...was probably much like any other Thursday morning in Songkhla, except for the two bleary-eyed foreigners wandering the southern Thai city's 'old town' in search of caffeination (the sun rises an hour earlier there than it does in Kuala Lumpur, and so does the photographer).
We find it in the living/dining room of an elderly woman who earns a few extra baht by straining Thai grounds through a sock filter and serving the inky brew sweetened with condensed milk. Not the best kafe booran ('ancient' -- 'real' in other words -- Thai coffee, as opposed to Nescafe) we've ever downed, but good enough to get us rolling.
We'd arrived in Songkhla two days before and immediately fallen in love with its scrappy fishing port and semi-crumbling 'old town'. Finding the city's Thai Buddhist and Muslim residents to be extremely friendly, we're feeling quite at home.
After coffee we move on in search of something more substantive. The metallic slap of spatula against griddle lures us down old town's Thanon Nang-ngam to a corner tea shop - little more than the veranda of an old wooden house sheltered by a corrugated metal roof, really - where a Muslim vendor is serving up fresh roti from her cart parked to the side of its entrance.
Here we find ourselves in 'same-same but different' territory. The hot tea is reminiscent of Malaysian teh tarik, but is more orange and stronger tasting, with that slight - and appealing - bitter bite that we associate with Thai iced tea. When rolling our her dough the roti vendor employs the same 'bubble' technique we observed in Kota Bahru (northeastern Malaysia), but her final product is lighter, more pillowy, and sports less grease than its Malaysian cousin.
And her burnt orange-hued lentil curry -- which she calls nam gaeng, or 'curry water' -- is sweet and barely spicy, mellow like the residents of this sort-of beach resort town, and all in all a more gentle introduction to the day than the angry red, sourish and incendiary curries that accompany many an Indian Malaysian roti.
As the sun moves around the corner of the building, we find the tea shot the perfect spot from which to watch the town awake. Patrons come and go; some regulars are obviously parked for the whole morning.
Across the street another vendor sets up her stall. As soon as she's open for business a queue forms which means, of course, that we must investigate. She's selling coconut sticky rice (plain white and yellow, colored with turmeric) with a variety of accompaniments, deftly wrapping each order in a banana leaf.
We sample the lot. The rice is masterfully made, extremely fragrant but neither moist nor heavy, each grain distinct and a wee bit al dente.
Yellow rice with naa gong (dried shrimp cooked with coconut milk and palm sugar) and mapraow (shorthand for coconut cooked with palm sugar) is our favorite combo. Shrimp and sugar may seem an unlikely combination, but the shrimp'ss brininess balances the opulent butterscotchy-ness of palm sugar cooked with coconut milk; slivers of lime leaf lighten the richness.
As for the mapraow - let's just say that if she encased this coconut-palm sugar mixture in chocolate and sold it in the US she'd be a millionairess.
We also enjoy white rice with more of that coconut-palm sugar mixture, and a cap of sangkaya, a rich homely egg custard made with coconut milk and more palm sugar.
We finish (see opening photo) with more white rice, another - yes, another - blob of coconut-palm sugar, and a dribble of the vendor's take on curry water. It's sweet, barely spicy, perfumed with lime leaf, and studded with fantastically fresh tiny shrimp, and goes brilliantly with the coconut rice.
Before we know it an hour and a half have passed. We're more than full but don't regret a single bite. One more cup of tea and we're on the road, plotting our next visit to Songkhla.
Teashop and roti vendor, south end of Thanon Nam-ngan, Songkhla old town. Sticky rice vendor, right across the street from about 7:45am (usually sold out by 10am, she says).