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SuzySushi

eG Foodblog: SuzySushi - A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Aloha and e komo mai! Hello, and welcome to a tropical Christmas from suburban Hawaii! I'm delighted to be doing my first "official" eGullet blog this week.

To give you some background, I'm originally from NYC but moved to Hawaii 16 years ago. I live in a secluded valley in central Oahu with my husband Michael, our 10-year-old daughter Wendy, my grown stepson Daniel, and our 3-year-old Japanese spitz dog Tuffy. The area where we live is dense with pine and eucalyptus forests and cooler than most of the island. With its clusters of peaked-roof, delicately gray houses, it recalls an alpine village -- and I love it!

My blog will record a combination of local traditions and personal eccentricities. We don't practice any religion, but Christmas preparations (and decorations) are pervasive in Hawaii, as are those for Japanese New Year's, and we celebrate both holidays in our own unique way.

My daughter is off from school this week. So all bets are off as far as "normal routine" is concerned. We may have a houseful of her friends over -- or not, if everyone else is away. (You ain't seen nothin' till you've survived a sleepover with six giggling 10 year olds! :blink::laugh: )

The mad rush of cookie-baking and holiday shopping is almost over. Later today we're planning to decorate the gingerbread house (which we didn't get around to doing last week) and tonight we'll have a family dinner, just the four of us (plus the dog, of course).

Tomorrow we're hosting Christmas dinner for nine, ranging in age from 10 to 70+. To keep things interesting, we don't have a dining room table! When it's just us, we normally (or maybe that should be abnormally!) eat at our computer desks or sitting in bed. This get-together will be buffet style, served on paper plates, and we'll scrounge up seating as we clean the house.

During the week, we're planning to gawk at the Christmas displays downtown; tour the North Shore, where life is even more laid-back and we can sample some local treats; and shop for New Year's foods at a Japanese supermarket. Midweek, we're invited to a friend's home for more holiday festivities. And to cap off the week, in honor of eGullet, on Saturday we'll be throwing a backyard BBQ/luau/pool party.

And now for some audience participation: I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions.

It's 2 a.m. here now, so I'm going to catch some sleep.

Meanwhile, nou ka hale. ("My home is your home" -- and please take your shoes off in the Hawaiian custom before you come inside.)

Note: Throughout this blog, I'll mostly be using anglicized spelling, without the accent marks used in politically correct Hawaiian spelling. (Example: Hawaii vs. Hawai`i.)

See you in the morning!

Suzy

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Looking forward to this a lot, especially as I'm chained to my computer for a few days more.

As a "newcomer" to Hawaii, do you use pacific vegetables much?

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Aloha, Suzy, and welcome to the foodblogger ranks!

I'd love it if you could show us what your neighborhood looks like as well as your fridge.

The one brush I have had with Hawaiian food (and no, those sweet dinner rolls don't count, IMO) is poi, which my grandfather loved for reasons I cannot fathom. I have this vague childhood memory of stopping by some roadside produce stand somewhere between Kansas City, Kansas, and Leavenworth, with Granddad and Grandma, who picked up a package and let me taste some when I got home. All I remember is that it tasted very bland and that I didn't care for it much. Maybe you can tell me a little more about this foodstuff?

As for Christmas traditions: It's now 7:41 a.m. Eastern Standard Time in the Gayborhood. I'm up, but my partner isn't. I'm taking a break in editing the Manuscript from Hell, which I've been doing in between running around getting presents and picking up more last-minute items for our Christmas Eve open house, which we have every year. We invite some of our close friends and a handful of acquaintances over for conversation and food. I usually serve a crudite platter, deli sandwich meats and cheeses, vegetarian chili (with veggie burger crumbles), meatballs and/or cocktail sausages in barbecue sauce, shrimp with cocktail sauce, and cheese. Tons of cheese. This year, our open house will be alcohol-free.

The rest of the day (my partner just woke up) will be spent cleaning up and decorating the apartment and preparing the food.

Pardon me for bogarting your blog. Carry on; I'm looking forward to it.

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Yippee! Another wonderful food blog. I look forward to seeing your posts about the food and traditions there in Hawaii. I have a friend who lives there and we constantly trade recipes and food tips. Good luck on your blogging and mahalo for sharing.

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Aloha, welcome, good morning, Merry Christmas Eve! I'll be following as closely as I can -- probably doing a lot of the running-back-and-forth routine from my Christmas dinner prep and etc. to the computer to read the posts.

