Handing out khao ya kuu on the streets of Mork Jampae, Mae Hong Son
My stay in Mae Hong Son coincided yet again with khao ya koo, a Shan celebration in which caravans of partying locals hand out packets of sweetened sticky rice to anybody and everybody in the name of making merit. It’s heaps of fun and reminded me of the fact that I seem to bump into some sort of festival or another virtually every time I’m in Mae Hong Son.
Last week I attended two of Joe McNally’s photography workshops in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, The Hot Shoe Diaries and Let There Be Light. I learned heaps and got the chance to use lots of previously unfamiliar lighting equipment, although not always successfully, as illustrated above. But regardless of our success, Joe was an enthusiastic, fun and inspiring teacher:
and in addition to two of his excellent books and some cool new Lastolite gear, I took home several techniques and ideas that I hope to use soon. If Joe is ever in your part of the world, I’d highly recommend investing in his workshops. Failing that, do check out his books The Moment It Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries, both of which are fun and pretty enough to grace the coffee table, but informative enough for the photo geek.
(For any photo geeks out there, the shot above was taken with my D700 and a 70-200 f/2.8 with two barn-doored SB900s providing the backlights and to camera left, an SB800 shot through a 30″ Ezybox Softbox diffused additionally through a TriGrip, all of this, believe it or not, in TTL mode.)
Gourds for sale at Mae Hong Son’s morning market
Khao puk ngaa, pounded sticky rice coated with ground sesame, a traditional sweet, Mae Hong Son
It’s been a while since I’ve checked out Engrish.com, but this sign, at the Pha Bong Hotsprings, 12km outside Mae Hong Son, reminded me of the site. In case the text above is too small to read, it says:
prohibit dip foot appeareds a pond
prohibit down water uncle in a pond
prohibit sit take a bath on pond edge
I was bathing here one morning (a wonderful experience) and apparently violated the last rule, as a man walked over to tell me that I shouldn’t sit on the elevated edge of the hot spring. According to him, people were complaining it ‘didn’t look nice’ and that the ‘dirty water’ from my body would go back into the hot spring (a vast pond of boiling water, I remind you) and make it unclean.
I obliged, but was also reminded of how utterly important appearances are in Thailand, often taking precedence over reality, common sense and proper grammar.
20 rai of land, located just outside Mae Hong Song city, 3 million baht (approximately US$90,000).
Last week I found myself in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attending Joe McNally’s photography workshops. Thus, not only was I in photo geek heaven, but this being KL, I was likewise also in Asian food heaven, and with the guidance of EatingAsia and Jarrett, had a string of virtually faultless meals, ranging in scope from vegetarian southern Indian to porky Chinese.
But the meal that stands out, and which was recommended by both of the above, was Sek Yuen. This longstanding restaurant is unabashedly old-school, and was allegedly a popular destination for wedding receptions in the past:
But it isn’t all about appearances here. The kai lan with crispy pork belly:
is quite possibly the tastiest Chinese-style flash-fried veggie dish I’ve yet to encounter: smokey (they still cook everything over wood here), crispy/crunchy, meaty and garlicky; the only thing it could possibly use was a bit of chili.
The restaurant’s famous roast duck (virtually every table had an order of this):
although not entirely photogenic and slightly dry, was immensely satisfying, the crispy skin holding the subtle flavour of a complex dried spice rub.
There was steamed pork ribs:
served with an oyster sauce- and sesame oil-heavy sauce, making the dish somehow seem even meatier than its already meaty appearance.
An attempt to order what in Thailand is known as kuy chai phat tao huu (garlic chives fried with tofu) instead got us gourd fried with egg (Thai-accented Teochew Chinese doesn’t get me as far as I assumed), but communications problems aside, I found the staff here lovely:
Lovely enough, in fact, for a re-run. Visiting again the very next evening, I had yusheng:
a raw fish ‘salad’ that has apparently become associated with Chinese New Year in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish is only available for two weeks at Sek Yuen, and with disparate ingredients including (but not limited to) ginger, pomelo, sesame oil, cinnamon and jellyfish, was a fascinating combination of virtually every texture and flavour imaginable.
Anybody visiting Kuala Lumpur is well-advised to check out EatingAsia’s Top Ten Eats in KL (I made it to nearly half of them).
Sek Yuen Restoran
313-315 Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur
03 9222 9457
Lunch & dinner, Tues-Sun
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Combine roti canai, a type of fried flatbread served with a spicy dhal-based dipping sauce, teh halia, sweet ginger tea, and throw in a copy of theSun with fresh dirt about Anwar’s sodomy trial and you have a thoroughly delicious and entertaining breakfast one could only find in Malaysia.
