Because of inexplicably prohibitive alcohol prices in Thailand (how is it that you can get a solid meal for 60 cents and a long cab ride for a dollar or two, but a beer is three dollars or more?), I’ve been drinking Lao Khao, Thailand’s resident gutrot gasoline-flavored rice liquor.
Although purchasing this alcohol usually results in a pinched nose, scrunched face, or simple eruption of laughter by non english-speaking employees who think you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, drinking Lao Khao seems to command a relative amount of respect and nonverbal communication with the locals, and I’ve managed to make quite a few friends without speaking at all.
Anyways, Bill and I heard about a medicinal/virility tonic comprised of of Lao Khao, honey, and a number of herbs that older Thais take daily in the morning. Since it is both a form of holistic medicine and also a way to mask the taste of Lao Khao (which cannot be mixed with anything), we decided to give Ya Dong a shot.
We ventured into a typical Chinese medicine shop, with drawers full of dried sea horses, shark fins, and other indescribable objects lining every wall, and attempted to pantomime the creation of Ya Dong. Only when Bill realized they spoke Chinese did we make any progress and we watched in awe as the lady begin to cut and weigh some 20-30 ingredients for our tonic (pictures below).
Excited, we returned home with all our ingredients rolled in paper and began to cut, tear, and smash them into a paste/powder to mix with the Lao Khao. With so many earthy ingredients (including what seemed to be plaster, twigs, bark, and fins), the mixture sparked memories of mud pies and other childhood recipes I used to make with mulch and gravel in my backyard. The only ingredient we were able to positively identify was goji berries.
Now the waiting game — three weeks of fermenting, then straining, and our first batch of Yadong is a go! Hopefully the Chinese lady wasn’t playing a deadly trick on us.