Unfortunately, I've got some computer problems and I've not been able to keep a stable internet connection. If I disappear for a while, that's it.

Have fun, Suzy. I know all of us viewers will.

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Suzy, I'm really looking forward to your blog. Thanks for taking on a daunting task at the busiest time of the year! :wacko:


Edited by judiu (log)

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Suzy! Great to see you blogging. My parents live in Aiea and I lived on Oahu off and on growing up. I still consider Hawaii "home" and hope one day to move back. I can't wait to see your photos which will make me homesick...but happy at the same time.

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Good morning! I've just come back from walking Tuffy. The valley is beautiful and peaceful in the morning, with tiers of low mountains overhung by clouds visible in the distance.

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Sunrise in the valley

The weather is cool in my valley, typically five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than Honolulu. Cool enough to wear a sweater or light jacket mornings and evenings in the winter. This morning, the temperature was 55F/13C. :shock:

Don't laugh! That might be warm for winter by mainland standards, but not here where houses don't have central heating or extra insulation.

I was planning to take you on a walk around my neighborhood, even before Sandy asked. . . :wink:

This is what I experience in the morning when I walk the dog.

Flowering bushes grow in profusion, even in the winter. (You can see some of the beautiful flowers at this link. Click on a type or color to see more species.)

Bougainvillea in shades of fuchsia and orange. Red and yellow hibiscus. The yellow hibiscus is the State flower. Also yellow are the blooms of shrub-size hau trees. Pink and purple lantana. Fragrant white ginger and spider lily. Exotic bird of paradise…

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This one's right outside our door.

I can't identify all the species of trees that surround us. Majestic eucalyptus and Norfolk Island pines interspersed with groves of slender bamboo. Flowering plumeria. Amazing African tulip trees with showy, six-inch trumpet-shaped flame-red or golden orange flowers. And lots of landscaped palm trees near the houses, a gazillion types, from date palms and stately royal palms, to fan palms and fern-like palms whose names I don't know.

This is the path through the woods around our condo complex.

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An African tulip tree across the street

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On weekends like this, when traffic is light, the sounds of songbirds punctuate the early morning silence. (See pictures here.) Among the few I recognize are noisy mynah birds; Java sparrows, colorful with their hot pink beaks; Hawaiian cardinals (the males are grey and white, with red crests); Japanese white-eyes (small green finch-like birds); common house sparrows; zebra doves, which look like they're wearing blue eyeliner, and a few pigeon-size spotted doves; red-vented bulbuls with their loud songs; golden plovers, which migrate here in the winter; flocks of tiny twittering finches that disperse in a cloud of flight when I approach. We even get some lone white egrets. Near the stream across the street from our old house two blocks away, there lived a brood of wild chickens, a rooster and several hens. I'd hear and sometimes spot them in the mornings.

No other wild animals, save for an occasional mongoose (introduced to Hawaii in the 1880s to control the rats that were feeding on Oahu's sugar cane -- only the rat is a nocturnal animal and the mongoose is diurnal, so the attempt failed). I hear tell there are feral pigs living in the woods nearby, but I've never caught a glimpse of them, except for one sorry specimen laced to the roof of an SUV recently, thoroughly dead and destined for someone's barbecue.

I'll try to answer a few questions now. . .

Let me know if the pictures are showing up too large for your computer screens, and I'll make the rest of them smaller.

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Looking forward to this a lot, especially as I'm chained to my computer for a few days more.

As a "newcomer" to Hawaii, do you use pacific vegetables much?

Sorry to hear you're chained to your computer! That's how I was, until mid-last week.

What type of Pacific vegetables do you mean? I use a lot of Asian vegetables, many of which are grown here, such as bok choi, choi sum, ong choi, Japanese cucumbers, daikon, etc. But as for native Hawaiian vegetables, although I eat taro and taro leaves, I've never cooked them from scratch.

Some of the markets here also carry a lot of Filipino favorites like sweet potato vines and other greens whose names I can't recall off the top of my head. From time to time I've tried them, but am generally disappointed -- either they taste like spinach, or they have a bitter note, which my husband enjoys in food but I don't.

[Edited for spelling]


Edited by SuzySushi (log)

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I'm so excited! Hawaii is my favorite place and the food is so wonderful! The place where you live looks fabulous. This is going to be a real treat.

