If you’ve ever looked at my photo blog, The Old Main Drag, you’ll have noticed that I tend to spend lots of time in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown. For the last few months, I’ve been working on a photo project that will be shown Bangkok’s own Kathmandu Photo Gallery late next year. As a result, I’ve been going to Yaowarat at least once a week, often more. My favourite time to take pics in Yaowarat is early in the morning, and after a couple hours of walking and shooting, inevitably I get pretty hungry. Despite the variety of eats in Chinatown, I always end up eating at a streetside curry stall off of Thanon Phaatsaay called Jay Kii.
Jay Kii sells a variety of Chinese-Thai curries, stir-fries and soups:
These include an excellent kaeng khiaow waan look chin plaa kraay, green curry with fish dumplings, some nice soups, namely jap chai, the Chinese-style vegetable stew, or an excellent bitter gourd stuffed with pork in broth. But I always tend to go for her daily ‘specials’, such as this morning’s naam phrik kapi ‘set’ (pictured at the top of this post), or her excellent khao khluk kapi (shown in this post). After some eats, and a glass of iced coffee from the stall in the same soi, I’m usually ready to wander for another hour or so before heading home.
Spotted at a market in Chanthaburi. My sources tell me they are filled with some sort of sweet liquid and are particularly favoured by the younger generation. Perhaps my all-knowing food mentor Aong can provide some insight? Anybody else?
More from Chanthaburi to follow in the next couple days.
I recently spent a couple days in the town of Chanthaburi. Discovering a new place is always fun, but sometimes it’s better to have a guide, and on this trip I was fortunate to be accompanied by a well-connected half-Chanthaburian food freak.
Rice noodles, the main ingredient in phat thai (shown above) are associated with Chanthaburi, and we stopped by a factory where they still make the noodles the old school way, by drying them in the sun on bamboo racks:
Rice noodles are also used in kuaytiao muu liang, another dish associated with Chanthaburi:
We at at a place outside of town called Phrya Trang (address below). The broth gets its dark colour from a combination of local herbs, and its slightly sweet taste from the addition of pineapple. I’d say it was somewhat similar to kuaytiao ruea, but not quite as intense.
Root herbs are actually a very important part of the local cuisine in Chanthaburi, and a walk through any of the city’s markets will reveal several kinds of plants generally not used elsewhere in Thailand, such as krawaan:
and young krachaay:
Being close to the sea, seafood is also a big deal, and the markets are stocked with heaps of fish, shrimp and squid, and even odder things, such as horseshoe crabs:
The ones above have already been grilled, and you only eat the eggs (often made into yam, Thai-style salad); there is no meat.
If you’re at Chanthaburi’s main market in the morning and find yourself in need of a snack, you can do like the locals and stop by this tiny stall selling paa thong ko, deep-fried bits of dough:
The stall is very popular, as the line of impatient motorcyclists suggests. Unlike elsewhere, in Chanthaburi paa thong ko are served with a thin, sweet/sour sauce, somewhat similar to that sometimes served with deep-fried chicken elsewhere in Thailand.
Muu Liang Phraya Trang
60/1 Moo 12 Tambon Tha Chang
039 339 761
The annual Chinese vegetarian festival is now on until the 19th. On Tuesday I made it out to the Talaat Noi area where a Chinese temple called Saan Jao Jo Sue Kong is a centre of all the meat-free frenzy. Here heaps of white-clad worshipers come to watch ngiw (a Chinese drama, shown at the top of this post) pray, burn incense and candles, and buy the paper lanterns that form a virtual roof over the temple.
This is all fun, but my main goal was to eat, and my favourite dish to eat during the veggie festival is mii lueang, stir-fried Hokkien-style noodles:
At Talaat Noi these were made at very popular stall where had to wait about 20 minutes before we even got a seat.
Another thing I really enjoyed was khanom tup tab, a snack made by pounding peanuts with sugar until a thick, sweet skin is formed:
This is then wrapped around crushed peanuts. The result looks similar to, and tastes almost exactly like Butterfinger, but without the chocolate. Delicious.
Here and elsewhere in Chinatown you’ll find meat-free versions of most popular Chinese-Thai dishes, including noodles, stews and stir-fries. Oddly enough though, despite this being a vegetarian festival, you’ll find very few vegetables, and hardly anything green, Thailand’s Chinese community preferring soybean and flour-based dishes.
A few more pics from the veggie festival, including some from last year’s, can be seen here.
I used to think khao soi, the northern Thai curry noodle dish, was nearly impossible to find in Bangkok, but in the last few weeks I’ve run across it more than a couple times. My latest discovery was ironically only a few kilos from my house, under the Ram Intra Expressway near the intersection with Lad Phrao.
Arriving just after lunch with my generally reliable food sidekick Aong, we were dismayed to find that they only khao sois remaining at that time were the pork and seafood varieties. This was immensely disturbing news, as khao soi is almost exclusively served with chicken or beef (a sign of the dish’s Muslim roots). Pork is a lazy substitute and seafood khao soi is a heresy beyond words, and those responsible for the concept should be forced to eat…seafood khao soi for the rest of their days. Grudgingly, we chose the pork (shown above). The dish was a decent, if not mediocre take on the dish, but lacking the creamy, oily, spiciness of Faa Haam’s nearly-perfect bowl. The sides (pickled mustard cabbage, sliced shallots and lime) also seemed of substandard quality. Sophaphan also serves the Shan noodle dish, naam ngiaow, as well as some northern Thai standards and som tam. Good in a pinch, I reckon, or if you’re in the neighborhood (make sure you come early), but you’ll be much happier if you make the trip over to Viphawadee to eat at Faa Haam.
