A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: November 2006



Jay

Posted at 3am on 11/1/06 | read on
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Every year at October, many Thais of Chinese origin choose to wear white, abstain from eating meat (and garlic and alcohol), and spend lots of time at the temple. Apparently there are significant historical and religious reasons behind all this, but we’re really only interested in the food, aren’t we?

And there’s much to be had at this week-long festival. Many restaurants choose to serve only vegetarian food (known in Thai as ahaan jay), advertising their choice by flying the yellow flag seen above. Not all of the food is very good, but it’s a fun time to try new things that aren’t normally available. I happened to be in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, the center of much of this meat-free madness, and did some exploring. I started the day with a tasty dish of kwaytiaow lord:

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hearty rice noodles topped with a few different kinds of tofu and bean sprouts. This was accompanied by a to-go bag of delicious deep-fried spring rolls:

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These two dishes more or less set the tone of the day, as despite this being a vegetarian festival, there are surprisingly few vegetables to be seen. Starchy stuff such as noodles:

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and steamed buns:

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make up the bulk of this “vegetarian” cuisine. Apparently the Chinese have a difficult time parting with their beloved flesh, making their vegetarian food as similar to meat possible, as illustrated in the astonishingly lifelike “duck” meat below:

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as well as the wide variety of amazingly realistic vegetarian “meats” for sale at talaat mai, Chinatown’s main market:

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It’s hard to see, but above are veggie “shrimp”, veggie “salted fish”, and believe it or not, vegetarian pork intestines!

Continuing along Thanon Yaowarat, Chinatown’s main street, there was lots to see, including people making deliciously crispy peanut snacks:

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crepe-like snacks made from a light batter poured through a seive:

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and a huge pot of sangkhayaa, egg and coconut milk dipping sauce for paa thong ko, Chinese-style deep-fried dough:

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I even came across an entire stall selling an array of northern Thai dishes, all made without meat:

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including the famous northern curry kaeng hang lay, which was made with vegetarian pork belly!

I headed over to Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, Chinatown’s most sacred temple, and a centre of activity for this festival. There were lots of people in white praying:

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and lighting incense:

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And there was even food available right at the temple. I ordered my favourite jay dish, yellow noodles fried with veggies:

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Which, if you’ll look closely, even included some fresh greens! It was, I felt, an appropriate end to a day spent going veggie.

A few bonus pics can be seen here.

Ram-Saep

Posted at 10pm on 11/4/06 | read on
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I had been entertaining big plans to go back to Baan Chan, a promising restaurant serving the food of Chanthaburi province that I have previously mentioned in this very forum. Well, this morning I finally found the time to go there, only to arrive and find that they’re closed on Sundays… In a fit of desparate hunger, we scrambled to what was virtually the nearest restaurant, an outdoor joint called Ram-Saep. Ram is the northern Thai dialect word for delicious, and saep the isaan or northeastern equivalent (central Thais say aroy), so called because this restaurant serves both northern and northeastern Thai food.

This being northern Thai, I couldn’t resist ordering laap khua:

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Regular readers might have noticed that I’m pretty obsessive about my laap khua. Ram-Saep’s was good effort, with more or less the requisite flavours and textures, but nothing compared to the work of a laap khua master like the good people at Laap Khom Huay Puu (scroll down a bit).

Next was nam phrik nam puu:

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This is a ‘dip’ made from the small black crabs that are found in the rice fields of SE Asia. The crabs are crushed and boiled down into a thick black sludge that more or less tastes like you imagine boiled crab sludge would. Bitter is the main flavour here, and if you’re not a fan of this taste you probably won’t be writing the people at home abou the nam phrik naam puu. The dip was served with sides of cripy veggies and deep-fried pork for dipping.

There was jor phak kaat, a soup of a leafy green veggie popular in northern Thailand:

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This was my personal favorite dish of the day. The broth was sour with healthy chunks of garlic and the vegetable was just undercooked and pleasantly crunchy.

Moving to issan food, we ordered kai yaang, grilled chicken:

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and a mighty good one at that. The dish featured a reasonably scrawny chicken (this is a good thing) with fatty skin that was rubbed with crushed garlic, coriander roots and black pepper, rendering the dipping sauce unecessary. Delish.

And finally, a som tam, green papaya salad:

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which was served in a cute mini mortar. This dish was mediocre, being a bit too sweet for my taste, and bordering on the souplike.

