I blog about Thai food, but my hometown is Portland, Oregon (OK, Sandy, Oregon, if we’re being specific), and am always fascinated when these two disparate destinations cross paths. That’s why I was particularly excited when I received an email from Nong, a former cook at Pok Pok, the Portland restaurant, about her recently opened place: Nong’s Khao Man Gai, a stall selling Hainanese chicken rice on SW 10th and Alder. Has anybody been yet?
I recently spent three days in Melbourne, Australia shooting the photos for a magazine article about the city’s alleyways, arcades and lanes (an article on the same topic, written by Phil Lees, can be seen here). It was a fun assignment, and was also my first real chance to try out my new camera, a Nikon D700, and I have to say that I’m a satisfied customer. I think I rarely shot below ISO400, sometimes even shooting at ISO6400, getting excellent results nearly all the time. I love the feel of the camera, and appreciate the gigantic viewfinder. To view a slideshow of some random images from Melbourne, click on the image above — use keyboard arrows or hold your mouse above the images to navigate through them.
Phil said he wanted to make sai ua, the famous northern Thai sausage. I was skeptical. Phil had previously told me about Melbourne’s Footscray Market and its apparently amazing selection of Asian ingredients, but could we really make anything approaching an authentic northern sausage in Australia? Using Thompson’s Thai Food as a rough guide, we made a list of the ingredients we’d need and set off. Arriving at the market (pictured above), I was almost immediately converted: Footscray Market was every bit as well-stocked and hectic as any in Asia, and we had no problem finding virtually every last ingredient.
Arriving back home, and fueled by a constant stream of Little Creatures Pale Ale, we chopped the fresh herbs roughly:
and Phil fed this mixture and some pork through a meat grinder. As a test, we fried a bit of the mixture up:
and were pleased to find that it was nearly spot on. After adjusting the seasoning slightly, Phil put the ingredients through a second run, this time filling a sausage casing:
While Phil was grilling the sausage, I made two Mae Hong Son dishes: saa, a salad of pea shoots, and kaeng hang lay. I had brought with me a couple of the more obscure ingredients, but again, we were able to find everything we needed, including pork belly, at Footscray market. I marinated the meat a la Khun Yai’s recipe:
and let it simmer for about four hours until it was fall-apart tender:
The weather was too cold to pretend we were in northern Thailand, but the flavours were pretty damn authentic.
Thanks to my boy A-Dog, who, unbeknownst to me, is apparently also “one of America’s foremost experts on Thai grilling“, I was alerted that Portland, Oregon has yet again been making the media rounds. There’s a lengthy and fun New York Times piece about the city, the previously referenced Food & Wine article about Andy’s restaurant, Pok Pok, and a mention of the same restaurant in GQ City Guides’ Portland writeup. Well done, Andy and Portland.
In a good way, of course.
It only took me a couple of meals and a bit of exploring to come to the conclusion that Melbourne must be one of the best food cities, well, anywhere. The diversity of cuisine alone is astounding: authentic Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Chinese, Greek and Italian are all easily available. The city’s markets are fantastically well-stocked and vibrant. The coffee excellent. And there are meat pies. The only downside I can think of is cost, but this is largely based on my parsiminous Bangkok mindset, and reckon you’re more likely to find tastier and more varied budget eats in Melbourne than say, New York City or Paris.
I was fortunate enough to eat at two of the city’s upscale restaurants, Cutler & Co. and MoVida. We had a wonderful meal at the former, which had one of the most interesting dessert menus I’ve ever come across. Now, I’m normally not much of a sweets fan, but with creative and delicious sounding dishes as Ginger granita, coconut sorbet, fresh lychee; Toffee apple, fromage blanc, spiced short bread & cider jelly; Steamed pear & suet pudding, liquorice ice cream, confit lemon; and Chestnut ice cream, burnt butter cake, frozen chocolate crumbs & Cognac, ordering dessert was an imperative, not an option. My Chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait & salted caramel was wonderful, but then again, I’d probably be happy with a plate of warm dirt as long as it was topped with salted caramel.
Cutler & Co.
55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
03 9419 4888
MoVida is a ridiculously popular tapas restaurant that normally requires reservations months in advance, but we were lucky enough to be able to slip in just before the place filled up on a wet and cold Sunday afternoon. L and I shared a dish of braised oxtail and ordered several great tapas including the wonderfully salty dish pictured below, “Hand filleted Cantabrian artisan anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet”:
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne
03 9663 3038
But perhaps the most satisfying meal of my visit was the absolute antithesis of upscale and took the form of a grubby Chinese restaurant in Footscray called 1+1 Dumpling Noodles. The restaurant, which Phil has previously written about, has a largely predictable northern Chinese menu, but with a few obscure but delicious Uighur/Western Chinese dishes thrown in. These included la mian, the famous Uighur dish of hand-pulled noodles fried with lamb, bell pepper and tomato (shown at the top of this post), spice-dusted lamb skewers, and a deliciously tart and crispy cucumber salad:
1+1 Dumpling Noodles
84 Hopkins Street, Footscray, Melbourne
03 9687 8988
Between meals it was constant stream of excellent coffee and much-missed Western baked goods. My favourite place for both was Pellegrini, an old-school ‘espresso bar’ that is considered by many emblematic of 1950′s Melbourne. They also do a tasty apple strudel:
66 Bourke Street, Melbourne
03 9662 1885
Slightly more refined pastries were available in the CBD:
and Acland Street in St. Kilda had a string of cake shops that looked impressive, but that were mostly hit and miss in terms of flavour:
I particularly enjoyed the huge variety of tasty Greek and Turkish pastries:
and of course, Aussie pies. The pie below was taken at Dinkum Pies, a rural Victoria bakery in the midst of upscale cafes on Block Place:
29 Block Place, Melbourne
03 9654 6792
We spent a morning wandering around the halls of Victoria Market, with me drooling at the Mediterranean-style dishes I could never even dream of getting in Bangkok:
But this being Australia, we naturally settled on eating pies:
And for some reason I felt compelled to order a comically immense bratwurst:
A fittingly greedy end to what was essentially an indulgent but tasty visit.
