A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: March 2011



Tang Meng Noodle

Posted at 4pm on 3/2/11 | read on
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Despite its English-language name, I suspect that most people know Tang Meng Noodle (Thai name: Khao Man Kai Tang Meng) for its khao man kai (Hainanese chicken rice). That’s why I first went, when taken there several months ago by C and S, friend/owners of nearby WTF. On that visit, I found the khao man kai to be decent, but a subsequent visit revealed that the real surprise here is in fact the noodles.

This tiny longstanding place specialises in the type of Chinese-influenced noodles popular in Bangkok and central Thailand. The yen ta fo (pictured above) has a slightly sweet and tart broth that holds the usual assortment of noodles, fish balls and veggies, as well as lots of crunchy  bits, ranging from deep-fried tofu to fish skin. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the bowl served at my local joint, but it’s one of the better ones I’ve encountered.

They also do a couple takes on bamee, wheat and egg noodles. You can go with the traditional version, which takes the form of thin round noodles served with roasted pork and Chinese mustard greens, or try the flat type, which come served with a seemingly random mix of just about every protein imaginable, from homemade fish balls to chunks of roast duck:

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Tang Meng Noodle
Near cnr Soi 49 & Th Sukhumvit, Bangkok
Breakfast & lunch


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The Foodie

Posted at 6pm on 3/6/11 | read on
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People often ask me for my favourite restaurant in Bangkok. I’m never quite sure how to reply to this, as frankly, there are lots of places that do a particular dish very well but very few restaurants excel at everything. The closest I’ve come to the an all-around outstanding restaurant would most likely be nahm, but it’s expensive and most appropriate for a special dinner or splurge.

The Foodie is certainly not my favourite Thai restaurant in Bangkok, but after about six or so visits, it’s proved to be all-around consistently tasty. The restaurant’s been around for a while (previously in a former location) and specialises in somewhat unusual dishes of southern and central Thai origin that you’re not going to find elsewhere.

On my most recent visit we ate (starting at approximately 12 o’clock on the image above and moving clockwise) Prik king pla dook foo, catfish fried in a curry paste mixture until crispy; Kaeng liang goong sod, a peppery, herbal soup with shrimp, mushrooms and pumpkin; Yam som o, a ‘salad’ of pomelo with a spicy/sour dressing; and Ma-ra pad goong-sab, a stir-fry of bitter gourd and minced shrimp with lots of garlic. The Yam som o is the standout, and has the right combination of sweet and spicy, not to mention lots of crunchy dried fish and deep-fried shallots.

The Foodie
150 Soi Phiphat 2, Bangkok
02 231 5278
11am-11pm Mon-Sat


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Guides

Posted at 6pm on 3/8/11 | read on
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I recently came across two new food-centric guides to Bangkok that are worth sharing.

The most recent release, Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, is written by Chawadee Nualkhair, who also authors the blog Bangkok Glutton (an interview with the author can be seen here). The book’s name is something of a misnomer, as more than half the places mentioned aren’t stalls at all, but rather are shophouse-bound restaurants. The guide generally appears to be directed toward first-time visitors to Bangkok and/or cautious eaters, as many of the restaurants and stalls mentioned are the sort of ‘safe’ places that have long been profiled in the English-language media, and perhaps more tellingly, each entry includes a line on restrooms (sample: “squat toilet. bring your own toilet paper.”). Correspondingly, the book has some good background information on Thai food for those not necessarily familiar with the cuisine (there’s a particularly helpful illustrated section on Thai noodles), and I quite like the general aesthetic of the book, which emphasises lots of photos and illustrations. If you’re a first-time visitor to Bangkok and are wary about eating off the beaten track (or of finding yourself in a restaurant without a bathroom), this is the guide for you. Available online or at Orchid Books.

