March 28, 2015



Most of us have travelled in a plane, and most likely it was a Boeing aircraft.  If you are curious on how jets are made, the assembly plant is just two hours south of Vancouver.  The Boeing factory in Everett, Washington is where the famous jumbo jet 747s are built.  Now the facility also makes the 777s and the 787s Dreamliner. 

The company ( was founded in 1916 by William Boeing, a transplant from the East Coast.  Why Washington State?  The 22 year old Boeing found work in the Pacific Northwest’s timber industry where he made his fortune.  An interest in the nascent technology of flying eventually led William Boeing to construct a seaplane in his boathouse in Seattle. 

Fast forward to 2012.  The company offers public tours at its Everett assembly line, not in Renton, Washington where the 737s are built.  You start your visit at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo, a third of a mile away, visually next-door neighbors to the Everett factory, across a landing strip, Paine Field.  No personal items are allowed on the tour including: purses, backpacks, cameras, binoculars, and cell phones. Lockers are available in the Center for US$1.00.  No still photos or videos allowed.   In short, just yourself.   Future of Flight tours operate daily, except American Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s day.  The tours start every hour, the first at 9 am and the last one at 3pm. 

If you have spare time before or after the tour, take a stroll to the lower gallery of the Center where there are interactive stations for visitors to design their own jet, test it electronically, and if you wish pick up a souvenir print of your design in the gift shop. You can also feel Lilliputian standing before huge fuselage sections.  You can touch the sections of the Dreamliner 787 and see how the number of rivets have been reduced, as well as thinner thickness of the fuselage compared to a Boeing 707.  These presentations are all done in an easy-to-comprehend and fascinating manner.

When you do line up for your on-the-hour tour, you will be led to a theater, and be given the practicalities, such as no rest rooms (washroom) during the 90 minute excursion that involves a third of mile walk within the assembly plant.  So go now if you have to.  Then a short informative film regarding the history and impact of plane transportation on our lives, the Boeing company, and of course on building jets.  After the film, you will step outside through the back doors of the theater, and board a shuttle bus for Boeing’s Everett factory, the largest building in the world by volume.   It is massive.

Along the way you will see scores of sparkling brand new planes with their company logos on their tails, lined up for mile long or more.  I was trying to spot a Philippine Air Lines – none within my vision.

Then you will disembark on one end of the assembly plant, walk through a tunnel, up a few floors in an industrial size elevator capable of holding 30 people or more, and exit to a balcony overlooking the production line.  Workers in very casual attire, some in shorts, nary a hard hat, assembling fuselages, attaching wings, and installing jet engines - engrossing!

Because the factory is so big, you are shuttled by bus to the other end, where again you walk through a tunnel, take the elevator, and land in a balcony to see another production line of a different type of aircraft.

On the return trip to the Future of Flight Aviation Center Aviation Center you will pass by a hangar, not quite as big as the assembly plant, where the planes get a coat of painting. 

Finally back at the Center strategically through a gift shop that sells a good range of flying paraphernalia including toy planes, classic leather bomber jackets, and travel gadgets.  Currency exchange available.

Before you leave, don’t miss going up to the Observation or Strato Deck where you can take pictures or videos of the massive assembly plant you just have been to, as well as planes taking off or landing.   Breathtaking!

For more information, call 1-800-464-1476, or see  US$20 adults/US$14 youth, a few dollars cheaper outside summer hours or Christmas holiday season, and cheaper if you reserve online or by phone.  Children must be at least four feet tall to take this English-only tour, no babies.

Best day to take the tour would be a working weekday.  Weekends are more crowded and the factory is less busy.  The tour can be done by wheelchair-bound and physically-challenged visitors with advance notice.

There is a café for snacks, sandwiches, and coffee but pricey.  Better ask the Visitor Info Desk for local eateries nearby.  

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located at 8415 Paine Field Blvd., Mukilteo, WA 98275, Exit 189 on Interstate-5.

If you are not overloaded with plane tech, head down to the Museum of Flight in Seattle as what an Aussie pilot with me in the tour was planning to do.  As for me, I was headed for Alderwood Mall in nearby Lynnwood, Exit 183 on I-5.


March 21, 2015

Thai Food in Thailand

Food Stall in Chiang Mai market (photo by Elaine España)
Fifteen years ago I fell in love.  It was a cold winter evening in Syracuse, New York.  She served me a dish of stir-fried rice noodles sprinkled with crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, shrimps, shallots and an array of spices.  Phat Thai, it was called, and I have been infatuated with Thai food ever since.

There are four famous world cuisines: French, Italian and Chinese and then most recently, Thai.  Actually, in practical terms, we can only say three.  For most average wage earners, like yours truly, French restaurants outside France are expensive.

