I recently met with Suthon Sukphisit, the author of the Bangkok Post’s excellent weekly Thai food column, Cornucopia (ever Saturday in the Outlook section of the Bangkok Post). Khun Suthon is a gold mine of information about Thai food and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Bangkok, and was kind enough to give me a few interesting leads that I will certainly follow up on these pages. One of the places he mentioned was a khao mok, biryani, stall near the Haroon Mosque off of Thanon Charoen Krung. According to Khun Suthon, the stall serves what he considers the best khao mok in town, but is only open on Fridays, the biggest Muslim prayer day.
Curious, I headed down last Friday to check it out. The stall was a bit hard to find, but after asking around I located a long table topped with snacks and sweets and three immense pots of biryani:
I ordered a plate of khao mok nuea, beef biryani (pictured at the top of this post), but honestly was skeptical. The rice seemed to lack the deep yellow/orange colour of previous excellent biryanis, such as that of Naaz, and wasn’t even topped with crispy deep-fried shallots! Despite appearances, the rice and the beef were both rich in flavour, the rice was perfectly cooked, and had a pleasant spicy flavour and was laced with sweet golden raisins and green peas. I’m not sure if I would call it the best khao mok in town, but sitting at the open-air table next to the mosque and chatting with the other diners, reckon it’s undoubtedly the most atmospheric.
Among the other things available here are a variety sweet snacks, some very tasty samosas:
and khao yam:
the southern Thai rice ‘salad’.
Fatima, the owner, and her helpers were very friendly and talkative, and when I asked why she only sold on Fridays, she said that “There are not enough customers in this neighbourhood!” Too bad, that.
Next to Haroon Mosque
The results of yet another trip to Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Grilled, jammed and margarined toast, seen on Thanon Charoen Krung, Bangkok. For additional weird bread, check out previous posts on the Magical World of Thai Baked Goods. At your own risk, of course.
Finally seeing the fruits of my labour, in print form:
I’m currently at work on the next Bangkok and Thailand’s Islands & Beaches guides.
(A larger version can be seen here.)
I came across this interesting item at Wikipedia. It’s a poster advocating how Thais should and should not have dressed during the conservative Phibulsongkhram era (1938-1945). It reads:
When in communal or official places
When in public or on the street
Dressing in this manner is not part of Thai custom
Do not wear a sarong or expose the upper body
Do not shave your head or wear a Muslim-style hat
Do not expose the upper body or wear a shawl
Do not wear only underclothes or carry things on your head
Thai custom entails dressing this way
Do wear international-style clothes or Thai style short trousers
Do wear a proper button-down shirt
Do wear your hair long and a clean, proper outer shirt
Everybody must wear a proper skirt
Joy Ngeuamboupha (above) and Caroline Gaylard of Tamarind restaurant in Luang Prabang have been making their delicious Lao food at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit this week. As part of the occasion, a small, but elite group of the city’s media was invited to take part in a cooking demonstration of three traditional Luang Prabang dishes taught by Joy himself.
Joy, a native of Luang Prabang province, and Caroline, an Australian, originally collaborated to make a cookbook of authentic Lao recipes. This led to, as these things do, a restaurant, and in 2005 Tamarind was born. Today their restaurant is still one of the only handful of places in Luang Prabang where visitors can sample authentic local dishes, and the owners have made it their mission to introduce people to authentic Lao food.
Before going through the dishes Joy taught us, here are a few tips from Joy about sticky rice, the Lao staple:
-Sticky rice should be soaked for 12 hours before cooking
-After soaking, the sticky rice needs to be washed three times; the first time gently squeezing the rice, the second two simply rinsing until eventually the water runs clear
-Sticky rice should be steamed for about 30-40 minutes, uncovered; when steam begins to rise from the top of the rice, take the sticky rice out, flip it over, and steam for another five minutes
-When the sticky rice is done, keep it in a katip, a permeable bamboo basket; keeping the sticky rice in a sealed container will cause it to become inedible mush
Joy began by showing us how to make several long slices in the bottom parts of largish stalks of lemongrass:
After being softened (with a pestle) and opened, the stalks were then stuffed with a filling of ground chicken that had been blended in mortar and pestle along with salt, garlic, spring onions, coriander and kaffir lime leaf:
The lemongrass sticks were then dipped in an egg wash and deep-fried:
until the meat was just done, resulting in the finished product seen above.
