What a great find. This month-old restaurant, located just a few kilos from my house, specializes in fish from the Mekong River and other specialties of Nong Khai province in northeast Thailand. There are actually a few restaurants around here that do this sort of food, but I was really blown away by Paa Uap. For starters, the proprietors are natives of Nong Khai, and import their fish directly from the province, packed in ice and on the overnight bus:
The big yellow fish on the top is plaa khae, so called, I was told, because it resembles a crocodile (khae is apparently the Nong Khai dialect word for charakhe, crocodile). The ones below are called plaa phoh, and are apparently quite hard to catch and are thus quite expensive. These, and any other fish they might have, can be grilled, made into tom yam, deep-fried, or just about anything you’d like. If you’re not sure what to order, and can read Thai, the restaurant’s menu even contains detailed information about the various fish they have:
including when they’re available, how they taste and where they’re found. Other than Mekong River fish they also serve naem nueang, the Vietnamese do-it-yourself dish often associated with Nong Khai, as well as several dishes featuring “jungle” animals such as deer.
However, this being isaan food, we started with the ubiquitous som tam plaa raa, Lao-style papaya salad (pictured at the beginning of this post). I think this has got to be one of the best I’ve had in Bangkok. The dish was exceedingly sour and garlicky, and featured a strong but not overwhelming essence of plaa raa as well as hearty chunks of slightly bruised papaya. In short, very Lao. We ended up eating two dishes.
This was followed by laap plaa jok:
Plaa jok being another kind of Mekong River fish. Unfortunately this laap was so strong on the lime that there was really no chance to see what the fish tasted like. It was still very yummy though.
And finally there was hor mok plaa ling:
In Thai Food David Thompson likens hor mok to a steamed curry, which is accurate when describing Thai food, but northeast Thai/Lao-style hor mok is a bit different. Less (or no) coconut cream is used here, and the flavours here are really subtle, in this case a combination of dill, a tiny bit of chilies, tender greens and bai yaanang, a bitter leaf often used in hor mok. The fish was very fresh, and took the form of meaty strips, as well as part of the head. The taste and smell was so authentic that I nearly had to remind myself that I wasn’t sitting by the side of the Mekong in Nong Khai (or Vientiane, Laos, for that matter!).
All this was taken with freshly steamed sticky rice. Have you ever eaten freshly steamed sticky rice? If you have, then you’ll know why I put it in italics!
If you’re thinking of visiting, I’d recommend coming in the evening, as when we were there for lunch we were the only diners and the staff weren’t quite ready.
02 907 9228
Welcome to southern Thai food heaven. As the image above was meant to suggest, this restaurant in northern Bangkok is serious about southern curries. Walk in any day before lunch and you can choose from at least 30 different curries, fried dishes and soups. And most of them are pretty good. I think it’s a “famous” restaurant, as I’ve seen it mentioned in a magazine. But the most important thing is that it’s close to my house, so I’ve eaten here many, many times. We’ve always got to order kaeng lueang:
This is the southern version of kaeng som, and is bright yellow with turmeric and shockingly spicy. This one was loaded with or, the pithy interior of the taro stalk, as well as huge chunks of fish. I harbour suspicions that they might season this dish to please Bangkok eaters, as it’s usually pretty sweet. Scandalous.
One of my favourite things about this place is that, in true southern style, you get a vast tray of fresh herbs and veggies regardless of what you order:
And there’s also herbs in the curries, such as the kaeng hoy sai bai chaphluu, a coconut milk curry with shellfish and wild tea leaf:
This being southern food the seafood didn’t stop there. There was an excellent plaa thod khamin, fish deep-fried in turmeric:
(a dish for which I have previously described the recipe here), and a yummy hor mok plaa:
This is a lunchtime joint; if you are unfortunate enough to arrive in the evening the selection of curries is none too impressive.
Pak Tai 41
Lad Phrao Soi 41
(near the Wat Lad Phrao intersection)
02 931 7887
It’s been just on a year since I started RealThai. I’m spending more time on it than ever, it finally more or less looks the way I want it to, my photo editing skills are improving (just take a look at some of the early images!), and as a result, more and more people are reading it. Occasionally I’ll even get an email from a reader who happens to be passing through Bangkok, asking to meet up. Such was the case with Maia, a food addict living in Paris. She had asked if I was willing to meet, and deliberately playing on my weaknesses, had promised a grab bag of food-related goodies from Paris. How could I say no?
