A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: September 2009



Pa Ni

Posted at 7pm on 9/1/09 | read on
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Serving Shan/Thai Yai sweets, Mae Hong Son

As mentioned previously, Mae Hong Son was pretty wet, so we spent a lot of our time indoors, much of it eating and drinking. Of all the things we consumed there, I’m pretty sure that the local sweets were the biggest hit among the two chefs. We bought several banana leaf packages of the sweets on a daily basis, and they never seemed to tire of them.

Our sole khanom purveyor was Pa Ni, a native of Mae Hong Son who was taught by her mother to make Shan/Thai Yai-style sweets over forty years ago. My personal fave of her repertoire is something called peng mong:

Peng mong, a Shan/Thai Yai sweet, Mae Hong Son

According to Pa Ni, this one is made using what she calls paeng mi, “noodle flour” (I suspect this simply wheat flour), and has the consistency of a Western-style cake, with a salty/sweet coconut topping acting as the frosting. Because of the crumb-like consistency of the sweet, Chef Andy reckons some sort of leavening agent is used here, a rarity in Thai sweets.

My second favourite has to be alawa jun:

Alawa jun, a Shan/Thai Yai sweet, Mae Hong Son

a significantly heavier sweet made from rice flour, ample coconut cream and a slight hint of durian (Pa Ni adds thurian kuan, durian paste, to this sweet). Like all of Pa Ni’s sweets, the top is slightly singed, the result of a “baking” process where, after steaming the sweets, she covers the trays and tops this with a layer of hot coals.

The regular alawa:

Alawa, a Shan/Thai Yai sweet, Mae Hong Son

is slightly lighter and gets most of its flavour from sugar and coconut milk.

And Suay thamin:

Suay thamin, a Shan/Thai Yai sweet as made by Pa Ni, Mae Hong Son

is the Shan pronunciation of the Burmese shwe thamin, “golden rice”, and is rather heavy sweet made from sticky rice.

For an earlier post on Thai Yai sweets, go here.

Pa Ni
9 Thanon Singhanat Bamrung, Mae Hong Son


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Shoppers at Mae Hong Son's morning market

The morning market in Mae Hong Son is one of my favourite in Thailand. Despite being a rather small market, and the fact that I’ve spent quite a bit of time there, on each subsequent visit I always seem able to find some new ingredient or dish I wasn’t previously aware of. This is partially due to the fact that Mae Hong Son is rather more seasonal than other places in Thailand. Much of what’s on offer is dictated by the weather, which unfortunately during the rainy season is rather limited. I missed the bright red tomatoes and fern shoots of the cooler months, but was compensated by the variety weird edible insect larvae, tender edible fruit tree leaves and bamboo shoots of the rainy season. Year round there’s always an odd selection of items from just across the border in Burma: calendars with Burmese pop stars, pickled tea leaves and packets of herbal medicines. And breakfast at the market is always one of the weirdest and most satisfying in the country.

To view a slideshow of some random images from Mae Hong Son’s morning market, click on the image above and use keyboard arrows or hold your mouse above the images to navigate through them.

A bite to eat in Siem Reap

Posted at 7pm on 9/10/09 | read on
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A mural at Angkor Wat depicting eating

Cambodia isn’t generally known as a culinary destination, but I really enjoyed the eats during five recent days in Siem Reap. The quality of the city’s foreign cuisine, particularly its French, was much better than that of a huge city like Bangkok. Among other meals, we had a fun lunch at Le Bistrot de Paris, and on a daily basis, excellent pastries from the Blue Pumpkin (unfortunately we never made it to dinner at the allegedly delicious Abacus). And the Cambodian food was excellent too, for which I have to thank Chef Joannès Rivière, Executive Chef at Hôtel de la Paix. Chef Jo oversees a truly delicious Khmer set menu at Meric, the hotel’s restaurant, which includes dishes such as his famous stuffed frog, a trio of pounded salads (coconut with pork, wild eggplant with fish, and sesame with chicken), and an equal parts tart and smokey star fuit salad with smoked fish. It was really one of the best restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time, but unfortunately the restaurant was too dark to document with my crappy old Nikon D100 (you can though see a pic of Meric’s famous watermelon salad here).

The next day Jo took me to New Cheip Sok, a restaurant he recommends not only for it’s kick ass Khmer food, but also for its noteworthy and classy wall of beer bottles:

The wall of beer bottles at New Chiep Sok, a restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I left the ordering to Chef Jo. There was prahoc k’tis:

Prahoc k'tis, a 'dip' of fish, coconut and herbs at New Chiep Sok, a restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia

a delicious ‘dip’ of Cambodian fish sauce, fish, herbs and coconut milk, served with fresh and par-boiled veggies. This was a dish that exemplified Khmer flavours: mild, herbal and balanced, and revolving around something fishy.

