Besides some great lunch and dinner places in and around Mae Hong Son (one more of which I’ll profile soon), there’s also some interesting stuff to be had at breakfast and in the evenings. In the mornings, the city’s market is by far the best place to fuel up:
There you’ll find several basic stalls selling everything from generic Thai breakfasts such as rice porridge to local Shan specialties such as khanom jeen naam ngiaw, fresh rice noodles served with a light pork broth. Amongst the same knot of vendors as the latter, you’ll also find the dish pictured at the top of this post, an odd combination of a type of solidified soy bean paste and deep-fried tofu that the locals told me is a relatively new introduction from Burma. It’s made by slicing hearty chunks of the bean ‘pudding’:
and chunks of deep-fried tofu, and topping the whole lot with garlic oil, deep fried crispy garlic, tamarind juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, MSG, sesame seeds and dried chilies. A little odd, but actually not that bad. Things get really weird when the hot liquid soy bean stuff is poured over fresh rice noodles, resulting in a gooey, stringy mixture.
Every evening a market sets up directly in front of Wat Chong Kham:
During the tourist season, there are several vendors selling everything from som tam to local sweets. We arrived during the off season when there’s a lot less for sale, although you can still find a couple people selling khang pong, a Shan dish of fried papaya fritters, generously spiced with chili and dried turmeric:
As well as a few vendors selling the previously-mentioned khanom jeen and Shan-style khao soi.
Update: Flickr user meemalee claims that the tofu-like ingredient mentioned above is made from gram, not soybean flour. She provides a link to this Wikipedia entry, which provides all the details. Thanks, meemalee!
Long known as the city’s most upscale market, Or Tor Kor Market is also probably my favourite place to shop in Bangkok. This has nothing to do with its chi-chi reputation; I’ve been shopping here since I moved to Bangkok in the late 90’s, and the market has a great selection of just about everything, from high-quality ingredients to a decent dish of curry. It’s relatively close to my house, and after a thorough renovation about three years ago, is now cleaner, better organized and more well-lit than ever. I’ve mentioned the market quite a few times on these pages, but have never really done blog specifically about it. I’m hoping to follow this up with profiles of some of Bangkok’s other significant markets in the coming weeks.
Or Tor Kor is mostly known for its giant–and often expensive–fruit, but you can pick up just about anything there, including veggies from this couple who’ve been selling at the market just as long as I can remember:
Tourists in particular are drawn to Or Tor Kor’s selection of insanely immense shellfish, but at a markedly less impressive stall, Mr Sanyaa has been selling freshwater fish, the majority from the northern province of Nakhorn Sawan, for more than 10 years. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about his products, voluntarily lifting and explaining the pedigree of each, and claims to sell only freshly caught (not raised) fish, including this meaty plaa buek (giant Mekong catfish):
If you’re in no mood to cook, there’s lots of prepared food you can take home delicious hor mok, steamed curries (shown at the top of this post) which, as shown above, tend to sell out pretty quickly, or a bag of curry to go from Mae Malee, an incredibly popular and longstanding curry stall just across the way:
If you can’t wait until you make it home, there are lots of snacks too. Mr Tii has been making and selling his tasty khanom khrok, crispy coconut puddings, at Or Tor Kor for more than 25 years now:
He reckons the renovation has made the market better and has even improved his sales, as he’s not located on the outermost edge any more. Mr Tii also claims that despite the rise in rent that came as a result of the renovation, most of the same vendors have remained and still sell their stuff at Or Tor Kor.
If you like Thai sweets, there are some delicious sticky rice treats:
and khanom taan, cornbread-like cakes of steamed palm sugar at Khanomthai Kao Peenong, a family-owned Thai sweets vendor that dominates the centre of the market.
You can also stop by Or Tor Kor for lunch or dinner, although there are better places in town to sit down to a meal, and anyway, there are never enough seats during the lunchtime rush. One reliable stall is Rot Det, whose tremendous variety of curries, soups and stir-fries have been available at Or Tor Kor for ‘only about 10 years’ according to one worker:
For a larger version of this image go here.
Steps away from Rot Det, I came across a stall I had never seen before, selling kung op woon sen, shrimp and glass noodles:
I had never noticed it before because it was new; less than a week old, confessed the owner. After recently graduating from a professional cooking course at Kasetsart University, she and her husband (and baby) decided to open up a stall at the market. Her take was deliciously peppery, but as she used margarine instead of the more traditional pork fat (a result of her Western-style cooking education, she explained), it lacked the richness I normally associate with kung op woon sen.
Another reason to visit the market is the abundance of regional Thai food. There at least four stalls selling various products from Thailand’s north, and at least three stalls selling southern Thai food, including Jiap’s, whose Phuket-style naam yaa pak tai, a fish-based coconut curry that is by far the mildest of all her excruciatingly spicy dishes, is pretty good:
The food of Thailand’s northeast is represented by Sut Jai Kai Yaang, a stall (with an nearby, but noisy restaurant), that has served som tam and grilled chicken at Or Tor Kor for more than 30 years now:
They sell do-it-yourself som tam kits with everything you’d need (except the mortar and pestle–but those can also be bought nearby), something I’d never seen elsewhere.
