A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: January 2011



Whiskey Soda Lounge

Posted at 8pm on 1/1/11 | read on
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As mentioned previously, Portland’s Pok Pok serves a lengthy and tasty menu of largely northern and northeastern Thai-influenced food. For Oregon (and perhaps the rest of the US), this is novel, but if you’ve lived in Thailand for a long time, grilled chicken and papaya salad can seem about as exotic as hamburgers and French fries. Luckily, for something a bit more unusual, you can simply cross the street to Whiskey Soda Lounge.

Originally a venue for customers enduring Pok Pok’s long lines, the Lounge has become a destination in its own right. Essentially a bar, but boasting a brief menu that is nonetheless rather more adventurous than that of Pok Pok, chef/owner Andy Ricker tells me that the Lounge is his effort to get people to eat more unusual dishes:

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As if to prove this, on one of the days I stopped by the staff were busy making naem, northern Thai -style fermented pork sausage:

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Other dishes I reckon you’re unlikely to see on any Thai restaurant menu in the US include Neua Sawan, marinated and dried beef that’s been deep-fried; truly tasty Sai Muu Thawt, deep-fried pork chitlins; grilled pork collar with an excellent dipping sauce; Jin Loong, Mae Hong Son-style deep-fried pork balls; and while I was there, a special of grilled pig’s tail, a dish Andy and I ate up in Chiang Mai a few months back. The Lounge is a also a good place to try one of the equally unusual but tasty drinking vinegars made by Andy and his team.

On another visit, I got to spend some time helping Andy and his staff improve their take on khang pong, Mae Hong Son-style fritters of green papaya, lemongrass, dried chili and turmeric:

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Doing this brought home the difficulty of making such dishes in the US. The restaurant’s chefs and cooks, most following what they’d been taught previously about battering and frying, were making the dish too light and fluffy — not flat and dense as it should be. Also, the only lemongrass that’s consistently available to restaurants in Oregon is rather coarse and woody with not a whole lot of flavour. But after several attempts, and with a few minor tweaks, we were able to arrive at something that I thought was very close to the real deal.

Whiskey Soda Lounge
3131 SE Division St, Portland, Oregon
(503) 232 0102
5pm-midnight Sun-Thurs & 5pm-1am Fri & Sat


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Portland bites

Posted at 8pm on 1/4/11 | read on
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A few more of the things I particularly enjoyed consuming in Portland:

Chorizo from Olympic Provisions.

Biscuits and gravy at Pine State Biscuits:

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Pizza, Salad of canellini beans & Albacore tuna conserva, other sides and the wonderful dessert at Nostrana.

Street-stall tacos:

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Dinner and house-aged cocktails at Clyde Common.

Stumptown coffee and pastries:

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Collard greens and deep-fried cheese curds at Savoy.

My first ‘Connecticut-style’ pizza at Apizza Scholls:

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The Swedish food section at IKEA.

Ju pa bao, Macanese pork chop bun, at Ping:

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Vietnamese sandwiches (pictured at the top of this post).

The Kiwi burger at Foster Burger.

And while I’m at it, a couple noteworthy food mistakes:

‘Mexican’ food in general:

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Popeye’s:

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Eau Hua Sukiyaki

Posted at 6pm on 1/8/11 | read on
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Dating back to 1955, Eau Hua is allegedly Bangkok’s oldest sukiyaki restaurant. It must have been pretty influential, as sukii is one of the most ubiquitous types of restaurant in Bangkok nowadays.

Although the selections here are much fewer than those of chain suki restaurants Coca or MK, after a few visits, I reckon this is probably my favourite place to do sukii in Bangkok. The old-school atmosphere, once you get past the religious iconography, is fun:

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and the broth and ingredients are of good-quality and tasty. I particularly like the dipping sauce, which is not as sweet as others’ and has an almost meaty shrimp paste-like flavour.

They also do other dishes and we had a nice smokey khao phat puu, fried rice with crab.

For something (very) marginally related, here’s a list of Portuguese words that have entered the Japanese language, many of them food-related.

Eau Hua Sukiyaki
842-846 Thanon Rama IV, Bangkok
02 234 3548
11am-10pm


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Back in the MHS. Again.

