Two things occurred to me over a dish of spicy eggplant this past weekend at Vieng Thai: One, that the dish was not spicy at all, which was fine with me considering that my boyfriend had ordered the comparatively hotter green curry that was spicy enough for both of us. And two, that the spicy eggplant could have come straight from our rooftop garden at the Houstonia house, where full sunlight and careful tending by our editor-in-chief have led to a record harvest this year, netting 63 tomatoes alone in the last couple of weeks.
In addition to tomatoes, the rooftop garden is thick with eggplant, squash, zucchini, corn, watermelon, basil—all things that, along with okra and peppers, grow like weeds during the hottest part of the year in Houston. Pluck a few of those eggplant, toss them together in a pan with basil, tomatoes, garlic, sweet chile paste, fish sauce and some peanuts for texture, and you've got Vieng Thai's spicy eggplant dish in a nutshell.
Though Houston and Thailand's climates technically differ in classification—Houston resides in a humid subtropical climate zone, according to the Koeppen-Geiger system, and much of Thailand falls into the tropical/monsoon climate zone—they're amazingly similar in average temperatures, rainfall and the stifling humidity that keeps our skin looking so young and supple. As a result, many of the same crops grow well in both places, whether it's big commercial crops such as rice, sugarcane (though we stopped harvesting the cane itself in 1928) and corn (an essential crop for both Texan and Thai farmers) or smaller garden vegetables such as those eggplant, tomatoes and basil.
This means that making your own Thai food at home, whether out of your own rooftop garden or using the freshest produce from the farmers market, is relatively easy in Houston—especially with our glut of Asian grocery stores that supply the fish sauce and sweet chile paste your garden doesn't. Then again, I can't say you'll ever manage to make it as good as they do at Vieng Thai, where every silky slice of furiously purple eggplant is soaked in just the perfect amount of salty-sweet sauce, the intense garlic and fragrant basil and striking nam pla momentarily transporting you to a place where Houston and Thailand occupy the same territory, no longer estranged by the vast Pacific Ocean or even those few degrees of latitude that separate tropical from subtropical, but married by humidity and heat and eggplants that grow like weeds.