We ordered the ginger pork curry for the first time. Kay, the waitress, suggested that it went best with sticky rice, so we agreed. Also side dishes of papaya salad (Som Tam) and Tom Kha soup, laced with the potent spice of Thai chili.
Our Thai teas arrived, tamarind orange, slushy with ice, the condensed milk swirling into cloud patterns, served in tall Coca-Cola glasses. The straws came adorned with small roses sculpted by hand out of the white wrapping paper. I thought this was charming. Just what I would expect from this little dollhouse of a Thai restaurant, hidden away in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
We were two lovers meeting in a Thai café, taking a moment away from the rest of the world. I’ve wanted to hold on to this memory, because it was when we first met. We sat side by side, leaning close together, my head resting upon his shoulder. I noticed the shape of his ear, the masculine lines of his face, and with my eyes I traced each curve of his cheek, his eyes, nose, lips. The scent of his skin, so good, I nuzzle into the curve of him like a little girl seeking comfort. I can never get close enough, leaning into him, kissing the side of his neck, inhaling near his cheek, a kiss placed there. Our hands linked, tips of his fingers caressing mine. I feel shivers run through me. I want him. Down to the tips of my toes. Inhale. Sip of creamy tamarind-sweet Thai tea goes cold down my throat. I feel it send its condensed milk through my veins until I am buoyant with that giddy feeling of being saturated with sweetness. Falling in love.
Kay brought each dish to the table. The festive papaya salad, the aromatic hot pot full of Tom Kha soup. Sticky rice wrapped in plastic, placed inside cup-sized baskets. The rice package is hot in the palm of my hand. I want to scoop it out, spoon it on my plate, but I wait for the curry.
He opens his, takes the rice from its basket, eats a little of it by itself. My mouth is full of soup. I savor the Tom Kha with shrimp and some white fleshy fish, spoon plunking into the creamy bowl, straw mushrooms bobbing happily in the coconut milk, eating fat slices of tomato, hot and steaming in my mouth. I taste lemongrass and galangal root, chili and kaffir lime. Tom Kha nourishes me when I’m in need of something comforting, and I resort to it when I am not feeling well. No other soup makes me feel better. But even when my health is good, I crave a big bowl of it.
Then the aphrodisiac dish arrives: kaeng hangleh (ginger pork curry) with large slices of ginger, a dazzle of peanuts, the stew of the curry so sensuous and velvety, its sultry gravy saturating the sticky rice with a hearty glaze. Cilantro, fragrant and green, feathered on top of the surface. Peanuts dappled among the large pieces of pork meat, and the curry itself thick with a wondrous color mélange of turmeric-orange, massaman paste chili-red. A curry that has depth, a healing pot of stew. This curry made me forget vegetarianism, and all of my meatless days, finding something nurturing in the flesh of a pig.
I think of that first bite of the ginger pork curry, how it was ladled so lovingly on top of the pillow of sticky rice by my Darling, as he served me each amount without the meat of the pork, just slowly dousing the hillock of my white portion of rice with the unctuous gravy, making sure I got my share of the wide slivers of ginger. When I think of that taste and soul satisfying texture, how it seeped into my blood and bones, I realized that ginger, glorious and zesty, a mischievous rhizome root, made my body zing with desire. I felt my veins buzz. Potent with the spicy passion of ginger, it was as if some devilish pixie lit tiny fires of lust inside of us. It must be the ginger, I thought.
Galangal is the Siamese ginger, sister to ginger itself, also considered aphrodisiac by Thai herbalists. Musky hot and sour, the slices of the galangal root are pungent, deliciously flavoring the soups of most Thai varieties. I had once bitten into a slice of the galangal root and thought it was awfully medicinal tasting; bitter and inedible. I could not remove that taste memory from my mind. Even so, it changes the entire flavor of the soup in a transformative way. Steeped in soup, galangal root is aromatic.
After dinner, we went for a drive into the hills, and I showed my Darling the neighborhood where I grew up. I asked him to drive farther into the winding roads uphill. Then I showed him the street, steep and veined with black-tarred cracks in the asphalt, the street that stretched around and down into my childhood memory. The street where I skinned my knees and ran and laughed and played hopscotch on the sidewalk. The car swerved along the hilly roads until we reached the bottom of the hill. We turned down a road, one where I wasn’t allowed to go, because it was a dead end and too far from my house. There were hiking trails, houses on one side, other houses hidden by trees and brush. The ginger was still making my blood fizzy with its spice. We parked on the dark street and kissed.
Headlights off, streetlights buzzing in their orange glow. I caressed his face gently with my hands. The natural scent of him, his warm mouth melting against mine. I’m intoxicated by his kiss. His tongue tastes of ginger, he smells of lemongrass and turmeric, his lips, a heaven of spices. He leans across the center console of the car and unbuckles his seatbelt. I unbuckle my heeled sandals. I undo my seatbelt. His hands tuck up underneath my hair as he pulls my face closer, deeper, kiss.
His mouth and mine, his mouth, mine. It must be the ginger.
The second time he brought a large container of ginger pork curry over to my place and we had the same dinner as the first: Tom Kha soup, papaya salad, and ginger pork curry. The table set with candles, my long hair swept up, wearing a red dress, barefoot. I placed one foot on top on his thigh under the dining table. He spooned the gingery gravy of the curry over our plates of rice. We ate slowly. Halfway through the meal, he gazed at me. I smiled at him and we left the half-eaten plates of food to clean up later. Honey, I think it was the ginger, I sighed breathlessly. Passionate love is intense with ginger, so be sure when you use it, you know you are in good hands.
The third time we shared this ginger dish at the same Thai restaurant, we pondered the menu longer than usual, considering something different. But we both knew we wanted the ginger pork curry.
“It’s the ginger,” I mused. He gave a sly glance, his almond eyes curved with flirtation. We knew what would happen after eating it. But he doesn’t believe that ginger is the sole reason for our extreme passion. We agreed there is something marvelous about that ginger pork curry. We both find it folly to think that an edible root can induce such lusty moments in love; the kind that fog up car windows and make us kiss like teenagers on a date. Yet, ginger was proving itself to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
It may have been the ginger pork curry that caused our love to flame brightly with passion. It certainly caused us to notice that something had aroused our uncontrollable desire for each other. Perhaps the ginger may have had some effect, like turning up the fire under a hot, sizzling pan. It was after the third time, we were sure that eating the ginger pork curry was an aphrodisiac.