Inspired by noodlepie’s mention of a Flickr noodlemap, today I hit the streets in search of a noodlelunch. My search led me to a neighbourhood restaurant selling kwaytiao reua, “boat noodles”, possibly the second most popular form of noodle in Thailand. This is a dish associated with central Thailand, and is so called because it used to be sold from small boats along the canals and rivers. Today all of Bangkok’s canals have been turned into streets, but the boats still survive:
That these noodles are normally served from a landlocked boat is not their only interesting attribute. Boat noodles are among the most intensely flavoured noodle dishes in Thailand, featuring a dark, somewhat sweet broth suggestive of spices such as cinnamon and clove, a hearty dose of pork blood, and crushed pork rinds and dried chilies in every bowl! The dish is normally made with pork or sometimes beef, and when you order, you choose the form of meat you desire, which can include meatballs, ground meat, stewed falling-apart meat or liver. Thankfully, dish also includes something green in the form of par-boiled morning glory (I asked for extra):
As with other Thai noodle dishes, you can also choose the type of noodles you want, although I think this dish is best with the thin rice noodles known in Thai as sen lek:
The bowls are tiny, and very cheap–only 10 baht each–and I can easily put down three or four. Rather than doing that though, I opted to try the only other dish this restaurant makes, khao khluk kapi:
This is rice cooked with shrimp paste and served with all the toppings you see there, including (on top of the rice) sour mango, a shredded omelet and muu waan, “sweet pork”, as well as Chinese sausage, lime, thinly sliced green beans, thinly sliced shallots and thinly sliced chilies.
Expect to see more on boat noodles, as I’m planning on making a trip the canal behind the Victory Monument where there are several shops that specialize in this dish.
I have a post at the Lonely Planet Blog about Thailand’s most famous dish. Take a look, leave a comment.
I’m fortunate enough to be involved in a very, very, very cool project. Remember those A Day in the Life… photo books back in the ’80’s? Well, they’re still doing them, and the latest one will be about Thailand. The project, called Thailand: 9 Days in the Kingdom, involves 50 of the most famous photographers in the world, people like Steve McCurry, Abbas, Mike Yamashita, Raghu Rai, Bruno Barbey, James Nachtwey et al. These guys (and gals) will be documenting life in Thailand for a period of nine days starting on January 16th. I’ll be working as an assistant to Eric Valli, the French photographer who’s probably most well known for the photos he took of honey hunters in Nepal. He and I will be going down to Ko Phi Phi, where back in 1990 Eric did an article for National Geographic documenting the workers who gather the valuable swift nests in the caves near this island. So basically, I’ll be spending a week on a tropical beach helping out a world famous photographer. Could it get any better? Oh yeah, and there will be southern Thai food.
Friend and South China Morning Post journalist Hal Lipper had been invited to the Millennium Hilton’s Chinese restaurant, Yuan, to sample their new menu, and was kind enough to take me along. That’s him above trying to convince the hotel’s PR staff to give us the most expensive bottle on the wine list.
Yuan’s chef, Chow Chun Chuen, is a native of Hong Kong and all the dishes we had were vaguely Cantonese in origin. One of the most unusual dishes of the meal was Braised fish maw steak with abalone sauce:
For those of you who don’t know, fish maw=fish guts, but surprisingly this was one of the better dishes of the meal, and Hal’s personal favourite.
I liked the Stir-fried beef with pineapple and rose apple:
The beef had been marinated beforehand and was very tender, and the rose apple, though unusual, added an interesting sweet flavour.
Another very unusual dish was Stir fried scallop and mango with fresh milk:
Upon reading the name of this dish I was certain I wouldn’t like it, but the fresh milk took the form of very soft scrambled eggs or cheese and was actually quite nice.
There was also Baked river prawns in cheese and butter bulk (?) with E-Fu noodle:
which consisted of seemingly homemade but soggy noodles with a rich but nondescript sauce.
And finally, Deep-fried shin of beef with Thai chicken sauce:
The battered and deep-fried shin of beef was nice, in a tamale sort of way, but the “Thai chicken sauce”, ostensibly the cheap bottled stuff that people normally serve with fried chicken, made the dish soggy and sweet.
We were also invited to try some of the restaurant’s dim sum dishes, which mostly included the old standbys like steamed buns filled with barbecued pork:
the steamed morsels known in Thai as ha kao:
steamed noodle with shrimp:
and khanom jeep:
Bangkok-based dim sum fans should be aware that Yuan offers a dim sum lunch buffet every day for 500 baht.
Today was something of an informal Bangkok Bloggers Summit. I trekked all the way to the Lang Suan area to meet with Newley Purnell of www.newley.com fame. Newley has been blogging since 2001, an era when, I believe, the word blog had yet to be coined. What did they call it back then, Newley? Online Diarying? Internet Loggery? Pointless Frivolity?
Newley lives just minutes away from Lang Suan Soi 6, a tiny alley that, come lunchtime, is a virtual magnet for hungry Thai office staff of every stripe. We decided the partake in the madness and dove directly into the heart of the soi. More or less halfway down we came across a raan khao kaeng, rice and curry shop, that serves up some very interesting looking nosh, and our fate was sealed.
