If you’re even slightly interested in Thai food, travel, and culture, you need to meet Thailand-based writer and photographer, Austin Bush.
Allow us to introduce you!
Since graduating Chiang Mai University with a degree in Thai in the early 2000’s, Bush has called Thailand home. He now resides in Bangkok where he specializes in travel and food photography with a focus on Thailand. You can spot his contributions in world-renowned outlets including The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Lonely Planet.
Thailand Insider sat down with the journalist to talk about his recent book, his favorite places in Thailand, and of course, all of his food recommendations.
You’ve lived in Thailand for over twenty years. What has the experience taught you, compared to where you’ve lived previously?
The only foreign country I’d ever lived in before Thailand was Sweden. It’s a great place, but it’s not really that different from the US. In Thailand, just about everything is utterly different from where I’d grown up and visited before, which made me want to learn more.
What drew you to live and stay in Thailand for such a long time?
Originally I received a scholarship to study Thai at Chiang Mai University. When I was finished with that, I just decided to stay on, and I’ve been living in Thailand ever since.
There’s a lot of great food in Thailand worth highlighting, but your book (The Food Of Northern Thailand) covers dishes from the North. For you, what differentiates Northern Thai food and the culture from the rest of the country (or for that matter, other cuisines) that inspired you to write so specifically?
Originally, I was drawn to the place — the north is by far my favorite part of Thailand. And after having spent a lot of time there, I started to see that the food was different from what most of us think of when we think of Thai food. There’s many unique things about the food of the north, but one aspect I find fascinating is that it’s changed relatively little, and is not that different from the food Thai people ate 1000 years ago.
Your book is self described as an experience with a documentarian approach, a photographer’s eye, and a cook’s appetite. Still, food is a really human experience. Have you ever been so excited by a dish that you forgot to snap a photo before digging in, or ever gotten that temptation? Where did it happen?
That happened many times in the course of research! I both wrote and photographed this book, which meant that there were many times when I was taking notes and wished I’d been photographing — or vice versa.
Any chance you might write up your experience with the rest of Thailand’s food? Why, or why not?
Absolutely! I’ve already begun work on a book about the food of southern Thailand! I know relatively little about this cuisine, so there’s a palpable sense of discovery.
What’s your favorite Northern Thai dish?
That’s a tough one. It’s probably Khao Soi, wheat-and-egg noodles in a curry broth. There’s something so fundamentally delicious about this dish, and it’s probably the first northern Thai dish I ate, so I have a lot of positive associations with it.
Are there any Thai recipes that you haven’t been able to get quite right?
In general, I struggle with sweets. I just don’t have so much experience in cooking them, and in cooking sweets one has to be very precise, something I’m not too great at.
Which places would you recommend to travelers that might be worth an expedition?
Definitely Mae Hong Son. In addition to being the most beautiful province in Thailand, its food and culture is also very unique.
What’s one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever had in Thailand?
I think it might be a dish of Kaeng Tai Plaa (a southern-style fish curry) from Ko Samui that was so spicy it had my ears ringing!
If you could sit down and dine with any chefs or food critics, who would they be?
I’d love to have a big dinner somewhere in Thailand that brought together all the folks currently writing about Thai food: Leela Punyaratabandhu, Kris Yenbamroong, Andy Ricker and James Syhabout.
Are there any Thai dishes that spring to mind that you still haven’t tried yet, but want to?
I’ve just begun research on my next book, which will cover southern Thai food, and I’m really excited to learn more about the food of Thai Muslims. I’m familiar with most of the basic dishes, but I’m sure there’s lots more that I’m not aware of.