At Mae Sot’s morning market, Tak
Doi Phra That Doi Kong Moo, Mae Hong Son
At Mae Sot’s morning market, Tak
Burmese monks, Mae Sam Laep, Mae Hong Son
Doi Phra That Doi Kong Moo, Mae Hong Son
Mae Sam Laep, Mae Hong Son
Lephet thoke is a popular Burmese dish based around pickled tea leaves. The sour, slightly bitter leaves are mixed with shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, crunchy deep-fried beans, nuts and peas, a splash of oil and pungent slices of chili and garlic. The dish is versatile: it can be a snack, an appetiser or a palate cleanser. Allegedly it’s also a stimulant; a Burmese waiter in Mae Sot, Thailand, told me that I’d be up all night if I ate too much lephet thoke.
I’ve had some interesting experiences eating this dish. Once, several years ago, I ordered the dish at a street stall in downtown Yangon. The woman mixed the dish, in the traditional manner, with her bare hand, squeezing and squelching the mixture thoroughly. After serving me the lephet thoke, she then stared at me while I ate it, licking her fingers the entire time.
I recall that the lephet thoke was tart from the tea leaves and crunchy from the fried peas.
Another time, on a boat on the Irrawaddy River, I was ordering a dish of lephet thoke while a drunk man started screaming at me in Burmese. Another man nearby was kind enough to translate for me. “He says he hates foreigners and wants to kill you,” the man said, without a hint of emotion.
The lephet thoke was rich with oil and had thick slices of raw garlic, which I loved.
Compared to previous dishes, the lephet thoke above, consumed in Mae Sot, was uneventful. Unlike in Burma, the dish was served with little or no oil, and the garlic and chilies were served on the side. Nonetheless, the dish seemed to be just about everywhere in Mae Sot, not surprising given how many Burmese now live there. I was able to eat the dish at four different restaurants and even brought some pickled tea and crunchy nuts back home to Bangkok.
Lying just steps from the famous backpacker district of Th Khao San, you’d think that there would be much in the way of authentic Thai food on Th Phra Athit. But there are actually some pretty interesting places to eat. My most recent find is a tiny streetside stall that serves only three dishes, the most famous of which is khao khluk kapi, rice cooked with shrimp paste and served with a variety of delicious toppings — a dish mentioned many times previously on these pages.
Pictured above, the dish incorporates (starting at 12 o’clock and moving clockwise) kun chiang, deep-fried Chinese sausage; deep-fried dried chilies; lime; long beans and cha om, a pungent herb; sliced fresh chilies; sliced shallots; shredded green mango; muu waan, ‘sweet pork’, pork belly that has been simmered with fish sauce and palm sugar; and in the centre, shredded omelet and dried shrimp deep-fried until crispy. There’s just about every flavour and texture you could ever want, and served with a bowl of hot broth, the dish is a tasty, healthy and balanced one-dish meal.
Another dish made here is khao phat nam phrik long ruea:
This is fried rice served with nam phrik long ruea, a pork and chili-based ‘dip’, par-boiled veggies, fresh herbs and other side dishes. The chili dip is wonderfully tart from the addition of a kind of citrus fruit, and I love the sides of salted egg (11 o’clock) and cha om,the herb mentioned above, which in this case is served in the form of a dense omelet (12 o’clock).
The third dish they were serving that day was khanom jeen saw naam, fresh rice noodles served with a coconut cream-based dressing. On previous visits I’ve also seen nam phrik kapi, a shrimp paste-based dish served much the same as the dish above.
The stall is open during lunch, dishes will set you back a whopping 30B (less than $1) and there are English-language signs, probably to facilitate the odd backpacker who dares to explore the gastronmic depths that lie beyond Khao San-style ‘pad thai’.
Khao khluk kapi Tha Phra Athit
Th Phra Athit
The title of this post is a take on the oft-cited 2005 New York Times article by R. W. Apple Jr. about dining in Bangkok. In the article, the late journalist explores the food of the capital with Bob Halliday, a 30-year resident of Bangkok. In my version, I’m accompanied by friend, chef and blogger Hock, and friend, chef and author David Thompson (both of whom, incidentally, work in restaurants mentioned in the Apple article), in our own effort to keep it ‘real’ on the streets of Ayuthaya. To this extent, Hock brought a bottle of prosecco and some prissy French nectar drinques, David took along his wit and historical knowledge, and I brought my camera to document part of the day.
