Over the last week, I’ve been invited to sit down and partake in two different meals here in Bangkok where we shared food together. I’m not even talking about the Friendsgiving dinners that I’ve enjoyed across the last week either. That’s what has made these two meals stand out in my mind.
There are two food stalls that are located within a stone’s throw of my condo building here in Bangkok. One stall is a carport-turned kitchen, where a few ladies cook Central Thai cuisine (fried rice, pad see ew, pad krapow [Thai basil with pork], tom yum, curries, and other tasty dishes), and the other is a cart where a family makes Isan food (som tum, grilled pork/beef/chicken, sticky rice, and some other delicious items). I’ve been very lucky to live next to these two spots… it’s a very cheap and convenient way to eat, and both spots always welcome me with a smile, and allow me to practice my Thai with them.
This past Sunday, I rolled into the fried rice place around noon for lunch, and they immediately asked me to join them at their table for lunch. “Sit down, sit down”, they said. Handed me a plate of white rice, and scurried me back to a table, filled with seafood, soup, vegetables, and fresh fruit. The grandma who owns the property, starts dishing food onto my plate, and encourages me to eat. We chat a bit in my broken Thai, and I ask why they’re having this feast. I keep forgetting to ask my Thai friends what this meal was about, but from what I gathered, this was a meal to pray for the house. There were about 10 people eating that afternoon… all Thais, laughing and enjoying the meal. They wouldn’t accept any money from me, and were just happy for me to join their table.
Yesterday afternoon, I stopped at the Isan stall for a quick bite before heading off to prep Thanksgiving dinner. I ordered some grilled pork, and invited me to sit down at their table. One of the ladies’ husbands pours me a beer, and as the ladies sit down for lunch, they encourage me to try the food that they’ve made for themselves. There was this delicious Isan curry “Gaeng Om” (pictured below), that was herby, flavorful, and light… and then this amazing grilled beed, and a ridiculously spicy green papaya salad with sunflower seeds that I could only handle a bite from. We sat, ate, laughed a bit (about my inability to tolerate their level of spicy food)… and although I was unable to fully communicate with them, they were so happy to share their table with me for this quiet Thursday lunch. As I paid for my meal, again, they wouldn’t accept money for the beers and all the other food I had shared with them.
Living overseas for so many years, Thailand is the first place where this has happened on such a regular basis. Thanksgiving has always been a time where I’ve opened my house to share my table with those not in my closest circles. It’s a time where breaking bread together creates new friendships and bonds, where strangers at your dinner table isn’t so strange and awkward.
I left those two meals feeling so full, emotionally. There is something so powerful to others when you open up your heart and share your table with them. As I prepare for my move to Hong Kong, where I will be looking to have a semi-proper kitchen to cook in, I know that this is something that I’m going to seek out to do on a more regular basis, and not just once a year for this Thanksgiving meal.
Are there people in your life who may not be the closest of friends, but could use an invite to your table? Share a meal with someone unexpected! Take a risk. You may brighten someone’s day in a way you could not even have imagined.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!