Ram-Saep is of the outdoor ‘garden’ restaurant variety, which means rustic bamboo furniture, loud live music and stray dogs begging for your scraps. This sort of atmosphere is best appreciated at night, when it’s cooler and you have some time to throw down a few cold beers with your meal.

Ram-Saep
02 909 2850

A bit of Portugal in Thailand

Posted at 3am on 11/8/06 | read on
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Before you think I’m going out on a limb here, take a look at the above and tell me it doesn’t look like a perfectly ordinary Thai meal!

There’s actually quite a bit in common between Portuguese and Thai cooking. It was actually the Portuguese who introduced chilies (and many other ingredients) to Thailand in the 16th century. And although they didn’t take to searingly hot food as much as the Thais did, both countries share a deep love for seafood, chicken, grilled foods and sweets, as you’ll see below. Now if only they’d introduced vinho verde, good cheese and olive oil…

Regardless, I’ve been thinking a lot about Portuguese food lately. I like the emphasis on seafood and bread, and had recently gotten hold of a nice bottle of Portuguese olive oil that I wanted to put to good use. I had also come across several interesting-looking Portuguese recipes as of late, so I decided to put together a Portuguese meal using ingredients I could easily get here in Bangkok. Two dishes that immediately came to mind were frango no churrasco, Portuguese-style grilled chicken, and piri piri, the ubiquitous chili-based dipping sauce.

The two recipes below were taken and adapted from the Portugal volume of Lonely Planet’s excellent World Food series. I have several of their World Food books, and find them an excellent introduction to the food of several different countries.

Frango no Churrasco (Char-grilled Chicken)

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2 large cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried hot chili flakes
1/2 salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium free range chicken

1. Crush the garlic and mix with the chili, salt and oil. Set aside.

2. Remove and discard the chicken’s neck and giblets. Wash the chicken in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the chicken breast-side-up on a chopping board and, using a large sharp knife, cut down the middle riht through to the board and all the way up to the neck. Open the chicken out and press it flat. Rub the flavoured oil all over both sides of the chicken. Cover and refrigerate to marinate overnight (or at least for a few hours) to allow the flavours the develop.

3. Prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire with a grill rack about 15cm above the coals. When the coals are white, lay the chicken on the grill with the skin side up and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, then turn the chicken over and grill the other side for a further 12 minutes or so, or until the chicken is browned. Remove and ‘rest’ the chicken in a warm spot, uncovered, for 10 minutes — resting ensures the juices stay in the mean when it is cut.

Piri Piri (Red Hot Chili Pepper Sauce)

1/2 cup small dried chilies
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until combined. Put in a jar with a tight lid and leave in the fridge for a week.

The natural accompaniment to frango no churrasco and piri piri is batatas fritas, deep-fried potatoes. Despite this, I’ve always been intimidated by boiling oil, and my previous attempts at deep-frying were pretty abysmal. However I recently became interested in giving this style of cooking a second chance after reading the chapter called “Fries” in Jeffrey Steingarten’s excellent book, The Man Who Ate Everything. In this book he gives a recipe (attributed to French master chef, Joel Robuchon) for frites that is so simple, it almost seems like he’s playing a joke on us. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly, as I use a cold-pressed sunflower oil that’s excellent for deep-frying (Steingarten suggests peanut oil–something unavailable in Thailand), and unless you’re cooking for many people, I feel that measurements are superfluous.

Easy Frites

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potatoes
sunflower oil, at room temperature
salt

1. Wash and peel the potatoes (if desired), and cut them into the shape of your choice, keeping in mind that they will shrink when fried. Wash them briefly under cold water and dry with a cloth. Put them into a pan about 10 inches in diameter with sides at least 4 inches high. Just cover the potatoes with the oil.

2. Place the pan over the highest heat. The oil will begin to bubble, first softly and then furiously. Using long tongs, stir the potatoes to ensure that they cook evenly and that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. By the time the oil reaches 350 degrees F., about 15 minutes, the potatoes will be a deep golden brown and should be ready to eat (Make sure that the oil temperature never exceeds 370 degrees F.).

3. Taste one or two. Drain and blot with paper towels. Salt the frites just before serving.

At this point, I already had some bubbling oil, and also happened to have a small bag of green beans, so I decided to try a recipe I’d come across in the fun section of Portuguese recipes at the excellent Leite’s Culinaria. The dish below is called peixinhos da horta, which according to Leite’s, is Portuguese for “little fish from the garden”, as the dish resembles deep-fried fish that are popular in Portugal.

