Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Visiting a local Bangkok market

 

Catching a local video blog that included descriptions of a local market visit reminded me to take some extra pictures of a recent stop at one.  Here it's a lot like taking pictures in a grocery store, just not the kind of thing that comes up.  Instead of filling in general background explanation I'll let the pictures and descriptions of what was there tell that story, leaning a bit towards fruits and deserts since those are of interest to me.  We go to grocery stores a lot more often but I like the slightly different selection at local places.



My mother-in-law, Mama Nid, buying a lunch for me, fried pork, Northern-style sausage, and sticky rice (or glutinous rice, if you must).  We normally get fried chicken here but it was sold out.  That sausage form is really nice, dry in texture with a lot of herbs added, and a spicy edge to it.



The sidewalk right outside that inner market area, essentially the same place.  The umbrellas protect against the rain in the rainy season and sun in the hot season.  It rained that day, even though it really should be hot and dry now.



Fruit!  Pomelo or Asian grapefruit is similar but a little different (foreground), with two kinds of mangos, a small version of orange, peanuts (fresh boiled or steamed), apple and Asian pear, and what I think is a hybrid fruit from plum and mango, but that may not be right.  There are a lot of different versions of banana here too.



That fruit that looks like a plum and mango hybrid, kind of a rough looking version here, selling for 80 baht ($2.60 or so) per kilogram.



One of the main types of mango, used to make mango and sticky rice.  They're nice but sweetness stands out more than other flavors, with just a bit of citrus to it, so not as interesting as some other versions.



Mango and sticky rice, a version with coconut milk mixed in as it's eaten with mango.  This shop sells different Thai versions of custards too, and the more colorful deserts are coconut based dishes closest to jelly, but not that.



Pumpkin and custard go together a lot better than it sounds.  We bought pumpkin elsewhere, just without custard, which I'll have for lunch today along with corn (sold as fresh-steamed sweet corn still on the cob), sticky rice, and left over pork ribs from that first shop photo.   The yellow items are sweetened shredded coconut and something vaguely like a custard made from coconut, but not that, a sweetened and thickened egg yolk instead.



There were vegetables there but even the ones with no US equivalents aren't as interesting as the fruits and snacks.



Ready to eat curries and such typically cost about 30 baht, $1, for a small amount like this.  Most dishes are eaten with a plain steamed jasmine rice.



Curries and an egg and tofu dish.



Fresh seafood, sitting out in trays or pans, with ice added to keep it cool.



Mama Nid again, buying that sticky rice, to go with mangos we already have at home.  I'm not sure why but no one in my family eats much fruit, except for me.  Kalani eats some.




The back part of the market is dry goods instead, clothes and whatever else.



Jasmine wrist leighs, used as offerings to local deities at small altars or else as car air fresheners.  The smell is really intense; I hate being in a taxi that has one of those in it.  One of these would be intense for adding fragrance to a whole house, at a cost of 20 baht or so (60 cents), or maybe only 10, depending on the source and design.



Back to a desert theme; these look like tacos but they're sweet, some with a savory and salty component.  The yellow part is sweetened shredded coconut, and the white part like marshmallow.  They're good.  That blogger I mentioned walked around a market saying how amazing everything was, and then you think really, or is that just him being amazed by the novelty and range?  Thinking it through I think the fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, and deserts are kind of exceptional, so if it's just bias for him it also applies to me.



Candied versions of something I don't recognize.  I eat most of the fruits and snacks I've shown, but not these, typically.



On the strange side, I think this is a liquer-like tasting fruit (salaya?) mixed with pepper, but that's really a guess, since I've never eaten that.  That fruit is nice on it's own, but it's really spiky, so hard to open without getting stabbed.  I didn't see a photo of one but I can look it up from old pictures:



That's it.  It works to use a butter knife and a napkin to open those without pulling the spiked back out of your fingers.



What that market looks like from across the street; we walked over to get noodles at another shop.



Of course there really are tuk-tuks around.



That noodle shop, kind of how those tend to look.  You can pick from a rice-noodle based version thinner than linguine (more or less standard), and thicker and thinner rice noodle versions, and then one or more wheat based noodles, or what they call ma-ma, ramen noodles.  The white balls are usually fish balls, but a pork version looks the same.





At that shop.  She is so nice that it's great going on that kind of outing with her.



An odd looking tree bark, and a good place to park a small bike.



Fried fish being sold on a sidewalk table.  That price range is $1 to $5, converted.



I've been eating a lot of what Americans call Mandarin oranges for weeks, the version on the left, which Thais call Chinese oranges.



