Published: December 21st 2011December 21st 2011
The banana pancake, backpacker fare number one. But why and how did it become so? And how does it work? I mean, no disrespect to the dish, it tastes good, but so do many other dishes. Who decided that this particular concoction should be at the top of any self respecting backpackers food list?
Perhaps more interesting is how does it spread? Because the banana pancake is the first dish to appear in a newly 'discovered' place, but of course when the first travellers arrive at one or another village I assume that the pancake does not yet exist as a dish amongst the local population. Furthermore I presume that those backpackers are precisely there to escape from the pancake trail and sure as hell are not going to introduce the dish. Let's say word gets out, more and more people go to this new paradise, at what point is it decided that the banana pancake must be introduced?
Is this a possible scenario? A backpacker arrives at this beautiful and peaceful village he/she has heard so much about. He or she is tired and hungry. The traveller thinks: "I would really love a banana pancake now, I wonder
if there is a restaurant around these parts that makes them?
Wat Phra Si Sanphet
" He/she looks around and finds a place to eat but upon inquiring about the aforementioned dish he/she discovers to his/her horror that it does not exist in what he/she thought was Shangri-La. "If only they had the banana pancake this truly would be paradise, it is just the thing that is missing to reach perfection.
" The traveller muses. And so a new quest is born, teaching the local cooks how to make the most wanted snack in the backpacker world.
Now I would suspect that this rucksack totting wanderer doesn't immediately know how to make pancakes, or what ingredients are used to make one. Does he/she go back to the next best tourist destination with internet, look up the ingredients, has them translated into the local lingua, perhaps buy them, return to the village and give a course in the fine art of pancake making? Does he/she then go on to explain the significance of the banana pancake in the backpacker's psyche to the restaurant owner and the reason's why it must feature on the menu of any restaurant that takes itself even remotely serious?
Black and white
there is an individual who has dedicated his or her life to spreading the cult of the pancake. Who scours the world looking for newly discovered locations that do not yet have the dish and subsequently introduces it. What a noble person this truly would be!
The most likely case is that it is neither the backpacker nor some twisted pancake freak that introduces it, but that it is a savvy local or international entrepreneur who is the culprit. After a place has reached a certain amount of fame and attracts a steady stream of backpackers, a local businessman from somewhere else within the country or region that is already familiar with tourism and the taste of backpackers decides to set up shop in the new locale. Or maybe it is a backpacker with some money who falls in love with the place and wants to invest a little in the community and make a little more money on the fellow backpackers, who puts up a restaurant with all our favourite items on the menu list. And so the cult of the pancake keeps spreading to virgin territory, an unstoppable virus lifting a ride on global tourism.
Vojta pretending to be Buddha
and other thoughts have been twirling through my mind as I made my way from Bangkok to Ayutthaya to Sukhothai, to Lampang and finally to Chiang Mai. It might have been caused by the fact that the tourist restaurants in all of these places prominently feature the dish.
But I did more then just contemplate on the banana pancake. I met up with Vojta for instance, who I first met in Iran in 2006 while waiting for my Pakistani visa and travelled with for two and a half months in India half a year later. Now meeting up with fellow backpackers from long past journeys seems to be another theme in this years trip. It all started with Tim in Laos, then came Jazz in England, next up was Matt in Myanmar and the latest installment was Vojta. Vojta was travelling with his friend Pavel when we met in Ayutthaya. As with all the other friends I met up with during the year, our time was short. Vojta was going home, I was continuing on up to Sukhothai. We reminisced, we cycled around the ruins of ancient Ayutthaya and we drank copious amounts of beer. We did not discuss
Buddha heads in the Wihaan Phra Mongkhon Bophit
the banana pancake!
I also heroically saved Talia in Ayutthaya after she had somehow managed to lock herself into her room. She was so thankful that she decided to accompany me on the rest of my journey. Perhaps in case she needed me to save her again. We saw the ruins at Sukhothai and compared them to Ayutthaya's, we went to untouristic Lampang and uber-touristic Chiang Mai and finally we went back to Bangkok together. The banana pancake was everywhere even in Lampang despite the fact that few tourist make it there, but this is Thailand which has 40 years of experience with this dish.
And have I eaten this extraordinary snack? You bet you I have! With chocolate on top of course, after all it is all about the toppings. Which ever way you look at it, it remains interesting that it was the banana pancake and not for instance the apple pie or the chocolate cake that conquered the backpacker’s world.
As the year's end is approaching, with the festive season just around the corner, I shall wish all those who care to read my blogs a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, may
Tourists on an elephant
you all taste a banana pancake somewhere along your journeys.
There are more photos below