Category Archives: street food

Low-so Dining at Soi Thong Lor

To me, it’s really a pity if you cannot—or refuse—to eat street food in Bangkok. The quality and hygiene standards may be lacking at some stalls, but when you meet a good one, you are bombarded with a smorgasbord of flavors and textures. Take this hole-in-the-wall along Soi Thong Lor (around 100 meters from the soi entrance) that M, P and I visited today.

With just filmsy metal tables and rickety plastic stools lining a cracked pavement, an open kitchen that was enveloped in smoke half the time and lightbulbs hanging from cables strewn across trees, the owners managed to carve out a small-time business serving Isan-style specialties. There was a steady stream of patrons while we were there, which probably is a reflection of the popularity of this roadside stall.

We three famished gluttons ordered enough food to feed a small army: som tom puu (papaya salad with crab), som tam puu plaa raa (papaya salad with crab and fermented fish sauce), seua ronghai (crying tiger a.k.a. grilled beef), muu manaao (pork with lime sauce), khor muu yang (grilled pork shoulder), jim jum (Isan-style hot pot), yam ruam mit (mixed salad) and sai oon yang (grilled pork intestines), alongside sticky rice and chilled beer.

M suggested trying paeng nom muu (pork teats), but unfortunately the stall ran out of teats, so we opted for grilled pork intestines instead—which wasn’t on the menu but the owners gamely agreed to whip it up for us. We joked that unlike the hi-so and hipster set who flock to Thong Lor to see and be seen, we were instead holed up at this low-so eatery with sweat dripping down our foreheads. We ate and talked and ate some more; by the end of two hours, the chairs were groaning under our weight and our buttons threatening to pop.

The damage for all this good food and company on a Friday evening? 690 baht.

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Filed under Bangkok, Isaan, street food, Thailand

Food Notes from Saigon

Reading Peter Jon Lindberg’s “Vietnam: The Ultimate Food Tour” [T+L Southeast Asia, September 2010] made me crave for pho, banh xeo and banh mi. One line from his drool-inducing piece particularly stood out: “The best way to tackle Hanoi is to treat the city as one vast progressive buffet, moving from the spring-roll guy to the fermented-pork lady and onward into the night.” Although Jon Lindberg was describing Hanoi, I found that advice to be very apt too for Saigon, a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City, during a recent visit with my food-loving family of five.

Having arrived in the city on an early morning flight, the only thing our famished tummies desired for after checking into our hotel was, of course, food. We turned into a narrow lane off Le Thanh Ton Street, where our hotel was located, and stumbled upon an unassuming hole-in-the-wall Bun Cha Ha Noi Nem Cua Bien. The entire brood couldn’t speak a word of Vietnamese, so hand gestures became the most effective means to indicate that we simply wanted what the other diners were having. “You want bun cha?” the amiable owner asked, pointing to the vermicelli served with grilled pork patties and sweetened fish sauce vinaigrette. We nodded, and a delightful first meal ensued.

Like any city in the tropics, the mid-day heat in Saigon was sweltering and energy-sapping. We took a break from our walk, found a roadside coffee stand and sat crouched around low tables and squat stools to enjoy ca phe da, or iced black coffee, just like the locals who could be seen lounging by street-side drinks stalls at all times of the day. Energized, we made our way to Ben Thanh Market, where we partook in another round of food and drink, with the thick, creamy avocado smoothie (sinh to bo) being my favorite. And then onward to Fanny, which proffered ice cream and sorbets made from exotic flavors (think sapodilla, durian, star anise and cinnamon).

Our visit to the bucolic Mekong Delta highlighted the abundance and diversity of fruits—rose apples; longans—grown in the south, also known as the country’s rice bowl, although there was nothing novel that most Southeast Asians had not seen or tried before. We toured a small coconut candy factory and observed ladies deftly knead and wrap the caramelized treats into packages for sale. At Cu Chi Tunnels, we had a ‘taste’ of war with steamed tapioca, a tuber that provided sustenance to the Viet Cong soldiers during the grinding war years.

Evenings were spent hunting for scrumptious food and crossing the traffic-ridden streets—the number of motorbikes seemed to increase sharply at nighttimes when locals took to the streets in droves. Quan An Ngon, the city’s top-rated Vietnamese restaurant according to Lonely Planet, New York Times and many other online reviews, was a great—and safe—dining choice with its diverse array of regional specialties. However, with the snaking queues and an originally intimate villa ambience somewhat marred by the crowds, I couldn’t help but wondered if many travelers had taken guidebooks and food bloggers’ recommendations too seriously (me included) and ended up at the same few dining spots. Whatever happened to that adventurous spirit of exploration?

