It didn’t take me long to discover that, unless you’re a fan of mediocre Swedish food or bland Thai/Asian, you’ll find little of interest to eat on the island of Phuket. The exception to this was Phuket Town, by far the most interesting and atmospheric place on the island, and virtually forgotten by the hordes of tourists who cling to the beaches. I was surprised to find that many of the traditional dishes you’ll find there are nearly identical to those of Penang. This may not come as a big surprise to those familiar with history though, as there was apparently a great deal of trade between Phuket and the former Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and all of these areas were populated by similar Chinese ethnic groups.
And it is Chinese cuisine, often with a Southeast Asiann twist, that constitutes much of Phuket Town’s traditional food. An example of this is mee hoon, a noodle dish known in Penang as bee hoon:
As well as lor bak:
Deep-fried porky savouries served with a dipping sauce almost identical to that which tops the Malaysian dish rojak. The bits at the top of the plate were nearly identical to hoy jor, and were really delicious.
There was pretty good dim sum:
And another interesting dish of Chinese origin, although I don’t recall having seen it in Penang, is something called oh taao:
Somewhat similiar to hoy thawt or or suan, this dish combines chunks of taro, a batter, tiny oysters, egg, a deep red chili and a greenish garlic sauce, and my favourite part, crumbled bits of deep-fried pork rind!
There’s a palpable Muslim influence in the city, and on several occasions I had some very tasty roti, both as a savoury breakfast (served with a small bowl of curry), or a sweet snack:
Just outside the city, Ko Sireh is also home to the island’s biggest fishing port:
where every morning you can see heaps of interesting looking fish (and on one occasion, three very large sharks!) being unloaded. Not far from the fishing port I found a cool little cafe that served Thai-style coffee and lots of old-school sweets and snacks:
Despite how the look, many of them were just as savoury as they were sweet, and made a wonderful breakfast.
And lastly, if you’re looking for something a bit more formal, you can’t go wrong with Siam Indigo:
a restaurant housed in an beautiful 80 year old Sino-Portuguese building that does some excellent Thai, Thai-influenced and locally-influenced food.
The entire photoset can be seen here.
For a larger version of this image go here.
While on a recent visit to Tokyo, I spent four mornings exploring and taking photos of Tsukiji, the world famous seafood market. The highlight of the market for many is the famous tuna auction, which in the last decade has actually become a huge tourist destination. During each of my visits there were at least a hundred or more visitors, standing in the way, taking photos (often with flash, although very large signs asked that people not do this), and posing with the fish. Tiny forklifts are constantly buzzing by at breakneck speed, and the floor is very slippery–clearly not a place for tourists. Being Japanese, the bidders and auctioneers involved in the market were typically polite, but I could sense their frustration. In recent years this madness has reached tipping point, and there’s word that since April this part of the market should now be closed to tourists.
As shown above and below, there are several expansive rooms lined with fresh and frozen tuna:
From about 5-6am the potential buyers carefully inspect the tuna, making notes:
and often tasting and smelling the tuna (spitting the meat out on the floor, to my surprise). When inspections are done, a bell rings and the auction takes place:
The highest bidders take their wares off to the interior of the market to be cut and prepared:
This was fascinating, but there’s a lot more at Tsukiji than tuna. The entire market covers several cold and wet warehouses:
encompassing virtually every kind of seafood imaginable, from beautiful shrimp:
Apparently the entire market is slated to move to another part of town in the next couple years, and will, I’ve heard, not be as open as the current one.
The entire photoset can be seen here.
Have you ever rented a car and driven to another province for a bowl of noodles? That’s exactly what me, Hock and Andy did this weekend. Andy is the owner of Pok Pok, a popular Thai restaurant in Portland, Oregon, and is on something of a noodle research expedition across Asia. I offered to contribute to this scholarship by taking him to Lung Lek, a noodle shop in Ayuthaya. Hock was kind enough to drive, his expensive mobile phone providing both navigational support and musical entertainment.
Lung Lek (‘Uncle Lek’) claims to have been making his unique ‘boat-style’ noodles (kuaytiaw ruea) for 30 years now. I reckon he’s just about got it down. I really the beef version:
Unfortunately our first bowls were pretty mild, as seeing that we were not Thai, Lung Lek dumbed the flavours down, assuming we wouldn’t be able to take the heat. Re-ordering brought us the bowl shown above. This type of noodle dish is called naam tok (‘waterfall’) and usually includes a swirl of fresh blood, but Lung Lek adds a tablespoon of the liquid used to marinade his beef. Like other boat noodles, his broth is laden with dried spices, and has a dark colour. Unlike others, Lung Lek’s noodles aren’t sweet, and his broth is much richer.