Rather than a book, Famuluous Eateries Bangkok takes the form of 52 cards profiling everything from street stalls to restaurants. The English can be pretty bizarre (sample: “You will forget about the waiter’s attitude, once you put the chicken your watering mouth…”), but the authors seemingly made an effort to go past the usual foreigner-frequented suspects, delving into many lesser-known stalls and restaurants, many located in Bangkok’s suburbs. There’s lots of Thai, accurate map and transport information, and I like the idea of sticking a single card in one’s wallet, as opposed to lugging around an entire guidebook. If you’ve lived in Bangkok for a while and want to expand your culinary horizons, this is the guide for you. Available at Kinokuniya.

Help me!

Posted at 6pm on 3/13/11 | read on
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My day job is doing guidebooks for Lonely Planet. I’ve contributed text and/or photos to more than 15 books at this point and am currently at work updating Thailand, Bangkok Encounter and Thailand’s Islands & Beaches.

Recently, after spending some time on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum, I got the impression that some people perceive the process of writing guidebooks as something of a solitary endeavour, done with little input from readers or locals. I sympathise with this to a certain extent and began to wonder how I could go about getting more of readers’ opinions on their favourite sights, restaurants, hotels, etc., for the destinations I’m writing about. It was at about this same time that I started using Twitter, and it struck me that the application has immense potential as a tool to uncover exactly this sort of information. So, starting today, I’ll be Tweeting travel- and destination-related questions and queries on a daily basis and would really appreciate your help. If you’d like to pitch in, follow me on Twitter (@austinbushphoto), where my Lonely Planet-related posts will bear the official Lonely Planet hashtag, #lp, supplemented with the name of the destination I’m working on (e.g. #lpbkk, #lpchiangrai).

Thanks!

Khao phat Amerikan

Posted at 6pm on 3/16/11 | read on
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No, the above certainly doesn’t look like Thai food, so let me begin with a bit of background info. from the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Thailand guide:

(Con)fusion Cuisine
A popular dish at restaurants across Thailand is khao phat Amerikan, ‘American fried rice’. Taking the form of rice fried with ketchup, raisins and peas, sides of ham and deep-fried hot dogs, and topped with a fried egg, the dish is, well, every bit as revolting as it sounds. But at least there’s an interesting history behind it: American fried rice dates back to the Vietnam War era, when thousands of US troops were based in northeastern Thailand. A local cook allegedly decided to take the ubiquitous ‘American Breakfast’ (also known as ABF: fried eggs with ham and/or hot dogs, and white bread, typically eaten with ketchup) and make it ‘Thai’ by frying the various elements with rice.

This culinary cross-pollination is only a recent example of the tendency of Thai cooks to pick and choose from the variety of cuisines at their disposal. Other (significantly more palatable) examples include kaeng matsaman, ‘Muslim curry’, a now classic blend of Thai and Middle Eastern cooking styles, and the famous phat Thai, essentially a blend of Chinese cooking methods and ingredients (frying, rice noodles, tofu) with Thai flavours (fish sauce, chilli, tamarind).

Despite having committed these rather derogatory opinions to print, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the khao phat American (illustrated above) as served at New Light Coffee House, a vintage diner in central Bangkok. Yes, the rice had been fried in ketchup and was indeed served with a side of raisins (hidden under the egg), but the entire package wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet, and unusually, also came served with a generous piece of roasted chicken (also partially concealed). I liked the sunny-side-up egg but didn’t touch the ham, and in an effort to keep it as Thai as possible given the circumstances, opted to season it with Maggi, not ketchup.

New Light Coffee House
426/1-4 Siam Sq, Bangkok
02 251 9592
11am-2pm & 6-10pm


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Whole porker ancient sutra

Posted at 3am on 3/21/11 | read on
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There are so many examples of wacky English here in Thailand that I generally don’t even notice them any more. But occasionally one stumbles upon a gem.

What’s actually being advertised here is old-fashioned grilled pork. To us, the Sanskrit-origin word sutra – in Thai สูตร – may have connotations of Hindu literature, but to the Thais it has come to mean recipe or more broadly, formula.