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Aloha, Suzy, and welcome to the foodblogger ranks!

I'd love it if you could show us what your neighborhood looks like as well as your fridge.

The one brush I have had with Hawaiian food (and no, those sweet dinner rolls don't count, IMO) is poi, which my grandfather loved for reasons I cannot fathom. I have this vague childhood memory of stopping by some roadside produce stand somewhere between Kansas City, Kansas, and Leavenworth, with Granddad and Grandma, who picked up a package and let me taste some when I got home.  All I remember is that it tasted very bland and that I didn't care for it much. Maybe you can tell me a little more about this foodstuff?

As for Christmas traditions: It's now 7:41 a.m. Eastern Standard Time in the Gayborhood. I'm up, but my partner isn't. I'm taking a break in editing the Manuscript from Hell, which I've been doing in between running around getting presents and picking up more last-minute items for our Christmas Eve open house, which we have every year.  We invite some of our close friends and a handful of acquaintances over for conversation and food. I usually serve a crudite platter, deli sandwich meats and cheeses, vegetarian chili (with veggie burger crumbles), meatballs and/or cocktail sausages in barbecue sauce, shrimp with cocktail sauce, and cheese. Tons of cheese.  This year, our open house will be alcohol-free.

The rest of the day (my partner just woke up) will be spent cleaning up and decorating the apartment and preparing the food.

Pardon me for bogarting your blog.  Carry on; I'm looking forward to it.

Enjoying my neighborhood yet? :wink: Sorry if the photos make everyone here jealous!

I'll be discussing poi later on in the blog--that's a whole page on its own! Poi is not very Christmasy though, so today I'll stick to Christmas preps.

Don't worry about bogarting my blog (where did that term come from, anyway?). I'm curious to hear what other people are doing to celebrate the holidays.

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Aloha, welcome, good morning, Merry Christmas Eve!  I'll be following as closely as I can -- probably doing a lot of the running-back-and-forth routine from my Christmas dinner prep and etc. to the computer to read the posts.

Unfortunately, I've got some computer problems and I've not been able to keep a stable internet connection.  If I disappear for a while, that's it.

Have fun, Suzy.  I know all of us viewers will.

Thanks, Susan! Hope your Internet's back to normal soon. That's very frustrating.

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Suzy!  Great to see you blogging.  My parents live in Aiea and I lived on Oahu off and on growing up.  I still consider Hawaii "home" and hope one day to move back.  I can't wait to see your photos which will make me homesick...but happy at the same time.

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

{{{{{{Hugs}}}}}}

"Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!" back at'cha!

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Can you take us to the beach?  Please.

Well, I know we're going to get to the North Shore. Don't know if we'll make it into Waikiki this week, but I'll try. . .

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Now I'm off to the weekly farmers' market at the local high school, before the pickings get slim. Back later.

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SuzySushi: As many do, we honeymooned in Hawaii. Mrs. Crab had lived in Honolulu, so we spent most of our time on the Big Island and Maui. The delicious aromas of Plumeria and white ginger evoke many pleasant memories, as did your beautiful pictures – thank you!

We had some amazing Thai and Pacific Rim food in Hawaii. I loved the seared ahi tuna, and especially liked the beefy ahi poke, sold from a roadside stand that had probably never seen a health inspector. I look forward to seeing your favorites among the diverse cuisines of your beautiful island.

How did you happen to wind up in Hawaii?

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An African tulip tree across the street

gallery_28660_4041_433113.jpg

Lovely! I am in Vancouver visiting my family and it's freezing. Thanks for the ray of sunshine.

I remember doing a project on ancient Polynesia in grade 6, and I served poi and fake Hawaiian food at the end of my presentation (toothpicks with canned pineapple, honey ham, and a maraschino cherry skewered on them.) Guess which one everyone liked... :laugh:

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An African tulip tree across the street

gallery_28660_4041_433113.jpg

Lovely! I am in Vancouver visiting my family and it's freezing. Thanks for the ray of sunshine.

I remember doing a project on ancient Polynesia in grade 6, and I served poi and fake Hawaiian food at the end of my presentation (toothpicks with canned pineapple, honey ham, and a maraschino cherry skewered on them.) Guess which one everyone liked... :laugh:

AHA! Should have used Spam instead! :laugh: (runs)

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this will be a great blog! thanks for taking the time Suzy. Part of my family is from the Big Island in a very small town up north called Hawi- have you ever been to the Big Island??