Lung Lek’s nearly half-century investment has proven worthwhile, in my opinion. Now if he’d only put the ladle down for a day or two and consider improving the aesthetics of his restaurant (little more than rickety tables on a dirt floor under a ratty tarp). If he wishes to maintain some of the more rustic elements of the current restaurant he could could make the simple transition towards French Country, however I’d suggest something a bit more radical like the Queen Anne-inspired whimsy of Raul Villares Gayan’s Nouveau series.
Th Chee Kun (across from Wat Ratburana), Ayuthaya
Arguably Bangkok’s most popular hawker stall, Naay Uan’s recipe for success must lie in its simplicity. His kuay jap, a basic but delicious soup of of pork offal, thick rice noodles and broth draws literally hundreds of hungry diners to Chinatown every night:
(For a larger version of this image go here.)
But that broth… Naay Uan’s kuay jap broth is probably the most pepper-intense dish I’ve ever consumed. The guy must pour bags of ground white pepper into his broth, leaving the diner with a mildly burning, spicy sensation. For me this is the highlight, but I think most people come for the meat, which includes your choice of pork heart, stomach, tongue or crispy deep-fried pork.
Cnr Soi 11 & Th Yaowarat (Google Maps link)
02 224 3450
Temple doors, Wat Ratchabophit.
Live music on Thanon Khao San.
Making up on Thanon Khao San.
A vendor being chased away from Thanon Khao San.
A newsstand at Tha Chang, Bangkok
Along Thanon Maharat, Bangkok
A monk on the Chao Phraya Express Boat, Bangkok
Thanon Maharat, Bangkok
Streetside chess, Thanon Maharat, Bangkok
Hairdresser, Khao San Road, Bangkok
Hawking souvenirs to tourists, Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok
Crazy tuk-tuk, Khao San Road, Bangkok
In 2006 Krua Apsorn was chosen as one of the Bangkok Post’s Best Restaurants (see clip here). Apparently members of the Thai royal family like to get their eat on here, and I’ve noticed that David Thompson likes to recommend the second branch of the restaurant, located by the National Library, to visiting chefs and friends. Not surprisingly, the place is generally quite crowded and reservations are even recommended (!), but on the rainy Friday night we visited, Krua Apsorn was virtually empty.
We started with yellow curry with lotus stems and prawns (pictured above). I really enjoyed this dish. Having recently been in southern Thailand, which is where yellow curry comes from, I have had it lots lately, but think I prefer this version. Unlike in the south, where the dish is insanely spicy (and often even more insanely sour), this version had a balance of flavours. Another favourable difference is that the lotus stem was still crispy, unlike the typically soggy veggies in the more traditional version.
A laap of mushrooms:
was pleasantly sour and rich with the earthy, smokey flavour of khaao khua, roasted ground rice.
Another somewhat unusual dish was pork fried with a curry paste made with a particular type of chili called phrik karieng and milk (as opposed to coconut milk):
I particularly liked the simple but delicious stir-fry of gourd greens (fak maew) and a type of local flower (dawk khajawn):
And finally, one of the restaurant’s specialties, a round omelet with crab meat:
Because of the Thai name, I expected this to have a lighter and fluffier texture. It was good, but a bit heavy on the egg and light on the crab.
In all, we had a very good, though not amazing, meal. I’d definitely come again though, as the expansive and slightly unusual menu suggests that there’s lots of interesting stuff in store. For another view of Krua Apsorn, check out this review at previously unknown Thai foodblogger and cookbook author, Oh Sirin.
Krua Apsorn (Google Maps link)
10.30am-10pm, closed Sunday
Anybody who reads this blog has undoubtedly noticed that I tend to spend a lot of time in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Other than being a bizarre and boisterous part of town with great food and interesting stuff to see, I’ve also been taking pics there with the intention of putting on an exhibition at Bangkok’s Kathmandu Photo Gallery early next year.
After countless visits, I’ve sat down with the results and have rounded them down to 22 images that I like (at least for now). I haven’t been shooting with a specific ‘theme’ in mind, but have been partially inspired by Khun Manit’s (the owner of Kathmandu, and a well known Thai photographer) comments that the early images I showed him seemed to depict the relationship that the residents of Chinatown have with their space–typically their lack of it and the way the deal with this. Some of the pics below are an effort to explore this theme, while others are simply interesting images. It’s a big blog entry, I know, but I’d appreciate if any of you could sit down for a few minutes, take look at the images and give me some feedback, in particular, which images you reckon I shouldn’t include, and why.