I like solitude in high doses; friendship to be constant, stable, and deep; social outings chatty, intimate, and in moderate amounts; food comforting, occasionally inventive, in generous amounts, and shared with friends. The only things I miss about having an office job are the lunches and the after-work drinks with colleagues and friends, where we would vent, gossip, and confide one another. Not that I don’t enjoy eating alone. I dine out solo from time to time and generally enjoy it. But these days, my friends are scattered over several provinces in Thailand and many countries around the world. It’s not easy to get together with friends in the same city either. We all go through insanely busy periods, and trying to get people together sometimes requires a lot of effort of everyone involved.
But over the years in Bangkok, apart from occasional meals with a friend or two, I’ve developed different groups of friends I eat with, some more regularly than others. So even though I really treasure my solitude, I find that occasional get-togethers energize me. People and conversations energize me. In these gatherings I’m a part of, food rarely plays second fiddle to conversations. Food puts a cherry on top of the reasons we come together. Sometimes it’s one of the main reasons we come together. It’s no coincidence that we often choose to sit down and have conversations with each other over food. We pour emotions into the moments we eat.
These gatherings, because of their infrequency, become a space where my friends and I unload the negative and positive emotions that have been waiting for days, weeks, or even months to find the ears that would most understand them. Those ears don’t necessarily have to belong to your closest friends, although meals with your closest friends are usually the best ones. As we grow older and as our lives become, hopefully, richer, there are more and more things that bind us to other people—common interests, work, nostalgia.
These are the ways some of my friends and I gather, eat, and talk.
Yes, some of these gatherings have their own names. Mish Mash always takes place at the home of my friend Mrigaa’s parents. It’s usually a lunch and comprises Mrigaa’s closest of friends—some of whom she’s known since primary school. Mrigaa’s family is Indian, and so Mish Mash food has always been of the simple yet amazingly delicious and homemade kind. Mish Mash is an occasion where food coma is (enthusiastically) expected. Whenever people ask me about the best place to get Indian food in Bangkok, I like to say that it’s at Mrigaa’s place (an annoying answer, I know, to people who aren’t friends with Mrigaa, but I do think honesty is the best policy on this matter). In the earlier days, Mish Mash was not Mish Mash without Mrigaa’s mother Bonny. When Mrigaa was doing her master’s in New York in the late 2000s, some of us would still meet up with Bonny for lunch. Once, we even unintentionally got Mrigaa in trouble with our gossips. In the past few years since Mrigaa has gone to live and work in Singapore, Mish Mash is not Mish Mash without Mrigaa. But these days, both her parents are always present. Tinku, Mrigaa’s father, who didn’t use to cook in the early days of Mish Mash, now cooks delicious meat dishes. This family has a gift for words and a wicked sense of humor—the best accompaniment to any meal. We eat surrounded by nine cats that have zero interest in us. The parents retreat into their room after the meal, though, while us kids gossip and discuss our personal lives for a few hours afterward and sometimes continue to hang out someplace else.
This is an occasion where my friends/colleagues who are current and former journalists and editors come to dump their frustrations and the juiciest of industry gossips. It all started when the newspaper we all worked for was going through major internal changes. Those were the darker days. It’s gotten lighter in the past couple of years as more and more of us have come to accept the ways things are or found our ways out of unhappy professional situations, though not without occasionally stumbling into some dark pit or another. We always meet at a restaurant for Kin Share (kin means to eat in Thai), often going to a nearby place for dessert to continue our gossip session. We’ve eaten at hole-in-the-wall joints, mid-range chain restaurants in malls, and higher-end places—whatever suits our fancy and the size of our pockets at that moment. For this gathering, food is important because we want to try new things or eat old favorites. But given the ferocity of our gossiping, Kin Share is sometimes more akin to a therapy session.
This is not the official name of the group the way Mish Mash and Kin Share are. It’s the name of our chat group on the Line messaging app. Sap means delicious or spicy in the Northeastern Thai dialect, and hunsa means fun or jovial in Thai. The name was made up by our humorous and straight-talking hotel accountant friend, Miao. The people in this group are not my closest of friends, but we used to see each other once a week at Alliance Française in Bangkok for our French lessons. I remained in the same class with them for almost two years before leaving for France at the end of 2009 to get serious about the language. There are a few of my former classmates whom I haven’t seen in years, and a handful whom I see every time I attend a Sap Hunsa lunch, which usually takes place once or twice a year. Like its name, this is a light-hearted group. Our conversations don’t go very deep into our personal lives, mostly skirting our various professions. Our ages range from 20s to 40s, maybe even 50s now. This is a group that laughs a lot together and loves to plan our next outing. We always want to try a new restaurant and regularly update each other on new openings. And once in a long while we are graced by the presence of our French teacher Angelique, who taught all of us for longer than other teachers and who comes back to Thailand for a visit every now and then. I believe Angelique and her departure from Thailand are one of the main reasons we, her students, started this lunch and eventually turned this into a ritual. And I have to say it’s amazing that even though we are a group of people who have little in common—except perhaps for our love of food and the French lessons we all used to take with a teacher we respected and adored—we remain so committed to meeting and eating with each other after almost 10 years.
Theatre Critics’ Meetings
I must say this is my favorite part about being a theatre critic—meeting my fellow theatre critics for dinner at Seefah, an 81-year-old Thai-Chinese restaurant chain, to discuss plays, upcoming events, award ceremonies, and to gossip. We have a joke that at these dinners, which can last up to three hours, we discuss work for about 10 minutes, and we gossip and eat for the rest of the evening. That’s not always true, of course. But it goes to show how enjoyable and sociable this part of our job is. To make things easy, we no longer discuss where to meet. It’s always at Seefah at Siam Square, Bangkok’s shopping district. This group meet about two to three times a year, sometimes more, so we never get bored of ordering the same dishes to share. Our go-to’s are Seefah’s signature grilled red pork and duck, pork satay, stuffed chicken wings, and spring rolls (fresh and/or fried). The President of the association comes here several times a week as he teaches at the university nearby. He’s responsible for ordering items that are not on the menu but the restaurant still makes. Some of the men used to order beer to go with their meals, but the restaurant no longer serves alcohol due to their proximity to a university and several high schools (a stupid new law). So now they just bring their own beer. And then each of us has our go-to dessert. We change it up from time to time, but mine is usually durian ice-cream. Needless to say, these meals are one of the most enjoyable of the year.