Peixinhos da Horta (Deep-Fried Green Beans)

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1/2 pound green beans
oil for frying
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, cool in a bowl of ice water, and drain again.

2. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a large saucepan over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Combine the flour, water, eggs, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl; whisk until a smooth batter forms.

3. Dip six beans at a time into the batter, shaking off any excess. Add the beans to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes per batch. Using tongs, transfer the beans to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with more salt and serve hot.

Although I’ve heard that the Portuguese aren’t too big on fresh greens, I also included a salad:

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The dressing for this (as well as the marinade for the chicken) was made with an excellent Portuguese olive oil I was able to find here in Bangkok, Herdade do Esporão Virgem Extra D.O.P. This is significantly cheaper than the high-end Italian oils available here in Bangkok, but was still very nice, with a slightly spicy flavour, perfect for my:

Portuguese-Style Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 pinches salt
good quality Portuguese extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic

Put the apple cider vinegar in a deep heavy plastic or ceramic bowl. Add salt and using a whisk, mix until salt is dissolved. Add olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. After having added about 3 Tbsps of olive oil, taste the dressing. Stop here if it tastes good to you, or continue adding more olive oil until you reach a taste that you like. Split the garlic clove and add to the dressing. Let the vinaigrette “season” at room temperature for at least an hour.

And finally, there was dessert:

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The treats above were brought at Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok, and are the kind of traditional Thai desserts that one could find almost anywhere in the country–a seemingly un-Portuguese end to our meal. Actually though, the practice of making desserts out of egg yolks and sugar was originally introduced to the Thais by–you guessed it–the Portuguese. In the foreground are foy thong, “golden threads” (fios de ovos in Portuguese) and behind these, thong yip, “pinched gold”, named for their colour and the way they’re formed. For more on the Portuguese influence on Thai food, check out this piece I wrote for ThaiDay several months ago.

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Pot Thai

Posted at 6pm on 11/8/06 | read on
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Several months ago I received an email from a writer who was working on a piece about Thai kitchen gadgets for the New York Times Style Magazine. To help her out, I did a blog entry describing some of the most emblematic tools in the Thai kitchen. Her article has just come out, take a look. (Incidentally, in the same issue there’s also a cool “Style Map” of Hanoi (scroll to bottom of the page) courtesy of the Monsieur noodlepie himself, Graham Holliday, as well as an article about fancy French potatoes by Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. Kinda makes you wonder what happened to all the real journalists, doesn’t it?)

Sukhothai Mor Din

Posted at 8pm on 11/9/06 | read on
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Although many visitors to Thailand rave about the street food, frankly, much of it is pretty mediocre. Much better, in my opinion, are the small mom and pop restaurants that specialize in one kind of dish, or perhaps a style of regional Thai cooking. They tend to be dark, difficult to find, and the owners can often be surly, but the food, man, the food… The above restaurant is a perfect example of this genre of restaurant. It’s called Sukhothai Mor Din, literally “Sukhothai Clay Pots”, so-called because their curries are served in the red pottery made just outside this northern city:

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These aren’t just run-of-the-mill curries either. These curries are meant to be ladled over khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles. They had about eight different curries to choose from, and we ordered naam yaa paa, a watery fish-based curry, and naam ngiaow, a thicker northern-style curry made from pork ribs, tomatoes and chunks of blood:

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An order of any type of curry and khanom jeen is always accompanied by lots of fresh and par-boiled veggies and herbs:

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The green leaves in the foreground are called bai menglak (hairy basil?) and along with par-boiled morning glory, thinly sliced green beans and bean sprouts, are taken with the naam yaa paa. The naam ngiaow is normally eaten with pickled mustard cabbage, crispy fried garlic, shredded cabbage and squeeze of lime.

Other than curries, the clay pots also hold sweets:

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I believe the above is sago with corn. I ordered sweetened sticky rice with lamyai, an indigenous fruit. Khuat ordered bua loy maphrao on, small, sweet balls with young coconut:

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Those not familiar with Thai sweets will be surprised to learn that the Thais actually prefer these kind of coconut milk-based sweets to also taste salty. I was aware of this, but was surprised at just how salty this shop’s sweets were.

On my next visit I’m going to try the delicious-looking green curry with fish balls. Stay tuned…

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Where to eat in BKK

Posted at 2am on 11/10/06 | read on
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I get quite a few emails from people planning to visit Bangkok asking me to recommend “the best places to eat” or where “the best Thai food” is. I’m honored that people would trust my opinion regarding an issue so profound, and thought the best way to approach this would be in a blog entry.