I’ve also come across khao soi on Sukhumvit Sois 22 and 31; stay tuned for a detailed investigation.
Khao Soi Sophaphan
86 Soi Inthraphorn (under the Ram Intra Expressway not far from the intersection with Lad Phrao)
02 530 6292
Addendum: In flipping through my replies to this blog, I recently received a comment from a woman who’s doing a blog exclusively about khao soi in New York City! Honestly, I was surprised enough to find out that one can actually get khao soi in in the US (it’s hard enough to find in Bangkok), but even more shocking is the price: $16 for a bowl of khao soi??!!?? Maybe I’m spoiled living here, but the price I payed for the bowl above, 30 baht–slightly less than $1, feels about right to me. Guess I won’t be going home anytime soon…
I was recently forwarded this New York Times article about dining in Portland, Oregon (one of my three ‘hometowns’, along with Bangkok and Stockholm). Other than making me slightly homesick, I was surprised to learn that a Thai restaurant is among those currently creating a buzz back at home. I did a bit of research and found that Pok Pok, the restaurant mentioned, serves not just Thai, but ahaan isaan, northeastern-style Thai food. The self-proclaimed ‘shack’ was also voted the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year. Two detailed and generally favourable blog reviews can be seen here and here (I particularly like this bit: “Fortunately the lighting is is much better than what you’d typically find in Thailand.”). Sounds very interesting. Has anybody been?
Nakhorn Sawan Street, just outside Banglamphu in old Bangkok, is home to Talaat Nang Loeng, one of the older and more interesting markets in town. However the street is probably even more associated with the several shops in the area that sell kluay thawt, deep-fried bananas. This snack, also sometimes known as kluay khaek, is found just about everywhere in Bangkok, but what’s special about these bananas is the way they’re sold.
As illustrated above, the vendors take their product directly to the streets, waiting for a red light and weaving between stopped cars.
Technically, this is illegal, and every time a policeman comes, the vendors scream warnings at each other and run away frantically. I saw this happen several times in the nearly 15 minutes I watched them at work and thought that it seemed an awful nerve-wracking way to make a living.
Eventually I took a seat and tried the bananas. Although they’re normally sold in bags of two for 20 baht, I bought a single bag for 10. The bananas of the particular vendor I bought were decent; not too greasy, but could have been a bit sweeter (and I prefer the ones with sesame in the batter). While I sat and crunched through my bag, I chatted with the vendors while they screamed at their co-workers in the streets when cops drove by. One vendor told me that he was particularly annoyed with journalists who had pretended to want to buy bananas, only to snap pictures and leave without buying anything.
Mango and sticky rice is, like phat thai and tom yam, one of the few Thai dishes foreigners seem to be familiar with even before arriving in Thailand. On Khao San Road there are even a couple mobile mango sticky rice carts that wander up and down the streets, scavenging for hungry new arrivals. I haven’t tried these carts, but doubt they’re anywhere as good as the stuff sold literally across the way at K. Phanich.
K. Phanich only sells khao niaow moon, sweetened sticky rice, and a few other sweet/savoury toppings; if you want to eat your rice with mango you can buy one from the woman waiting patiently out front. We arrived late in the day and she apologized several times that she only had slightly sour mangoes left. She choose what she reckoned to be the sweetest one and proceeded to peel and slice it for us:
K. Phanich has no seating, so we took our booty to the shop next door (another interesting place that I’ll blog about next) where, after ordering a few more things to eat, we combined about half of the sticky rice with the mangoes, poured over the still-warm salty-sweet coconut dressing, and sprinkled the lot with the crispy dried peas (the peas don’t provide much taste, but provide the dish a wonderfully crunchy texture). The mango was slightly sour, but I thought it was a pleasant counterpoint to the very sweet rice and sauce. This dish, like many other Thai desserts, also has a slightly salty flavour, and is best eaten slightly warm, which really allows the bizarre but delicious salty/sweet combo. to shine.
431-433 Thanon Tanao
02 221 3554
Virtually next door to K. Phanich is Nom Jo, a small restaurant that specializes in, of all things, milk. This is an odd variety of Thai restaurant that, I assume, dates back to the days when milk was something not generally available in Thailand and Thais had to go to specialist restaurants to drink it. Nowadays milk can be bought everywhere, but the restaurants still exist, and have begun to sell a variety of dishes to stay alive.
At Nom Jo (‘Jo’s Milk’) we skipped over the milk altogether and went directly to kuaytiao luy suan, literally ‘noodles on an adventure in the garden’. I really have no idea regarding the origin of this name (can anybody help?), and can only assume that it has to do with the fact that the dish is served with a large variety of fresh herbs and veggies.
As shown above, the dish is similar in form to spring rolls, the main difference being that kuaytiao luy suan are ‘wetter’ and more savoury. With lesser versions of this dish, when you break the noodle wrapper, the typically ‘dry’ filling tends to tumble out. With Jo’s version, the filling, a mixture of ground pork, carrot and shiitake mushrooms, and a few other things I can’t recall, had been sauteed before being placed on a lettuce leaf and bundled in the noodle. This helped hold the mixture together, and the seasoning during this process also provided a salty, savoury taste. The rice-flour noodle wrapper was also very nice, and was thick and toothsome without being soggy or heavy.
The dish was served with two sauces: a delicious spicy/sour one similar to that served with Thai seafood, and another sweet sauce similar to the one Thais eat with fried chicken, not to mention herbs including basil, mint, sawtooth coriander and lettuce.
Nom Jo also serves what look like some very interesting Chinese-Thai stews and curries, not to mention a variety of drinks (both milk and non-milk).
Nom Jo (Google Maps link)
Thanon Tanao (next door to K. Phanich–look for the cow sign)
089 788 6417