I'm excited to see your luau! We use to have them when I was little.

We have a family xmas planned here in Seattle but then will take off for our annual new years eve trip with friends who live in europe- last year was Russia, this year is New York!!

Merry Christmas!

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SuzySushi: As many do, we honeymooned in Hawaii. Mrs. Crab had lived in Honolulu, so we spent most of our time on the Big Island and Maui. The delicious aromas of Plumeria and white ginger evoke many pleasant memories, as did your beautiful pictures – thank you!

We had some amazing Thai and Pacific Rim food in Hawaii. I loved the seared ahi tuna, and especially liked the beefy ahi poke, sold from a roadside stand that had probably never seen a health inspector. I look forward to seeing your favorites among the diverse cuisines of your beautiful island.

How did you happen to wind up in Hawaii?

We'll probably have some ahi poke later in the week. . . :smile:

How long did your wife live in Honolulu?

To make a long story short, how I wound up in Hawaii is, my husband was living here when we first met. (He's originally from L.A.)

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An African tulip tree across the street

gallery_28660_4041_433113.jpg

Lovely! I am in Vancouver visiting my family and it's freezing. Thanks for the ray of sunshine.

I remember doing a project on ancient Polynesia in grade 6, and I served poi and fake Hawaiian food at the end of my presentation (toothpicks with canned pineapple, honey ham, and a maraschino cherry skewered on them.) Guess which one everyone liked... :laugh:

Maraschino cherries are NOT Hawaiian! :wink:

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When I got back to the house, my daughter, who was fast asleep when I left, greeted me with, "Mom! I was starving! Did you forget about my breakfast?" :laugh:

My daughter's breakfast.

gallery_28660_4041_305258.jpg

She's a creature of habit. Except for the occasional weekend brunch, she eats the same thing every morning: Cheerios with milk and banana, a glass of chocolate milk, and a stick of string cheese. Note that the cereal must be topped with chocolate syrup, but the chocolate milk must be made with Nesquik. (Both are sugar-free.)

At age 10, Wendy is just coming out of her "white food" stage. In the last few weeks, she’s discovered that she likes avocado (only in sushi, however) and fondue. She still freaks out if foods touch each other on the plate, however. It's been very frustrating to my husband and me because we're such adventurous eaters.

The funny thing is, Wendy has always been receptive to "foreign" foods like sushi, dim sum, pho, and even curry, and she’ll leap for all the baby corn, water chestnuts, and straw mushrooms in a stir-fry. The other day, she grabbed all the squid curlicues from a Chinese seafood dish -- not something most picky eaters are known for doing!

My breakfast is different each morning. But I'm not a big breakfast-eater and today I sampled so many things at the farmers' market that I wasn't really hungry when I got home. Usually I start my day with coffee or iced coffee -- decaf espresso, brewed strong in a one-cup filter -- with a splash of skim milk. Lion Diamond Head Espresso is my favorite brand. Sometimes, instead of hot coffee, I add evaporated milk and a heavy dose of Splenda to make mock Vietnamese iced coffee.

My coffee

gallery_28660_4041_44813.jpg

My husband likes to sleep late (and usually has that luxury, since he's semi-retired). His "breakfast" is more like my lunchtime. He compensates for this by going to bed after midnight, and will fix himself a late-night snack to serve as his supper.

Daniel usually isn't with us during the week. When he is here on weekends, he raids the freezer for his own breakfast – bagels, raisin bread, rosemary olive bread. We always have a good stock of bread in the house.

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As some of you know, both my husband and our daughter have Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes. Although my husband has been managing it for more than 25 years, it was still a shock when Wendy was diagnosed a little over a year ago, and it's made a vast difference in our lifestyles. Everything revolves around the demands of her insulin schedule: what time she wakes up in the morning; what, how much, and what time she eats; what time she goes to bed. She does fingersticks to test her blood sugar five or more times a day, and needs an insulin injection before each meal or snack, as well as at bedtime.

My husband pretty much eats what he wants, and adjusts his insulin to cover his carbohydrate intake, but Wendy is on a more restrictive diet because she can't afford the carbohydrates of "empty calories." For example, a typical snack for her should contain no more than 15 grams of carbohydrates, which means just one regular cookie.

