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What’s the Trouble with a Little Smoke?

Roasting chiles for market, Bangkok.

A lot, in terms of health. Fire by far constitutes Asia’s most popular cooking method, and with good and practical reason. Smoked foods taste great. Fire is easy and accessible. But the long-term health and environmental effects are vast. A massive “brown cloud” covers much of Asia, and researchers are struggling to find solutions. No simple answer exists. Read the story here.

BBQ chicken at a roadside restaurant in Chiang Mai.

Traffic rolls by in the background as a street vendor grills meats along Bangkok’s Phra-A-Thit Road. Such carts—and their remarkable arrays of food—are ubiquitous in Thailand.

Coffee brews over a wood-burning stove at a streetside coffee stall in Phnom Penh.

A man makes pakoras at a wood-fired streetside stall in Kuresong, India.

A man bakes chapatis over an open coal fire at a bus-stop restaurant in Siliguri, India.

Teenagers bake bread in a wood-fired factory oven in Phnom Penh.

An ethnic Tibetan woman cooks over a wood fire in her home in rural Yunan province, China.

A woman grills chicken and fish at a food stall along the Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos. Everyday, small restaurants pop up along the riverfront, selling grilled foods and beer, drawing hundreds of locals and foreigners to watch evening fall over the Laotian capital.

A restaurant cooking fire along the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A legless former soldier cooks his lunch over a wood fire beneath his home on stilts in rural Cambodia.

An ethnic Tibetan man warms himself near a wood fire in his home in rural Yunan province, China.

An elderly woman stokes a fire with a bamboo tube in remote Shan State, Burma.*

*Now here’s a side note to the story, which coincides with the Sept. 11 anniversary. This particular picture was taken in 2002 during a trekking trip through Shan State, where we stayed in village homes. One friendly family fed us their fresh homegrown vegetables and beans, and after dinner we warmed ourselves by the fire. They asked many questions about our country, and somehow the conversation turned to Sept. 11. They had not heard of the attacks the previous year. And when we tried to describe what had happened, the family struggled to imagine buildings so tall and airplanes big enough to hold their entire village. They offered sympathy, but amazement at the enormity of this world and the disparate lives people lead. Yet somehow, we all ended up in that same smoky kitchen together, sharing food and conversation—and understanding each other.

7 replies on “What’s the Trouble with a Little Smoke?”

What an insightful post. Really. Amazing pictures and you give information so openly and thoughtfully. Thank you for that.

I found a great wine reviewing website. I hope you’ll check it out. Click on my name to get there. I feel that he has the same insightfulness as you’ve presented with this post. He’s taught me more about wines in two weeks than I ever knew before. You can learn about how wine pairs well with fire-made food!

Thanks again for your post. Keep up the great work.

These are really great photos! As the same people who are inhaling cooking smoke all day often go home to heat their homes with wood or dung fires, or worse, buckets of burning coal, it’s a wonder they’ve got any lungs left at all! Thanks for highlighting this problem to the world in your blog:-)

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