An equivalent to a mortar and pestle, used for mulling spices in Western cooking, is used to make raw papaya salad and other Thai dishes.  The metal item is a Korean style barbecue device (a cheap aluminum version of one); you put burning coals in that and then meat on top, with the rim tray making a broth you can cook vegetables in.  It works really well, or at least thicker steel versions tend to.  The upper left is a version of a charcoal based "stove," I think.  It's not so uncommon to see street food cooking using wood as the fuel.



A shop selling a lot of bright plastic pails and tiny stools, and coolers and such.



A local shop selling a lot of random stuff, like an old version of a hardware store, kind of, except that most of it isn't hardware.  What looks like tennis racquets are electronic devices that swat and kill mosquitos, like a hand operated bug zapper.



Another way local markets look, a picture I saw looking up one other, here with Mama Nid a few years younger, in shorter hair.  The picture is too blurry to really make it out but the foreground is a mix of meat paste cooked into a form not familiar in Western food, served in banana leaf.  It's good, just hard to describe.

When I first arrived here the smell in those sorts of markets was really intense, both positive and negative, but hard to take.  Now I tend to not notice any smell, since it's all just normal background.  Wearing a mask must counter some of that too.


Saturday, April 3, 2021

Bangkok Chinatown store Jin Jun Mei



I visited my favorite Chinatown shop not long ago, Jip Eu, the first time in ages.  A really nice local tea enthusiast me me there, someone I've been planning to meet for a few months.  We may have started talking through that now-inactive Bangkok tea tasting group.  Pandemic exposure seems kind of minimal now, dropped back out by everyone doing a couple more months in isolation earlier this year, so it would be fine to meet in real life.

I didn't take pictures of the shop or her.  That visit was rushed, and not everyone likes for their image to be circulated.  I'll introduce her more completely in another post about a real life event, hopefully.  It was great seeing Kittichai and his wife again. 

He let us try a Jin Jun Mei version he described as unconventional for being made of larger bud material, but the same as JJM in other regards.  It was nice, much better than a gaba black tea version I brought for him to try.  Then again I just don't care for gaba teas, maybe related to part of that theme being about a varied feel effect, that I don't really "get."


maybe the last person I met there, Alex Panganovich



a rare picture with both shop owners, and with Ralph


Review:




First infusion:  it's definitely along the lines of Jin Jun Mei.  There are variations within that main type, different oxidation levels or other processing inputs, or maybe tied to plant types or terroir, I'm not clear on that.  But it's not exactly all one thing.  Cindy sells a honey intensive version and another (Wuyi Origin does), and this is warmer and more towards a conventional black tea range than those.  This looks a lot like a version she sells that I've not tried.  It's made from larger plant material, not only that very fine bud, so if anything this is probably atypical, but then it was presented that way.

There's a honey-like flavor in this that is common across a lot of what I've tried for JJM, or at least that I think I recall.  It's a warmer, less bright flavor than in some in this version, like a dark version of honey.  It's quite appealing in both forms, to be clear.  This leans a little towards a softer and milder version of what could rightfully be called malt, not the one that's in Assam, but the range in Ovaltine.  It includes a bit of cocoa too.  As I see it these three inputs balance and define this tea, with more about an underlying warm mineral tone filling in some context.  That's probably going to be the basic review but I should come back to that flavor list theme and fill in more about other aspect range, feel and such, in the next round, once this is properly "opened up."  It is already infused stronger than the typical light round I often start with but it will probably evolve and transition.

It's good; pleasant and complex.  That I already knew from trying it in the shop; just being clear.




Second infusion:  nothing really changed; maybe the mineral tone warmed just a little.  Sweetness is still really nice, and honey and cocoa notes work just as well.  It's nice how this has a relatively rich feel too, and a hint of dryness and those warm tones carry over to a pleasant aftertaste.  It makes the experience seem more complex.  I might be able to strip out some other aspect to describe, especially across a few more infusions, but I think I'll keep this simpler today, stopping short of a 1200 word description.  A bit of some sort of richer dried fruit might fill in a little range beyond the rest, towards dried tamarind but not quite that, or maybe exactly that with the effect of the other flavors mixing with it.  It reminds me a little of the richer versions of dried mango too, if that rings a bell more.

I think since I'm not so in the mood to write out a six infusion cycle today I'll take this review off the rails a bit and compare this to an aged sheng that's not quite brewed out yet, from breakfast.  