Porker, on the other hand, is universal.

Sara

Posted at 4am on 3/22/11 | read on
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I love Thai-Muslim food and am always on the lookout for a better khao mok (biryani). This dish isn’t too hard to find in Bangkok, but most of the time it’s little more than rice made yellow by the addition of turmeric, and accompanied by a joint of stringy chicken and stock-cube broth. The versions of the dish that I do like – namely those served at Naaz and Yusup – involve a dried spice mixture that goes much deeper than simply turmeric, alternative meats (beef, goat, fish, mutton) and even surprises such as raisins and nuts.

I became aware of Sara about a year ago, via a review in the Bangkok Post.  Since this review, the restaurant has moved into the adjacent Nouvo City Hotel, but still continues to serve a short but interesting menu spanning a couple appetizer, main and dessert courses for each of the restaurant’s three cuisines: Thai, Indian and European. Sara once won a prize for the city’s best phat Thai – despite the fact that the kitchen is halal and most of the staff are Muslim.

But I was here for the khao mok.

At 280B (about $9) it’s expensive, at least as far as khao mok is concerned, but is one of the better versions I’ve encountered lately. The rice was perfectly cooked and fragrant, although I thought it lacked the richness of my two fave biryanis. I ordered khao mok phae, goat biryani, and the meat was fall-apart tender and quite rich. Unusually, at least compared to Thai-style khao mok, the dish wasn’t served with the usual sweet/sour dipping sauce or a bowl of stock, but rather, was accompanied by a tart but delicious and seemingly homemade mango pickle and raita, cucumber and yogurt salad.

Not bad, but I’m still on the lookout…

Sara
Ground fl, Nouvo City Hotel
2 Soi 2, Th Samsen, Bangkok
02 282 7500
6am-10pm


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nahm

Posted at 4am on 3/24/11 | read on
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Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with southern limes. Image courtesy of nahm.

I’ve mentioned nahm, David Thompson’s new Thai restaurant in the Metropolitan Hotel, here previously, but have yet to go into too much detail about my experiences eating there. This was mostly because being friends with David and having eaten there several times gratis, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d had an objective dining experience. However, after my most recent meal, I’ve eaten there at least eight times — both for free and paying, both when David’s been there and when he’s been away — and feel I can express my opinions about the restaurant’s food in an unbiased manner.

Not that there are going to be any real surprises — I’ve mentioned my fondness for nahm a few times in this blog and this has yet to change. In fact, the restaurant seemingly gets better every time I eat there, and at this point I reckon that Thompson and team are producing what must be some of the best Thai food anywhere.

For starters, I can’t imagine another Thai restaurant where one is going to find such an evocative and unusual menu. I arrived early for my most recent dinner and enjoyed simply passing the time by reading the descriptions: Blue swimmer crab, peanuts and pickled garlic on rice cakes; Salad of grilled chicken with chilli jam; Cucumber salad with crunchy minced prawn floss and green mango; Braised lobster with sugar cane.

It can be somewhat overwhelming, even if you are familiar with Thai food. But after so many meals at nahm, I’ve been able to round it down to a handful of personal faves: Cured ‘hiramasa’ kingfish salad with chillies, lime and mint is a deliciously spicy and tart yam-like dish — my mouth puckers in thinking about it now; Green peppercorn relish with shrimp paste, chillies and pork with salted prawns and fresh vegetables is rich and oily and packs a slow, satisfying burn; and possibly my all-time nahm favourite, Thompson’s twist on an old kaeng tai plaa recipe, Smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken livers, cockles and black pepper. The latter is intense, but with the heat of black pepper, not the burn of chilies, and comes with a plate of cooling (and beautifully arranged) fruit and vegetables and ajaat, a Thai/Muslim sweet/sour dressing. In the same genre, the Mussaman curry of ‘royal project’ chicken with onions and golden yams is one of best versions of this dish I’ve encountered; it’s sweet — as it should be — but is given additional depth by the presence of more dried spices than most Thai cooks would use, in particular, a fragrant cardamom. The stir-fries at nahm are wonderfully smokey, and I really enjoy the Spicy stir-fried frog with chillies, turmeric, holy basil and cumin leaves, a dish that, according to Thompson, employs three kinds of fresh chilies. As my dining companion last night pointed out, it’s amazing how the dishes at nahm combine so many ingredients but come together as a seamless whole. This, I believe, is one of the unwritten aspirations of Thai cuisine, but one that’s rarely met.