First of all, it’s important to understand that with Thai food it’s generally pretty hard to find a great all-around restaurant (although certainly some do exist); you’re much more likely to find a place serving a few great dishes. As I’ve mentioned previously, the most rewarding Thai restaurants specialize in one style of cooking, or perhaps food from one particular region of Thailand. Keeping this in mind, it would be an immense undertaking to recommend individual restaurants. Instead, I’m going to mention the types of dining I think one should take part in when in Bangkok, and a few areas where small restaurants, street stalls and/or vendors are of a higher caliber than elsewhere.

For Thai newbies, I would strongly recommend beginning with a visit to a mall food court. They are clean and cheap, the menus are written in English, you have a wide range of choices, and actually, the food can be pretty good. My favorite food court is probably the one on the sixth floor of Mah Boon Khrong (also known as MBK). You’ll find a huge variety of Thai food, everything from noodles to isaan–they even have a stall selling Thai-Muslim food such as khao mok kai. One of my favourite stalls is the one selling vegetarian food. There’s generally a foodcourt at every mall, and in particular, upscale foodcourts seem to be springing up everywhere these days (such as the food court at Siam Paragon) but they’re generally quite overpriced (by Thai standards) and mostly Chinese (I’m assuming you’re looking for Thai food here). One peculiarity about Thai food courts: they don’t accept cash. You’ll need to find the cleverly hidden counter, where you’ll have to stand in line to exchange your cash for coupons, or more recently, a swipe card. Then after you’re done eating, you’ll forget the coupons or swipe card with the remaining money in your pocket, and won’t realize this until you get home. It’s all part of the Thai food court experience.

At this point maybe you’ve found a dish or two that you like, and are somewhat more familiar with the flavours of Thai food. Now you are ready to eat somewhere “nice”. Thus, I feel the natural next step is to eat at an upscale Thai restaurant. Be forewarned: upscale Thai restaurants are mostly mediocre, almost exclusively patronized by foreigners, and are going to be much more expensive than all other forms of Thai food put together. But they can also be very atmospheric and fun, and as most people try to include at least one on their trip anyway, I thought I would recommend the few I’m familiar with. My favourite upscale Thai place is probably La Na Thai, one of the restaurants in the lovely Face complex. I’ve eaten here twice, and both my Thai companions and I have enjoyed excellent Thai food each time. Other good upscale Thai include the tourist-ridden but good (as long as you avoid the buffet) Bussaracum and Flava. Lastly, if $ is not an issue, and you’d also like a view with your tom yam then I’d recommend the atmospheric riverside restaurants at the Oriental or the Peninsula.

Once you’ve downed a few plates of food court nosh and have consumed the requisite nice Thai meal, I reckon you’re ready for the next step in Thai dining: a good food neighborhood. In my opinion, this is the highest level of Thai dining (you’ll instantly realize just how average upscale Thai tends to be!). In good food neighborhoods there might be a few standout restaurants, but generally it’s possible just to pick and choose. The restaurants are going to be simple, but the flavours strong. In this regard, I would recommend the area on and around Thanon Tanao in Ko Rattanakosin, one of Bangkok’s oldest districts, and a place teeming with legendary Thai eats. Other good food neighborhoods include Tha Phra Chan (in particular the area around Tha Chaang in the evenings) and Thanon Phra Athit, both more or less located in the same area of Bangkok. I’ve also got a feeling that the Siam Square area might have some good eats, although on the surface it appears to be dominated by KFC and other chains. Investigation will ensue…

At this point, if you have followed my directions, you will have sampled a true cross section of Thai cuisine. It is only now that you are ready for the final step: Thai night market/street food. These affairs are only open at night, are not the cleanest restaurants you’ll ever see, and they’re in weird parts of town. But the food is often pretty good–almost equal to the experience. In this regard, I wholeheartedly endorse Chinatown at night. Simply walk down Thanon Yaowarat, try to avoid the annoying touts at touristy seafood restaurants, and pay attention as you reach the intersection Charoen Krung Soi 16. There you will find virtually every form of Chinese-influenced Thai street food. Another strong option is Sukhumvit Soi 38, where Chinese-ish food again dominates, but is a bit wider in scope, despite being a much smaller market.

There. That’s my 2 bits. Anybody got anything else to add?

