Forgive my lack of blogging, but I’ve been on something of a whirlwind European Tour. Istanbul, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Barcelona; they’ve all been eye-opening and heaps of fun, and of course, have involved lots of amazing eats. For me, there was nothing more exotic than eating baklava in Istanbul or encountering real tapas for the first time in Barcelona, and I’ll try to post on some of those experiences soon. But to be honest, I’m most excited about eating in my current destination, Portugal, and want to try to blog about it while I’m here.
I’ve fantasized about visiting Portugal for a while now, and since my last trip to Macau, specifically, its food. I’ve been in Porto a couple days now and just as I suspected, the food hasn’t been as sophisticated as Spanish food or as exotic as Turkish, but somehow it feels just right.
Portuguese appears to be a real meat-and-potatoes kind of cuisine, as exemplified by one of my first meals, frango no churrasco, Portuguese-style grilled chicken. The restaurant, Pedro Dos Frangos, was recommended by the nice lady at the tourist information office, and was typical of most of the restaurants I’ve encountered here so far; delightfully old school, mostly masculine and with a buzzing dining counter (the man next to me ate his entire meal – chicken soup, a ginormous slice of pudim molotov and an espresso with a shot of booze – standing up).
I sat at the long stainless steel counter and ordered a half chicken, which was skewered and grilled over coals:
The bird was crispy and well seasoned, although I reckon it could have done with some brining (a must for chicken dishes, I’m now convinced – see here for details). The traditional accompaniment is deep-fried potatoes and the traditional topping is molho de piri-piri, olive oil steeped with dried chilies. It was a pleasure to finally get to sample these dishes on their home turf, particularly since I’d tried making them previously (I’d say we came pretty close). The meal was coupled with a couple glasses of cheap and very drinkable vinho regional, and dessert was chunks of soft, buttery queijo flamengo and marmelade, quince paste:
It was heaps of fun, and I found a lot in common with dining in Thailand: the lack of pretension, friendly restaurateurs, the full-flavouredness and the low prices.
Am looking forward to more meals in this country.
Pedro Dos Frangos
Rua do Bonjardim, Porto
222 008 522
Lunch & dinner
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Reverence for food appears to run deep in Portugal. The residents of the northern city of Porto are known as Tripeiros, ‘tripe-eaters’, for their love of the local dish, tripas à modo do Porto, Porto-style tripe. The dish is apparently so important that locals are willing to deface one of their city’s most famous landmarks:
in order to advertise that the dish be added to a list of world culinary heritage:
My first experience with tripas was also my first meal in Portugal. Taken at an informal café in the centre of Porto, the dish was served in a way that now strikes me as very Portuguese: on a stainless steel platter or bowl with an abundance of starch, in this case, rice:
The tripe was relatively minimal and instead the dish was dominated by a white beans, with salpicão, a type of salted beef, what appeared to be pork belly and a salty broth that had hints of cumin. The dish cost, if I remember correctly, 3 Euros, and I ate it at the dining counter with a mini-bottle of the house red.
My second experience with the dish was at a restaurant named, appropriately, Restaurant Tripeiro. This was a much more upmarket version of the dish, costing several times as much and being several times larger in volume, but containing roughly the same combination of beans, tripe, salted beef, and in this case, a variety of sliced sausages and a few slices of carrot. It was served in a slightly more upmarket stainless steel container (illustrated at the top of this post), in, as is seemingly the case in all restaurants in Portugal, cheap or expensive, a dining room dominated by a blaring television:
I ate it with a delicious red vinho verde and a dish of olives, and because I feel foolishly obligated to eat as much of my food as possible, I walked around Porto feeling extremely full for the next six hours.
I haven’t been to France since I was a teenager and have never been to Italy, but I’m willing to wager that the café scenes of both of these countries pale in comparison to that of Portugal. The sheer amount of shops serving a combination of coffee, light snacks and pastries – known in Portuguese as pasterlarias – in Porto and Lisbon was frankly, quite ridiculous. Within a block of Porto’s main market alone I can recall at least eight from memory. And not only were these pastelarias everywhere, but the the quality of both the coffee and sweets were quite high and the prices low (a galão – the Portuguese equivalent of a café au lait/latte – and a pastry, my usual breakfast in Portugal, typically cost around €2).
