Spent another Saturday morning in the company of Daw Than Than Myint and John Parker eating Burmese food. This time it was mohinga:
a thick, fish-based broth that is often considered the national dish of Myanmar. The noodles used are similar to the fermented rice noodles known in Thailand as khanom jeen, and the broth fortified with ground fish, shallots/onions, and the edible soft pith from the innermost stalks of the banana tree. In Myanmar this is usually accompanied with the fresh veggies seen in the pic, as well as a kyaw, crsipy deep fried vegetables. Daw Than Than Myint claims this is the best mohinga in Bangkok.
Our Mohinga was taken with wetha lon kyaw, literally “fried pork balls”:
ground pork mixed with herbs and spices and deep-fried. They are taken with the spicy/sour dipping sauce seen in the background. Personally, I found this a bit unusual, as the Burmese aren’t real big meat eaters, and I can’t recall having come across any dishes using pork in Myanmar. Perhaps it’s some sort of adaptation made for Thailand?
Was recently fortunate enough to meet Michael Elliot, a Montreal-based food stylist (now there’s an occupation that didn’t exist 30 years ago!), fellow blogger, cool website owner, and fan of Thai food. Michael and friend were passing through Bangkok and we met up for lunch a few days ago. As I’ve done in the past when others have visited, I like taking people to a brilliant Thai Muslim place down near the Oriental Hotel. The restaurant, called (if I remember correctly) Muslim Home Cooking, is relatively new, and specializes in Indian-influenced Thai-Muslim cuisine.
We started with a speciality of Thai Muslim food, fish curry:
This Thai Muslim staple sees hearty “steaks” of fish (usually plaa insee, Spanish mackerel) in a thick, sour curry broth. Usually there a few vegetables thrown in for shits and giggles, in this case okra and tomato (sometimes also eggplant or green bananas).
This we followed with mutton spareribs in curry sauce:
I’ve never come across this dish in Thailand and assume it is Indian-Muslim in origin. It’s a great dish; we finished every drop of the curry sauce, and really enjoyed the garnish of crispy deep-fried shallots.
As one usually does when eating Thai Muslim we skipped the rice altogether and instead took our curries with the cripy pancakes known as roti:
Other highly recommended dishes here include the khao mok (briyani), which is served with a raita (cucumber-yoghurt mixture), a sweet and sour sauce, and a savory eggplant dish. The restaurant is located virtually across the street from the French Embassy in the Haroon Mosque area.
Casual readers of RealThai must get the impression I’m noodle obsessed. In fact, I hadn’t hardly eaten noodles at all the first several years I worked here. I always found Thai noodle dishes too sweet, and the various pork/beef/fish balls that seem to accompany such dishes are, for the most part, shockingly nasty. In recent years I’ve opened up a bit and have found a few noodle dishes I really enjoy, including the topic of this entry, kwaytiao khae. I’ve mentioned this particular dish before here and here, and recently noticed a new shop not far from my house selling the stuff. Well, despite it’s rather attractive appearance:
this was by far the worst bowl I’ve yet to encounter. If kwaytiao khae was served on board airplanes or in hospitals, this is what it would taste like. The broth was institutional and tasteless, and the various ball products tough, chewy and tasteless.
Khuat didn’t have much better to say about her yen ta fo:
When I get a chance, I plan to feature the best kwaytiao khae I’ve had yet, which is sold virtualy on the side of the road in Chinatown. Please be patient.
Raan Rot Det (“bold taste shop”) is the name of a curry stall at Or Tor Kor market that I’ve been eating at for years:
The food isn’t amazing, but it’s consistently good, and there’s an amazing variety of curries, fried dishes and soups:
I tend to order the same things, and here what I had last time I stopped by:
At 12:00 is a stir fry of tofu with ground pork and kheun chai, Chinese celery; at 3:00 is kaeng khii lek, a southern-style coconut curry that combines the bitter leaves of the khii lek tree and grilled fish; and at 6:00 phak khanaa kale/chinese broccoli fried with oyster sauce and barbecued crispy pork belly.
Possibly the most popular restaurant meal among middle-class Thai is suki-yaki, the Japanese hot pot dish that Thai refer to simply as sukii. For those not familiar with the dish, it’s basically a do-it-yourself meal that revolves around a cauldron of boiling broth. You order raw ingredients and cook them in the broth.
Like noodles, this is another one of those dishes that Thai people love that I never really cared for until somewhat recently. I really enjoy it now, as it revolves around my two faves: seafood and veggies, and is about as healthy as it gets.