Posted at 11pm on 1/19/11 | read on
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I’m back north for my now-annual month in Mae Hong Son. The weather up here is cool and the leaves have changed colour, but foodwise, things aren’t quite the same this year. Pa Ni had eye surgery so her husband has been in charge of making the sweets. As a result, the suay thamin and alawaa are just slightly off. Pa Add is allegedly refurbishing her house and hasn’t been selling her amazing Tai Yai food at the evening market, and several visits to Baan Phleng have more miss than hit.

Luckily, there’s no lack of khao kan jin (pictured above), Mae Sri Bua is still cooking, and I’ve discovered a couple new places that I hope to share here. I also plan to share some local recipes that I reckon should be replicable just about anywhere. Stay tuned.

Laap Phrae

Posted at 8pm on 1/23/11 | read on
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My favourite northern-style laap place in Mae Hong Son closed a while back and it’s taken until now to find a replacement.

On this visit I’ve been getting my laap on at Laap Phrae. Phrae is a province in northeastern Thailand that’s associated with this and other meaty, northern-style dishes, such as the infamous luu. The owners of this restaurant are natives of Phrae, but don’t do luu.

Instead, they do the remainder of the spectrum of northern Thai-style meat dishes, including a decent nuea nueng, beef steamed over herbs and served with a spicy galangal-based dip; various grilled meats, from the user friendly beef to the more challenging paeng nom, cow teats; and kaeng om, an herbal, meaty stew.

But I tend to stick to the laap. Their laap muu khua, northern-style fried pork laap (pictured above, served with greens and herbs and sticky rice), is good, but not amazing. The spice mixture is quite course and the seasoning a bit heavy-handed, but it’s a tasty full-flavoured and meaty meal. The beef version is probably a bit better, and is heavy on the pepper-like dried spices makhwaen and dee plee. They also apparently do laap khwaay, raw buffalo laap like I had up in Chiang Mai a few months ago.

Laap Phrae
Th Siri Mongkol, Mae Hong Son
088 431 1754
10am-8pm


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Panelle alla Mae Hong Son

Posted at 12am on 1/25/11 | read on
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As mentioned previously, people in northern Thailand love their deep-fried food. And in a weird twist of fate, one kind of deep-fried snack that’s particularly popular in Mae Hong Son is also associated with the streets of Sicily.

Known there as panelle, in Mae Hong Son they’re sometimes called tao huu thawt, literally ‘fried tofu.’ This is a misleading name, as the crispy deep-fried snacks are actually made from chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour.

An obscure ingredient that I’ve only ever encountered here in Mae Hong Son or in Indian groceries (where it’s known as besan), chickpea flour is also popular in Myanmar, particularly among the Shan, the same Tai ethno-linguistic group that inhabit Mae Hong Son, who use it to make something the Burmese call Shan tophu kyaw, ‘deep-fried Shan tofu,’ a dish that outsiders sometimes call Burmese tofu.

The vendors in Mae Hong Son’s morning market sell a variety of dishes using chickpea flour. In one, known as thua oon, ‘warm beans,’ the flour is boiled with water, and the thick, yellow, gelatinous liquid is served over noodles. In another version, the flour and water mixture are allowed to set until firm enough to cut into slices which are eaten in the form a spicy salad.

But the tastiest and seemingly most popular version is thua phu thawt, ie the panelle of Mae Hong Son, where the firm mixture is deep-fried. They’re light and rarely oily, and when hot, actually taste a lot like McDonald’s French fries. In Sicily they’re fried in wide, flat sheets and are apparently served in sandwiches. In Mae Hong Son’s morning market, they’re served as tiny triangles and come with a spicy/salty tamarind-based dip.

Recently a vendor started selling the dish near the house I rent up here. Her version, like those sold in Myanmar, are small and crispy, and are served with a dip that combines chickpea flour paste, lime juice and chili oil (pictured at the top of this post).

This snack and view from the vendor’s stall:

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are collaborating to take me from my work and make me fat.

Is there a link between the panelle of Sicily and the thua phu thawt of Mae Hong Son? My only guess is the Muslim influence that came to Sicily via the Moors and to Myanmar via India, brought with it chickpea flour. The fried dish that exists today in these disparate destinations could very well be a culinary coincidence.

