Things Are Absolutely Fried


For centuries—millennia even—Asians have lived largely on vegetables, fish, and rice. For many, meat was luxury, as was a day of rest. But modern life is altering the Asian diet and lifestyle, as more and more people are moving to cities, working behind desks, driving cars, buying supermarket rice, eating fast-food noodles, and growing wider in girth. As the United States fights an unprecedented war against obesity and its related diseases, Asia is fast on our heels. Cancer and diabetes rates are soaring. Hardly a week passes without a big story on the sudden surge in fat, particularly among youth.

These trends are visible on the street. When I first moved to Chiang Mai, nearly four years ago, it was easy to find grilled fish with raw or steamed vegetables among the nightly array of dinner foods served by the roadside. But soon, deep-fried hotdogs made their foray, accompanied by deep-fried herbs, battered onions, grease-filled dough balls, chocolate cake, and a mind-boggling variety of deep-fried meats in myriad shapes and colors, all dripping with oil.

Fried is tasty. But I also love my periodic trips to the jungle, where families still cook over an open flame, serving homemade soups and curries, a bit of grilled fish or meat, and enough fruits and vegetables to satisfy the RDA for the entire village.

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