There are several franchises serving suki in Thailand including MK, Coca and See Fah, but today we tried a new one, called simply, Hot Pot.
We like veggies so we ordered the veggie set:
We’ve got phak bung (the long green veggie), green onions, kheun chai (Chinese parsley), carrot slices, daikon slices, a few types of mushrooms, tofu, and in the back, glass noodles. We also ordered a few other, mostly fish-related, side dishes such as squid, fish, fish balls, and fish “noodles”.
This is Khuat taking the first step: pouring the beaten eggs into the broth:
When the broth boils again, then we start piling the rest of our ingredients in:
Wait a few minutes until they’re cooked, and dig in!
The Thai way to eat this is to take an ingredient out, and dip it in the sauce below before shoving it into the gob:
It’s a largely sweetish/sourish sauce with sesame seeds and cilantro, and which is usually accompanied by a separate dish of optional minced garlic, minced chilies and limes to make it really Thai. I think the sauce is just OK, but Thai people really seem to love it. Personally I like to sip the broth, which I imagine is the Japanese way of eating sukii, but which nobody here seems to do.
In general, I felt that Hot Pot’s take on the whole thing was very mediocre. It’s really hard to do a bad job of suki–it really just depends on the quality of the ingredients–and in this case the seafood we ordered was obviously past its prime, and the veggies neither attractive nor fresh. Much better in my opinion is Coca, especially considering that they have a half-broth/half-tom yam cauldron, and lotsa fresh veggies and seafood.
Khok thong (“Golden Mortar”) is the name of a popular isaan (North-Eastern Thai) restaurant near my house. For those of you not familar with ahaan isaan, this cuisine has a lot in common with the food of Laos, just over the Mekong River. This means a lot of grilled dishes, salads and soups, with very little of the Chinese-style fried stuff seen in Bangkok and southern Thailand. Additionally, people in isaan tend to eat glutinous or “sticky” rice with all their meals.
A staple of ahaan isaan is som tam, a type of “salad” made of unripe papaya pounded up in a mortar and pestle usually with green beans, tomatoes, chilies, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and sugar. Today we ordered tam sua:
This is a particular kind of som tam that includes khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles. This may seem an odd combination, but the noodles do a great job of mellowing out the dish, which is typically very spicy. The yellow bits are the peel of ma kok, a kind of sour fruit (I think it’s called Chinese olive, or something similar to that) that adds a tart flavor to the dish. (Ma kok, incidentally, is the origin of the name Bangkok, meaning a plain where lots of ma kok trees are found.) I’d venture to say that right now som tam is probably the most popular food in the country; EVERYBODY loves the stuff, and it can be found on virtually every street corner.
Another isaan favorite is khor moo yaang, “grilled pork neck”:
This dish takes the fatty fatty meat (sometimes also known as the “collar”) grilled and typically served with a spicy/sour/salty dip.
Isaan food is always taken with khaao niaow, “sticky rice”:
which is eaten with the hands and rolled in a small ball before being dipped in any of the dishes present. The container its served in is known as a katip and is meant to hold the rice while at the same time allowing heat and moisture to escape. Unfortunately most restaurants put the rice in a plastic bag, which really defeats the purpose and often results in a mushy, sticky mess. Fortunately that wasn’t the case today.
And finally we had kaeng om plaa duk:
Kaeng om is a type of soup typically revolving around lots of veggies and fresh herbs. This one was loaded with cabbage, lemongrass, basil, and most prominently, dill (known in Thailand as phak chii lao, “Lao cilantro/coriander”). This kaeng om was of the plaa duk, catfish variety.
This pic was taken last night from D’Sens, the French restaurant located at the top of the Dusit Thani Hotel:
For the most part, Bangkok is a big ugly intimidating city, but there are some nice corners, views and neighborhoods here and there. This shot is over looking the BTS line, with Lumphini Park on the right, and Bai Yok, Thailand’s tallest building, in the upper left hand corner.
I’m currently doing a piece on restaurants with nice views, so I’ll try to include more pics like this. In terms of views, I would really recommend D’Sens, having nearly 360-degree views over the city from its 23rd-floor cockpit-like dining room. (The restaurant also has the most amazing bathrooms in the city, the men’s urinal being a floor-to-ceiling window that gives one the sensation of literally pissing on the city! Great therapy for those fed up with urban life.)