I try to keep mostly healthy foods in the house, and I've been able to cut back on carbs in some recipes by switching from sugar to Splenda. Still, holidays are hard because of the preponderance of goodies and the temptation to cheat.

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The farmers' market is held every Sunday morning in the parking lot of Mililani High School, and co-sponsored by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. There are about 15 vendors, not all of them there on a weekly basis -- and to tell the truth, neither am I! (I like to sleep late, or at least go back to bed after walking Tuffy, eating breakfast, and digesting the Sunday newspaper.)

Here's the setup

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Some of the vendors specialize in local prepared foods like bottled sauces and dressings. There's a honey co-op; North Shore Cattle Co., which sells locally ranched beef; and even a lady who makes beignets on site (the latter two sellers weren't here today). But I mostly go there for the fresh produce.

First up, Ho Farms. They grow colorful super-sweet cherry- and grape-tomatoes on Oahu's North Shore. They told me today that the local Costco will soon begin carrying their produce. Bravo! A lot of vendors participate in the farmers' markets to introduce their products to consumers and build demand that will translate into retail sales. One of the supermarket chains has also begun carrying Ho Farms tomatoes.

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Kukui Sausage Co., from Honolulu. I hadn't noticed them before, but today they were offering samples of locally-made sausages: spicy kimchee sausage; pastele -- Puerto Rican (yes, there is a Puerto Rican community on Oahu) sausage made with pork, bananas (plantains??), tomato paste, and achiote; and Portuguese sausage (there's also a Portuguese community).

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Fresh vegetables. A bin of bittermelon sits next to bags of locally-grown corn.

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And bunches of herbs. . . Isn't the cilantro gorgeous? This red bin has fresh mint and Thai basil.

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Here's that honey I was telling you about.

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One of my favorite stalls is 'Nalo Farms. They own a farm out in Waimanalo (an area of East Honolulu, whence comes their name) and grow fancy lettuces and herbs for Oahu's top restaurants. I like their mesclun-like salad mixes and, when they have them, baby romaine lettuces -- which were a revelation the first time I tasted them: romaine lettuce with flavor! I'm too late for the baby romaine today. :sad:

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Ba-Le Bakery is a Vietnamese-owned bakery and sandwich shop chain. They make great French bread and banh mie for sandwiches. They recently started selling artisan breads at the farmers' market.

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Today they also had macarons!!! :wub:

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The view walking back to my car in the high school parking lot. Can you tell why I love Hawaii?

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My haul today, clockwise from the upper left: A bag of red chiso from 'Nalo Farms, cilantro, a bunch of apple bananas (smaller than regular bananas), pistachio macarons, pastele sausages, and orange grape tomatoes.

gallery_28660_4041_85671.jpg

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      Recently, there was a thread about stir frying over charcoal, which immediately brought to mind memories of eating in Bangkok in July 2013.  At that time, I hadn't gotten into the habit of writing food blogs, and considering that I had some spare time this weekend (a rarity) I figured I would put some of those memories down on paper, so to speak.  Back then, neither my wife nor I were in the habit of taking tons of photos like we do nowadays, but I think I can cobble something together that would be interesting to folks reading it.
       
      In the spirit of memories, I'll first go back to 2006 when my wife and I took our honeymoon to Thailand (Krabi, Bangkok and Chiang Mai), Singapore and Hanoi.  That was our first time to Asia, and to be honest, I was a little nervous about it.  I was worried the language barrier would be too difficult to transcend, or that we'd have no idea where we were going.  So, to help mitigate my slight anxiety, I decided to book some guides for a few of the locations.  Our guides were great, but we realized that they really aren't necessary, and nowadays with internet access so much more prevalent, even less necessary.
       
      Prior to the trip, when emailing with our guide in Bangkok to finalize plans, I mentioned that we wanted to be continuously eating (local food, I thought was implied!)  When we got there, I realized the misunderstanding when she opened her trunk to show us many bags of chips and other snack foods.. whoops...  Anyway, once the misconception was cleared up, she took us to a noodle soup vendor:


      On the right is our guide, Tong, who is now a very famous and highly sought after guide in BKK.... at the time, we were among here first customers.  I had a chicken broth based noodle soup with fish ball, fish cake and pork meatball, and my wife had yen ta fo, which is odd because it is bright pink with seafood.  I have a lime juice, and my wife had a longan juice.
       
      This is what a lot of local food places look like:

       
       
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