Come to Thailand

tomyumgoon

Jay Fai’s famous tom yum soup, cooling on the countertop

Let me tell you what bothers me the most about Adam Sandler’s movies. No, it’s not the ingrained misogyny. It’s not the fact that this dude is transparently enjoying a holiday while pretending to “work” at the same time, all on someone else’s dime. Hey, it’s not even Rob Schneider. It’s the music.

I believe “Adam Sandler” is a musical fraud. He is not the real-life Adam Sandler. The guy in the “Wedding Singer” who claims to have been “listening to the Cure a lot lately”? I don’t believe him — unless it’s “Sunday I’m in Love” played over and over again 1,000 times a day, because real-life Adam Sandler seems exactly that cheesy and annoying. That guy, who loves Van Halen and Billy Idol, but not, like, White Lion or Ratt like people who actually lived during the 1980s, because his taste is so superior to everyone else’s, even when everyone’s taste at the time was notoriously terrible. Real-life Adam Sandler looks exactly like that guy in junior high school who would make fun of you in your Damned t-shirt, confuse the Clash with the Cult, and question your sexuality for listening to Depeche Mode. He would have worn a mullet and listened to Bad Company and had an AC/DC poster in his bedroom, just like everyone else. Only after the fact, in the safety of his college dorm room, can he begin wearing white K-Swiss sneakers with little ankle socks and boxer shorts and proclaim his affinity for the Smiths. All of a sudden he’s deep and cool, and not the trash-talking metalhead who tormented you on the bus ride home because “SKID ROW RULES!” You know who I’m talking about. The guy on the side of strength, until he didn’t have to be. The guy who never had to pay his dues. That guy is Adam Sandler.

I feel the same skepticism when I see something like Netflix’s “Stranger Things”. Don’t get me wrong, because I loved “Stranger Things” and thought almost every single detail, from Barb’s glasses to Steve’s BMW, was great. But give me a break with the older brother’s music. So he’s so cool that he indoctrinates his brother with the wonders of the Clash and the glories of their second-most-overplayed song, eventually turning it into a major musical focal point of the story? Is everyone in this po-dunk town really that cool? Does everyone remember the 1980s differently from me? Where is the Def Leppard? Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam? TAYLOR DAYNE? Because if I had to suffer through “Love Will Lead You Back” 800,000 times every day, someone else must have, too. Or are we just denying this ever happened to us? Sweeping this under the rug? Who, in 1985, would have said that people would remember Echo & the Funnymen 30 years later, that nostalgia would make it cool to play a snorefest like “Nocturnal Me” on a television show and enshrine it as a classic?

“Best Restaurants” lists are also attempts to pick out classics, but for food and in real time. That makes it doubly hard. So it didn’t surprise me when the Michelin Guide awarded two Singapore hawker stalls their very own stars, or that there is even a Singapore Bib Gourmand Guide at all, because $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Also, you know, street food is currently having a “moment”, I hear. Did you guys know that? That’s what all the kids are saying these days. Street food is “in” right now. What’s that? You think it smells like a ploy, like pandering to millennials, like Hillary Clinton claiming to carry hot sauce in her purse at all times a la Beyonce? Well, I say, how cynical of you! Oh, and did I mention $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$?

Why, I’m hearing through the grapevine that Michelin might even come to Thailand! E-GAD. Finally, an outsider can validate/nullify our own food choices. How have we ever eaten before now? And what should we do until then? THE SUSPENSE IS UNBEARABLE (she says, hitting herself in the head with a broken chopstick slathered in artisanal Sriracha sauce). What do you think should be considered for a star? What do I think? Oh, I am all a-flutter, like Tom Brady in a restaurant when his chef has the day off.

Honestly, I can only think of two (street food) places I would think about. One of them is this:

bamee

Bamee Sawang, biotches

because, even though I can’t eat them anymore, the egg noodles here are probably the best anywhere in the country. But maybe Chinese-style noodles are covered? Maybe we should be thinking of a tom yum noodle place, even though most tom yum broth is too sweet and adulterated with condensed milk? (she says, brandishing her AARP card)

The second one is my favorite, even though we have a complicated relationship, she and I. Some days she likes me and some days she doesn’t. That uncertainty makes my trips to her shophouse very exciting.