If you want to make thua phu thawt, pick up a bag of besan at an Indian grocery and follow this Italian recipe. If you’re in Mae Hong Son, simply go here:


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Canon PowerShot S90

Posted at 1am on 1/25/11 | read on
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Mae Hong Son, shot with the Canon PowerShot S90 (ISO 250, f/4.9)

In response to my own post of several months ago, I eventually settled on the Canon PowerShot S90.

I’ve generally been pretty happy with it, and it’s liberating to be able to stuff a camera in my pocket rather than lug around an entire kit. A few other positives:

-Easy to manipulate f/stop and exposure
-Has a ‘fast’ f/2 aperture at the wide end
-Can shoot in RAW
-As shown above, with lots of light and at low ISOs, I can get pretty good quality shots

Some failings:

-Flimsy construction, particularly the wheel that controls the previously-mentioned exposure
-Shots generally tend to look ‘flat’ with little dynamic range
-Pretty noisy, even when shooting in RAW at relatively low (400) ISOs:

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Mae Hong Son’s Wat Phra That Doi Kong Muu, shot with the Canon PowerShot S90 (ISO 400, f/2.0)

As always happens, I wish I’d held out a few months and bought the S95. I played with it in a store recently and the build is a lot stronger, although the image quality appears to be the same.

Lung Roen

Posted at 9pm on 1/25/11 | read on
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Unfortunately Laap Phrae’s time in my personal restaurant limelight didn’t last very long. Only a couple days after eating there, I decided to hit up an open-air laap place at the outskirts of town.

I now have a new favourite laap restaurant in Mae Hong Son.

Lung Roeng does northern-style laap just as I like it: finely minced, relatively dry, lots of dried spice flavour and spicy.

They also serve grilled dishes, meat-based soups and som tam. In addition to beef laap (shown above), I also ordered tam som oh, a classic northern Thai dish combines pomelo, a black paste made from field crabs, slices of lemongrass and eggplant.

If this alone isn’t reason enough to make the trip, across the street is a woman selling the spectrum of local Thai Yai-style deep-fried snacks:

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Including khang pong (strips of green papaya battered and deep-fried), thua phoo thawt (deep-fried tofu), and thua phoo lueang thawt (chickpea flour fritters).

Lung Roen
Off Th Pracha Seksan, Mae Hong Son
085 723 991
10am-6pm Mon-Sat


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I find the food up here in Mae Hong Son fascinating and love making and sharing local recipes. Unfortunately, many of the dishes call for obscure ingredients that aren’t generally available outside of Mae Hong Son or Myanmar’s Shan State.

With this in mind, I asked my neighbour, Phi Laa, a native of Mae Hong Son, to share some recipes I thought one could make just about anywhere. I’ve made no concessions to the following recipes, and assuming you have access to a basic Asian supermarket for some fresh herbs (lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, etc.), the most obscure ingredients you’ll need are shrimp paste, dried turmeric powder and sesame oil.

The first recipe is a simple but delicious salad, known locally as saa, of green tomatoes. Nuea tam, ‘pounded meat,’ is an deceptively simple side dish that’s meaty, salty and spicy. And finally, oop is the local word for a type of curry, the chicken version being arguably one of the most famous local dishes in Mae Hong Son. There are several variations on oop, some using different protein such as hard-boiled eggs or pork, with others based around vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes (oop aloo, from the Hindi word for potato) or ferns. The recipes for the various vegetable-based oop are nearly identical to the below, but don’t have lemongrass or lime leaves, and often include slices of pork belly.

Phi Laa was working too fast for me to record the exact amounts of the various ingredients, so I’ve done my best to provide my own estimates retroactively. But like any Thai cooking, you should taste often and rely on flavour (and experience), not amounts.

Saa Makhuea Som (Thai Yai-Style Tomato Salad)

Green and/or slightly unripe tomatoes, 5, seeded and sliced thinly
Shallots, 5, sliced thinly
Fresh chili, 4 (or to taste), chopped
Cilantro and green onion, one stalk each, chopped
Roasted peanuts, about ¼ cup, ground
Salt, to taste
Sesame oil*, to taste

Combine tomatoes, shallots, chili, herbs and peanuts. Season to taste with salt and oil.