We at Hua Lamphong and began our day with a bowl of kuaytiaow khae consumed in the medieval-like bowels of Chinatown’s talaat mai:
After a bit more wandering, Maia bought three bags of tofu skin, as one does in Chinatown, and we proceeded to Thanon Tanao. Stopping in at a cafe we met this monk, who wished us lives of 130 years, and who was exceedingly proud of the Japanese clock he purchased for 300 baht:
Maia, a self-confessed “weirdo magnet”, was loving it. The monk, who originally came from Lopburi, had been a monk at nearby Wat Bowonniwet for an astounding 49 years!
At lunchtime I had an appointment with with another fellow blogger and RealThai fan, Göran Lager. Göran, a food historian, is the author of several books in his native Sweden, and also does stories for a food program on Swedish radio called Meny (“Menu”). Upon discovering my blog a few weeks ago he was surprised to find that I used to live in his hometown, Sollentuna, and decided to interview me about Thai food:
In flipping through RealThai, Göran and his wife (who is Thai) noticed my obsession with som tam, and we knocked back a couple while he asked me, in Swedish, about the dish. Now, I’ll admit that I used to speak Swedish somewhat well, but that was back in 1998. In the decade since then I’ve spoken a total of about 14 words of Swedish, and the “interview” that resulted that day was a garbled mash of substandard svenska, equally bizarre English and, oddly enough, somewhat accurate Thai. Thankfully, Göran appears to be a professional and can edit out the bad bits, although I imagine he’s unable to do anything about my American accent. In an effort to capture the entire som tam “experience” he even recorded the sounds of the som tam being made:
My guess is that this sound was somewhat more interesting than my interview.
So, if you’re a fan of RealThai and happen to conduct a food-related program on your country’s national radio, or are willing to bring gifts of exotic treats, by all means, do drop us a line.
This is the creative name of a very longstanding restaurant in the Silom area. Apparently they’ve been making briyani and other Muslim dishes in this same location for 60 or 70 years, and was among the first restaurant of its kind in Bangkok. The thing I like about it (other than the food, which I’ll get to in a moment) is that it appears that very little has changed about the restaurant throughout this time:
In particular, the wooden booths are a feature that one sees only amongst the elite few of Bangkok’s crustiest restaurants. However most people come here to eat, not critique the interior design, and most of them come to eat the khao mok, biryani. They do several kinds here, which is a great chance to avoid the ubiquitous chicken. I choose khao mok phae, goat biryani:
As the orange colour illustrates, it’s really quite unlike any other khao mok you’ll get in Bangkok. I find it similar to biryanis I have eaten in Yangon, Myanmar, and imagine it’s similar to what you would get in India. The goat was in the from of a huge joint that offered little meat, but was tender and tasty. Personally, I could go without the meat and simply eat the delicious rice with the complimentary sides of sour eggplant curry, and ajaat, a sweet/sour cucumber, syrup and chili sauce.
Feeling only 84% full, I ordered two samosas:
Greasy, but tasty, and will leave the taste of cumin in your mouth for a good half hour. The glass case where these came from also holds various curries and Indian-style sweets:
I’ve eaten other dishes here, including the shrimp biryani and the oxtail soup, and can vouch for their goodness. Here’s what the Nation has to say about the restaurant. I say it’s definitely worth a visit, both for the fun old-world atmosphere and the good eats.
1354-56 Charoen Krung
(near corner of Silom Road)
02 234 1876
I’m slightly somewhat late here, but I’d like to help spread the word about Menu for Hope III. This is a program that raises money for the UN World Food Program. Last year’s run was apparently the world’s largest online food auction, and raised just over $17,000!
The idea is simple: we, the foodbloggers, offer cool prizes, and you, the readers bid on them. Hungry people receive the money. My contribution is a six-hour food tour of Bangkok (idea courtesy of Pim). This is a custom tour I’ve developed myself that takes in two of Bangkok’s most vibrant markets, some well-respected restaurants and street stalls, as well as some other interesting, but non food-related sights. I’ll fork out for all the transportation and meals, and provide lively conversation and insightful insight. The code for this prize is AP44.
