There are lots of places in Bangkok serving seafood, but many of them are directed at foreign tourists, and as such tend to serve overpriced, bland food. E. Pochana, a longstanding seafood restaurant in central Bangkok, is both fairly-priced and serves delicious, full-flavoured dishes. But it’s an old-school restaurant in the Chinese/Thai school, which means there are a few caveats.
I should make it clear that E. Pochana isn’t overtly unattractive or uncomfortable, but other than a lone Chinese calendar stuck on one wall, there’s been absolutely no effort made towards interior design. The tables and chairs are almost certainly original and bear the battle scars of decades of use. The lighting is both fluorescent and abundant. The owner is perched, rather intimidatingly, behind a throne-like desk piled with office supplies and documents. E. Pochana’s posted closing time is 10pm, but you’re going to receive some unpleasant stares from the staff (not to mention a significantly reduced menu) if you’re eating there any later than 8.30pm. In a way, these quirks do provide E. Pochana with a sort of atmosphere, but not necessarily one that all diners are on board with.
But if you can manage to get past these, you’re in for some excellent food — probably the best of its kind that I’ve encountered in Bangkok.
As this is basically Chinese food (or, at least, Chinese food as perceived through a Thai lens), the flavours here are predominately rich and salty, rather than tart or spicy. One of the best examples of this is E. Pochana’s pu phat phong karii, crab fried with curry powder and egg. The crabs are huge and fat, and I suspect they use duck egg yolks (not to mention a lot of oil) in this dish, as I can’t recall having encountered a richer, more satisfying version. Other recommendable dishes include just about anything grilled — in particular the fish and prawns — the pork satay; kung op wun sen, shrimp cooked in a lidded pot with glass noodles; and the flash-fried vegetable dishes. The only dish I wasn’t crazy about on my most recent visit was the fish head hotpot; the dish lacked the tartness usually associated with a broth that’s been seasoned with salted plum.
Soi Chula 15, Bangkok
02 215 4220
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On the surface, Klom Klom looks like your typical trendy restaurant run by a rich Bangkok kid: a cutesy dining room serving confounding Japanese-Thai fusion creations or Thai dishes augmented with bacon, the kind of place that puts atmosphere above flavour. But looks can be deceiving, and after several visits, I can confirm that Klom Klom serves some homey, delicious, real Thai food.
The namesake dish here (Klom Klom means ‘Round Round’) is roti, a type of fried bread with origins in South Asia. Unlike the thin, oily disks you’ll see sold on the street, the roti here — made to order in house — are thick, flaky, crispy and surprisingly non-oily. They’re practically pastry-like, and are easily some of the better roti I’ve encountered in Bangkok, but they’re really only a vehicle for Klom Klom’s exceptional curry. Described on the Thai-language menu as kaeng khiaw waan, green curry, the dish seems to have much more in common with kurumaa, the local equivalent of the South Asian korma. Unlike your typical Thai-style green curry, there’s no vegetables in this one, the emphasis instead being on meat — beef or chicken — and much of the dish’s character comes from the generous use of dried spices, not fresh herbs. In talking to the owner I learned that there’s a good reason for this: the recipe comes from his grandmother, who was born in Pakistan. The dish was a hit among friends and family in her adopted hometown of Kanchanaburi, and the owner described how he still follows her recipe, employing the same time-consuming process and expensive dried spices. The result is a curry that’s somewhere between Thailand and Pakistan: spicy and fragrant, yet meaty and rich.
Klom Klom also do a slowly-expanding menu of basic Thai dishes, such as rice noodles with pork, as well as interesting drinks such as naam dok anchan (also pictured above), a drink made from an indigenous flower.
Th Convent, Bangkok
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Starting in late 2010, I spent nearly three months in Myanmar updating Lonely Planet’s Myanmar (Burma) guidebook. At the time, the country was still pretty much as as isolated and paranoid as it had been since the early 1960s. I needed consecutive visas to enter the country, but because I feared that the Burmese authorities might suspect I was a Bangkok-based news journalist, I had to request a second US passport and apply for my Myanmar visas at its embassies in Hong Kong and the US. When the book was eventually printed, the other authors and I decided to use pseudonyms for fear that we might be identified and blacklisted (during certain periods the Lonely Planet guide has allegedly been banned in Myanmar). Over the course of my three trips to the country, I took lots of photos of the food I ate, but didn’t consider blogging about them, for fear that this would risk outing me as one of the book’s authors and possibly jeopardising my chances of visiting the country again and ultimately, contributing to the guidebook in the future.
Fast-forward a mere few years and the Myanmar of today is a vastly different place. Journalists — and indeed, US presidents — visit the country, political prisoners have been released, and the press is now allegedly free. Photos of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — who, incidentally, I interviewed for the guidebook — are now sold on the street, and scoring a hotel room in Yangon these days requires either a lot of luck or an equal amount of US dollars. With this in mind, and given that Myanmar has been getting so much media attention recently, I thought it was finally a safe time to dig through my images and notes and vicariously revisit some of the eateries and food I encountered on those trips.
When talking about food in Myanmar, the logical starting point is mohinga — often referred to as the country’s unofficial national dish. Mohinga takes the form of a thick broth that combines herbs, freshwater fish, whole shallots and crunchy shards of banana stalk, served over thin, round rice noodles similar to the Thai khanom jeen. It tends to dominate the breakfast scene, but is also available at night, often sold from mobile baskets or carts.
It’s savoury and hearty, and is one of those simple but satisfying Southeast Asian noodle dishes that functions equally well as a meal or a snack.
The dish is available just about everywhere in Yangon, but my favourite version is probably the bowl served at Myaung Mya Daw Cho, a open-air restaurant located under a towering tamarind tree in a quiet neighbourhood. There’s relatively little that makes one bowl of mohinga different from another, but the version here stands out with its assertive turmericy-herbness and generous amount of flaked freshwater fish. If you like, you can supplement your bowl with a boiled egg or akyaw, deep-fried battered vegetables or lentil cakes. And as is the case elsewhere, the dish can be seasoned with a squeeze of lime or a pinch of dried chili. The only downside with Myaung Mya Daw Cho is that it’s a morning place in the Burmese sense of the word, which means if you arrive later than 8:30am, it’ll almost certainly be sold out.
Myaung Mya Daw Cho
158 51st St, Yangon
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