But why!?  Probably for no good reason.  It might be interesting seeing a contrast in character, something clear in one that's missing in the other, easier to appreciate for the contrast.  It's an older 2004 version of Dayi 7542 from this shop, or an alleged version of that, given how the first reaction so many people have to such a version presentation is "that's not real!"  Maybe it is, maybe it's not, but whatever experience I'm obtaining from it is real enough.  That tea was at least a half dozen infusions in, on the backside of the infusion cycle, and this is only on it's third, but I was brewing these a lot longer for not pushing the proportion quite as much as I usually do, to absolutely all that fits after the leaves are wet.

A lot of people might not mix these teas related to mixing the secondary "cha qi" feel effects, but since I tend to not really clearly perceive that it's not a concern.




Third infusion:  more of the same for this Jin Jun Mei, but it is evolving.  A bit of sharper edge picks up, not the faint hint of dryness.  It's still definitely nothing comparable to a more conventional black tea range, a solid astringency structure, but the honey and cocoa pull back a little and some tree-bark tone sets in.  There's still a sweetness and smoothness to the base that really sets the context for the rest of the experience.  That part tastes like Jin Jun Mei, for those familiar with that.

Since it's a contrast the aged edge of the 7542 really stands out.  Drank alone that's one input along with others, but alongside this it tastes a lot more like old barn for including it.  Bangkok storage is hot and wet, of course, with an end effect different than what I have experienced as a main theme in Malaysian storage, but towards that.  That never amounted to enough examples to draw the broad conclusions that even rookies tend to express.  Or maybe tea newbies are more likely to go there, to try 3 or 4 examples across a broad range and think they've really got it mapped out.  Compared to older, best-established reference perspectives I am a tea newbie, but at this point it might be fair to say in the middle now instead for exposure, just not far along. 

There's an aged-wood tone that works in this 7542, a variation on what I tend to call aged furniture.  Someone could like that or hate it, but it seems like people tend to develop likes related to aged sheng based on story lines they take up as much as original or even developed preference.  I'm not sure how this fits into any "experienced sheng enthusiast narrative."

Tasting back and forth the honey sweetness and richness of the Jin Jun Mei stands out all the more.  Part of that edge comes across as a hint of sourness more in comparison, for whatever reason.  I think the 7542 is a little thinner in profile, giving up a bit of complexity for being 8 or so infusions along, and a little richness in feel, which might also relate to how some aggressive storage conditions affected it.  It has been through a lot of heat and humidity.  

It's interesting how an underlying mineral tone in both almost matches, but really doesn't.  The version in the 7542 is more like wet stone, leaning a little towards struck-match, with the JJM more like dark wood.  The JJM definitely seems "fresher," it's just strange using that description for this type of tea.



Fourth infusion:  these both brewed for way too long, due to me messing around online versus pushing them to identify flaws, or something such.  At least it will provide a different kind of look at them.

The Jin Jun Mei is good this way, and interesting for being different.  That edge didn't push further towards dryness or sourness, and honey-like sweetness, a touch of cocoa, and dried fruit character is still there, holding its own against a stronger tree-bark edge related to overbrewing it.  By tree-bark I'm thinking something like birch, or maybe closer to cherry, not as light and dry, but not the heavier, earthier thicker oak-tree bark.  Cinnamon starts to pick up, but it's even more noticeable in the next round, after I stopped taking notes.

The 7542 is interesting for really bumping up that one input I'm botching describing, an underlying mineral (a different one) that connects with an aged wood / furniture tone.  That would probably get described in lots of different ways by different people.  I don't see it as related to camphor but that a broad range of aspects seem to get swept together and referred to as that.  The longer infusion worked equally well for both of these; that thinness drops out for this aged sheng, and the overall effect is cool.  It was still slightly strong (brewing them for over a minute), but at this point a 45 second to one minute time might make sense.


Conclusion:

It is what it is!  To me this tea works as a cool variation of a more conventional Jin Jun Mei, a very nice black tea that stands on it's own merits.  It is JJM related to seeming like one (so "very nice" here is intended in a relatively strong sense), just a little different for being made from a related but different material, from larger buds instead.  Unless I've got it wrong Cindy has explained how the two aren't just different age versions of the same plant component, they're a different thing.  But this isn't a research or expert interview oriented reference post, so I'll leave off at saying that.

I could be clearer on whether or not Kittichai even sells this.  He may or may not; they often enough give me interesting teas to try that aren't a part of that theme.  They're not impossible to get ahold of, so someone could phone them up or send an online message to find out. 