Was in the Tha Phra Chan area today, an old Bangkok neighborhood along the Chao Phraya with lotsa cool stuff to see and eat.
This woman is making mataba, savory filled “pancakes”:
Maharat Road, running paralell to the river, is a virtual open air market, and this guy is selling the most common item, Buddha amulets:
A line of tuk-tuks along the same street:
This was taken on a ferry boat crossing the river a bit downstream at Rajanee Pier:
Was fortunate enough to have lunch with David Thompson, Head Chef of London’s Nahm, and author of a big fat book on Thai cooking, and his partner, Thanongsak. I first met David when I interviewed him for an article on Michelin-starred chefs visiting Bangkok. We got to talking about Thai food and mentioned that there was a place near my house that makes an excellent khao mok plaa, fish biryani. He was intrigued, and yesterday we finally met up again, this time at the aforementioned restaurant.
The place in question is Yusup (probably a Thai corruption of the Arabic name Yusuf), a Thai-Muslim restaurant located along the Kaset-Nawamin highway in northern Bangkok. I had unknowingly driven past this place literally thousands of times before a friend recommended it to me. After my first visit I soon became a regular customer, and have been wanting to take people there for ages.
David and I started with the requisite khao mok plaa:
Not a particularly evocative pic–was focusing more on eating and chatting about Thai food, but you get the idea. For those of you not familar with this dish, biryani, called khao mok in Thai, is rice cooked with spices and meat, which in Thailand is almost always chicken. It’s an amazing concept, but, as David mentioned, never seems to fulfill its potential. Most of the time it’s just rice colored yellow with turmeric (or food coloring) with some crap chicken thrown on it. The good men and women at Yusup however, know what’s going on and load their version with spices, peas, minced carrots and fresh herbs. Other than fish they also have beef, goat, and the ubiquitous chicken versions.
This was accompanied by sup haang wua, oxtail soup:
A Thai-Muslim speciality, this soup is both mouth-puckeringly sour (from lime juice and tamarind) and rich (undoubtedly the result of all that marrow and bones), and the oxtail has been slow-stewed until fall-apart tender. Amazing stuff.
Thanongsak wisely ordered something outside of the two dish repertoire that I tend to stick to and chose matsaman nuea, “Muslim” curry with beef with roti, fried dough:
I found the matsaman to be one of the best coconut milk-based curries I’ve had in a long time; smooth, not too sweet, savory, and with a pleasant taste of coconut that, oddly enough, isn’t usually found in these curries. The roti, on the other hand, were mediocre–not nearly as crispy and fresh as they should be.
And finally, after all this nosh, David shocked us all by ordering a bowl of kwatiao kaeng, “curry noodles:
This is a dish that one rarely sees around, and is more similar to the Malaysian laksa than anything Thai. David mentioned that he liked it the more he ate it:
but in the end commented that it could have used a final swirl of coconut cream to smooth it out.
Found myself in the right part of town at the right time and got my mits on some nice northern-style Thai food today. The right part of town is Viphavadee, the right time lunch, and the right restaurant, Khao Soi Faa Haam. This is actually the name of the most famous khao soi–a northern-style curry noodle dish–restaurant up in Chiang Mai. I was up there about a year ago interviewing the owner for an article on khao soi, when I learned that they also have a branch here in Bangkok, and have been enjoying it on a regular basis. Khao soi is getting a lot of attention recently, with a fun thread at eGullet, and Chubby Hubby also featuring some pics in a recent post.
I went to the restaurant with the obvious desire to have a bowl (or two) of khao soi, but in the time-honored tradition of Thai ill-preparedness, they were temporarily out (it was, after all, 12:30!), and would I mind waiting? This was actually a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to stray from the well-eaten path and order something different for once. This Something Different was khanom jeen naam ngiaow:
The dish is of Shan/Thai Yai origin, and is actually quite similar to a spicy, sour spaghetti. It is made by frying ground pork in curry paste with small, sour tomotoes. Water and pork spareribs are added, and topped with everybody’s favorite, cubes of coagulated chicken blood. This is then served over fermented rice noodles. Possibly the best part of the dish is the deep-fried crispy garlic.I’ve eaten this dish heaps of times–and even make a mean version myself–but this was the first time I’d eaten it here, and I’ll certainly have it again.
By the time I finished my nam ngiaow they were finally done making the khao soi:
I usually order beef khao soi, but they were out (!) today, so I had to settle for the chicken. Still very good, but this was probably the richest bowl I’ve ever consumed–I couldn’t even finish all of it!