In recent years, I’ve tended to visit Or Tor Kor primarily for its handsome branch of the Doi Kham or Royal Projects store, located directly east of the market. There you can get high-quality, Western-style produce grown in northern Thailand for ridiculously cheap. A recent visit revealed hard-to-find items such as sweet lemons, Italian parsley, rhubarb and smoked trout. At the west end of the market is another shop selling similar products from a different project; they have tiny bottles of wonderfully creamy goat milk and on occasion, a decent liver pate.
See the entire photoset of images from today’s trip to Or Tor Kor Market here.
Or Tor Kor Market (Google Maps link)
The Corcovado overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image courtesy of Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
Those in Bangkok are highly encouraged to visit Earth From Above, a photo exhibition currently on display at Central World. French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand has been taking photos from helicopters, planes and balloons for several decades now, and this exhibition features his work from 1999’s Earth From Above, a bestselling book and accompanying traveling exhibition of a series of aerial photographs that goes back to the 1990s. The full title of the exhibition, ‘Earth From Above: An Aerial Portrait of Our Planet Towards A Sustainable Development’ makes it clear that these aren’t just pretty pictures, but rather a look at man’s impact on the earth, as well as the change that witnessing this can potentially inspire.
The exhibition is at Zen Outdoor Arena until September 9, from 10am to 10pm Monday to Thursday, and from 10am to 11pm Friday to Saturday. Admission is free.
Photos and additional information can be found at the photographer’s website: www.yannarthusbertrand.org.
Reflections on Th Yaowarat, the main street in Bangkok’s Chinatown
Playing a Chinese instrument in Bangkok’s Chinatown
Selling lottery tickets near Th Charoen Krung, Bangkok’s Chinatown
Selling sexual aids in Bangkok’s Chinatown
In Bangkok’s Chinatown
Playing xiang qi, ‘Chinese chess’ in Bangkok’s Chinatown
From Chiang Mai, I decided to go back home the long way: over to Chiang Rai, then back to Bangkok along Thailand’s length of the Mekong River. The vast majority of this trip took place in isaan, Thailand’s rural northeast, which food-wise, normally inspires thoughts of sticky rice, som tam and grilled chicken. However the residents of the Mekong region love their Vietnamese food. I had heard this before, but was not prepared for just how completely ubiquitous and utterly delicious Vietnamese food was. In Nakhorn Phnom, for example, there were three Vietnamese restaurants within walking distance of each other, but not a sticky rice steamer or mortar and pestle to be seen. I’m going to profile some of these dishes and restaurants in the next couple blogs, beginning with this amazing restaurant in Nong Khai.
Mae Ut told me her mother was originally from Hanoi. She learned her recipes from her when she was young, and has making them in the same location for more than 40 years:
Her son, pictured above, lends a hand, and they’re both extremely kind and enthusiastic about their food, taking the time to describe to me the dishes I wasn’t familiar with. This didn’t take a great deal of time, as Mae Ut only makes about four different things. Naturally I decided to have three of them.
I started with khanom paak mor (pictured at the top of this post), known elsewhere in Thailand as khaao kriap paak mor, and in its country of origin as bánh cuốn. It’s a freshly-steamed noodle, filled with a ground pork mixture, topped with deep-fried crispy shallots and served with sides of muu yor, a Vietnamese-style pork sausage, a sweet/sour dipping sauce, and a vast plate of fresh veggies and herbs. This dish is sometimes available at Vietnamese restaurants in Bangkok, but Mae Ut’s version was heads and shoulders above anything I’ve ever had here, and might even be tastier than the bánh cuốn I had in Hanoi. The noodle was soft and almost egg-like, and the filling was deliciously savoury and peppery. The muu yor was among the better I’ve had, and the dipping sauce was balanced, unlike versions in Bangkok which tend to be sweet, or versions in Hanoi, which I often found varyingly too sweet or too sour. My only complaint would be Mae Ut’s herbs, which although diverse, weren’t as fresh as they could possibly be.
I followed this with deep-fried spring rolls, known in this part of Thailand as miang thot:
Unlike pawpia, typical Thai spring rolls, miang thot wrappers are clear and shatteringly crispy, and the ground pork and veggie filling nearly spicy from the copious white pepper, and if I’m not mistaken, a very slight cumin flavour. The dipping sauce for this dish was slightly different than that of the previous dish and included ground peanuts, but was still balanced and delicious.