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Baan Chan

Posted at 5am on 11/12/06 | read on
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I finally made it back. Baan Chan, the subject of today’s post, is a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Chanthaburi, a province in eastern Thailand. I had been to Chanthaburi several years ago, but other than some nice seafood, didn’t really notice anything in particular about the food there. Since then I’ve learned that Chanthaburi is famous for its fruits, is home to Thailand’s most famous rice noodles (‘sen chan‘), and is also known for the famous black pepper that grows in the area as well as over the border in Cambodia. The border area is quite undeveloped, and the province is also known for dishes that include various types of game, such as wild deer, boar and birds. I like Thai boar (which is usually raised), but don’t really want to consume wild animals, so on my visit to Baan Chan I stuck with duck. This included kaeng paa pet, ‘jungle’ curry with duck:

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If you order kaeng paa elsewhere in Thailand, you’ll get a soup. But apparently in Chanthaburi the dish takes the form of something like a thick stir-fry, with crunchy bamboo, heaps of herbs (lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, basil, chili, peppercorn and a hint of nutmeg), bizarre bits of duck, and unusually, chunks of unripe banana (the unattractive grayish bits you see there). This is the restaurant’s signature dish, and a good example of really freaking spicy Thai food done well, meaning that there was actually a variety of spicy flavours present (black pepper, ginger), rather than just the burn of chilies.

I also had khua kling pet:

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Until this meal, the only khua kling I was familiar with was a southern Thai dish that is typically pork or beef braised in a a curry paste until ‘dry’. This dish was actually more or less a lot like a drier, spicers kaeng paa without the veggies. Excellent.

After these two, the green curry with homemade fish balls:

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seemed like a mild palate cleanser! I thought this was a perfect example of ‘real’ Thai green curry, which unlike the stuff you’ll get in touristy restaurants, tends to be slightly yellow in color, has a hefty layer of oil floating on top, mushy eggplants, and is more watery than most people think a ‘curry’ should be. I do remember seeing this curry in quite often in Chanthaburi, and recall that is often contained fish, which is somewhat unusual elsewhere in Thailand.

Although I don’t think it’s particularly associated with Chanthaburi, we can never say no to a good naam phrik kapi:

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i.e. shrimp paste dip, served with fresh and battered-and-deep-fried veggies.

The last dish was kao lao:

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It’s basically a bowl of noodles–without the noodles. Kind of a pointless dish, if you ask me. The broth was sweet, as is usually the case, and was heavy with ground peanuts. Yuck.

I’ll definitely be coming back, as I still haven’t tried the sen chan phat puu, rice noodles fried with crab, or the kaeng nuea sai krawaan, beef curry with nutmeg.

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Tam Som Thai Fire Power

Posted at 3am on 11/13/06 | read on
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This is the English name of a restaurant chain we ate lunch at recently. The name is a reference to the spiciness of Thai papaya salad (called tam som in some dialects). Obviously you can’t go to a place like this and not order som tam (as it’s called in the central dialect):

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They do a decent one here, although I reckon those with a low tolerance for obscenely spicy food might have a tough time. The som tam was served with the traditional accompaniments of crispy cucumber, lettuce and long beans, but here they put them in on the the containers normally used for noodle condiments:

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Cute.

We ordered laap wun sen:

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which was basically pork laap with the addition of wun sen, glass noodles.

There was tom saep het faang:

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Tom saep is an isaan version of tom yam, and is usually made with pork ribs. This version probably used the same broth, but had no meat, and instead included het faang, straw mushrooms. Het faang go from good to slimy in a matter of hours, and unfortunately they decided to use the squishy old ones in this soup. Yuck. But that sure is a cute little stove.

My favourite dish was their kai yaang khamin, grilled chicken with turmeric:

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This tasted excellent, but the texture was a bit unusual. I have a feeling they deep-fried it, then grilled it, or vice-versa. Oddly enough, “grilled chicken” is sometimes deep-fried in Thailand.

And there was, of course, sticky rice:

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Cute container, no?

Tam Som Thai Fire Power
Kaset-Navamin Highway (very close to the Ram Inthra Expressway)

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Nang Loeng Market

Posted at 6am on 11/14/06 | read on
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Nang Loeng Market is located just off of Thanon Nakhorn Sawan in Rattanakosin, old Bangkok. It first opened in 1899, and was in use until several years ago when it was destroyed by a fire. After a few years of construction, the market was recently rebuilt, and probably looks better than ever, but doesn’t really seem to have recovered. On the day I visited only about a quarter of the stalls were in use and I wouldn’t describe the atmosphere as particularly vibrant. Maybe I came on a bad day? Despite this, there’s still some interesting stuff to see (and eat), in particular the old-school snacks and treats that this market is known for.

