Most of the time, when I look at my boyfriend I don’t see someone from a different culture. When we first started dating, sure, I was reminded at every turn how very different our backgrounds are. But now, now that we’ve gotten the fundamentals of religion, politics, and the like behind us, I hardly notice that we grew up on opposite sides of the world.
It’s only every once in a while that simple things will remind me now. Like a few weekends ago when we were shopping at a Thai market and the boyfriend pointed to an unusual-looking vine and said, “We make soup out of this”. I paused for a moment and thought, “We do?” before I realized he wasn’t talking about “us we”, but about “Thai people we”. Oh, right, he’s Thai.
Needless to say, we bought the strange vine-y vegetable and made soup out of it. This soup is one that the boyfriend grew up eating (and I can’t believe he didn’t share with me until now!). It’s made with water and/or clear broth as the base and ground pork, tofu cubes, and the leaves of this vegetable that I’ve since learned is the ivy gourd vine (pak tam leung/ผักตำลึง) as the main ingredients. It’s such a simple soup composed of only a few ingredients, but it tastes so good. That’s really the best kind of food, isn’t it?
If you don’t have access to ivy gourd vines in your area, almost any leafy green vegetable will do. I’ve used Chinese broccoli (gai lan) before with good success and imagine that things like kale or collard greens would be good too. The leaves just need to be hearty enough to withstand a gentle boil. Once you have the greens picked out, it’s a super straightforward soup to make.
I’m such a fan of this soup, I’ve made it about once a week since the boyfriend introduced me to it. When I feed it to other non-Thai people, the first reaction I get is, “Is this Thai? It’s not spicy!” And it’s true, this soup is not at all spicy. In fact, it’s name in Thai (gang jeud/แกงจืด) literally translates to “bland soup”. But not being spicy makes it the perfect accompaniment to Thai meals which are generally composed of several spicy dishes eaten with rice.
Having a more American palate, I also like the soup by itself or with a big scoop of rice in it. And although it comes from halfway across the world, this soup is as soothing to me as the chicken noodle soup that I grew up with.