A couple months back I did an article for Orient-Express magazine that gave me the chance to visit and photograph some of the high-end Thai restaurants in Bangkok. The food at these places was amazing, and the chefs really enthusiastic and friendly, although many of them admitted that the food at their restaurants is really not much better than the hole-in-the-wall places one can find all over Bangkok; such is the nature of Thai food. In any event, here are some of the pics I took for the piece.
On the left here is ho mok a steamed “cake” of fresh herbs pounded up with fish and thick coconut milk. This at the ultra-cool Lan Na Thai, and the chef told me that the recipe is roughly based around a northern Thai recipe. I really like ho mok and buy a grilled version every week at my neighborhood’s talaat nat, weekend market.
On the right here is a green curry from Bussaracum, a well-known “royal” Thai cuisine restaurant. The chef told me that they make their own khreuang kaeng, curry paste,
as well as making their own coconut milk from scratch!
To the left is the Fried Rice with Crab Roe and Chili Paste at the Hyatt Erawan’s recently remodeled Tea Room. The Tea Room’s Chef de Cuisine, Siriluck Lekkwan, is the nicest lady in the world and we spent a pleasant hour chatting about Thai food.
This is the famous Malay dish sate at the Blue Elephant. There are three kinds of meat here, including buffalo, if I remember correctly. After taking pics I had lunch here and the food is amazing–definately not Tourist Thai. During lunch I was introduced to the owner of the entire chain of restaurants, and her daughter who teaches at the cooking school in the same building.
This is the clever Som Tam Pork Chop at the beautiful MahaNaga restaurant. Som Tam is, of course, the pounded papaya salad, very much a Thai dish, and is served here with a Western style pork chop, a pairing that I thought worked well and tasted great.
Tom Yam at the Sukhothai Hotel’s acclaimed Celadon. Didn’t actually get to taste this one, but could see that the chef was wise enough to include whole shrimp so that the delicious fat inside the heads would flavor the broth. Mmmm…head fat.
This post is a direct response to this thread at the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum. In it I make the argument that the world’s greatest sandwich is not available in some New York deli, Po Boy shack in Louisiana, or some panini joint in Rome, but rather in the metropolis of Vientiane, Laos. At this Vietnamese restaurant just north of nam phu, the fountain, one can purchase the wonder seen above. Known as khao jii, the sandwich takes a crispy, freshly grilled French-style baguette, and stuffs it fill of homemade liver pate, barbequed pork, muu yor (a Vietnamese-style pork sausage), cucumber, cilantro, pickled radish and carrots, and for the willing, chili paste. Consumed with a frostly Beer Lao (the best beer in SE Asia) there is no more profound level of sandwichness. I just wish there was a way to prove this scientifically…
Geez… My first post, where do I start? Reckon I should introduce myself: Hi, I’m Austin. I’m a 28 year-old American freelance photographer based in Bangkok (whew!). I’ve lived in and worked in Bangkok for nearly eight years now and I can speak, read and write Thai fluently. I’m really interested in the food in this part of the world, and just between you and me, it’s probably the only thing that’s kept me in this lovely, quaint, clean, charming village known as Bangkok all these years (I’m assuming you’re familiar with sarcasm?). So, anyway, the food: This site will be a place for me to discuss the food of Thailand, and SE Asia, employing a variety of techniques ranging from vivid adjective-strewn prose, to cutting-edge visual aids (also known as “photographs”). A particular emphasis is on “real” Thai food, which, despite the inherent ambiguity of the term, I think you all know what I mean. I plan to visit restaurants and foodstalls in town, diligently risking life and limb to reveal to you all the truth about Thai food. I will occasionally include info about the various elements/ingredients of Thai food, and will try to include recipes as well. Much of the inspiration for this site is due to noodlepie, Graham Holliday’s hilarious and informative view on eats in Saigon.
Okay, the Food: I was in Baang Saeng, an hour east of Bangkok, on Sunday. This place is your typical Thai beach resort: banana boats, screaming kids, pushy vendors, alarmingly underdressed Germans, and most of all, seafood. Actually, forget all the other stuff about Germans, Bang Saen is all about the food. Only in Thailand would people leave the safety and comfort of their air-conditioned homes to drive an hour to sit under an umbrella and eat crabs from Styrofoam dishes. Baang Saen is approximately four kilometers of beachline that has been converted into what is probably the world’s largest seafood restaurant. You sit at a sling chair under an umbrella, and vendors selling food come right to you. You don’t even have to get up! The majority is steamed seafood, such as crabs
and grilled prawns.
This is my friend A after he found out he had to pay for lunch. Poor guy.
This last one is my personal favorite, yam khai maengdaa thale, horseshoe crab egg yam.
And no, in case you’re wondering, horseshoe crab is not a cute crustaceon but rather this loveable creature. Isn’t it just the most adorable thing? Don’t you just want to hug it? I tried to take one home as a pet but the vendor said something about the grilling process killing it. Anyway, I’m glad that Thais took the initiative to eat this, as I don’t think there’s any other society on earth that has the balls to do it.