I often get emails from people en route to Bangkok asking me to recommend the best places in town to eat. I reply to these when I can, but sometimes the volume of mail can get overwhelming, so back in 2006 I put together a blog post to address this problem. I recently stumbled upon the post, which by now is somewhat out of date, and thought it was high time to provide an updated version.
Again, this isn’t a definitive list of Bangkok’s best restaurants, but rather a general guide aimed at first-time visitors trying to make sense of the city’s food offerings.
If you’re fresh off the plane on your first trip to Thailand, I still feel that the best place to dip your toe in the water of Thai food is a mall food court. They’re clean and cheap, the menus are written in English, you have a wide range of choices, and actually, the food can be pretty good. My favorite food court is probably the one on the sixth floor of Mah Boon Krong (also known as MBK). There you’ll find most of the Thai standards, a huge variety of Thai-Chinese food, and there’s even a stall selling Thai-Muslim food and a good vegetarian stall. The food court in the basement of Siam Paragon is a bit more expensive and mostly Chinese-Thai, but is also a decent and convenient choice. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could also try one of the slightly more downmarket food centres such as the two huge food halls at the end of Silom Soi 10 that serve the area’s hungry office staff, or Food Plus, the alleyway between Soi 3 and Soi 4 at Siam Square.
At this point you’ve found a dish or two that you like and are likely at least somewhat familiar with the flavours of Thai food. Assuming you’re on vacation, you’ll want to hit up at least one upscale Thai restaurant. Unfortunately I haven’t actually been to many upscale Thai restaurants in the years since I wrote the first version of this post. The only one I’m really familiar with right now is Bo.lan, which despite having eaten there at least five times, I’ve yet to blog about (they’re open for lunch on weekends now, so I’ll get around to it soon). The restaurant is owned and run by two former chefs of David Thompson’s London restaurant Nahm, and their dedication to great ingredients and obscure old-school Thai recipes combine to make it a worthwhile investment. Another alternative, although it’s upscale in the Thai sense, is the delightfully old-school Sorndaeng.
Once you’ve downed a few plates of food court nosh and have consumed the requisite nice Thai meal, I reckon you’re ready for the next step in Thai dining: a good food neighborhood. In my opinion, this is the highest level of Thai dining, and a good food ‘hood will have mix of good stalls, specialist shops and a good all-around restaurant or two. The downsides to this are that you’ll need a bit of experience to recognise what’s on offer, and language can be a barrier. If you’re game for a bit of adventure, one of Bangkok’s best is the area around Thanon Tanao:
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a strip of road teeming with legendary Thai eats, including several specialised vendors including my favourite khanom beuang the excellent Paa Thong Ko Sawoey, and a few good all-around restaurants such as Chote Chitr, Poj Spa Kar, Kim Leng and a couple blocks away, Krua Apsorn.
At this point you’ll have sampled a cross section of Thai cuisine and you’re most likely ready for the final step: Thai street food. These affairs are generally only open at night, are not the cleanest restaurants you’ll ever see, very little English is spoken and are located in inconvenient parts of town. But the food can be outstanding and the experience fun. In this regard, I wholeheartedly endorse Bangkok’s Chinatown:
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Simply walk down Thanon Yaowarat, avoid the annoying touts at touristy seafood restaurants, and pay attention as you reach the intersection at Soi 6. There you will find virtually every form of Chinese-influenced Thai street food. In this area I particularly like the egg dishes at Nay Mong, the kuaytiaw khua kai vendor and Nay Uan’s kuay jap.
Located near Bangkok’s historic Nang Loeng Market is a narrow alley where you’ll find two slightly different dishes, united in their use of the same name, a crispy shell and a predominately sweet flavour:
The first vendor, Ya Sam, makes the rarer form of khanom beuang (pictured at the top of this post), a crispy egg- and flour-based omelet filled with bean sprouts, tofu, coriander and a savoury/spicy mixture of coconut meat, shrimp, black pepper and coriander root. The dish is served with a sweet/sour dipping sauce that combines sliced cucumbers, chili, ginger and shallots. Frankly, I find this type of khanom beuang a bit too sweet, but this is a personal preference, and in fact think these flavours are probably representative of authentic old-school Bangkok-style food.
Virtually across from this stall there’s also a vendor of the more ubiquitous form of khanom beuang:
Lung Noy still makes these crispy taco-like snacks the traditional way, with a bean-based batter and two fillings, sweet, which combines dried fruit and sweet duck egg yolk strands, and savoury, which has a spicy shrimp mixture similar to the one mentioned above.
An ideal one-stop meal destination for those who appreciate linguistic redundancy, sweet flavours and a bit of crunch.
Khanom beuang vendors
Soi 4, Thanon Nakhon Sawan, Bangkok
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