Another thing I appreciate about the menu at nahm is that, unlike a lot of fine dining, the emphasis is not on exotic cuts of meat, but rather, most dishes revolve around herbs, veggies and seafood. I always end up eating far more than I should at nahm, but it still feels like a healthy and balanced dining experience.

Admittedly, the food is expensive, particularly by Thai standards. But 1500B (approximately US$50) is not a great deal to pay for a set meal at a fine dining restaurant. And knowing firsthand the amount of research, trial and error and effort that goes into these dishes, I don’t find it particularly exorbitant. Regardless, there’s no real alternative to nahm, and if you’re not willing to or can’t afford to pay, you’re simply not going to find dishes like this anywhere else.

So in the wake of all the controversy surrounding Thompson and nahm, much of which seems to have been forgotten by now, we’re left with an excellent restaurant. This is welcome news, because now we can simply focus on the food.

Metropolitan Hotel
27 Th Sathon Tai, Bangkok
02 625 3333
Dinner only


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Aisa Rot Dee

Posted at 10pm on 3/25/11 | read on
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Hot on the trail of a better khao mok (biryani), I recently dropped by Aisa Rot Dee, a longstanding restaurant in Bangkok’s Banglamphu neighbourhood.  I’d eaten here a couple times previously and was never blown away by the quality of the food, but with khao mok on my mind, felt compelled to return.

Unfortunately, little has changed — at least from my perspective.

Tucked off the eastern end of Th Tani, Aisa takes the form of a Thai-Muslim food court:

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serving the spectrum of classic Thai-Muslim dishes: satay, kuaytiaw kaeng and mataba:

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the beef version of which was tasty and well done, and came with an interesting sweet/sour dipping sauce that, unusually, included slivers of ginger.

The khao mok kai (illustrated at the top of this post), though, lacked the dried spice complexity and richness of a truly stellar version. I liked the sweet/vinegary dipping sauce, though.

Aisa Rot Dee
Th Tani, Bangkok
9am-11pm


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Muslim Restaurant

Posted at 10pm on 3/27/11 | read on
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I first mentioned Muslim Restaurant back in 2006. I recall having enjoyed it at the time, but in the one or two times I’d been back since then, wasn’t blown away by the food and eventually neglected the place altogether.

Recently a friend mentioned the restaurant, and I decided to give it another try. I was curious to see if things had changed and ordered quite a few dishes. There was khao mok phae, goat biryani (pictured above), the ‘special’ version of which served on Mondays and Fridays comes with a side of yogurt and an eggplant curry; sup haang wua, oxtail soup, which although not as tart as elsewhere, was meaty and oniony; a tasty chicken mataba; and a sweet but rich and complex kaeng matsaman kai, Massaman curry with chicken.

In addition to the above, they also do quite a few prepared curries, a couple deep-fried snacks (including good but greasy samosas), tea and coffee served with goat milk, and Indian/Middle-Eastern sweets. If this isn’t enough, you can always order extra yellow rice, which for reasons unknown to me is called khao burii (‘cigarette rice’).

I’m glad I made it back, as I really enjoyed just about everything at Muslim Restaurant, particularly the biryani, which although not as perfect as the version served at nearby Naaz, is worth seeking out.

Muslim Restaurant
1354-56 Th Charoen Krung, Bangkok
02 234 1876
6.30am-5.30pm


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