Serve alone, as a snack, or with rice.

*The sesame oil in Mae Hong Son is made from unroasted black sesame seeds. It’s very different in flavour and appearance to the more ubiquitous Chinese-style roasted sesame oil. If you’re striving for authenticity, I’d suggest mixing 1 part Chinese sesame oil with 3 parts of some neutral-tasting cooking oil.

Nuea Tam (‘Pounded Meat’)

Coarse cut of beef, about ½ kilo, cut into chunks about the length of your pinky finger
Turmeric, about ½ tsp
Salt, 1 Tbsp
Ginger, 1 piece about 4cm long, peeled and chopped
Garlic, about 5 cloves, chopped
Cooking oil, about ¼ cup
Dried chili powder, to taste
Salt

Put beef in a saucepan and cover with water. Add turmeric and salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat slightly and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, until the water is completely evaporated and beef is tender.

After the beef is cool, pound the pieces in a mortar and pestle until flat:

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By hand or using scissors, pull the threads of beef apart as thinly and finely as possible.

Pound ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle until you have a coarse paste.

Heat oil in a wok. Add ginger and garlic mixture and fry briefly until fragrant. Add beef and fry over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent from sticking as much as possible (inevitably, some of the beef will stick to the wok, which is OK and provides the dish with its desired dry texture and smokey flavour):

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Add dried chili and season to taste with salt. Continue to cook until beef is dry and stringy.

Serve with rice.

Oop Kai (Thai Yai-Style Chicken Curry)

Curry Paste
Salt, 1 tsp
Small dried chilies, six (or to taste)
Shrimp paste, 1 Tbsp
Garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
Shallots, 4, chopped
Lemongrass, 2 stalks, sliced
Tomatoes, 2, seeded
Turmeric, about 1 tsp
Masala*, about 2 tsp
Kaffir lime leaves, 5

Chicken, 2 legs, jointed
Cooking oil, about ¼ cup

Pound salt, shrimp paste and dried chilies in a mortar and pestle until you have a fine paste. Add garlic, shallots and lemongrass and pound until you have a coarse paste. Add turmeric, masala and tomatoes and grind until well-combined. Add Kaffir lime leaves and bruise:

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In a wok, combine curry paste, chicken and cooking oil and enough water to nearly cover the chicken:

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Cover, bring to a light boil and simmer over med-high heat.** When chicken is somewhat done and the oil has risen to the top, after about about 10 minutes or so, remove lid, increase heat and allow to simmer, uncovered:

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until most of water is evaporated.

The resulting curry should be rich, fragrantly herbal and oily.

Serve with rice

*This is a local spice mix similar to Indian Garam masala, which can be used as a substitute.
**I was genuinely surprised and somewhat skeptical about this cooking technique – most Thai cooks would fry the curry paste in oil first to allow it to amalgamate and release its oils and flavours – but it worked very well.

Pho Phieng Phochana

Posted at 5pm on 1/28/11 | read on
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Despite being a northern dish, and despite there being at least six places in Mae Hong Son that serve it, there’s little khao soi here worth recommending. Even one longstanding restaurant that specializes in the dish turns out bland, soulless bowls.

Pho Phiang Phochana, a homebound restaurant near Mae Hong Son’s airport, serves just about everything, including bowls of self-proclaimed ‘Chiang Mai khao soi.’ It was the sign advertising this fact that caught my attention, and that also got me to thinking about the dish. I used to think of khao soi as a northern dish – I’ve probably eaten it in nearly every province in northern Thailand. But if I’m being honest, it’s never really very good outside of Chiang Mai. And if I’m being extremely honest, even in Chiang Mai there are only maybe two places where I care to eat it.

But back to Pho Phiang Phochana. Of the bowls I’ve had in Mae Hong Son, I reckon they do the best one. The broth was just rich and spicy enough, and the sides were of good quality. My only real complaint would be that they overdid it on the crispy noodle topping, making it somewhat hard to get to the main event.

If you’re going to eat khao outside of Chiang Mai, you may as well do it here.

Pho Phiang Phochana
Th Niwet Phisan, Mae Hong Son
Open 10am-8pm


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