This one might be a hard dish for many of you to make at home, as makok, also known as hog plum, is undoubtedly quite hard to find abroad. I wouldn’t really recommend substituting anything, but would just say that it’s there to provide a sour flavour to the dish.
Joy had a bowl of previously-roasted chilies (the large ones called phrik chee faa), shallots, garlic and the makok, the green fruit shown below:
He told us to peel the burnt bits off before mashing the mixture up in a mortar and pestle along with some salt and that very Lao of flavourings, MSG:
To this mixture Joy added a handful of deep-fried pork rinds, some chopped coriander and green onions. Still using the mortar and pestle, he mixed the ingredients again, adding a few tablespoons of water as it was quite thick. The finished dip should be salty and sour in flavour, and is served with sticky rice and fresh veggies and herbs.
This is one of my favourite Luang Prabang dishes. It should have a spicy/bitter flavour, the result of the addition of sakhaan, a vine used in Luang Prabang cooking. Joy brought several chunks of sakhaan to Bangkok, and showed us how it should be used.
He began by peeling and quartering the sakhaan, and soaking it in water:
While this was soaking, Joy brought a couple stalks of lemongrass, a few round eggplants, a couple cloves of garlic and a handful of pea eggplants to a boil:
A few minutes later he added some sliced pork and the sakhaan. The mixture was left to simmer for about a half hour, or until as Joy said, “The eggplants are soft.” When this was accomplished, he removed all the solid ingredients, except for the pork and sakhaan, reserving the broth. He then pounded the now-soft herbs and veggies in a mortar and pestle until a rough paste was formed. This paste was re-introduced to the simmering liquid, along with a couple tablespoons of paa daek (Lao-style fish sauce), chopped green beans, more pea eggplant, mouse-ear mushrooms (het huu nuu), tamlueng, a vine-like leaf, and khao buea, sticky rice that had been soaked in water then broken up into a course powder, a traditional thickening agent:
While this was simmering, Top was ordered to chop up a huge amount of dill, coriander, green onions, sawtooth coriander and Thai basil:
Which he happily did. When the most recently-added veggies were just about done, the chopped herbs were stirred in:
and the mixture left to simmer for a couple more minutes. Enjoy with sticky rice and Beer Lao.
If you just can’t get enough Lao, check out this photo essay on Luang Prabang food I did for Lonely Planet a while back; a still-unpublished piece I wrote about Luang Prabang food; some super cool Lao recipes; and an article about Lao food I wrote that ran in the US food mag, Intermezzo.
The restaurant is named after yen ta fo, a Chinese noodle dish that has become very popular in Thailand in the last few years. For many foreigners, the dish, which includes delicacies such as coagulated blood, pickled squid and fish balls, not to mention a disturbingly bright-red broth, is rather off-putting. I previously felt this way, but have learned to embrace the weirdness of yen ta fo and now consider it one of my favourite noodle dishes, especially when consumed here.
On a recent visit, Aong ordered a bowl, which at this restaurant, is immense:
It includes all the weird stuff mentioned above, as well as phak boong, deep-fried fish skin and heaps of chili. Oh, and apparently somewhere in there are some noodles.
This restaurant also makes some very good non-noodle dishes, and I ordered khao phat nam phik long ruea:
rice fried with a particular type of chili dip (nam phrik long ruea) and served with sides of battered and deep-fried and fresh veggies. Very nice, but not as good as their khao nam phik khai poo, rice served with a spicy chili dip made from crab eggs.