When one says Italian, images of spaghetti and pizza come up and as for Chinese, stir-fried rice and noodles, dim sum and the likes.  But when it comes to Thai, the words that pop out are “spicy and hot,” not negatively but as a salivating, appetizing memory and craving.  Thai restaurants are all over the world.  Nairobi, London, New York, even small towns like Kaneohe, Hawaii (which has one of the best and e-mail me why).

What makes Thai cuisine world famous?

In my quest to find out deep illuminating answers, I went on a mission to Thailand to find out – the real thing in its natural setting.  From food stalls to food malls, I sampled, explored and inquired.

For centuries an Asian crossroad, the Kingdom of Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized by a Western foreign power.  The country owes its rich culinary art to the cuisines of India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Street vendor in Chiang Mai (photo by Elaine España)
The success of this country’s cuisine is attributed to the blend of four basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour and pungent.  Yes, pungent!  Pungent, often a term used with derision, becomes a positive modifier in Thai cuisine.  The pungency and spiciness, largely due to the prolific use of garlic, chilies and fish sauce, give the dish a tempting aroma.

The staple is an extraordinary fragrant jasmine rice, grown best in northeastern Thailand, accompanied by a variety of dishes that are all served at once.  Thai food is served with a variety of condiments and sauces such as ground red pepper (phrik bon), ground peanuts (thua bon), vinegar with sliced chilies (naam som phrik), fish sauce with chilies (naam pla phrik) or shrimp paste (ka-pi) to make it salty, and lime to make it tangy.  

Whether you’re eating up north Chiang Mai at the local J and J Bakery (excellent seafood fried rice), or at the formal Thanying restaurant (a royal Kaeng phet pet yang  - roast duck curry) in Bangkok, or southern Phuket Old Market, there is a wide variety of Thai dishes possessing freshness, beguiling flavors and an artistic presentation.  A plate of Thai cuisine will make you giddy with wonder of wonders.  Tomatoes turn to roses, watermelons and cantaloupes are now chrysanthemums, papayas into ornamental jars, green beans are knotted like cuff links, and at the world class Oriental Hotel along the Chao Phraya River, even toothpicks become a lovely fan with a banana leaf serving as an axis and a frame, plus an orchid flower on the side.  Cleaning your teeth has never been classier.  The attention to detail, both palate and visuals make Thai cuisine a world class culinary art.

Infamous Chilies
Phrik in onomatopoeic Thai, has a potency ranging from the “atomic” to prickly, to the very mild.  Actually, chilies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America.  No wonder Latin cooking can be just as fervent.  Perhaps due to the soil and weather and the blending of other spices, there is a widespread perception that Thai curries burn intensely, but briefly, while other dishes prolong more in their prick.

Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad (photo by Elaine España)
Not all Thai dishes are equally fiery.  There are degrees of hotness; one is given the option for adjustment with the tray of sauces often on the dining table.  Keep in mind though that food stalls in Thailand are catered for the local palate.  Be prepared for more chilies per square inch than you’re used to.  The adjustment you’ll make is picking out the chilies.

If you have a difficult time with chili peppers, in a restaurant be sure to ask for it mai phet  (not too chili hot).  Now, if you really want it spicy hot, just say phet mak.  Chili contains capsaicin, a biologically active ingredient beneficial to the respiratory system, blood pressure and heart.  Other therapeutic uses include being a carminative and antiflatulence agent, as well as a digestant.  Was it my imagination to feel healthier after days of consuming nothing but Thai food? 

The Palliative for Fiery Spice

The Thais are not particularly immune to the fervor of chilies, they are just probably more used to a higher intensity.  Nonetheless, Thai cooking is meant to be a harmony of tastes and complementary.  The spiciness of Thai dishes is tempered by steamed pearly white rice (khao).  Steaming rice is the antidote, the quick-fix solution to a burning throat and not icy water – though this is the knee jerk response.  Psychologically, I find the combination of steaming rice followed by ice-cold water down the esophagus, in hot and humid tropics, to be the perfect elixir.

In Chiang Mai market (photo by Elaine España)
“To eat” in Thai is literally “eat rice” or kin khao.  Thailand also happens to be the world’s largest exporter of rice. 

Much Maligned Fish Sauce

You will see this seasoning on every dining table.  Naam pla or fish sauce is the juice in the flesh of the fish that is extracted in the process of prolonged salting and fermentation.   If salt is to the West, soy sauce to China, naam pla is to Southeast Asia.  It is salty, sometimes fishy smelling (hence the initial queasiness), brown or reddish liquid, used as an all-around flavoring ingredient.