Our first effort in Ayuthaya-style realism was Lung Lek, a ‘boat noodle’ restaurant just across from the ruins. The restaurant was as busy as I’ve ever seen it:
which unfortunately had a negative impact on the food. As David illustrates below, the noodles required substantial seasoning, something usually not necessary for the inherently rich dish:
The next step in our plan was to go to Pom Phet, a quiet shaded spot overlooking river and ruins, unfold our mats, and indulge in the pleasure of getting drunk somewhere other than Bangkok. Unfortunately there was construction underway at Pom Phet and virtually every other riverside ruin. So we headed directly to a riverside restaurant where we wished Hock had brought more prosecco, and where David and I fought over the fattiest bits of pork.
From there we headed next door to Baan Wacharachai where we spent the next few hours on a moored boat, eating, talking and drinking. The latter caused me to forget to document this part of the day, but the highlights were Baan Wacharachai’s wonderful smoked snakehead fish, watching boats pass by on the river, and teasing Hock.
It was somehow decided that the only appropriate dish to end the day was of roti with condensed milk. This being Thailand, we naturally stopped off to buy another kind of roti on our way to eat the roti:
There are several shops selling roti say mai along the strip of road opposite Ayuthaya’s main hospital and David chose the most popular one, at which he had to wait a good 20 minutes:
Free samples helped Hock to pass the time:
And then it was on to our final destination, Ayuthaya’s night market. Where, as a pre-dessert snack, we ordered beef mataba:
Undeniably real and uncomfortably full, we headed back to Bangkok.
The tongue-twistingly difficult name of this street stall is Chinese in origin, appropriate for a stall on the outer edges of Bangkok’s Chinatown. I was escorted there by David Thompson, who knows the neighbourhood a lot better than I’d expected.
According to David, the highlight here is not the the fish dumplings nor the charming atmosphere (we sat on plastic stools near a drain) but rather the noodles:
And I’d have to agree. Despite the stall’s claims regarding their fishballs (‘The fishballs that jump’, whatever that means), they tasted stale and manufactured. The noodles on the other hand were flat, firm and flavourful. We both found that they had a lot in common with the noodles at Mangkorn Khao, where we had eaten previously that evening.
Lim Lao Ngow
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Particularly among middle-aged people from the English-speaking world, there seems to be a longstanding fascination with Provence, the southern French région. I’m sure Provence is very lovely, and fits many folks’ preconceived notion of a beautiful, rural paradise (although I think eventually I would grow weary of the scent of lavender), but when I recently found myself with a great deal of writing work and a desire to complete it in an idyllic setting, southern France didn’t even come to mind. Naturally, I chose Mae Hong Son.
It was an easy choice, really. Mae Hong Son is beautiful:
The hills surrounding Mae Hong Son — a three-minute bike ride from my house
has its own interesting cuisine:
At Mae Hong Son’s evening market
and brilliant weather:
A typical misty Mae Hong Son Morning — the view over my backyard
And so far it’s actually lived up to its status as my own personal Provence. I start each day with a chilly early-morning drive through a mountain valley to the morning market where I down a bowl of thua oon or khanom jeen nam ngiaw. If I’m thinking of cooking later that day, I may do a bit of shopping at the market (the only ‘supermarkets’ in Mae Hong Son sell dry goods), but regardless will almost always buy several banana-leaf packets of Thai Yai sweets from my favourite vendor. I don’t have Internet at the house I’m renting, so I’ll spend some mornings online at Coffee Morning, followed by lunch at Mae Sri Bua or Baan Phleng. By the time I drive back home, the heat of the sun has cleared the mist and I can see the blue sky and mountains that surround the town. The rest of my days are spent working in a covered patio adjacent to the rice fields shown above.
Honestly, I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world I’d rather be right now. I’ll be here until the end of February (maybe longer?), and will be blogging about all of the above, and more. So bear with me if I tend to gush about Mae Hong Son, but I’m really loving it and feel that there’s some interesting stuff here worth sharing.