There was deep-fried pigeon:

Deep-fried pigeons at New Chiep Sok, a restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia

which were served with the simple but absolutely brilliant Khmer dipping sauce of salt, pepper and lime:

A dip for deep-fried foods at New Chiep Sok, a restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Mam, raw Khmer-style fermented fish served with a platter of fresh herbs, veggies and fruit and slices of pork:

Mam, fermented fish, served with sliced pork, fruit and vegetables and herbs at New Chiep Sok, a restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia

And the house specialty, “hidden eggplant”, a Chinese-Khmer deep-fried dish combining minced pork and eggplant:

New Chiep Sok
N# 253 Stung Thmey Village, Siem Reap, Cambodia
+855 12 630 570

Hôtel de la Paix
Sivutha Boulevard, Siem Reap, Cambodia
+ 855 63 966 000


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Khao Tom Jay Suay

Posted at 4am on 9/13/09 | read on
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A cook at Khao Tom Jay Suay, a restaurant in Bangkok's Chinatown

Other than noodles, the greatest contribution the Chinese have made to Thai cooking, at least in my opinion, is khao tom. The Thai words literally mean “boiled rice,” but in this case they refer to restaurants that serve a variety Chinese/Thai dishes to order, often with small bowls of watery rice. One of my favourite khao tom places in Bangkok is Khao Tom Jay Suay, an ancient shophouse restaurant in Chinatown. The restaurant is colloquially known as Khao Tom Roy Pee, “100 Year Old Khao Tom,” but I was told it’s really only about 50 years old.

You can recognise Khao Tom Jay Suay by the vast table out front holding the restaurant’s huge array of raw ingredients, mostly different types of vegetables:

Selecting ingredients at Khao Tom Jay Suay, a restaurant in Bangkok's Chinatown

Directly behind this, and shown at the top of this post, a fellow works a station with several prepared dishes. These include several types of meats and fish, a few stir-fried dishes and soups such as jap chai, a type of vegetable-heavy Chinese stew. He shouts the orders out to two additional stations within the restaurant,  a soup station and a separate stir-fry station, and as far as I could tell, no order is recorded on paper.

Must-order dishes at Jay Suay include the delicious smoked duck; muu phat nam liap, minced pork fried with salted Chinese olive; the previously-mentioned jap chai; and any flash-fried veggie dish. On our visit we ordered all of these, as well as a stink bean stir-fry, a tom yam of squid and mushrooms, and a salad of plaa salit thot, a type of deep-fried fish:

Dishes at Khao Tom Jay Suay, a restaurant in Bangkok's Chinatown

You’ll be sitting on the side of a smelly street and it will inevitably be hot, but the food is full-flavoured and excellent.

Khao Tom Jay Suay
547 Thanon Phlap Phla Chai
02 223 9592


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Shoshana

Posted at 6am on 9/15/09 | read on
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Falafel, chips and eggplant dip at Shoshana, an Israeli restaurant in Bangkok

Operating since 1983, Shoshana must be the longest-standing Israeli restaurant in the Khao San Road area, if not in all of Bangkok. Nowadays there are several places in the area serving pitas, felafel and even shwarma, but I inevitably go back to Shoshana. This used to be partially for the constant stream of Seinfeld re-runs being played there (I’ve never owned a TV), but was mostly for a delicious break from Thai food.

As is the case with many of my favourite places to eat, I rarely stray from a few dishes that I know to be good. The set above, my usual, combines felafel, French fries, a garlicky eggplant dip and “Israeli salad”.  I seem to recall the set selling for 55 baht until relatively recently, making Shoshana also the cheapest place in Bangkok to obtain Western-style food. The price has gone up 120 baht now, but it still remains a bargain, especially when you consider the quality. Although they’re not breaking any gastronomical barriers, the folks at Shoshana are extremely talented at deep-frying — this despite not using a Western-style deep-fryer (they use cheap aluminum pots) or deep-frying thermometers. Their skills are evident in the non-soggy and super-crispy French fries to the dry-yet-moist-in-the-right-places schnitzel. They also do good liver dishes, decent home-made pickles (shown in the background) and a decent yogurt shake.

Shoshana
88 Th Chakraphong, Banglamphu, Bangkok
02 282 9948
11am-11pm


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What to eat in Hat Yai

Posted at 7pm on 9/18/09 | read on
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 Bak kut te at Koh Tee Ochaa, a Chinese restaurant in Hat Yai

Hat Yai is a large, rather unattractive town in southern Thailand. It’s by no means a destination, but because the city serves as a crossroads to many places farther south, I’ve spent quite a few nights here over the years. Fortunately there are worse places to be stuck, particularly if you count eating as one of your hobbies. The residents of Hat Yai are a mix of Thais, Chinese and Muslims and they have provided the city with an interesting restaurant scene. Just in case you happen to find yourself stuck in Hat Yai at some point, I’ve put together a short list of the places that have caught my attention over the years that I’ve been going there.