jayfai

Jay Fai at work

It’s not easy to stir-fry noodles. It’s not easy to be a “made-to-order” (aharn tham sung) cook. It’s often thankless and always draining. But Jay Fai (who is either 70 or 77, depending on what day you ask her) has managed to stay one of the best in the country — if not THE best — through sheer will, ego and a dedication to top quality ingredients that is reflected in her sky-high prices. If you come here, you must pay obeisance, if not outright acknowledge that she is the best, because she is absolutely willing to dismiss your sorry ass. After all, she used to serve abalone gravy noodles to then-Prime Minister Thaksin at 10,000 baht a plate. What is she doing wasting time with us jokers?

stirfry

So, who would you propose? Quite frankly, I’ll be happy with any Thai place that ends up in the guide, because any acknowledgement of great Thai food is a plus in my book. I’m totally serious. Even if it ends up being something like S&P, I will be behind it 100 percent. Now, I am the bully on the bus telling you what to like. Because Thai food rules.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

When food is the enemy

chicken2

Chicken rice at Nai Thong

It started with the insomnia. Sleeping two, maybe three hours a night, only to wake up to a still-dark room and a dispiriting “2:00” or even “12:30” on the clock. I started binging on sleep products. I did acupuncture, reiki, kinesiology, any treatment that could possibly help. My days went on like before. But I began dreading the sunset and the sinking feeling of disappointment that awaited me every time I opened my eyes. It wasn’t until I had a panic attack at my friend’s Thanksgiving party when I started thinking that there could be something really wrong.

It was, of course, psychological. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and put on Prozac. But my parents always suspected it could be something else — something hormonal. Something like menopause. I mean, once you head down that avenue, why not go all the way? So I met with a doctor in Bangkok Hospital Chinatown who took vials of my blood, sent away to Germany to be analyzed for whatever it was that could be making me batshit crazy.

I went away to the States to stuff myself with spinach-artichoke dip, tub-sized salads doused in blue cheese dressing, hamburgers capable of feeding a family of four and enough Buffalo wings to sink a miniature Titanic. This turned out to be a good decision. Because when I came back, Dr. Tanupol — spry, slim, blessed with the skin of a 10-year-old — told me that not only did I have an overactive adrenal gland and a creaky thyroid working at 50 percent capacity … but that I was also cursed with a host of food allergies that even Gwyneth Paltrow could be jealous of.

The list, helpfully alphabetized for my convenience, is long and even more insane than I am. Gluten, wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, wild rice. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and mare’s milk. Almond, asparagus, cashew nut, plaice. Eggs. Coconut and cherry. Heartbreakingly, mustard seed. I was to try to stay away from these items for six full months, until my body readjusted to the new battery of supplements he would prescribe me, to be taken daily and nightly, the hero to my wack wimmin’s issues because wimmin always be going cray. Only after six months could I be retested to see if I could really eat again. “You are Asian. You should just eat Asian food,” he said, forgetting that there is egg or coconut milk in almost everything worth eating.

Let’s be real: there is no way I can stay on this diet. Because PIZZA. PASTA. PIE. OTHER FOODS THAT DON’T BEGIN WITH P. Watching other people eat the food I want to eat is an interesting exercise in vicarious experience, aspirational living, and envy tempering. Like meditation, it’s a good mental exercise. At least that is what I tell myself.

So what to I do until then? Of all the street food that I could be eating, chicken rice falls squarely onto the top tier of things that I love (yes I know that soy sauce has gluten, but in the words of Donald Trump, give me a break). It’s a  Chinese-inspired street food dish found all over Asia, but no one quite does it like Thailand: the gingery, chili-spiked sauce, the fatty sheen on the rice, the tender hunks of poached chicken, the gleaming cube of blood. And the soup — it’s the soup, nowadays, that seems to set Thai chicken rice apart. Making a soup that will blow your socks off is the new black, and far easier than inventing yet another sauce to serve atop your chicken rice.

