“Do not release animals into the parliament“
One of the “Vote No” animal placards by People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been making its rounds around Bangkok for the past couple of weeks.
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.
Each summer, when temperatures soar and the weather turns humid, many Thais look forward to cooling off with khao chae, a traditional rice dish served in iced jasmine-scented water. (In Thai, “khao” means rice, and “chae” means to immersed in water.)
Despite its association as a royal delicacy, khao chae actually boasts of Mon provenance. The Mon people of Thailand’s Central Plains first cooked khao chae to mark the onset of their lunar New Year; this Mon treat was then adopted into the royal Thai court to become a palatial favorite (King Rama V was known to be extremely fond of this dish). Since then, khao chae has grown to become a beloved specialty of Thailand.
Preparing khao chae is highly time-consuming and arduous, but luckily, eating it is not. Simply enjoy this cool dish with an assortment of (mostly sweet) condiments: luuk kapi, deep-fried shrimp paste balls; hom daeng yut sai, shallots stuffed with minced fish; neau waan, thin shreds of caramelized beef; phat hua chai po, stir-fried Chinese radish; and phrik yuak sot sai, green peppers stuffed with minced pork.
Although khao chae is more readily available during the Songkran period, several restaurants in Bangkok serve this specialty year-round. Good places to try khao chae are Patara Bangkok and Benjarong at Dusit Thani Bangkok, or for someplace more rustic, head to Koh Kret, an ethnic Mon enclave along the Chao Phraya River north of Bangkok.
Accustomed to the strong, piquant flavors of Thai cuisine, I found khao chae rather bland and strange—rice in chilled water? I wondered—on my first try. It is definitely an acquired taste—just like durians, fermented fish sauce—but a classic that provides an insight into Thai culture and cuisine.
Go on, try it.
This article was first published on April 18, 2011 on Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia Blog.
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.
In Thailand street dogs—just like Thais—simply love hanging out at 7-Eleven’s. And while the humans crave for the convenience—well, 7-Eleven’s in this country are are as plentiful as street dogs—these canine lads probably love the frequent blasts of cold air whenever the door opens. And that’s a pretty smart move, in my opinion, in a hot country like Thailand.
“Salted eggs are my favourite souvenirs from Surat Thani! I always bring back a couple of boxes to give to friends as gifts,” declared M, my Thai friend.
I was one of the lucky friends who received a box of Surat Thani salted duck eggs from M. And boy, was I delighted when I received the eggs. Salted eggs from Surat Thani’s Chaiya district are famed in Thailand for their distinctly red yolks and having the right balance of saltiness. The ducks in this coastal province are fed on a diet of rice and seafood (what good life!). During the production process, local farmers coat the eggs with a black clay mixture made from a unique blend of salt, water, husk and soil harvested from termite mounds—apparently, this method isn’t just unique to Chaiya nor Thailand only; Filipinos are also known to deploy this method.
I first heard about Chaiya salted eggs when I watched the Taiwanese food program, “Mei Shi Da San Tong” (《美食大三通》), hosted by Zeng Guo Cheng. In one episode about Thai cuisine, Zeng headed to Surat Thani to find out more about these famous eggs, unveiling the production process and sampling a wide array of salted egg dishes along the way. Since then, I’ve been wanting to do a similar salted egg hunt in Surat Thani, and this may come into fruition when my family and I go on a planned vacation to Thailand’s south sometime later this year.
Anyway, back to the salted eggs back in my kitchen. Printed on the box is also information that specifies the date until which the eggs can be fried, after which they are recommended to be boiled only. It’s probably not new knowledge to many others but I just learned that salted duck eggs, just like chicken eggs, can be fried too. And I also learned that it’s easy to make your own salted eggs at home: just store the eggs in a brine solution for approximately 30 days and voila, you’ll get your own salty creations.
As we were still within the frying validity, we did a quick fry of the salted eggs to create sunny-side-ups. After cooking, the yolks still retained their globular shapes, and were fresh and chewy to the taste. Just seeing it on top of my rice made me happy!