We also ordered a couple sides, including deep-fried fish skin:
which tastes much better than it sounds. The crispy skin is served with nam phrik phao, a sweet/spicy chili dip. Ironically, I usually pick the skin off when I eat fish, but like eating this stuff, especially with the dip.
served with a delicious dipping sauce not unlike that typically served with seafood in Thailand. I particularly like the kiaow plaa, fish wontons (far left); the ‘wrapper’ is made from fish, and the filling is ground pork pounded up with fresh herbs.
For more yen ta fo-related mirth, refer to the yen ta fo eating contest (sponsored by Yentafo Kruengsong) that my buddy Kelly took part in last year.
(various locations about town: check this link for the one nearest you)
On Sunday I was lucky enough to go to a new place with some new friends. New Friend #1 Hock spent several years on the professional banana boat circuit, but after a near-fatal collision with a dolphin, is currently flipping burgers at an anonymous Bangkok restaurant. His wife, and New Friend #2 Maytel is a self-confessed full-time blogger (Half Asian Tourist, Gut Feelings) and part-time academic. And there was New Friend #3, who I will refer to as New Friend #4, and who, although it’s only marginally relevant, somehow reminded me of Australian chef David Thompson.
The new place was Mae Phim Beach in Rayong. In the Thai tradition, half of the beach is devoted to fresh seafood shacks, one of which, Khrua Thalay, Hock and Maytel had been to a few times previously. Rummaging though glass cases of live seafood, Hock chose Moreton Bay bugs, which our lovely chefstress suggested deep-frying with garlic:
Very nice, and actually a first for me.
Somebody wanted whelks (pictured above), another novelty for me–I had only known them as hoy waan. We had grilled, and dipped into the famous Thai seafood dipping sauce, they were wonderful.
I ordered hoy phat chaa:
clams fried with fresh herbs, including garlic, kaffir lime leaf, holy basil and krachaay. The clams were just done, and the balance of flavours nearly perfect.
Hock ordered plaa kraphong, seabass that was splayed and marinated with fish sauce before being deep-fried and served with a green mango dressing:
The fish was slightly salty and the salad provided the sweet and sour. There was balance.
And along with balance there was also a generous portion of fried rice with crab:
A lovely meal and a lovely day.
Khrua Thalay Seafood
Mae Phim Beach
07 138 7598
Jay Fai is probably the most famous place in town to get phat khii mao (‘drunkards’ stir-fry’), the spicy fried noodle dish that, like the name suggests, seems to combine just about everything in the kitchen. People go to Jay Fai because the noodles are good, but her restaurant might actually be more famous because the noodles are expensive. Now, 200 baht (about $7) may seem like chump change to those of you reading this in the West, but it’s a helluvalot for noodles here in Bangkok. Expectations run high.
I got there at 5pm, just as she was opening, which meant having to wait through a lengthy prayer and offering session at her spirit altar. Jay Fai began by pouring a good half-litre of cooking oil into a smoking hot wok. This was followed by two large prawns. After deep-frying these, she tilted the wok to pour out nearly every last drop of oil, reassuring me the entire time that “It won’t be oily, it won’t be oily…” And indeed, without adding any additional oil, she followed with the rest of the ingredients: the wide noodles known as sen yai, squid (both fresh and pickled), minced garlic, crab meat, chopped green beans, long slices of carrot, baby corn, palm heart, shiitake mushrooms, and finally, a healthy handful of holy basil leaves and a dollop of fresh chilies. While she sprinkled the lot with fish sauce, she explained that if the mixture stuck, she loosened it with a bit of broth, not more oil. The result:
was delicious: meaty, smoky, garlicky and only slightly oily. Was it worth 200 baht? Taste is subjective; try it yourself and decide. I’ll certainly be back.
327 Thanon Mahachai
02 223 9384