You wouldn’t know it from her day job, but Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen likes to eat. A lot. Maybe you’ve seen her blog. Or, her food porn-heavy Instagram feed. Or, her sweet and saucy Cooking Channel special Cookies & Cocktails. Sometimes, in the background of whatever’s on the plate that night, you might also catch a glimpse of her famous husband, the singer John Legend.
On this week’s episode of The Getaway, airing at 9 p.m. EST, Oct. 29, on Esquire Network, the ravenous and ravishing model takes off for Bangkok, a city she knows quite well — especially, its world-famous street food scene. This time around, though, she tries some new things, including a dubious sounding oyster omelet and a gourmet guinea fowl curry made from a searing-hot centuries-old royal recipe. Consuming calories isn’t the only objective, of course. She burns them, too, enduring a strenuous lesson in the brutish sport of Muay Thai (see video clip below).
But, all we wanted to talk about was, naturally, the food:
You’re part Thai, and the rest, I presume, is all foodie?
Why do you think that Thai food, particularly the regional cuisines like Isaan, has become so popular in America?
It’s funny, because my mom’s Isaan. I grew up eating that type of food. For me, that’s my absolute favorite because it’s just got this crazy flavor punch in it. Everything usually has around five or six ingredients; very simple recipes, very quick, really easy to make and kind of hard to fail with. My mom never really made any kind of noodle dishes growing up. We didn’t have pad thai or pad see ew, or anything like that. We had really fresh ingredients, like papaya salad. Or, just a rice porridge, which we call jok.
Larbs and things like that.
Yeah, larb is absolutely my favorite dish on the planet. So, I grew up eating that stuff. Thai food, for a lot of people, is pad thai, tom yum soup. But there’s so much more than that. So, I think it’s interesting for people to get to try out all these crazy flavor punches in so many different dishes that they’re not used to eating. I’m happy that it’s become so popular.
When you’re here in the States, what’s your go-to Thai spot?
Are we talking New York? My favorite in the East Village is a place called Tai Thai. It’s a very small hole-in-the-wall. You sit on benches. For me, that’s the closest to my mom’s papaya salad. I feel like a lot of places these days are shredding it, and that makes it watery. I don’t like that. My mom will hold the whole papaya in her hand and use a giant butcher knife. It just changes the flavor. It becomes much crunchier. So, their papaya salad is very similar to my mom’s. They also do their tom yum really well and they do this amazing whole fish. When I’m in L.A., in Thai town, I have to have boat noodles. Pa Ord is really good.
What was it like to go back to Thailand for The Getaway?
It was great! I’m used to going to Thailand every December. My parents were living there, so John and I would go around Christmas time. They recently moved back, so it was nice to get out there again. And, I did get to bring my Mom, too. I remember when we were throwing around ideas. [The producers] let you go anywhere you want in the world. So, for me, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been dying to go to Mexico City.’ It’s just always been a dream of mine. But then we realized that, if I went to Mexico City, I wouldn’t be able to teach anybody anything. I’d just be too excited and intrigued about everything. I know a lot about Thailand. I’ve been going since I was tiny. It also really sums up the things I love in life. I love snacks. I love street meats. For me, Thailand has the best street markets, the best night bazaars, the best food that you can just grab. It’s so cheap, and you can just sit on the street and eat a wonderful bowl of noodles that takes two seconds, and it could be the best bite of your entire life. Thailand provides that for me. They do that with so many different things.
You’re a star on Instagram. You take a lot of pictures of your dinner. What was it like having a camera crew shooting your every bite? Was it a relief to have someone else taking care of the food footage? Or, does that sort of steal your thunder?
It was really nice. I think I was a little thrown-off from the get-go. I haven’t seen the episode yet, so I don’t know if they address this ever. But I had maybe, like, three different sets of teeth in this filming.
I had chipped my front tooth. I’m a grinder. I grind like crazy at night time. So, I had temporaries in. I had temporary teeth in that I actually ground-off on the flight to Thailand. I had just woken up on the flight and pulled my lip open and it was full of my temporaries. I had ground them down. The first stop upon landing was the dentist. Thank god my Mom was there. Thank God we were staying at some place as wonderful as the Mandarin Oriental; they set us up at a hospital nearby. I had fake teeth glued on and then we started filming, like immediately. I was so thrown and so embarrassed of my teeth. Then what ended up happening is, I ate my own tooth in the oyster omelet, which was so good. And I was so mad! I would have loved for that scene to be really long but I’d eaten my own tooth. A lot of people don’t like pictures of them eating. I’ve never cared about things like that. I was just more thrown by like, “Oh my god, is my tooth going to fall out on camera? This is going to be horrible.”
In the version that I saw, that doesn’t come up at all.
Really? That’s so funny! OK, well, then you get a little behind the scenes thing. [Laughs]
You’ve obviously been to Bangkok many times. This time, you tried some new things. You mentioned the oyster omelet. We also get to see that guinea fowl curry, which looks really, really ridiculously spicy. What were those new food experiences like?
I’ve got to say, whenever I do go to Thailand, outside of eating at the Mandarin Oriental, I really don’t eat fancy food. For me, going to that restaurant [Nahm] was a huge treat because I’ve never sat down for a true meal. I’m so used to street food in Thailand. I’m used to quick things. I’m used to paying in change. I’m not used to eating in a restaurant like that. So, being able to try that guinea fowl was so great. It still had all those flavors you’re used to in Thailand — the lemongrass, the kind of heat that I love — but it was done in a very refined way, of course. Getting to see that really nice cuisine of Thailand, that refined beautiful restaurant, was very cool. Things can be done all sorts of ways there. And, that oyster omelet was really scary to me because I’m weird on textures. Like, I will eat anything. I take pride in that. I love eggy egg. But, biting into a slimy oyster? You kind of get over that once you realize how fantastic the flavor is. It ended up being one of my favorite things on the trip, which is so funny because it’s so jelly like. It was delicious though.
When I think of Thai food and drink pairings, I usually think of beer and whiskey. In this episode, you seem to stick to tequila. What’s up with that?
I was definitely on a tequila run for this trip. I was very jetlagged. Tequila kinds of gets you going rather than bringing you down. My drinks of choice in life are vodka and tequila. Or, you know, wine. In Thailand, as you said, whiskey is huge for them. I’d rather not drink my calories, I’d rather just eat them. So, I like things that I can drink straight. And tequila has always been that thing. Whiskey, I can’t drink straight. The last and only time I’ve had whiskey straight was on Watch What Happens Live, and I don’t remember taping that show. [Laughs] So I don’t drink whiskey straight, anymore.
When you travel, generally, how important is the food and drink?
Oh, it’s the first thing I look at. I think that’s why we fell in love with Italy, where we got married. For me, it is the place to go, all around. Visually, it’s absolutely gorgeous. But the food is remarkable. Honestly, even when John goes on tour or something, I pick the cities that I will come to based on their food. I specifically love going to Korea and Japan. And, I love going to Paris, of course. And Manilla! Fillipino food is becoming so huge and I wanted to be able to try it straight from the heart. Every decision I make travel-wise with my husband at least is food. It’s the first thing I think of. When I land, I’m like, where are we gonna go?
Any advice for folks who may be planning their own Thailand adventure?
The thing about Thailand is, everybody wants to go to Bangkok. And Bangkok is so fantastic. But, I think people need to see that there are so many beautiful, wonderful places outside of Bangkok, as well. Explore the countryside a bit. Don’t be afraid of those side streets and markets. I think Thailand is all about exploration and trying things that you normally would never try. It’s not going to kill you. Maybe it will kill you, who knows?
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