As tempting as this sounds, there are other prizes as well, and to see a full list of what is being offered by Asia-Pacific bloggers have a look here. For the entire list, visit Pim. Once you’ve decided what you’re interested in, break out the plastic, remember the code of the prize you want and buy as many $10 raffle tickets as you can afford at Firstgiving, the entity handling all the money.
The campaign is scheduled to run from now until Friday 22nd, 6PM PST. So buy your raffle tickets now!
In the course of doing an entry about phat thai for Lonely Planet’s new travel blog, I found myself at Thip Samai, probably the most famous phat thai restaurant in Thailand (as well probably the only phat thai restaurant with a website). As illustrated by the interior:
it’s also among the oldest phat thai shops in Thailand, and they’ve been frying up noodles since 1966.
In keeping with tradition, Thip Samai still makes its phat thai using old-skool charcoal-burning stoves. Controlled by electric fans, the cooks can increase the flames when necessary to provide an element of wok hei, or ‘breath of the wok’, a smoky essence that ideally should be present in all good wok-fried food:
Despite this, I was a bit disappointed to see that they don’t do the phat thai to order here. Rather, they fry up a huge wok of the stuff and divide it among several plates. They only do phat thai here, although they do about five different kinds. I began with phat thai man kung kung sot:
This is phat thai where the noodles have been fried with man kung, shrimp fat, giving them the pinkish-orange hue. The dish had the savoury oiliness of the shrimp fat, but this being true Bangkok food, was slightly somewhat sweet.
I followed this with a dish of phat thai thammadaa, ‘normal’ phat thai employing the famous rice noodles from Chanthaburi:
Again, slightly sweet, with somewhat undercooked noodles.
All phat thai is served with a side dish of banana flower, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, sliced lime, and my favourite, bai bua bok, a green, slightly bitter herb also known as Asian pennywort:
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, in my opinion, the phat thai at Thip Samai is good, but really no better than good phat thai I’ve eaten elsewhere. In my experience, phat thai is a dish that is either good or bad, but never great. On the other hand, I think that if they were to fry the phat thai to order (impossible, given the number of customers), each dish would be better-proportioned and have more of that wonderful wok hei, and could very well be the first great phat thai I’ve had.
Thip Samai is open from 17:30 to 1:30.
313 Mahachai Rd
(just off Ratchadamnoen, near Phu Khao Thong)
02 221 6280
Had lunch at Muslim Restaurant with David Thompson today, the author of the austerely-titled but acclaimed, Thai Food. As I know quite a few readers own and love this book, I thought you might be interested to know that Mr Thompson is currently working hard on its successor, a tome on Thailand’s street food that figures to be every bit as authoriative (and thick) as Thai Food. At this point Thompson has assembled 250 recipes and is “2/3 of the way done”, but reckons the book probably won’t be on the market until Christmas 2007. Right now he’s struggling to finish the chapter on khanom jeen (9 pages, 1o-15 recipes!), and would appreciate help from anybody who can provide authoriative information as to the origin of this semi-fermented rice noodle!
(image courtesy of mihobsen)
I’m able to throw in a meal for two (Sun-Thurs) at the above, one of Bangkok’s hottest tables. And yes, just in case you thought you misheard me, this is being offered along with a six-hour tour of Bangkok’s foodiest sites:
including the above; a route custom-designed by myself. The code for both of these is AP44.
You have until the 22nd. Buy as many of the $10 tickets as you can afford here.
to celebrate one full year of RealThai! It’s hard to believe that something with such humble origins would eventually become the acclaimed yet feared multi million dollar-grossing media empire that it is today. As CEO of RealThai™©® on this special day, I’d just like to say that, despite the lavish lifestyle and cheroot-smoking groupies that often accompany such fame, and regardless of the nasty rumours currently being spread on CNN, RealThai remains absolutely, and unequivocally independent. (To the nice people at Google: my email is email@example.com with an “i”, not an “e”. Still waiting to hear from you!)