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Meeting Amsterdam based tea enthusiasts online

 

that meetup, comparing chen pi (photo credit Suzana; hers are usually better)



There's no need for me to keep writing every time that group of friends and I have an online meetup, a video version of a phone call, or social get together, but I'll briefly mention one more, and others that follow as long as it makes sense to.  We met two very interesting tea enthusiasts based in Amsterdam this past weekend, discussing tea themes there, and even more about general experience.

The contacts are Daria and Dmitry, real-life contacts and friends of my friend Ralph.  Daria is an artist, whose work can be seen on Instagram and Telegram.  They talked about visiting the new Moychay tea club and shop there in Amsterdam, their first in Europe, which I also wanted to mention, since I may or may not have brought that up before.  I'll add a bit more about the Moychay theme in a later section, some photos.

The rest was what you'd expect, personal introductions, talking about tea experiences and preferences, what we were drinking just then, local cultures, etc.  It's all the more interesting because people in different countries naturally experience different local tea culture based on varying personal exposure.  Even something relatively central, like contact with a somewhat original Chinese tea tradition, varies in form and content quite a bit.  

Tea perception in India has been serving as an example paradigm, beyond China and these local areas (Amsterdam and Russia, over the last two meetups), based on Suzana's input, and related to that serving as a good example case.  German tea enthusiast subculture would be like that in Amsterdam, and in an online environment like a Discord group actual contact could overlap.

It was particularly interesting that Daria and Dmitry had the experience to fill in some of what we had covered about Russian tea culture the last time.  The topic of Russian "prison tea" or chifir had come up on a Reddit post recently, and Dmitry described actually trying that (incredibly potent over-brewed tea, intended to cause a drug-like effect).  His take:  pass on that; it's not a pleasant experience.  In looking up that recent thread link it was interesting how it was also discussed there four months ago and four years ago.  There's nothing new under the sun, at least on r/tea.  

And we talked about Ivan chay / willow herb / fireweed, and tea club forms in different places, variations in local preferences, about masala chai versions; all very interesting.  Ralph offered that licorice root served as a secret ingredient that made masala versions served at German music events especially tasty.  Suzana rejected that this works as a conventional masala chai variant, even though it might be pleasant.


One extension of that meeting form we've been considering, and never really resolve, is how to expand that kind of discussion to include more people, versus one or two different additions each weekend session.  Recording and sharing the sessions would work, but since they are just social meetups, not really formatted for that, it's not appropriate.  It's not an interview, as in a podcast form, just people talking.  

Adding more members is an option, letting another few--or many--people join, but that's also problematic.  We've had 5 people meet together this past weekend, and 6 the weekend prior, and that felt like a practical limit, so many participants that not everyone was as actively involved.  Having 10 people meet would require some sort of change in form, something like basing discussion around a central panel or guest, with some form of moderation.  Unstructured informal discussion is better, in a sense, more comfortable.  But it would be nice to share the experience, if we figure that out.

With even 4 people discussing tea it's hard to dig far into personal favorites, brewing practices, and exposure background, and then new findings beyond that, about recent events and such.  Over the course of most of a year it did work to go into that, in talking with Ralph, Suzana, and Huyen in weekly sessions.  Huyen took us a cool step beyond that recently, sharing live video of tea processing in Ha Giang, a prominent tea production region in the far North of Vietnam.  That wasn't one of these meetups, just a spontaneous call, which I'll add more photos of along with the Moychay theme in a  following section.

As I mentioned sharing these summaries partly relates to potentially evolving and opening up this form of discussion later on, but related to just continuing on in the same form, it would connect organically to continue on to exploring Eastern European tea culture.  Really there's a lot going on in different places that it would be interesting to hear about.  Latvia in particular comes up as a center of local tea culture, and I've written about tea culture in Poland, and run across chance contacts in lots of countries (Italy, Spain, Indonesia, South America...).  

Some of that local culture contact relates to posts in the International Tea Talk FB group I moderate, or elsewhere.  Beyond discussing local culture it would also be nice to get back to exploring tea producer contacts.  It never did work out to include an online friend from Nepal, and it would be interesting to hear about status in a few other countries, after earlier discussion with producers from India, China, and Laos (two from there).  Maybe even the US.


More on the Moychay Amsterdam club and Ha Giang tea processing


Moychay's local club and enthusiast Facebook page shows more photos of that space (with this their main site).


just amazing (credit that FB page for all photos here)




the Moychay founder, Sergey Shevelev, in that shop space



only partly related, they've explored creating handmade teaware lately 



Huyen's photo of a Ha Giang, Vietnam visit (credit her FB page, also on IG)



meeting a tea farmer / processor by Whatsapp call



with Huyen, cheerful as always



tea growing where she was visiting (or maybe on a different day, but roughly the same thing)