Although past credentials include those of a pastry chef, I am generally not an enormous partaker of sweets. All of that flew out the window during my recent trek to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore where sugar and all of its myriad forms of ‘ose’s’ – fructose, maltose, lactose, glucose – sweetly ruled my days and nights. My first night in Bangkok was spent hanging in the backpacker’s area of Khao San Road breathing in smokey aromas from grill, wok and incense fires, dodging annoyingly aggressive locals hawking crafted wares I had no use or space for, and sampling treats from the endless parade of food vendors, for which I did. Grilled banana roti, cups of shaved ice topped with colorful jellied bits of something, sweet beans and creamy coconut, a bag of sliced fresh green guava with chili/salt/sugar for dipping, dragonfruit and starfruit juiced to order, and my heart’s delight, the chewy, coconut cream drenched mango sticky rice. I love the play of sweet/salty – like so many Asian desserts which then extend even beyond sweet/salty to sweet/salty/savoury with possible additions of garlic, fried shallots or even shrimp paste.
6:oo a.m. The soft gong alarm tone on my Blackberry sounds as I gently try to stretch myself awake in a bed that is not my own. I rub my stinging eyes, cough a few times, then shuffle to the bathroom, grab a Kleenex and blow out a wad of soot-tinged snot from my nose [...]