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All About Food:

A curative chicken soup in Thailand

February 26, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

It’s 90 degrees in the blazing Thai sun at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday in Phuket as Elle and her son Alex weave their way through the dense traffic, dodging speeding motorbikes and cars to get across the streets to the unnamed “fresh market.” A cacophony of sounds and color assault the senses as they reach the sea of green umbrellas shading the piled high stacks of red dragon fruit, yellow jackfruit, orange papayas and green mangos. As they move down the aisles, past the soymilk seller, the squid griller and the Muslim chicken barbecue, on past the Portuguese sweets, the crispy little marshmallow crepes, deep-fried pastries filled with hot dogs and a myriad of other vendors selling exotic vegetables, a hundred different kinds of fish and seafood from the Andaman Sea and every conceivable part of a pig.

They are on a mission to find a “homegrown” chicken, the freshest and tastiest for making a curative but still delicious Thai chicken vegetable soup as a palliative to soothe Elle’s unquiet stomach. Alex, who grew up in Laguna, has been living in Thailand for 13 years and inspects factories for health and human rights violation all over Asia. Elle is a frequent visitor, especially now that he is married and the proud father of Austin, an adorable 4-month-old. Unaccustomed to a steady diet of spicy Thai food and unfamiliar water, her delicate stomach rebelled. Fortunately, Alex’s wife, Narm, an excellent cook, has a family recipe that should fix the problem and taste good going down.

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Unless you grew up on a chicken farm, it is highly unlikely that you will have tasted a chicken this fresh. There is a difference. So Elle and Alex have gone to the open market to seek out the Muslim chicken man. Alex and Narm like to shop with this vendor because he is sweet and friendly. He offers two kinds of home-grown chickens: the cheaper one, called gai ngiaw (chewy chicken) has eggs inside its belly that have not yet formed a shell. These eggs have a strong flavor that is an acquired taste. However, these chickens are much tougher and need to be cooked for about four to five hours. The other is a more tender young chicken, requiring a mere two and a half hours of simmering. These are both free-range birds, so they are naturally tougher because they can run around and build muscle.

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