At Nai Thong (982/30 Soi Sathupradit 58, 02-682-4253, branch on Soi Soonvijai, 02-716-5664) the soup is a bracing, aromatic splash of lemon, grounded with a simmered slice of winter melon. It’s a soup eager to claim all the attention for itself, not content to play second fiddle to some tranches of boiled poultry. This would normally be annoying to me, because I delight in being annoyed by things. But not today. Not right now.

chicken1

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Glutton Abroad(-ish): Fusionality

beef

Beef tongue stew at Pattakarn Ahgawe (Fu Mui Gee 2)

It’s become trendy in recent years to deride fusion, especially in Asia. This is probably because this region arguably plays victim to the greatest number of fusion-related culinary crimes in recent memory. Many diners are still old enough to remember the global fusion experiments of the 1980s, the jumble of Middle Eastern, Asian, European and what-have-you influences combined with the judiciousness of a Donald Trump backstage at a beauty pageant. With all its flavor bells and whistles, of course, Thai food was an ideal target. Many, many bad dishes resulted. It gave fusion a bad name, making its adherents look like fad-obsessed school kids doodling “Mrs. Green Curry Pizza” on their Trapper Keepers, forever too earnest, always trying too hard.

Things have swung the other way, where the pedigree of a dish is celebrated and the best recipe bloodlines harken back several generations (but not too far that the Chinese influence is gone and the dish is a tasteless mess). It’s in vogue to point out when dishes veer from the prescribed conventional wisdom, and (in Thailand at least) subject every restaurant with even middling pretensions to a test of ideological purity worthy of any Bernie bro. That’s not to say that this is coming out of nowhere; the government, if all those stories of tasting robots are to be believed, is in on it too. In an attempt to control how things taste, there is now an official way to cook things, an exercise as useful — and ultimately, auspicious — as my quest to lose 10 pounds.

I was thinking of this while eating kimchi quesadillas and short-rib tacos drizzled in a chili-soy vinaigrette at Kogi BBQ in LA, an example of the type of fusion food people hate, except when they love it, because it tastes so good. Yes, a Korean and Mexican melange sounds like the very worst sort of foodie fever dream, a mishmash of two Southern Californian-favored cuisines that seem to have only “Hey, we’re not white” in common. Who knew it could be this delicious?

quesadilla.JPG

Kogi kimchi quesadilla

Later on, in Sonoma, I dined on a heaping big plate of avocado chaat (cubed ripe avocado piled over potato and lashed with tamarind sauce and coriander chutney), kale pakoras and naan layered with ripe cherry, cheese and coriander at a restaurant called “Delhi Belly” — I know! I know that it sounds terrible! Do not scorn me, Bernie bro! But I enjoyed myself regardless, because that weirdness was something we would never see anywhere else. It was uniquely American and, so, covetable.

When asked at a dinner party once what my favorite Thai restaurant was, I said that it was Silom Pattakarn (which has since moved). The person laughed. “That’s not even Thai food,” he said. Which is true. It is an Asian translation of Western favorites, made with Asian ingredients and Asian cooking techniques. According to Chef McDang, this type of cooking might have originated in the court of Rama IV, who hired many Chinese cooks to create a menu of “Western” dishes for visiting dignitaries. This type of menu is now replicated by a (rapidly dwindling) stable of Chinese-Thai restaurants that sprouted up in the wake of World War II and introduced a new generation of Bangkokians to the West via this Chinese-Thai-European fusion. The dishes that all of these places had in common: beef tongue stew, steak salad, and an Anglo-Indian chicken “curry” that, on occasion, would be served with slices of toasted white bread.

I don’t know where Silom Pattakarn is now, so in its absence, I go to Pattakarn Agawe, located on Rama IX Soi 7 off of Rama IX Road (romanization is tricky for Thai words so it could also be Agave, Akaway, what have you). The beef tongue stew is the best I’ve had, but everything else is pretty good too. Just think: even though it’s the fusion that someone undoubtedly railed against those many years ago, today it’s still considered delicious enough to put into a category all its own.

curry.JPG

Chicken curry with a cucumber-shallot-chili relish

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Beauty contest

suki.JPG

Dry suki and sauce at Manop Sukiyaki

I know it’s not very cool of me, but I don’t like to watch Woody Allen films. It always ends up (excuse my French) pissing me off. This is just the stuff on the screen that I’m talking about, not even his personal life. Watching Husbands and Wives was downright excruciating.

Call me shallow, but I just can’t get past the fact — especially with the mid-career Woody Allen stuff — that he got away with casting himself as a romantic lead in most of these movies. Even in the Annie Hall era, this requires more suspension of disbelief than I am capable of exerting. His movies require that you believe this man — who is constantly complaining, who always needs taken care of, who weighs less than me — is capable of drawing beautiful, frequently younger women to his side. Wassup with that? All those dry, pursed-lip onscreen kisses he has forced us to endure all of these years, like watching someone finish off a chicken wing while still trying to keep their lipgloss intact grossgrossgrossgrossGROSS. I mean, are all these women blind? And deaf? Juliette Lewis, what are you doing? Come on Diane Keaton, you got other options, gurl! Julia Roberts … well, ok, it already looks like she’s thinking of throwing herself into the Grand Canal. Just go ahead and do it, honey. Maybe a gondolier will sweep by and rescue you. I’d take my chances.