Newley made a beeline for the green curry with chicken:
I suspect many of you are familiar with this dish, however the stuff you get in Thailand is quite unlike the green curry with chicken you’ll find at your local Thai Hut in Gresham, Oregon (or wherever you are). The “chicken” in this case referred to a colourful mixture of meaty joints, fatty skin, cubes of coagulated blood and chewy feet–I don’t think a breast was involved anywhere. Thai green curry also tends to be quite watery, and the obligatory eggplants tend to be pretty mushy. But that’s how we like it.
I ordered a plate of some very tasty looking battered and deep-fried mushrooms:
Served with the spicy/sour Thai seafood dipping sauce, they were an unusual but delicious dish.
I also took the opportunity to introduce Newley to that very central Thai of dishes, nam phrik kapi:
Served, as tradition dictates, with a chubby deep-fried mackerel and fresh and par-boiled veggies. I wasn’t sure if Newley could handle the heat of the nam phrik, but he proved himself fully able.
Incidentally, it is at this very curry shop that Newley was previously laughed at by several Thai women.
After lunch we explored the street and came across some interesting things, including sai ua, the famous northern Thai sausage:
some interesting looking mee kathi, sweet noodles:
a yummy looking dessert of indiscriminate Chinese origin:
and some veggies, bagged up to go:
If you can identify all of these you know a fair bit about Thai food in my book. Any takers?
This evening I was fortunate enough to meet the Magnum photojournalist Abbas. Abbas is one of the 50 photographers shooting for the Thailand: 9 Days in the Kingdom project, and is one of the minority of 23 who still insists on using film (as opposed to digital). Abbas usually shoots in black and white, but he will be shooting in colour for this book. He will be taking photos in Pattani, a province in Thailand’s troubled, Muslim-dominated south.
Incidentally, a movie is also being made of the 9 Days… project that will document the photographers at work. The filmmakers asked each photographer if he or she would mind being filmed, and Abbas, feeling certain that this would cramp his style, wrote on the form that he is “unfriendly and difficult”!
For an amazing slide show of the events that Abbas has documented, click on the first mention of his name above.
I found myself in the Tha Phra Chan area this evening and came across a fun street stall. It sold khao tom, which literally means “boiled rice”, but which usually refers to rice served with a variety of mostly Chinese-style stir-fried dishes. This khao tom stall was a bit unusual in that all the dishes were made in advance, and was also among the cheapest I’ve ever come across: each dish was 10 baht (28 cents). Other than being mad cheap, this khao tom stall was also mad stocked:
And when you have this many choices, choosing side dishes is a serious business:
I chose squid stuffed with ground pork, tofu fried with bean sprouts, and stir-fried eggplants. Total: 45 baht ($1.25). The food wasn’t necessarily very good, but sometimes variety is better than quality. I think, anyway.
Starting on Monday I’m off to southern Thailand, followed directly by a week in Phnom Penh. Will be sure to come back with some southern Thai food porn, cool pics from the 9 Days… project, as well as some insight on Khmer khooking. In the meantime, some of my images have been featured on this American Express website, and I do believe that a photo feature I put together on the food of Luang Prabang should appear on the Lonely Planet website any day now.
I’ve currently got a photo feature on the food of Luang Prabang at the Lonely Planet website. The old place is a great destination for food and I’d recommend it highly to anybody currently in the ‘hood.
I’m currently in Phnom Penh, also something of an interesting food destination. Phil of Phnomenon has been gracious enough to take me around to the city’s best markets and restaurants and I’ve been having a great time. Will definitely post some pics and info when I get back to Bangkok at the end of the month.
As mentioned previously I spent the previous week in Cambodia’s lovely capital, Phnom Penh. The visit wouldn’t have been half as fun if it wasn’t for the help of the friendly bloke above, Phil of Phnomenon. He was kind enough to accompany me to countless restaurants, food stalls and markets, and taught me a lot about his host country’s unknown and underrated cuisine. One of the places he took me to was the slightly upscale Khmer restaurant, Sweet Cafe. I let Phil handle the ordering, and we began with what is possibly Cambodia’s most famous dish, amok:
This dish is typically a steamed mixture of fish, herbs and curry paste, and takes several forms, but Sweet’s slightly soupy version fit my preconceived notion of what the dish would be like. It was also the most delicious of the several I consumed during the week.
This was followed by a delicious “salad” of slightly sour shredded mango and the smoked fish known in Thai as plaa krob (“crunchy fish”):
This dish was sour, but not unpleasantly so, and had a delicious smokey flavour courtesy of the fish. Phil explained that Khmer cooking often emphasizes one flavour per dish, rather than trying to reach a balance of sour/spicy/salty/sweet as many of its neighbouring cuisines do.
One of the more unusual dishes of the meal was this “omelet” of ground pork and a kind of dried fish called trei prama:
Much like the Thai nam phrik, this dish was served with a variety of fresh, crispy vegetables, and it provided the salty aspect of our meal.
And finally there was the obligatory sour soup, a style of cooking that Phil feels is the true soul of Khmer cooking, and a variety of dishes I really learned to love during my time in Phnom Penh:
The particular soup above is known as samlaw machou yuan, “Vietnamese sour soup”, and took the form of a clear broth with huge hunks of freshwater fish and a variety of vegetables including pineapple and white radish. The soup was topped with a variety of fresh herbs and crispy fried garlic. It was, like much of the food I ate in Phnom Penh, simple but delicious.
More Phnom Penh pics to follow shortly…
Sweet Cafe & Restaurant
#21B, St. 294
+855 12 999 119