For those of you not familiar with yam, it is basically a kind of sour/spicy Thai “salad”. A yam is usually based around some sort of protein, such as squid, beef, or the eggs above, a bunch of chilies, and a dressing, typically a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. The yam above has unripe mango, which is somewhat unusual and adds a sour taste. More commonly, yam are made with kheun chai, also known as Chinese parsley, for which celery tops are a good substitute. Many of the recipes for yam I’ve seen in English include garlic, which is not the norm in Thailand. I’ll bring in a more complete yam recipe next time I make it for dinner.
Last month I happened to be in southern Thailand taking photos for a guidebook. I’m also in the early stages of collecting info and photos for a book on southern Thai food, so I made a point of taking lots of food pics. Thought I’d share some of those here as the food in southern Thailand is quite interesting and quite different than that of other parts of the country.
These wacky green pods below are known in Thai as sator. I’ve heard them called “stinky bean” in English. They are an essential element of southern Thai cooking and are probably the most recognizeable ingredient associated with this part of the country. Open them up and you’ll get a bunch of lima bean-like pods. They can be eaten raw with nam phrik (chili paste), or fried, and have a very pungent odor. One fun side affect of eating sator is that the next day your urine will smell very strongly of sator. For more on the captivating but neglected topic of urine and food please visit noodlepie.
Another important ingredient in southern Thai food is khamin, turmeric, seen here below. It is this stuff that makes so many of the curries in southern Thailand yellow and orange. It is also used with seafood dishes to counter the undesireable “fishy” smell they sometimes have. And it’s also used in soaps and lotions and is thought to lighten the skin.
Below is khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles, with naam yaa pak tai, a southern-style coconut curry with pureed fish. Sounds nasty but is excellent, and really freaking spicy. When you order this dish you also get a tray of fresh “cooling” vegetables to counter the spiciness, including cucumber, bai bua bok (pennywort) and young cashew tree leaves.
The pics below are all of raan khaao kaeng, southern-style curry shops. You order a curry or two, served over rice, and are also given a small bowl of a very spicy chili paste called nam phrik and a tray of fresh veggies.
The two curry shops below are in Satun, a province in the deep south of Thailand. The people here are predominately Muslim, and their food is halaal, meaning it follows Muslim dietary rules and doesn’t have pork or alcohol or blood
Fried chicken is also a big deal in the south and is usually made by Muslims as well. The women making this were using their bare hands to dip the chicken into the boiling oil, although I think they were doing it just to show off. Fried chicken vendors can be like that sometimes.
Because of the long coastline, seafood is an important staple of the people of southern Thailand, regardless of religion. The pic directly below was taken at the tiny market in Satun, and the grilled squid pic was taken in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat, a great city for food.
And for dessert, sweet sticky rice with sangkhayaa, a type of egg custard. This stuff is available all over Thailand, but is an essential dish at the numerous Chinese-style raan kopii, or coffee shops in southern Thailand.
The bulk of RealThai will, of course, concern food, but taking advantage of the vague nature of the title of the blog, as well as the fact that I’m a photographer, I’d also like to showcase some of my photographs.
A few months ago I was inspired by the amazing photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson to get off my fat ass and take more photos in my free time. Rather than my usual shooting trips, which involve lugging a large bag and four heavy lenses, I decided to emulate this master of modern photojournalism and use the equivalent of just one 50mm “normal” lens. Monsieur Cartier-Bresson popularized this style of “street photography”, using a normal lens, being “…quick, quick, quick, quick,… Like an animal and a prey…” and choosing not to crop his photographs. And, as many of you might also be aware, he was always on the lookout to capture the “decisive moment”, and I figured all of these factors put together would help me improve my skills as a photographer. As you’ll see below, I’m certainly no Cartier-Bresson, but I hope that in the course of doing this my skills will improve.
For today’s lunch I went to a restaurant near my home in Bangkok that specializes in southern Thai-style khanom jeen. Khanom jeen are fresh noodles made from fermented rice, and are usually served with some sort of a curry/sauce and a fat tray of fresh veggies as illustrated below:
Khanom jeen are available all over the country, but are probably most associated with southern Thai cooking. Today I had khanom jeen with kaeng tai plaa, “fish kidney curry”. It’s a southern dish that is made from highly salted, preserved fish kidneys, an ingredient I’m sure that, after having made its debut here at RealThai, will be very much in demand this coming year. As far as I can tell, the fish kidneys only impart an extremely salty taste; unfortunately there seems to be little of that desireable fish gut flavor that everybody’s been raving about lately. The curry is probably one of the spiciest in Thailand, and is topped up with grilled fish torn into pieces. In southern Thailand the curry usually consists simply of the sauce and fish, while in Bangkok, pickled bamboo, green beans, “wing beans”, Thai eggplants and pumpkin are often added. My favorite variant includes jackfruit seeds or cashews. Here is the artfully garnished dish before I crammed it into my greedy gob:
My second photographic journey into the bowels of Bangkok was again to the vibrant Silom area, about three weeks ago.
