A few days ago David Thompson and Thanongsak were kind enough to invite me and Hal Lipper, a friend and writer at the Nation, to visit Singburi province, about 200 km north of Bangkok. David had been to this relatively obscure province previously and had come across a couple good restaurants that he wanted to share with us.
It soon became clear that this was going to be a food-oriented trip when we took a lengthy detour to a tiny town to pick up some plaa som, fermented fish! The first restaurant we visited was Sum Phai, a tiny, ramshackle place in the countryside outside Singburi town. David and Thanongsak had called ahead and arranged for us to watch the ladies make our lunch so we could see how it was done.
As Singburi is located in central Thailand, the food was representative of this area, which meant slightly sweet dishes, often using coconut milk, and employing a variety of freshwater fish. Hal and I lent a hand, as much as we could, including grinding up the curry paste:
However the old ladies did all the cooking, much of which was done over charcoal:
This is Paa Anong making kaeng khi lek, a coconut milk-based curry that uses the bitter leaves of the neem tree and slices of grilled beef:
They also made plaa raa sap, unpasteurized fermented fish chopped up with a bunch of fresh herbs:
This was probably my favorite dish of the meal, but due to its main ingredient being essetially, rotten fish, Thanongsak and I were virtually the only ones eating it! The dish was accompanied by delicious fresh herbs directly from the restaurant owner’s garden.
We also had puu lon, another ‘dip’, this time of coconut milk, ground pork, salted field crabs and lots palm sugar and fresh herbs:
On the way to the restaurant Thanongsak stopped to pick up some hor mok, cakes of fish and curry, and we the ladies to steam them for us:
The fish used in the hor mok is a freshwater fish called plaa chon, serpenthead or snakehead fish, and is a speciality of the province. We also had semi-dried semi-salted fillets of this fish that the ladies deep-fried for us:
As delicious as these look, the fish was kind of musty tasting and wasn’t really that good, which was disappointing, as this particular dish is a specialty of the area.
David’s favorite dish was yam takhrai, a ‘salad’ of very thinly sliced lemongrass with prawns and dried squid:
That evening, still quite full from lunch, we visited another restaurant, Mae Laa Plaa Phao, a place known for its grilled plaa chon:
The large plaa chon was grilled/smoked over coconut husks, served with bitter sadao leaves and two sauces, a sweet and a sour/spicy. Absolultely delicious. We also had a stir fry of the fermented fish we had bought earlier, a soup with pickled mustard greens, and stir fried Thai watercress.
The next morning we woke up very early to visit Singburi’s immense morning market:
And later that day we made our way to neighboring Ang Thong province, where we stopped by a place known for its ‘jungle’ food. There we ordered a dish of dried frog meat sauteed with curry paste:
We also ordered an idential dish with cobra meat. Despite the intimidating-sounding ingredients, the dominant flavor was spicy, and virtually any meat could have been used. David described the dishe as having “a lot of potential”, and theorized about doing a version with quail or hare at his restaurant.
There was also phat phet muu paa, a stir fry of boar:
And a tom yam of free-range chicken:
Overall a really fun trip with some amazing food. I need to do more food-based travelling in the future, especially in out of the way places like this. Incidentally, Hal’s article on our trip, illustrated with my photos, will appear in the Nation in coming weeks. Will keep you informed.