11 May 2009

A flute playing cabbie in the garden of good and evil

Bangkok is sometimes referred to as "the city of candy cars" because if you take a moment to rise above the traffic and look down on it, you'll notice that the city's taxi cabs come in a rainbow of brightly colored hues. Hot pink, lime green, lacquered purple, fiery orange, brilliant turquoise and nail polish red line up with the occasional traditional yellow and green combo sprinkled into the mix. But, if you've heard of our famous candy colored cars, I'm fairly certain you've not yet heard the story of one cab among many that I will forever affectionately refer to as "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil on wheels." 

On a hot and humid day, my visiting mother and I strolled along our sub soi until we met a cab ready to pick up passengers. Relieved to escape the heat, I opened the door and caught my breath in surprise. Expecting the usual Buddha image affixed to the dash, a friendly cabbie's face and a blast of frigid air conditioning to greet me, I couldn't hide my fascination when I poked my head in and saw the interior. The friendly cabbie and the a/c were present and accounted for. But, instead of the typical religious images, the entire cab was covered in little tchotchkes unlike any I have seen before. 

In awe and slightly questioning what I had just gotten my mother and I into, I told the cabbie where we were headed, he nodded and revved the engine. Zooming away, rows upon rows of little ceramic ladybugs fluttered their wings, hula dancers wagged their hips, little bells tinkled and confetti colored fantasy animals swayed to the rush of a/c. The cab was part voodoo-esque in design, reminding me of several alter images referred to in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and part modern art museum on wheels. Sensing his passengers wonderment and acceptance, the cabbie took down his sun flap above his head and pointed to a tiny glued on statue. "Buddha here," he said before quickly closing the flap. 

I so wish someone driving by could have captured our picture. With a normal looking taxi from the outside, I'm sure our faces were hysterical as we stared and pointed and expressed our love for all the little wobbly bobbley shiny things. And, if that wasn't fantastic enough, at the first major stoplight our driver said, "Music" and promptly removed a hand made reed flute from his overhead sun flap. We continued to smile, with a musical treat at every stoplight, all the way to our destination.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 47:
Evil Jungle Prince
Evil Jungle Prince is one of my favorite Thai dishes because it satisfies a curry craving without the richness of too much coconut milk. But, be forewarned, this is called "evil" for a reason! For a less spicy version, add less chili peppers or serve with freshly cut mango to cool the heat. 

1 tablespoon veggie oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 3-inch piece of galangal, cut into thin slices*
1/2 cup of coconut milk
2 heaping tablespoons of red curry paste
10 chili peppers, sliced in half, stem's removed
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded**
1 cup of shredded green cabbage
about 10 pieces of baby corn, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup of prawns, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup of pineapple chunks (fresh is best, but use canned if necessary)
1 cup of Bamboo, thinly sliced
2 cups of Basil leaves

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and add the onions, garlic and galangal. Saute until caramelized (add water as necessary to avoid burning). Once caramelized, add the coconut milk and stir. Add the curry paste and cook for three minutes, stirring. Add the chili peppers and cook for one more minute. Add the lime leaves, cabbage, corn and cook just until the cabbage begins to wilt. Add the prawns and pineapple. Cook until the prawns are opaque. Then, add the bamboo and basil. Cook until the bamboo is hot and the basil is wilted. Serve immediately on a large platter, with plenty of jasmine rice on the side.

* If you can't find fresh galangal, use a one inch piece of fresh ginger instead. The flavor will be stronger in the dish, but still similar enough.
** If you can't find fresh kaffir lime leaves, substitute 1 tablespoon of lime juice.


  1. Awesome. I've been waiting for the famous evil jungle prince to show up here. I'll be shopping for ingredients and cooking it tomorrow.

  2. HIL-A-R-IOUS! Amazing Thailand. Just ordered Evil Jungle Prince after reading this from my neighborhood Thai place.

  3. What a fantastic story! It's too bad you didn't get any pictures inside the cab. He sounds way better than most BKK cabbies who seem to be obsessed with personal grooming (especially nostrils and ears) while driving.

  4. Formerchef, I so wish I would have had my camera with me! On the day I leave it at home, charging up, is of course the day I wish I had it most! Thanks for adventuring along with me....

    Glad you all are enjoying the Evil Jungle Prince!


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