Mixing crushed fresh chilies with fish sauce and a dash of lime juice makes a superb seasoning for any oriental dish.  Adding crushed garlic and a tiny amount of  raw shrimp paste transforms it into an all-purpose dip called naam phrik.

The World’s Favorites

If you have never tried Thai food and have no idea what to order, try the dependable appetizers (shrimp toasts are incredible at Ka Jok See restaurant, Old Phuket) or the all-time winner Phat Thai (anywhere in the planet), and the world's favorites.

Phat Thai to go in Chiang Mai (photo by Elaine España)
Although done in 1999, the Thai government then announced the top 10 popular Thai dishes based on a global survey of 500 restaurants, which have Thai chefs and offer authentic Thai food.  This survey still gives a picture of current trends.

The top ten in order of their popularity are:

Tom yam kung (spicy shrimp/prawn soup)                                           99%
Kaeng khiao wan kai (green chicken curry)                                           85%
Phat (or Pad) Thai (fried noodles of Thai style)                                                70%
Phat kaphrao (meat fried with sweet basils)                                         52%
Kaeng phet pet yang (roast duck curry)                                                  50%
Tom kha kai (chicken in coconut soup)                                                  47%
Yam nua (spicy beef salad)                                                                        45%
Mu or kai sate (roast pork or chicken coated with turmeric)              43%
Kai phat met mamuang himmaphan (chicken fried with cashew nuts)       42%
Phanaeng (meat in coconut cream)                                                         39%

The world’s no. 1 Thai dish, Tom yam kung, is a shrimp/prawn soup flavored with lemon-grass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, chilies, coriander leaves and seasoned with fish sauce and lemon juice.  This appetizing shrimp soup sometimes arrives like a volcanic brew boiling in a charcoal-heated vessel.  One is filled with wonder on the dynamics of the liquid and gaseous phases. Please see recipe (boxed).

A Very Sweet Word

No meal is complete, especially after a spicy one, without the balming effect of desserts to the overworked taste buds.  Desserts give that pH adjustment our tongue needs after a highly zesty meal.   The magic word in Thai for sweets, which I sought to know immediately, is kanon.


The common ingredients of Thai sweets are eggs, mung beans, rice flour, glutinous rice, lotus seeds, palm sugar, cassava roots and coconuts  Jasmine and other aromatic flowers are soaked in water and the resulting scented water is used to make syrup to give fragrance to desserts.  The Thais clearly value the function of the olfactory sense in pleasing the palate.  

In any open market in Thailand, for 5 to 10 Baht ($0.25), one can buy a good serving of: laht chong – tiny 2 in. green noodles flavoured with pandanus leaves; kluay ping – bananas being grilled in its flesh (coated with sugar) or skin (less sweet); kanon pianpook  - rice cakes; and kanon krok – coconut-rice hotcakes churned out as miniature muffins.  These are just a few of the varieties of delectable snacks one can sample.  But order them “to go” for it’s considered rude to be eating while walking in the country.  Damnoen Saduak, the floating market outside Bangkok swamped with tourists (two foreigners for every Thai), offers a wide variety of kanons including the beguiling Thai crepe, kanon buang yuan, made of beaten egg whites with shredded coconut filling and coffee-flavored rice crust.  A-roi! (delicious)

What  to Drink

Thailand has one of the highest sanitation index in Southeast Asia.  All plain water (naam plao) offered to customers in restaurants or to guests in an office or home are purified. 
Put the word naam (water or juice) together with the name of any fruit and you can get anything from naam farang (guava juice) to naam sapparot (pineapple juice).  However remember naam pla  literally means fish sauce.

Throughout Thailand, there are numerous cart vendors of small young coconuts (about 6 inches in diameter), maphrao-on, with an unusually sweet and scented juice - at 10-15 baht per.  Maphrao-on is a real quencher on a hot day and more refreshing than iced tea.

The Quest

Just like the Crusaders who traveled thousands of miles to find the Cup, I also covered such distance from northern to southern Thailand to find out the real thing in its natural setting and why among so many, Thai cuisine is now a gold medalist in the Olympics of culinary arts.  After numerous hurdles and several laps of inquiries and investigations, a backpacker in the island of Ko Samui gave me a most illuminating answer "Simply because it tastes good!"

Radna Talay noodle dish (photo by Elaine España)

Conclusion of the Love Story

As for my HER who served me Phat Thai - well, she married someone else but we have remained friends.  With Thai cuisine as a partner in life’s survival, I am content.

