Flying Morning Glory

Back in the early 1990’s, I made a trip to Thailand to visit my father’s relatives.  It was the first time I was back since I was 6 years old when I came for a 2 week visit.  All I had remembered was the heat, the humidity and the rain as we were there in rainy season.  This time, I was there in the beautiful month of September and the air was much drier.   I had recently relocated to Hong Kong to join MTV-Asia as one of their first VJ’s for their new satellite channel on Star TV.  Being just 2 hours flying time away was too irresistible and within a month I was there.

My uncle Janjai, the third eldest, but clearly the leader of the family, decided that I must go see the north of the country and so we set off in a small beat up BMW with 2 of my other  my uncles on a week-long road trip to the northern city of Chiang Mai from busy, bustling Bangkok.  Not speaking any Thai, I had no idea where they were taking me, only that it was to see the country of my roots.

Our first day included stopping in and seeing the great temples and ruins along the way.  I especially remember Ayutthaya, with it’s many beautiful Buddhas and temple ruins.

Lunch was at a roadside restaurant beside a river under a canopy of trees.  Simple yet beautiful.  My Uncle said that this river ran through the entire country and on to Vietnam.   The rice server stood by us with a silver serving bowl and heaped serving after serving of lovely hot steaming jasmine rice to cool the flames of the red hot chili peppers.  I remember saying to myself, “I will never forget this moment as my senses are so alive.  My mouth as on fire!”  It’s no wonder Thailand is a Buddhist country.  I never felt so “in the present moment.”  You could say that chili peppers are a meditation device.

We reached the small town of Phitsanulouk by early evening.  The town is almost exactly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.   The skies were turning dark and we were hungry.  We checked into a reasonable hotel and ventured out looking for something to eat.

In the center of the town was a large open air restaurant.  It spanned across the street and on either side were tables with customer and waiters running back and forth.  All were ordering variations of the same thing:  Flying Morning Glory.  What the heck is that?  And just then a waiter took a tray and ran up a ramp to the top of a tractor trailer where large English words were emblazoned: “Flying Morning Glory.”

The waiter yelled out something like “Ready!”  The cook standing street-side with a roaring flame and huge wok, scooped up a bunch of green vegetables and flung them across the street above our heads to the waiter high on the top of the truck.  The waiter caught the goods and came running down the ramp to the serve another customer the specialty, hot, fresh and recently airborne.  Flying Morning Glory.

Recently, I went out to dinner with my Dad and my son in Queens, New York where there is a pocket of authentic Thai restaurants and groceries.  This is nowhere near as abundant as Los Angeles, but there are some tasty places.    We went to the now “discovered,” Sripraphai Restaurant, which even boasts Zagat ratings and a large crowd of mostly non-Thais.  My Dad spoke a few words in Thai and somehow we were whisked past the crowds and seated in a large spacious dining room.  When I first came to this restaurant back in the late 90’s, there was only one tiny storefront with plastic chairs and tablecloths.  Now, almost a decade and a half later, there’s 3 storefronts with modern decor, wine list and even a garden.  We quickly ordered and I asked for the “pad pak boong fai deng”  which is listed as “Thai Watercress” on the menu.

And suddenly…I was transported back to the roadside table in Phitsanulouk with the flying morning glory.

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