Of course, I can say this now, before my husband leaves me for a 24-year-old. I know this is the likeliest post-breakup option for him, because he has actually told me, to my face (“I won’t lie. I would go younger.”) Meanwhile, we live in a world where I would be forced to marry an octogenarian with (hopefully for him) impaired hearing because I have no marketable skills of my own. We could watch tennis and talk or not talk about soup all day. Maybe Woody Allen will be available by then and I will be forced to eat my own words. But who am I kidding? Woody Allen could get a 24-year-old if he wanted to, too.

I can’t say I’m the only shallow one around. People use appearance to figure out what food they want to eat, too. It shows in their choices: grilling chicken or fish, smoking on the grill or glowing white on the skewer over charcoal. Fresh chunks of mango piled sloppily over grains of rice glistening with coconut milk. Steaming noodles in broth with fish meatballs or a splash of bright pink fermented tofu sauce. It’s not hard to figure out why you would want to eat this stuff.

Unfortunately, the pleasures of Thai sukiyaki — adapted from the Japanese noodle dish but even more slatternly, sloppier — are not readily apparent. Ordered dry (hang), it’s a mess on the plate, a mixed-up melange of glass noodles, egg, green onion and whatever protein you’ve opted for, pork or chicken, beef or seafood. Even with broth (nam), it’s like Asian ribollita, an indiscriminate stew that suggests instead of shows. Yet the best versions of this dish make you forget that it’s a mess. Like a lot of Thai street food, the secret lies in the sauce.

At Manop Sukiyaki Rod Kraba (622 Soi Charoen Krung 27, 02-332-5516), suki is king, and the sauce (based on fermented tofu, spiked heavily with chilies) is the queen that made it all possible. Sure, there are dishes like guaythiew kua gai (chicken-fried noodles) and roast pork (chewy during rainy season because of the increased humidity), but they assume you are there for the suki. From 6 in the evening on, the back of a truck turns into a kitchen capable of churning out some of the best suki in the Chinatown area. The location is similarly as homely as the dish: an otherwise-abandoned alleyway with the occasional cat or cockroach. But unless you are absolutely sure this dish is the Woody Allen to your Mia, don’t turn back, don’t be deceived. You might be pleasantly surprised.

condiments.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Soi 38 Revisited

Today’s text from my friend James:

text

I lol’ed in a taxi because it is true. There is a certain type of expat in Bangkok, who works hard and is good at his job, but is also unrelentingly miserable, eyes fixed on a future that will inevitably not involve Bangkok. This makes them turn to different outlets into which they can funnel all that energy and desire, and, since many of these expats are also terribly wholesome, those outlets are usually Type A competitive things that involve sports. Like Crossfit.

I know about this, because I was a Lonely Expat in Tokyo. I didn’t want to do the Lonely Tokyo Man ritual, which usually involved pondering life over a cup of coffee and a cigarette at a Jonathan’s on a Friday night. This was also pre-Crossfit, and I could not afford to join a Tokyo gym. So my weekends were spent walking from my place into Shibuya, which would burn up most of my Saturday. It made me feel like part of the city, as disconnected and alone as I was. For those few hours, I was just like everybody else. It was an outlet. It was my Crossfit.

There are different ways to Crossfit. What I mean is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just because George RR Martin takes 10 years to finish a book and “Game of Thrones” is nearing the home stretch of its television run doesn’t mean I will soon have to do without Jon Snow and Jaime Lannister — there are umpteen fan theory sites, sites dedicated to comparing “Game of Thrones” with real historical events, sites on which wonderful people create alternate universes in which my second boyfriend Rhaegar Targaryen comes back to rule the Iron Throne. If there is a need for something, that need will eventually be met. Sometimes, all one has to do is to simply be patient.