My favourite single dish in Hat Yai has to be the dish above, bak kut teh, as served at Koh Tii Ocha, a Chinese food court-like restaurant in the centre of town. The name of the dish is Chinese, but EatingAsia claim the dish has its origins in Malaysia. The dish is served with your choice of meat and offal (and typically an entire clove of garlic) and sides of rice and paa thong ko, deep-fried dough with a sweet coconut jam dip. The broth is dark, rich and evocative of the dish’s Hokkien name (bak kut teh is generally translated as “meat bone tea”). Koh Tii Ocha also serves Hainanese chicken rice, wheat noodles and rice porridge.

Koh Tii Ochaa (Google Maps link)
134-136 Th Niphat Uthit 3, Hat Yai
074 23 4243
Breakfast & lunch

Khao yam is a type of rice “salad” popular in southern Thailand. Rice is cooked with dork anchan, a type of flower, giving it a purplish/gray hue, and is topped with finely sliced herbs, flowers, fruit, ground dried shrimp, thin rice noodles and a thin fish-based sauce. One of the better versions in Hat Yai is served by a Muslim woman who  prepares the dish a couple blocks away from the train station:

Khao yam, a rice 'salad' that is a common breakfast in southern Thailand

Muslim Khao Yam (Google Maps link)
Thanon Rotfai, Hat Yai
Breakfast & lunch

Another tasty Muslim breakfast is roti, crispy pancakes, served southern-style with a curry dipping sauce. There’s a string of Muslim restaurants along Th Niyomrat, including Tamrab Muslim, which does a good roti kaeng:

Roti and curry in Hat Yai

Tamrab Muslim (Google Maps link)
Cnr Th Nipatuthit 1 & Th Niyomrat, Hat Yai
Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Chicken, marinated in dried spices before being deep-fried, is a specialty of Hat Yai that has a reputation across Thailand. Many locals claim that Daycha, a restaurant with a couple branches in town, serves the best version. You can order it with sticky rice and a plate of som tam or chopped and served over yellow rice:

Fried chicken served on yellow rice, Daycha Fried Chicken, Hat Yai

Daycha Fried Chicken (Google Maps link)
Th Chi-Uthit, Hat Yai
08 1098 3751
Lunch & dinner

Hat Yai has a huge Chinese population, and Chinese food is ubiquitous, cheap and generally quite good. One of my favourite places to eat is Sor Hueng, a khao tom place with several branches serving mostly Chinese and Chinese/Thai dishes, with a few local dishes thrown in as well. Most dishes are made ahead of time and all you have to do is point to whatever looks tasty:

At a branch of Sor Hueng, a Chinese restaurant in Hat Yai

Sor Hueng 3 (Google Maps link)
79/16 Th Thamnoonvithi, Hat Yai
08 1896 3455
4pm-3am

Hat Yai also has two pretty good night markets. The most famous is located north of the centre of town and is a great place to sit down to a dish of the local deep-fried chicken, a southern-style curry, a dish or khanom jeen, or some local seafood:

Frying up curry crab at Hat Yai's evening market

Hat Yai’s Night Market (Google Maps link)
Th Montri 1
6pm-late

Another night market, located slightly closer to the centre of town, specialises in take-away southern Thai eats:

Curries at Hat Yai's evening market

Hat Yai’s Night Market (Google Maps link)


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Breakfast in Songkhla

Posted at 6am on 9/21/09 | read on
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A dish of khao yam, Songkhla

When at home in Bangkok I tend to eat a pretty western-style breakfast (toast, eggs, yogurt), so when I’m on the road in different parts of Thailand I really look forward to getting my hands on a domestic breakfast. I certainly wasn’t disappointed in Songkhla, an atmospheric seaside town in southern Thailand. The southern Thais have some of the best morning eats in the country, and Songkhla was no exception. It was a morning of several southern Thai specialties and sweet coffee in several different locations.

My favourite place for breakfast in Songkhla is probably an open-air streetside courtyard just off Th Saiburi with different three vendors. One vendor makes old-school style Thai coffee and tea, other vendor makes a delicious khao yam (illustrated above), and another couple make roti:

Roti vendor, Songkhla

The crispy pancakes are served southern-style, with a curry and a sweet/sour cucumber dipping sauce.