Khao San Road is probably the unlikeliest place in Bangkok you’d expect to find an authentic Thai cooking school. But the people behind Khao Cooking School have heaps of experience and have put together an institution that feels both professional and homey, despite the incongrous location.
The school was founded less than a year ago by Kobkaew Najpinit (in the middle in the picture above), author of several cookbooks and a 35-year veteran of teaching Thai cooking. Her daughter Ning (on the left) speaks great English and does much of the teaching to non Thai-speaking students. A typical course at Khao spans three dishes over four hours and costs 1,500B. There are two sessions a day, each offering a different repertoire of dishes, so it’s possible to study a week and not repeat a single dish. Those interested in more obscure recipes can arrange private scholarship.
Stop by and let us know how it was.
Khao Cooking School
Located behind D&D Inn, Th Khao San
081 731 8001
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Last year I collaborated with pastry master-slash-writer Nick Malgieri on a piece about street food in Bangkok for the Washington Post. This piece has finally been published: see Nick’s article here and my photo gallery here (login is, I believe, required).
Khun Daeng, originally brought to my attention by diligent foodsleuth Nong A, is a tiny restaurant that serves an equally tiny repertoire of dishes. The emphasis is on kuay jap yuan, a noodle soup of partial Vietnamese origin that combines several kinds of pork including ribs, ground pork and muu yo, the smooth, peppery Vietnamese pork sausage. The nooodles used are made from rice flour and dusted with another type of flour, the latter of which provides the broth with a thick, slightly gelatinous texture. It’s the kind of Vietnamese-Thai dish one finds in the towns along the Mekong River such as Mukdahan or Nong Khai. Khun Daeng also does a tasty-looking yam of muu yor.
28 Th Phra Athit
085 246 0111
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I’ve previously blogged about the other location of this restaurant, but the original branch, located near the National Library, is apparently the more famous of the two, and has hosted the likes of the Thai royal family and was previously named as one of the Bangkok Post’s best restaurants in Bangkok a few years back. Because of these accolades, the place has a something of a reputation, and some visiting friends were keen on stopping by.
At my last visit, nobody was interested in ordering the most expensive item on the menu: crab fried in yellow chili oil (pictured above). I finally got my chance and quite enjoyed the dish, particularly its generous chunks of crab and its pleasantly oily texture.
Once again we ordered the house special dork khajorn, a type of domestic flower, flash-fried with minced pork and oyster sauce:
Hock ordered miang khanaa, expecting it to be served in the traditional manner with bai miang (sometimes known as wild tea leaf):
but as the name suggests, the dish is served here with the crispy, slightly bitter leaves of khanaa, Chinese kale.
One of the best dishes of the meal was mussels fried (or were they steamed?) with fresh herbs:
I think it was the first time either Hock or I had eaten tender, perfectly-cooked mussels in Thailand.
And finally I ordered the house green curry with freshwater fish dumplings:
The curry itself was pleasantly bland (as is the intent), but the fish balls were rubbery and flavourless.
I think we all felt it was generally a solid, satisfying meal, as is the case with of much of the Thai food in Bangkok nowadays, but nothing profoundly delicious or revelatory (which is also the case with much of the food in Bangkok).
Th Samsen (near corner with Soi 9)
02 668-8788, 02 241 8528
10.30am-7.30pm Mon-Fri,10.30am-6pm Sat, closed Sun
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It’s the story of my life. Virtually every time I make specific plans to visit a specific restaurant in Bangkok, it’s closed. It’s happened tens of times, and I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned it here before. And yes, it happened again today when I planned to take visiting Thai food fans Nick Malgieri and David Thompson to Dao Tai, a southern Thai restaurant in Thonburi.
Suppressing the urge to throw my camera at the retractable steel wall that separated me from delicious southern Thai food, I remained calm and reminded myself that there are two seemingly identical restaurants across the street:
One of which was closed (of course), leaving us with little choice: Ruam Tai. Fortunately the bundle of sator, also known as stink beans, hanging at the display case was an encouraging sign of southern authenticity:
The selection was also encouraging, so we ordered a huge spread of dishes:
including a spicy boar stir-fry, the famous southern Thai fish kidney curry, kaeng tai plaa, a soup of fresh turmeric and chicken, a very nice yellow curry and a stir-fry of stink beans.
I particularly liked the slightly sweet soup of coconut milk, palm hearts, shrimp, the previously-mentioned stink beans and a southern Thai leaf called liang:
David liked the dish in the foreground, a mixture of cockles and bai chaphlu, wild tea or betel leaves in a mild coconut milk curry:
And I thought Nick did quite well in general, considering the famous heat of authentic southern Thai food. I thought the dishes weren’t quite as refined and the flavours not as expertly balanced as those of Dao Tai, but everything was still authentic and tasty.
In the end my initial disappointment was almost entirely forgotten when we made our way into the Thai sweets shop directly next door (Phensri, 02 411 0839), where the very kind owner plied us with jasmine-scented Thai sweets, answered our ridiculous questions, and eventually took us into her kitchen where she let us see where she mixed, steamed and smoked her mor kaeng and other desserts.
375/4 Thanon Phran Nok, Thonburi
02 412 7347
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