My final dish, ban baew (from, I believe, the Vietnamese bánh bèo), was the most unusual:
It took thick, coin-sized rounds of noodle and topped them with pork floss, crumbled pork rinds, crispy deep-fried shallots, and a sweet/sour dipping sauce, slightly different than the one accompanying the other dishes. I’m not a big fan of the sweet flavour of pork floss, so this was my least favourite dish.
Friendly proprietors, simple but excellent food and great old-school atmosphere; hands down one of the best meals I’ve had in Thailand in a long time. Unfortunately I’ll probably never be able to eat Vietnamese in Bangkok again…
Mae Ut (Google Maps link)
Th Meechai, Nong Khai
042 461 04
Golden Mount, Bangkok
Flying kites at Sanaam Luang, Bangkok
Khai katha, literally ‘pan eggs’, is a dish I came across in virtually every Thai town that bordered the Mekong River. It’s apparently a Vietnamese take on fried eggs for breakfast, although I don’t recall having seen it there. The eggs, fried up in a tiny aluminum pan (the katha), are supplemented with thin slices of kun chiang (Chinese sausage), muu yor (Vietnamese sausage), sliced green onions, and unusually for Thailand, ground black pepper. The dish is also accompanied by bread, which at the better places, takes the form of a freshly-toasted French-style baguette (although it must be said that the Thai ones are nowhere near as good as their Vietnamese and Cambodian counterparts).
The khai katha above is from Nong Khai, where after meeting it for the first time by the city’s morning market, noticed the dish just about everywhere on the drive back to my hotel. Khai katha is big in Nong Khai. The bread shown in the background is a half-arsed Thai attempt at bánh mì, a Vietnamese-style sandwich, but included a few thin slices of the previously-mentioned sausages and little more.
Another version in the town of That Phnom, in Nakhorn Phnom province, was more like an omelet:
Rather than the muu yor they used cheap hotdogs and ground pork, and in place of the French-style bread, toasted white bread. It was a low point in my khai katha experience.
Undeterred, I bought two katha in Mukdahan, and since returning home have been making the dish for breakfast nearly every day, using tasty free-range eggs, muu yor from Ubon Ratchathani and decent French bread from La Boulange, and have refrained from cooking the hell out of the eggs.
Mukdahan is probably the least known and quietest of Thailand’s large cities located along the Mekong. Despite this, it had one of the region’s best night markets:
It was surprisingly large for such a small town, and despite being firmly rooted in rural northeastern Thailand, Vietnamese food was just about everywhere.
A couple stalls sold this previously unseen specialty:
Pig legs stuffed with a pork and mushroom mixture. Sliced into disks and served as an appetizer, it was deliciously rich and savoury, almost like a pate.
Another unique dish was ban daa, shown at the top of this post. The dish takes the steamed noodle I’ve mentioned previously, but mixes it with a beaten egg and slaps a crispy sesame-laden rice cracker on top:
Bizarre, but actually truly wonderful–crunchy, hot and soft–it’s a real texture experience. I’ve seen a similar dish elsewhere, but according to the vendor, the egg version is only available around Mukdahan.
Another stall sold naem nuang (Vietnamese: nem nướng):
skewers of grilled pork that are eaten wrapped in tiny squares of rice paper along with sour fruits, copious herbs and a sweet sauce. Far less meaty than those sold in Bangkok, the pork was also freshly grilled and still had that wonderfully smoky flavour.
See the entire photoset here.
Ladyboy prostitute, Bangkok’s Chinatown
Reflections, Bangkok’s Chinatown
Man and bespectacled dog, Bangkok’s Chinatown
Fat baby and owner, Bangkok’s Chinatown
Soi Texas, a dodgy back alley in Bangkok’s Chinatown
A prostitute in a back alley in Bangkok’s Chinatown
Nong New, a stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown, specialises in a few dishes that you’re more than likely to run into in this part of town: birds’ nest and shark fin soup. I’ve had bird nest soup a couple times, and find it too sweet for my taste. And shark fin soup is a ridiculous dish that’s more superstition than cuisine. But there’s still reason to visit Nong New’s stall; he’s known for making some of the best phat mee hong kong, ‘Hong Kong-style fried noodles’, in the area:
This dish, which one could best describe as deliciously bland, combines thin round wheat noodles with exceedingly fresh and tasty shrimp, crab meat, chicken breast and dried mushrooms, not to mention a variety of sauces and flavourings, ranging from what looked like oyster sauce to Chinese dark vinegar. Nong New (shown at the top of this post) takes great care in preparing his noodles, at times judiciously mixing the contents with a small metal spatula, and at other times simply grabbing the wok with a towel and tossing the ingredients in the air by hand. This results in a dish that’s not only balanced and delicious, but at 100B (about $2.50 US), also the most expensive mee phat hong kong in the area.
Having never been to Hong Kong, I was wondering if this dish, or something similar to it, can actually be found there?
Nong New (Google Maps link)
Th Yaowarat (across from Th Phadung Dao)
081 497 6125