai border town of Sadao – the route through southern Thailand was faster than going all the way down to Grik in Perak to take the East-West Highway. All we needed to get into Thailand was a border pass.
Sadao at the time was basically a stopover town for lorry drivers taking the trunk road between the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia and the east coast of the country. It was tame by today's standards. None of the go-go bars and massage parlours that I understand openly operate there nowadays. Good thing too, because 25 years ago, teenagers still blushed at the mention of undergarments.
Amid the exhaust fumes of trundling lorries, the aroma of chicken thighs cooking on a small clay brazier drew forth the pack of schoolchildren, and at only RM1 apiece, we could not have cared less about hygiene.
Nor about losing most of our games. Leaving Kelantan a week later, all we could think about was stopping in Sadao for another round of gai yang.
Note: For the recipe, go to Don't Call Me Chef (the link