Samui Wining & Dining
More Than a Mouthful

When it comes to BIG, Thailand has more that its share of records.

 

18I wandered into a bar not so long ago, picked up a beer and gazed around. It was all pretty sedate and my attention was drawn to a long thin photograph on the opposite wall. It showed what looked like 20 or so soldiers – Americans? And they were all standing in a line grinning and supporting one staggeringly long fish. Judging from the scale of the photo, this marine oddity had to be around 40 feet in length, to say the least. Beneath the photo was the inscription, ‘The Queen of the Nagas. Caught in Thailand near the Lao border in 1973’.

Impressive. But what’s more interesting is that this is a fake. Not the fish – that’s real enough – it’s actually a 33-foot long oarfish, weighing in at over 300 pounds, and not that uncommon. But what is interesting is how this photo ended up being claimed by the Thai nation.

The fish was actually found dead on the beach at a Californian naval establishment in 1996. The photo made national headlines in America and then, somehow, resurfaced a year later in the Thai newspapers with a different identity, and purporting to have been taken near the northern city of Nong Khai at the end of the Vietnam War. And the Thai papers went to town on the legend of ‘The Naga’, the Isaan fable, which recounts the creation of the Mekhong River and describes the killing of the Naga prince, Phangkhi, by the people of Phaphong City, and the subsequent slaughter by the king of those who had been responsible. Somehow this photo was thought to re-enforce the essence of this legend, and has now become a credible and established part of the Thai culture.

But that’s not to say that Thailand is without its fair share of giant fish, as many whoppers have been caught in the same region; no doubt adding weight to the ‘Naga’ legend. I can’t help wondering how many fillets would have come from the giant catfish that was netted in 2005. It was 9 feet long and weighed 646 pounds. Eloquently, this type of fish is known as pla buk in the Thai language, which translates as ‘huge fish’!

But when it comes to really big edible creatures we have to look further afield. Like the mammoth lobster that was caught by a fishing vessel in 238 metres of water off the southern coast of England, in 2003. This four-foot long oddity is six times larger than the average and is adorned with distinctive moustaches that alone have a combined weigh over 4 kilograms. The lobster is named Poseidon and is currently being studied by scientists – no doubt prior to making the world’s biggest thermidor.

If the image of that huge fish, the ‘Queen of the Nargas’ springs to mind, then imagine it at four times its length, and a hot dog instead of a fish. Because that’s what was produced in Japan, in 2006. A hot dog measuring 180 feet long was made by Shizuoka Meat Products as the central part of a media event surrounding the 50th anniversary of the All-Japan Bread Association. And that’s what I call a sausage!

But, of course, it’s the common or garden hamburger that can lay claim to being the USA’s national dish. And so it’s not surprising that nationwide eateries in that fair land have tried to piggyback onto the bandwagon of ‘my one’s bigger than yours’. It’s been estimated that 600 million burgers a year are scoffed in The States, but none of them as big as the one that’s 28 inches across, 11 inches thick and weighs-in at 105 pounds. And this particular ‘whopper’ is available on special order at a diner in Clinton, New Jersey.

But the USA doesn’t have the monopoly on BIG. Because the South Africans can boast the world’s biggest pizza, created in 1990 at the Norwood Hypermarket, in Johannesburg. It had a diameter of 122 feet, and was 11 inches thick.

And the unassuming Brits can come up with surprises, too. How about the world’s biggest cheese? Made in Dorset, this slab of Cheddar weighed 470 pounds and was 4 feet in diameter. And this would make a suitable slice to go in the world’s biggest sandwich that was fabricated in Manchester as a publicity stunt for Marks & Spencer, and that was 7 feet square, 12 inches thick, and filled with tuna and cucumber – but no cheese.

But let’s head towards something that’s ‘faster’, foodwise. Like the spectacular order for a bucket of KFC made in Qatar, in the February of last year. Weighing 660 pounds and standing 4 feet high, a giant KFC bucket was specially created and filled for a national food festival.

Which brings us closer to home again, and this time with the all-time favourite local dish – Pad Thai. And, yes, this one was homemade! Although it’s often seen as representative of Thai cuisine, I doubt if you’ll see one like quite like the one they made in Bangkok, in 2007. Fifteen chefs from local and international restaurants gathered around a pan more than 2 metres in diameter to cook the dish, which included 150 kilograms of noodles, 840 eggs, 140 kilograms of shrimp and an unmeasured quantity of vegetables. The dish, which was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), could have fed an estimated 1,200 people and was served free to passers-by as an event to promote tourism.

They say that modesty is a virtue. And, with all these gargantuan examples of super-extravagant dishes, I’m tempted to agree. It’s one thing to gaze in wonder at a sandwich that can feed one of the smaller developing nations, but I wouldn’t care to find one on my dining table. No, I’m relieved to think that my next pad Thai will be eaten with a spoon and not a shovel. All these others you can stuff back into the pages of the record books, which is truly where they belong!

 


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