In my first post I mentioned yam a kind of spicy/sour Thai salad, so I wanted to follow up and give a recipe and description here. Yam are very common in Thailand, and probably the easiest of all Thai dishes to make. A yam, along with some sort of fried dish, and a soup or curry, is one part of a “complete” Thai meal. Yam are also wonderful on their own as kap klaem, drinking accompaniments. As mentioned before, all you really need to make yam is some sort of protein, this can range from seafood (yam thale is a mix of parboiled shrimp, squid or any other other seafood handy), to grilled meat, or for vegetarians, tofu. You then add some veggies, typically kheun chai, or Chinese parsley, for which celery tops are an excellent substitute, thinly sliced shallots or onions, slices of tomato and smashed up chilies. The final and most important ingredient is the dressing. Yam dressing is a simple yet powerful combination of lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar.
For today’s yam my protein will be tao hoo plaa, “fish tofu”, a disturbing-sounding but tasty mixture of fish and tofu in user-friendly cubes. As you’ll see below, I’m not real specific about the amounts of the ingredients for the dressing because Thais are not specific about them either. It’s all done to taste. You’ll want a favorable mixture of spicy (from the chilies), sour (from the lime), sweet (sugar) and salty (from the fish sauce). When I say favorable that means you make it the way you like it. Personally, I don’t like sweet, so I use very little or no sugar, and tend to boost the sour and spicy. In Thailand, this dish is made using the small, very spicy chilies called phrik khii nuu (“mouse shit chilies). Here’s a photo of all the ingredients in the early stages of the operation:
1 bunch kheun chai (Chinese parsely, or celery tops)
1 or 2 tomatoes
4 shallots (or half a small onion)
chilies to taste
Prepare your protein as necessary. This can mean par-boiling your seafood for about a minute, or grilling a steak and slicing it up. As I’m using tao hoo plaa it’s necessary to fry it and halve it first. Set aside. Roughly chop up your kheun chai. Removing the seeds first, slice your tomatoes. Thinly slice the shallots. Put all of this in a large plastic or glass bowl that you will later use to mix and taste the yam before serving it.
Roughly chop your chilis, and then using the side of a wide knife, smash and grind them, and chop a bit more, or, as seen below, use a mortar and pestle:
Now it’s dressing time. Halve the limes and squeeze the juice of one about one lime into a bowl. Follow this up with a splash of fish sauce, and a pinch of sugar. Mix well, and taste:
Is it not sour enough? Add more lime. Is it too salty? You screwed up and there’s no hope for you now nor never you pathetic loser. Or, you could just add more sugar to cover up the saltiness. And so on. When the taste is right, mix the dressing with the ingredients,
and dump the whole mess onto a serving dish and you’re done.
I’m so proud of you.
Not exactly on the topic of Thai food, but I had a lovely lunch today with Sophie, keeper of this blog, author of many, many cookbooks, and a lady with enough connections to get us a free multi-course meal at D’Sens! (Actually, I’m exaggerating Sophie’s powers here. I had already made an apointment with the hotel’s PR rep. for an article I’m writing. But Sophie does know the chef at D’Sens and at the last minute was able to wrangle herself a free meal as well, which, you have to admit, is pretty cool too.) In addition to all this, Sophie had a camera (I…uh, didn’t…) and took some photos of our lunch including this below, which, if I remember correctly, was something to do with sea urchin:
Sophie was also kind enough to take me to a previously unknown French butcher shop off of Soi Convent, where I bought some extremely tasty pate for tonight’s dinner. Good job Sophie! We like Sophie here at RealThai. Someday we might even consider making her one of Us.
Been busy editing photos for an upcoming revamp of my website and haven’t had too much time to blog… Feel bad about this, so as recompense I’m pulling out an indiscriminate piece of food porn from the vault:
This is my friend, Kaeng Hang Lay. He is a northern Thai style curry that probably came to Thailand via Burma (hin means curry in Burmese). The curry uses a cut of pork that Thais call moo saam chan, “three-level pork”, as it has meat, fat and skin. The pork is fried in really simple Burmese-style curry paste (chilies, ginger, shallots, garlic and thua nao khep, soybeans that have been dried and flattened into disks), which being Burmese, also includes dried spices (a “hang lay” mixture of dried spices is available in northern Thailand). The curry is commonly eaten as a communal dish at festivals in northern Thailand, especially among the Shan ethnic group. The flavour of the curry is savory and sour (from the addition of tamarind), and is actually quite similar to an extremely rich American barbeque sauce. I’ll be eating kaeng hang leh really soon as I’m heading up to Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand on Monday! So I won’t be blogging next week, but I will, of course, come back with lots of pics and info on northern Thai food to share with everybody.