A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: March 2014



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Good northern Thai-style food is hard enough to find in Bangkok. Yet a decent bowl of khao soi, the curry noodle soup that’s quite possibly the region’s most famous dish, is probably the most elusive thing of all.

There are a few places in town that serve passable versions of khao soi. But most of Bangkok’s bowls are creamy, bland approximations of the stuff up north. Those that do the best versions tend to have a direct link with Chiang Mai, which is the case with Khao Soi Chiang Mai. The original owner is a native of eponymous city, who, more than 40 years ago, started selling the mild Muslim-style khao soi associated with her hometown.

Chiang Mai’s Muslim-style khao soi is not as spicy, rich or fragrant as the coconut milk curry-based broth served at the city’s more famous Thai-Buddhist-run restaurants. Instead, the dish is comprised of two parts: a thick, rich, meat-based (beef or chicken) ‘stew’ and heated coconut cream that are combined to order. The result is a mix that, when done properly (such as that served at Chiang Mai’s Khao Soi Prince), is pleasantly mild, but not bland, with a consistency somewhere between watery and creamy, and with a subtle, almost indistinguishable flavour of dried spice.

Khao Soi Chiang Mai’s is the closest I’ve come to this version of the dish in Bangkok. Again, it’s worth reiterating that those expecting heaps of chili and spice will be disappointed; both the beef and chicken versions here are very mild, the former being slightly less so. Admittedly, a bit of seasoning is required, but once done, it’s on par with versions served up in Chiang Mai. Also as in Chiang Mai, the noodles here are smooth and dense, and here are made in-house. And the khao soi is served with sides of slices of lime, thinly-sliced shallots and good-quality pickled cabbage.

They also serve the other northern Thai noodle staple, khanom jeen nam ngiaw, thin rice noodles served with a pork- and tomato-based broth:

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Unfortunately the version here is neither particularly rich (as it is in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai) nor tart (as it is up in Mae Hong Son).

And like the Muslim-style khao soi restaurants up in Chiang Mai, they also do a few Thai-Muslim staples, including khao mok kai:

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chicken biryani, served here very Thai-style, ie the rice appears to be seasoned with little more than turmeric, and comes accompanied with a very sweet dipping sauce; chicken satay; and ‘Muslim’ salad: lettuce, eggs and tofu served with a sweet peanut-based dressing. All OK, but the main reason to come is that rarest of things in Bangkok, a real-deal khao soi.

Khao Soi Chiang Mai
283 Th Samsen, Bangkok
9am-4pm Sun-Fri


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Tao huay & chao kuay

Posted at 1am on 3/15/14 | read on
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It’s heating up in Bangkok, and when this happens Thais have traditionally reached out to two very different sweet snacks of Chinese origin in an effort to cool down.

Tao huay (เต้าฮวยน้ำขิง), pictured above, is a unique combination of thin slices of a type of very soft bean curd pudding and a hot, spicy, ginger broth. The dish is garnished with crispy deep-fried bits of dough and a dash of raw cane sugar (น้ำตาลทรายแดง). Hot, spicy broth may seem a counter-intuitive snack choice in sweltering weather, but Chinese belief entails that eating hot, spicy things induces sweating, which ultimately cools one down.

Another cooling dish, usually sold at the same stalls that serve tao huay, is chao kuay (เฉาก๊วย), the somewhat medicinal-tasting black cubes known in English as grass jelly (for a description of how grass jelly is made, go here):

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In Thailand, the stuff is served with crushed ice and sprinkling of raw, fragrant cane sugar. The ice is an obvious cooling element, but in Chinese medicine, grass jelly is thought to inherently possess cooling properties, pushing the body’s balance towards the yin end of the spectrum.

These snacks are available just about everywhere, especially in the older parts of Bangkok, but lately I’ve been going to this streetside stall at the edge of Bangkok’s old town:

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where this vendor has been working the kettles for more than 50 years. He doesn’t make the ingredients himself, but they’re of good quality nonetheless.

Tao Huay & Chao Kuay Vendor
Cnr Soi Tha Kham & Th Maha Rat, Bangkok
Noon-7pm

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Better than Bangkok

Posted at 4am on 3/17/14 | read on
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I had always avoided Bangkok/central Thai-style food up in Chiang Mai. The few dishes I’d had weren’t exactly great, and anyway, how could I not take advantage of all the wonderful local stuff?

But it appears that all I needed was a bit of pointing in the right direction, and recently I encountered two restaurants that do dishes traditionally associated with Bangkok, but, well, better.

Phat kaphrao, minced meat fried with chili, garlic and the eponymous holy basil, is available on just about every street corner in Bangkok. It’s always cheap, salty and spicy, but almost never exceptional; in recent years I’d begun exclusively making it at home rather than getting it outside.

Unless I’m in Chiang Mai, that is. Raan Kraphrao Samrap Khon Chorp Phet translates as “Phat Kaphrao Restaurant for People Who Like Spicy”:

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a slightly misleading name, as part of the deal here is that the customer chooses his preferred level of spiciness. I went for the pork version, medium spicy (shown at the top of this post). Unconventionally, the cooks here marinate the meat beforehand, and the resulting seasoning is spot-in. And I like that the holy basil (the eponymous kaphrao) is tossed into the wok at the very last second, so that it doesn’t wilt and disappear. Yet most of all, I was impressed by the texture of the dish, which emerges from the wok dry and concentrated, almost crumbly. This is an attribute I’d recognised in better versions of the dish, and something I’d always tried to recreate when making it at home.

Phat kaphrao is the obvious highlight, but they also do a daily selection of Chinese-Thai-style soups — perfect mild counterpoints to the spicy food — and full menu of central Thai dishes, including a really excellent phat khee mao.

Also putting Bangkok to shame is Pathom. This place specialises in khao tom, rice — steamed or boiled — served with various Chinese-influenced sides.

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The menu here spans no more than a dozen dishes, which over Pathom’s 30 years in business, they appear to have absolutely perfected. This isn’t sexy cuisine: the dishes aren’t exactly handsome, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find presentation or garnish, but you’ll also be hard-pressed to find better versions of these staples just about anywhere in Thailand.

On my most recent visit (shown above), I had eggplant, Thai basil and fermented soybeans expertly flash-fried until just milliseconds away from turning to mush; crispy, meaty deep-fried pork belly; jap chai, Chinese-style braised vegetables, which here includes lots of cabbage and pork skin; a really excellent tao huu phalo, firm tofu braised in five spice broth, where here is served with dip that’s a near-perfect intersection of spicy and tart; and of course rice. I generally opt for steamed rice, but most customers go for the eponymous boiled rice, which allegedly is given extra gluten by the addition of a bit of sticky rice

Everything is made in advance and staff are efficient, so you’ll be eating in seconds.

And like Raan Kraphrao Samrap Khon Chorp Phet, in addition to better-than-in-Bangkok Bangkok-style food, the other linking element is a dining room that has all the charm of airplane hangar:

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Bringing home the fact that, no matter where you’re eating Thailand, good food often involves a degree of compromise.

Raan Kraphrao Samrap Khon Chorp Phet/ร้านกระเพรา (สำหรับคนชอบเผ็ด)
Rte 1001, Chiang Mai
081 530 0380
11.30am-1pm & 4-9.30pm


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Pathom/ข้าวต้มปฐม
Th Chang Phuak, Chiang Mai
7am-2pm


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