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Ratatouille…and how to ride a motorbike in Thailand

Back in May, I went on a trip to Thailand and inner-China with some friends from medical school. I’ve always wanted to venture out of East Asia when I vacation in this half of the world and explore Southeast Asia, so a bunch of us decided to hop on a plane to Bangkok and spend some time in Chiang Mai and a beach island. After some research and mapping, we decided on a whim to go to a small island 3 hours away by bus from Bangkok called Koh Larn. That trip was adventure-filled in every possible way, including a few near-deaths experiences from hailing a stranger’s boat from the pier of Pattaya when we missed the last ferry to the island, almost getting eaten alive by voracious dogs on the island when we groped our way to our hotel in the dark. But the most memorable, and my favorite experience, had to do with motorbikes.

Koh Larn is a very small island well known for beaches but less touristy than the bigger names in the south, like Koh Phi Phi or Phuket. The only form of transportation on the island is motorbiking, and that’s what the local Thai tourists use as well. On our first day, we went to the town square to rent motorbikes. After finding out that none of us girls had ever ridden one, the local Thais refused to rent them out to us. So we changed our strategy and approached a different renter and told him we were experienced drivers back in the US (of cars, of course, but he didn’t have to know that). After renting out one bike per person, he briefly showed us the gears and how to accelerate properly and brake. After grasping the basics, we rode around the parking lot for practice. Then we hit the road.

Well, within 5 minutes, I managed to go the wrong direction and got stranded in the middle of a busy intersection and got lost from the rest of my friends. After finally turning around my heavy bike and freeing myself from the crowd, I couldn’t find anyone else. So I had no choice but to keep going and find the beach where we had planned on going to on my own. Surprisingly after 30 minutes of twisting and turning on intersecting roads with confusing or no signs in English, I arrived at the beach. But none of my cohort was there. So I parked my bike and laid back on the sand and enjoyed the sun for 20 minutes while I waited. Still, no one came. I thought that maybe my friends realized I was lost and were waiting for me at the town square where we had started our journey. So I decided to ride all the way back. But by that time, the sun was scorching down, and that meant 105 degrees in the May humidity. I was beginning to get lightheaded and started to have a pounding headache from dehydration, but I had no money or water or identification on me since everything was in my other friend’s backpack. This was when panic set in. Suddenly, I realized I was in a foreign country where I couldn’t just ask for help easily. What if I pass out on the road? What if I don’t find my friends? No one will even know who I am? All these thoughts jumbled together. At the end, I resolved to ride to the hotel and ask the front desk for a glass of water. When I stepped through the hotel front door, I saw one of my friends coming towards me, looking as pleasantly surprised as I was to see her.  I never felt as grateful and happy to see familiar faces as in that moment! Apparently, they came back to the hotel after realizing that they lost me, and they began to get worried when 30 minutes passed by and were just praying that I wasn’t lying in a pool of blood somewhere.

Lessons that I learned from this trip: always carry water and ID card wherever you travel in a foreign country. Don’t go to Thailand in the summer. But if you do, be sure to learn motorbike riding beforehand!

ratatouille

This week’s recipe is another one of my efforts to explore the art of French cuisine. If you are also a fan of roasting vegetables like me, you’ll love the deep and rich flavor of this classic Provencal vegetarian dish. Note: this dish requires a cast iron skillet or dutch oven.

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Ratatouille

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • olive oil, 1/2 Tbsp
  • thyme and sage, 1 tbsp
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 yellow onions, quartered
  • 2 zucchini, chopped into 1 inch rounds
  • 1 eggplant, chopped into 1 inch rounds
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped into quartered
  • 5 roma tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley leaves

Heat oven to 400 F. In a cast iron skillet, saute thyme, sage with onion and garlic for 10 minutes until onions are soft and translucent.

Add zucchini, eggplant, bell pepers and tomatoes to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer skillet into oven and roast for 1.5 hours. Turn setting to broil for last 10 minutes. Vegetables should be slightly browned.

Stir in basil and parsley. Let skillet cool on a counter top. Serve as a side.

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