Continuing along Th Nang Ngam, a street lined with old houses and Chinese shrines, I came across this woman, selling noodles to students in front of a school:

Noodle vendor in front of a school, Songkhla

Her husband was equally busy, selling cups of pop to the kids, at 7am…

Just up the road I stopped by a an old shophouse restaurant for a salapao, a Chinese steamed bun, and a yet another coffee:

Chinese restaurant, Songkhla

The coffee wasn’t so good, but the salapao contained a delicious mixed pork mixture and a quail egg. This was the kind of place that families stopped by on their way to work and/or school, and I got the impression that most of then had been coming there for a long time.

Continuing to the end of Th Nang Ngam, my last stop was at an even more ancient, Muslim-owned coffee shop (which has also been blogged about here):

Old-school Chinese coffee, Songkhla

with equally ancient interior design and clientele:

Old-school coffee shop, Songkhla

I left Songkhla shortly after, feeling full and fully caffeinated…

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For the first time I’ll be attending, and blogging about, the Four Seasons Bangkok’s annual World Gourmet Festival. This year is the 10th anniversary of the event, and chefs such as David Kinch, from the acclaimed Manresa in California, and David Thompson from London’s Nahm, will be in town cooking, teaching and leading culinary tours to celebrate the occasion. I plan to attend the dinners of these two chefs, as well as those of Graham Elliot Bowles of Chicago’s Graham Elliot, Paola Carosella of Sao Paolo’s Arturito, Christine Manfield of Sydney’s Universal, and Fulvio Saccardi of Ristorante Conti Roero in Monticello D’Alba, Italy.

Leading up to the event, I’ll be doing some brief profiles of the chefs above, and when the festival begins, I’ll be blogging on the cooking demonstrations and meals, as well as interviews with some of the chefs.

The event will be held from October 5-11, at the Four Seasons Bangkok. For full details of the chefs involved and a schedule of the events planned, please refer to the official website. Some dinners are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at wgf.bangkok@fourseasons.com.

Khao Noi

Posted at 4am on 9/23/09 | read on
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Phat phet muu, spicy pork stir-fry, and kaeng khi lek, bitter leaf curry, at Khao Noi, a curry restaurant in Songkhla, Thailand

On the surface, Khao Noi appears to be your typical southern Thai-style raan khao kaeng, curry restaurant. A closer look reveals that Khao Noi is anything but ordinary. The tiny restaurant prepares nearly 50 dishes on a daily basis:

Dishing up curries at Khao Noi, a curry restaurant in Songkhla, Thailand

and most un-ordinarily, every one I’ve ever tried there is delicious.

On my most recent visit I had a plate of rice topped with two dishes: muu phat phet, pork fried with a spicy curry paste, fresh herbs and spices, and kaeng khi lek, a southern Thai-style coconut milk curry of cassia leaves and unusually, tiny shrimp (pictured at the top of this post). The phat phet, as the name suggests, was satisfyingly spicy, and the kaeng khi lek equal parts bitter and savoury. All dishes are served, in the southern style, with a side of crispy veggies to alleviate the heat.

I couldn’t stop at this and my second dish included a yam or salad of green mango and a coconut milk curry of “stink beans” (sator), eggplant and fish:

Green mango salad and

The salad was crispy and sour, and the curry was rich and pungent — a perfect combination.

Khao Noy
14/22 Th Wichianchom, Songkhla
074 311 805
Breakfast & lunch, closed Wed


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Breaking the fast in Pattani

Posted at 9pm on 9/26/09 | read on
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Serving up Muslim-style Thai dishes at a post-fasting food market, Pattani

I happened to be in Pattani, one of Thailand’s most Muslim cities, during Ramadan. I had read about the post-fasting markets held in Muslim countries during this holiday, and after talking to a few motorcycle taxi drivers, learned that was a large one held not far from Pattani’s central mosque:

At a post-fasting food market in Pattani

There was a huge amount of hungry people and interesting food. The latter ran the gamut from traditional Muslim items such as roti:

Roti, Pattani

and dates, a traditional fast-breaking food:

Dates to break the fast, Pattani

to more local foods, such as southern-style Muslim curries (shown at the top of this post) and khanom kho:

Khanom kho, soft rice flour surrounding a piece of sugarcane, Pattani

impossibly soft pillows of rice flour encasing a crunchy cube of sugarcane. There was a popular vendor selling buffalo stew:

A vendor selling buffalo soup, Pattani

identified by its strong smell, not to mention the carefully-displayed tell-tale hooves and horn. And of course, several vendors selling the ubiquitous khao yam:

Serving up khao yam, Pattani

By the time it started to get dark, much of the food was virtually sold out and the crowds were already thin, with most folks presumably on their way home with the day’s meal.