My day began with Thai-style coffee and paa thong ko, Chinese-style doughnuts:

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Like other areas in Old Bangkok, Nang Loeng is where you’ll find lots of old dudes drinking coffee and chilling:

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I wandered around the market, passing by grilled sticky rice:

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a lady making rice porridge:

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rose apples:

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a kind of freshly-steamed rice noodle called khanom paak mor:

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and sugarcane:

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before happening upon a small alley:

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This whole alley is part of a famous noodle shop called Rung Reuang. I ordered a bowl of kiaow naam, wonton soup:

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My noodles were made by a shirtless guy of Chinese origin who, according to the literature on the walls, still makes his own noodles. The kiaow were pretty good, mostly because they contained an astonishing amount of crab meat, an ingredient lesser noodle stalls skimp on.

Nang Loeng Market is particularly known for its sweets, such as these sticky rice snacks:

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a bunch of khanom:

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and my new favourite, khanom bueang:

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While I ate my khanom beuang, I sat down to talk to the maker-man:

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He told me how he is one of the few people making these snacks the old way,

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employing a batter that comes from thua thong (‘golden beans’, not sure what they’re called in English) and rice, which he makes himself from scratch. The sweet ones (above) are filled with foy thong, sweetened egg yolk, and shredded coconut meat, while the savoury ones (shown in the first pic) are filled with a combination of shrimp, coconut meat, coriander roots and black pepper, all mashed up with a mortar and pestle.

This guy was born and raised in the Nang Loeng area, and told me stories about what it was like growing up there. He also told me where to find a movie theatre that was built in 1918! The theatre, called Chalerm Thani, was among Bangkok’s first, and was used up until the 1990′s, but today is used as a warehouse.

I thought this was a cool little corner of Bangkok with lots of potential. If more was done to revitalize the area, including perhaps inviting more vendors and touching up the 150 year-old row houses that surround the market, I think this could be a busy, vibrant market.

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Baan Chok Man

Posted at 3am on 11/20/06 | read on
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Been meaning to do this one for ages. Baan Chok Man is just about the closest restaurant to my house here in northern Bangkok. Coincidentally enough, it also happens to be one of my favourite restaurants in Bangkok. Before you get too excited, let me make it clear that the food at Baan Chok Man is not particularly exciting. Nor is it innovative or clever. It’s simply good, solid, consistent Thai grub. Very consistent in fact. I’ve been eating here for more than five years, and throughout that time the dishes are churned out exactly the same each time. I’m starting to think they might have robot in the kitchen or something. This is the first place I take my friends and relatives when they visit Thailand, and they invariably love it.

Baan Chok Man is a garden restaurant:

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and part of the pleasure here lies in sitting under the trees on a cool evening. Unfortunately we arrived a bit early and to avoid the laser-like rays of sun, were forced to sit indoors. Our first dish was tom khrong plaa krob (pictured above). This is more or less a thicker, spicier tom yam. Plaa krob means crispy fish, and refers to the crunchy dried fish that serves as the protein in this dish.

This was followed by sator phat kung, “stinkbeans” fried with shrimp:

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Somewhat unusually here they mince the shrimp, which actually makes it easier to eat, although slightly less impressive looking.

This was followed by yam kaan kaew, a “salad” of crispy kai lan stalks:

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The kai lan is mixed with minced shrimp, pork and squid that have been carefully blended with sliced shallots, chilies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar–a combination that finds its way into many of the restaurant’s dishes.

However my favourite dish, and something we have to order every freaking time we eat here, is plaa samlee op samunphrai, “black banded trevally (a kind of fish–trust me here; I saw the English name at Tesco’s) baked with herbs”:

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Contrary to the name, there’s not a lot of baking (at least in the Western sense) going on here. Honestly, I always wondered how this dish was made, and I think I finally figured it out tonight. First, they take a medium-sized black banded trevally and deep-fry it. While this is bubbling away, they do a quick stir fry that includes minced pork, thinly sliced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, green peppercorns and chilies (the “herbs” in the name of the dish). The fish and stir fry ingredients are combined on a sheet of foil, topped with crispy fried shallots and fresh kraphrao (a kind of Thai basil), wrapped up and “baked” (most probably grilled) until steaming inside. Pure genius.

If you’re ever in the Kaset area of northern Bangkok, do stop by.

Baan Chok Man
74/29 Soi Sena 1
02 578 0033

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