Kurt and I are up in Chiang Mai this weekend, so I’ve put together a special blog about what I’ve been up to in Bangkok. Theresa
While Kurt’s been busy working, I’ve finally found a niche for myself. Besides the time I spend with Calliope at Doggie Doo where she swims typically two times each week, I’ve joined the American Women’s Club of Thailand (see: AWC). This is a group of about 200 women from America, England, Australia, and many other countries who get together several times a week for coffee, outings in and around Bangkok, Mahjong, golf, tennis, and various other activities.
At Kurt’s persistent urging, I finally attended my first “Adjusting in Bangkok” coffee that is held by the AWC each Monday morning at the Au Bon Pain on Sukhumvit near the Emporium. I met a wonderful group of women who offer their experience on all things Bangkok: hairdressers, manicurists, spas, doctors, dentists, where to buy American goods and so on. Some of these women have been in Bangkok for a number of years and they know the ropes or have gotten advice from women who have already left the area. By the time the coffee ended, I had joined the AWC and signed up for some of their activities.
After my second Monday morning coffee, about a dozen of us went to lunch at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, or Rajkreetha Sports Complex as it is known in Thai. This is a members-only club established in 1901 by King Chutalongkom (Rama V). In 1903, horse racing began at the club and through the years cricket, golf, squash, rugby, swimming, martial arts, and polo clubs were established. In 1911, the first aircraft ever seen in Thailand took off from the club for a demonstration flight. During WWII, the Japanese army occupied the club grounds.
We enjoyed lunch at The Winning Post restaurant that overlooks the race track. The club’s 18 hole golf course is fully inside the racing circuit. On a beautiful, sunny Monday afternoon, many golfers were out taking advantage of the pleasant weather.
After lunch, we strolled through the original part of the building that dates back to the early 1900s. I was especially impressed with all the wood detail, the staircase that went up I don’t know how many floors, and how “cozy” the club felt. On one wall were photos of the 24 men who had been chairmen of the club.
The first major AWC activity I attended was a cooking demonstration and lunch at Rossini’s, a restaurant in the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel. Chef Stefano Merlo, a native of Padova in northern Italy, demonstrated how to prepare two dishes. The first was Vitello Tonnato, an appetizer made with a blended mixture of tuna, mayonnaise, capers, and hard-boiled eggs on top of thinly sliced veal.
The second menu item was Chicken Milanese, pounded chicken coated with flour, eggs, and Panko that was sautéed golden brown and topped with rocket salad (arugula to my friends in the States) and balsamic vinegar. Both dishes were delicious. Chef Stefano was entertaining, knowledgeable and willing to answer numerous questions. After the demonstration but before lunch, Chef Stefano mingled with us and answered more questions about cooking and cooking techniques, Italy, the town where he grew up, and restaurants in Bangkok.
The lunch itself was a noisy affair and some of the women enjoyed red or white wine with the fabulous food. It was a great chance for me to meet and talk to other women, several of whom are new to Bangkok and just learning their way around as I am. I spoke to a couple of women who were from the Houston area.
I was happy to get home that afternoon and take a long, much-needed walk with Calliope!
My next AWC outing will probably remain my favorite for a very long time – a tour of the Gallothai Chocolate Factory. Gallothai produces Belgium chocolate right here in Bangkok and exports to the US, Australia, Japan, and other Asian countries. In Thailand, Gallothai has sales offices in Bangkok, Phuket (Southern Thailand), and Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand.) The retail stores operate under the name of “Duc de Praslin Belgium” and are stocked with the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted — including the chocolate we tried while in Switzerland!
With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Delvinia, our tour guide, showed us the labor-intensive work that must be done to create chocolate. Cocoa trees grow near the equator, so there are only a few countries that successfully produce the beans.
Each tree produces about 60 pods and each pod contains between 25 and 50 cocoa beans. The pod turns yellow or red when it’s ripe – pods have to be checked individually, tapped to test for ripeness, and hand-picked. The seeds are removed from the pods and spread on the ground or in trays, sometimes covered with banana leaves, and left to ferment. Once dried, the seeds are hulled, or shelled, and roasted. Next the beans are separated from the shells, ground using rotating stones or discs to produce the paste and separate cocoa butter from the chocolate mass and then combined with milk products and sugar. The separated mixtures are blended at a high temperature to create the rich, wonderful Belgium chocolate and white chocolate. The chocolate is packaged and shipped to the final destination.
The cocoa beans Gallothai uses are imported from Belgium. Although the weather in Thailand is well-suited to growing cocoa trees, there are problems with insects that are unique to Thailand that prevent the trees from growing and producing here.
We learned there are only a few companies that actually produce real, true chocolate. Check out those Nestlé chocolate chip bags you have in the pantry – the ingredients probably include “chocolate compound” and/or “vegetable oil”.
After the PowerPoint presentation, we donned face masks, booties, and long white coats so that we could enter the factory to watch the Thai employees create the chocolates we later found in the shops. Very little machinery is used in the factory. An employee fills each mold from a machine that reminded me of a soft-serve ice cream dispenser (think Dairy Queen). The molds are vibrated by machine until the chocolate has settled and there are no air bubbles, and then put in a cooling room at approx 10°C for several minutes to harden; once hardened the chocolates or chocolate shells are removed from the mold. A wide selection of fillings is used in the empty shells and the bottoms are sealed (see www.Gallothai.com/products.php).
After the factory tour, we headed down the road to High Tea at Duc de Praslin, which serves the chocolates produced at Gallothai. At the tea, we feasted on finger sandwiches, brownies, truffles, and pralines (made with the chocolate we had just seen manufactured) along with smoothies or tea. It was one of those high-energy, low-calorie mornings!
Based on the AWC calendar, I’m going to be busy. I’ve joined the book club and have been invited to get involved in AWC’s community projects, which include raising money for scholarships, teaching English to Thai students, and providing philanthropic funds throughout Thailand. I have a feeling my time in Thailand is going to fly by.
Until next time . . . . Sawadii ka!