I was particularly interested in Portugal’s sweet snacks, as they possess quite a few culinary links with Asia. The most obvious example of this are the pasteis de nata, egg tarts, which are now a standard sweet in parts of East Asia. These are unavoidable (and profoundly delicious) in Portugal, and I reckon I had at least one or two every day, sprinkled with cinnamon and consumed with uma bica (espresso). With a direct link to Southeast Asia are the various egg yolk-based desserts – ovos moles, fios de ovos – believed to have been introduced to Thailand via Portuguese traders during the 16th century. These were somewhat less common, and I mostly encountered them in the way of fillings or toppings for a variety of pastry-based treats and not eaten on their own, as they still are in Thailand.
For a taste of Portugal’s café culture, click on the below to see a slide show of random images of pastelarias and sweets I encountered while there.
I’m finally back home and hope to do a couple more Euro posts in the near future, but for now am keen to jump back into the Thai stuff…
Khao tom (ข้าวต้ม) translates as ‘boiled rice’, but can be refer to a couple different rice-related food concepts. Many Thais associate the term with khao tom kui (ข้าวต้มกุ๊ย), a Chinese-style of dining that involves lots of small dishes, typically eaten with small bowls of watery rice. It can also describe a dish of rice served in broth with seafood. I first encountered the latter years ago at a cozy restaurant in my former neighbourhood in northern Bangkok. I have to admit that I wasn’t initially impressed with khao tom – it’s pretty bland when compared to just about any other Thai dish. But after subsequent and increasingly frequent visits over several years, I learned to like the dish, and also grew quite fond of the place that served it.
Since having moved downtown, I haven’t eaten much khao tom, and with the old place in mind, have had my eye open for a new one. The Thai-language food guide Kin Rob Krung 2 and the English-language Famulous Eateries both recommend Nay Hor, a longstanding restaurant on Th Charoen Krung, so I investigated.
Nay Hor is unabashedly old-school Thai/Chinese (think overabundant florescent lighting and an aged owner/money collector slumped grumpily behind office furniture), and is easy to locate by some immense stuffed fish out front. These are generally both good signs, but I made the mistake of ordering the ‘mixed’ bowl, which included fish skin, fish eggs and what appeared to be pork intestines – items I don’t really care for. Still, I thought the quality of the seafood was pretty good; I particularly enjoyed the oysters, fish and the bateng (cubes of marinated, deep-fried pork). The dipping sauce is, like at other khao tom restaurants, made from fermented soybeans, but here it lacks chili and has been blended, giving it the consistency and appearance of tahini. They also had bags of deep-fried tofu strips, which are great to crumble into to the broth or dip in the bean sauce, but unfortunately they appeared to have been fried long ago.
Would I make it my regular? Ideally not. But given the pricey bowls at Chiang Kii or the traffic nightmare involved in getting to my old place, I may very well be eating there again soon.
Nay Hor Khao Tom
Cnr Th Charoen Krung & Th Chan
02 675 2598
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Much fine dining in Bangkok is relegated to hotel-based restaurants. This is fine for some people, and several of Bangkok’s hotel kitchens are putting out some great food, but for most of us, hotel dining often lacks character and rarely feels like a good value.
Luckily, some clever folks have swooped in to provide us with an intriguing alternative.
Opposite, run by the people who started WTF, is a multi-purpose event space that has embarked on a series of pop-up dining events. Their most recent dinner (pictured above) was my first time experience with the concept, and took the form of a night of Roman cuisine as prepared by Italian chef Paolo Vitaletti. Dishes included Roman-style tripe, borlotti beans with prosciutto skin, deep-fried artichoke, and la porchetta, suckling pig stuffed with pork offal and fennel pollen that was easily the most delicious pork dish I’ve encountered in a while. There was tasty prosecco and wine, and real bread, flown in from Italy. In addition to enjoying dishes one won’t find elsewhere in Bangkok, we were pouring our own wine, scooping second helpings from communal bowls and making friends. It was all a lot like eating at the home of a very talented home cook, and my take-home impression of the meal was that this is how dining should be: informal, communal and tasty. At 2500B (about US$80), it wasn’t exactly cheap, but with good food, generous serves and virtually free-flow booze, I can’t imagine that anybody would feel that that he didn’t get his money’s worth.
If this sounds like your thing, stay tuned to opposite’s website or Twitter feed (@oppositebangkok) for their next pop-up.
27/1 Soi 51, Th Sukhumvit, Bangkok
02 662 6330
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has now been installed here:
inside Portland, Oregon restaurant, Pok Pok Noi. Has anybody in Portland been by to see it yet?