The Isaan Diet.


William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft

In America you can’t catch a break if you’re fat.  Chairs start to break under you, or you get stuck on a low sofa and need help getting up out of it.  You have to ask for a seat belt extension when you fly.  Red Lobster will not supersize anything.  And DI never has your pants size.

At the risk of sounding misogynistic, I will simply state that fat men don’t get to date super models.  America was once a country where a whale like William Howard Taft could become president and have a special bathtub installed in the White House to accommodate his girth; but today if you have a double chin you’re treated like a pariah.

So be it; I grew tired of fighting such prejudice and went back to my old missionary haunts in Thailand. The Thais like fat people, and I immediately found Joom, a lovely Thai woman, my age, who was delighted to be squired around by a chubby “farang” (foreigner).  She rubbed my ample tummy for good luck prior to buying national lottery tickets.  She rejoiced in cooking me thick and fiery coconut milk curries that took my breath away.  She affectionately compared me to the full moon, I was so round and mellow.

I asked her to marry me.  Immediately I noticed a sea change.  The lovely, creamy curries disappeared.  She didn’t rub my tummy any more, since lottery tickets were strictly for flighty single women.  Now she insisted I go on an Isaan diet to lose weight.  Isaan is the northeastern part of Thailand, cheek by jowl with Cambodia.  Joom came from Isaan.  I meekly obeyed.  She fed me somtum; green papaya salad prepared with a mortar and pestle.  I ate dried squid, grilled Cajun-style until it was black and as chewable as a vinyl raincoat.  There were mounds of laab, a piquant minced pork dish that is traditionally served raw – one look of horror from me and Joom took pity and fried it for my benefit.  All the sticky rice I wanted and plenty of fresh rambutan and raw Thai eggplant. The only condiment she allowed me was homemade fermented fish sauce; it is not pleasant to recall how it was made.  That is the Isaan diet, and I actually lost weight.  My pants had to be taken in . . . several times!  I began emailing all my pals back home about the upcoming nuptials.

Then Joom left.  She returned to a far corner of Isaan to take care of her elderly, ailing mother.  I couldn’t leave my teaching job to accompany her. The buses did not run to her tiny hamlet.  She said she’d come back some day – but that was six years ago.  Eventually I moved back to the States. And tried to forget both Joom and her Isaan diet.

Hey, pass me another Ding Dong, will ya?