When Eating in Thailand (Things to Know)

·       With growth in tourism, most places in Thailand now serve vegetarian dishes.  For visiting vegetarians, the Thai words are phom kin jeh (for men) or dii-chan kin jeh (for women).
·       Thais eat most dishes with a fork and tablespoon except for noodles, which are eaten with chopsticks.  The fork is held in the left hand and used to direct the food unto the spoon (with the right hand of course).  You eat from the spoon.
·       Knives, a symbol of aggression, are absent at meal times.  To begin with, most Thai food is already cut into small pieces before serving or made tender enough to be cut with a spoon or fork making a knife unnecessary.
·       Saltshakers are rarely found on Thai dinner tables, so used the various blends of naam pla usually on the center tray.
·       Instead of serving dishes in courses, a Thai meal is served all at once, permitting the group to taste, share and enjoy a variety.
·       Tipping is not normal practice in Thailand except in restaurants or places which cater to tourists in Bangkok or big resort areas such as Pattaya and Phuket
·       Some useful dining words:
Chai          means  yes
Mai Chai              means no
A - roi                   means delicious (you wouldn’t think or want to say anything else)
And don’t forget mai phet  (not too chili hot).
·       To obtain your bill, simply point towards your plates and make 1-2 circular clockwise motions with your right finger.


Where To Learn Thai Cooking in Thailand

In Bangkok

·       Oriental Hotel,  48 Soi Oriental, Bangkok
Tel. 437-6211, 236-0400

·       U.F.M. Food Centre,  593/29-39 Soi 33/1, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok
Tel.  259-0620/30

·       Modern Housewife (Women Institute), 45/6-7 Setsin Rd., Bangkok
Tel. 279-2831, 279-2834

In Chiang Mai

·       Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School
11/29 Mu 1, Chiang Mai Flora Village, Doi Saket, Chiang Mai
Tel/fax (053) 206387 till 8

Suggested Websites For Thai Cuisine  features the well-known Thai author Kasma Loha-unchit – with illuminating articles on fish sauce and the right way of cooking rice. – website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand – great description/pictures of Thai ingredients and some recipes. – online shopping of lemon grass, Thai produce, Asian seasonings/sauces/condiments and just about everything; features recipes, informative “Ask the Chef”question and answer forum.

The World’s No. 1 Favorite Thai Dish

The Thai people learn their cooking through “hand-me-down, watch-me-do-it” practices.  Recipes are never used because through experimentation, one can judge his/her own preference for the strength of the different ingredients. The amount of chilies can be reduced to lower ‘heat’ or the droplets of naam pla can be adjusted for piquancy.

Each cook injects a  unique personality and hence any dish for that matter can be eaten in different places with detectable nuances.  You be the judge.

Thapae Road, Chiang Mai (photo by Elaine España)

Tom Yam Kung

(Hot and Sour Prawn/Shrimp Soup)
– courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

In Thailand, there is often no distinction between shrimps and prawns ( at least in the English menu) and often mussels are mistakenly referred to as oysters.  So be forewarned.

(outside Asia, many of the items below can be obtained from Oriental grocery stores)

20             prawns (or shrimp), medium size
4-5          cups water or light chicken stock
3                 shallots, finely chopped
2                 stalks lemon grass (lower 1/3 portion only), lightly pounded, cut into 1 inch long segments
2                 tablespoons fish sauce
2                 slices fresh or dried galanga root (related to ginger with a subtler aroma and aids in digestion)
20             small mushrooms, halved
5                 kaffir lime leaves
3                 tablespoons lime juice (or tamarind juice)
2-3          chilies (small red or green variety), OPTIONAL
cut coriander leaves, spring onions

Wash the prawns or shrimp and shell them without removing the tails.  Pour the water/stock into pan.  Add the shallots, lemon grass, fish sauce and galanga root.   

Boil for three minutes.  Add the prawns and mushrooms, and cook until the prawns turn pink.  Add the kaffir lime leaves, lime juice and chilies (if using).   

Cover and remove from heat.  Sprinkle with coriander leaves and chopped spring onion and serve hot.   

With steam rice (use the jasmine variety), the recipe provides 4-5 servings.

Iced Tea Punch by Nana’s House Bed & Breakfast

I was invited to a wedding – a grand one near Denver Colorado.

Iced tea punch was being served – refreshing and doubly so on a hot dry summer day.  I asked one of the servers if I can have the recipe.  The kitchen was kind enough to share.

20 tea bags (regular size)
20 cups water
6 cups sugar

Make tea in regular manner.  Add the 6 cups of sugar while tea is hot.

When cool, add:

1 large can unsweetened pineapple juice
1 large can frozen orange juice (16 oz.)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 qts. Ginger ale

Mix well and put in tightly closed bottles or plastic cartons in refrigerator.  Will keep several weeks if tightly closed.  Serves 30-40.

Note:  I was trying to search online for a Nana's House in Colorado but nothing came up.  There were other Nana’s House Bed & Breakfast in other states.