Yet, my last dinner at the renowned crab joint Quan Thuy 94 altered my views again. In the comfort of the air-conditioned, windowless room on the second floor, where locals ate atop metal tabletops while a small TV blared sitcoms in one corner, we devoured the tangy glass noodles sautéed with generous chunks of crabmeat and roe; soft-shelled crabs deep-fried to a crunchy perfection and pink, succulent prawns cooked in tamarind sauce—alongside cold beer served with ice cubes. It was the most satisfying, lip-smacking meal we had in Saigon, and one that kept all five of us reminiscing about for the next few days. And if food blogs hadn’t been consulted, we wouldn’t had known this gem and this yummy meal wouldn’t had been a part of our travel memories, no?

This article was first published on May 20, 2011 on Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia Blog.

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Filed under coffee, food, street food, Vietnam

Braised Duck Rice

My new Sukhumvit 101/1 neighbourhood is full of Chinese culinary gems, with khao naa phet, or duck rice, as one of my favourites. One particular restaurant, which has plump braised ducks hanging from steel rods at its front facade, always calls out to me whenever I walk by. A few weeks ago we finally walked in and gave it a try, and the meal turned out to be really delicious.

If you are an innards-eater—like me—you should opt for the stall’s signature dish: sai kaew, which means glass intestines. When the plates were served, we initially eyed the intestines with some suspicion; unlike the brown colouration commonly associated with braised intestines, the off-white appearance of these intestines looked rather unusual—and a bit off-putting. Nonetheless, we popped them into our mouth. They were slippery and chewy, with a bland taste that I’d associate with jellyfish. I think it’s a simply a matter of personal preference whether one takes to this dish (we didn’t).

But other parts of the meal are worth mentioning. The duck meat was soft and tender to the bite, and it slipped effortlessly off the bone. It’s best to drizzle the meat with some nam jim, a fiery green sauce served in a small dish. We also like the soup side dish, a rich brew with a subtle taste of herbs that we couldn’t stop savouring until the last drop. All parts of the duck are available, from the neck to the wings to the feet.

I’m usually not a fan of duck rice, but this experience has altered my perception. Now I can’t wait for my dad, a lover of duck meat, to come visit me so that we can check out this restaurant together.

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Filed under Bangkok, street food, Thailand

The World’s Her Oyster

Tucked down Plubplachai Road in Yaowarat, Luuk Saow Naay Mong’s oyster omelette is, in fact, one of the best I have ever eaten. As the Thai name suggests, the dish is now cooked by Mr Mong’s daughter. My guess is Mr Mong probably served this dish in the past, but he has since passed the art to his daughter who continues the family culinary trade. So far, I have been to Luuk Saow Naay Mong twice, and tried both Orh Lua and Orh Suan. The former is a rich crispy batter topped with oversized oysters, and the latter, a succulent watery version with tapioca flour and oysters mixed in. My personal favourite is Orh Lua: it’s crunchy on the outside but light inside, and the heavenly oysters simply pop and melt in the mouth.

This shop only serves four dishes: Orh Lua, Orh Suan, Mussel Omelette and Crab Fried Rice.

Luuk Saow Naay Mong, or Mr Mong’s daughter, whipping up what she does so well.

Orh Suan

Orh Lua

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She Who Sells Squid along the Streets

Paa Meuk is my favourite auntie for grilled squid (plaa-meuk yaang).

She sells the most sensational squid: fresh, tender, succulent, chewy…

But don’t let her friendly, toothy smile fool you! If you don’t tell her to go easy on her homemade chilli concoction, she’ll pour a generous portion over your beloved tentacled friend. No doubt, I always bite into her mouthwatering dish with zest, but the very next moment I know, I’ll be looking for the nearest fire hydrant to douse my fiery tongue.

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Corny snacks

Lately, I discovered that corn niblets can be a scrumptious after-lunch snack. Scoop them into a cup, pour some sour dressing in and add a sprinkling of sugar… yummy! Here, a young street vendor was seen running his ladle through a big pile of corn. As he mixed and thrashed them around, aromatic whiffs was sent drifting to the noses of passer-bys.

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Mouth-watering Chok

Cooking porridge is not hard, but to cook it really well and tasty, it’s not easy. After reading a raving review about this chok (โจ๊ก / porridge in Thai) stall from a farang blogger, i insisted that mr;p and i have to try this supposedly well-known porridge stall located near On Nut Station (by the roadside, on the same side as Tesco Lotus).

So one fine morning, mr;p and i traipsed to this porridge stall. Thank goodness we didn’t arrive any later (8.30am or so), for if we reach any later, we would not taste the porridge as we were served one of the last bowls for the day! This stall must be enjoying a roaring business.

The stall signage proclaimed that no MSG was used, but that didn’t matter as the chok is indeed aroi maak maak! Prior to this stall, mr;p and i had tried two other stalls in his Ram II neighbourhood, but they paled in comparison to this…

The porridge was piping hot when i was served and i had to blow on each mouthful before putting it into my mouth. Generous dopings of minced pork, pig intestines and livers, spring onion and ginger slices were heaped on top, while an egg sat at the bottom of the bowl. The rice was soft, mushy and flavourful and it just melted in my mouth. A very satisfying start to the day indeed, mr;p and i decided that we must head back to that stall again!

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Filed under Bangkok, street food