Much was made of the demise of Sukhumvit Soi 38 (by me?) but in reality, it hasn’t really gone anywhere at all. No, really, even though a few buildings have been leveled and Daniel Thaiger has decamped to greener pastures. There is, and will always be, a need for affordable street food in Bangkok, even on Sukhumvit. Many of the usual suspects are still there, like this mango sticky rice vendor — only in slightly different locations:

4444256635_0dc7c2012f

You can still have this at Sukhumvit Soi 38

(Photo by Karen Blumberg)

Soi 38 has become less of a collection of street food vendors loosely congregated around the mouth of a soi and more like a Singapore-style hawker center, mostly located in the basement of Sutti Mansion (plus a few holdouts — mainly the OG Soi 38 vendors — who are now clumped further along into the soi). The “food court” looks like this:

soi38

Here, located in the sub-soi off of 38 which still hosts the fruit shake, mango sticky rice and pad Thai vendors, you can get: khao soy, Isaan food, Japanese favorites like ramen and curry rice, Chinese specialties, pork noodles, fish porridge, Chinese pork noodles (guay jab), chicken rice and egg noodles. Across from the pad Thai guy, Isaan-style salt-encrusted fish still grill on rotating skewers, pork satay still smoke over an open flame, and a new roti stall has set up shop. The seating is easy to get and it’s relatively cooler than out in the street. It’s also an altogether more manufactured, touristy experience. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, can they, especially when it comes to that mango sticky rice? (Longtime customers advise getting the mangos here and buying the sticky rice across the street at Khun Mae Varee.)

Old guard holdouts still cling to the main road, mostly along the left side of Soi 38. Beyond the other mango sticky rice vendor, there are still the yum (spicy salad), chicken rice, egg noodle, and Thai shaved ice dessert stands, plus pork trotter on rice (khao kha moo), more guay jab, more fish porridge (khao thom pla), fish noodles, and what are still my parents’ favorite Chinese-style egg noodles (bamee) in town. The only glaring omission is the Chinese-style congee (jok) place, which has moved to a sub-soi between sois 38 and 36. My advice: get to Soi 38 before stuff somehow reconfigures again and you are left searching for another Crossfit with which to sate your Sukhumvit street food needs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ultimate Hipsters

fishcakes

Springy fishcakes at Krua Apsorn

Thai people are the ultimate food hipsters. If a place has gotten too much press, has become too popular, or is too convenient, it is automatically devalued in the eyes of the food hipster. That gets you less “food cred” (i.e. the mental points you give yourself for posting a photo of a hard-to-get culinary trophy on social media), therefore rendering it a waste of time. Nothing is more excruciating to the food hipster than posting a photo of an out-of-style dish (say, tuna tartare) from a passe, all-too-accessible eatery (think hotel restaurant). It would be the hipster equivalent of killing yourself, or professing your love for Imagine Dragons or Taylor Swift (unless you are being ironic, like wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of your cat on the front, or actually marrying your cat). (That said, I enjoyed Ryan Adams’ version of “Bad Blood”. I AM NOT ENDORSING TAYLOR SWIFT, signed, hipster).

I am too old and fat to be a hipster, yet — like every other Thai — I otherwise fit into the basic definitions of the “food hipster”. To the Thai food hipster, if more than 10 people have heard of the food place you are raving about, then “everyone already knows about it”. The breath you have used in talking about it has already been wasted, stealing oxygen that would have otherwise been successfully utilized by someone else. What you have just done is useless, and, by extension, immoral. OMG PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT POLO FRIED CHICKEN, a thousand food hipster voices cry out in anguish. MY GRANDMA LIKES THAT PLACE. You don’t even have to be Thai to be a Thai food hipster. After I emailed someone a suggestion to try Jay Fai, the reply was “Isn’t that in the Lonely Planet guide?” (FEEL THE BERN).

I’ll admit it: I regularly eat at Krua Apsorn. The food is reliable, the service is fast, and some of their most popular dishes are my favorite renditions of that dish, anywhere. A case in point is the crabmeat and long bean stir-fry, a dish you will probably find on every table in the restaurant (alongside the cowslip creeper stir-fry, the green curry with homemade fish meatballs, and/or the pillbox-shaped crabmeat omelet):

crab

You’ve probably had this before

Many, many legit Thai food lovers eat at one of the Krua Apsorn branches (on Dinsor Road, or preferably in Dusit) every day. But it’s not cool to say so. It’s like saying to a room of Williamsburg 25-year-olds that “hey, this Missy Elliot person is pretty good.” OK MOM.

It’s like being reliably good, easy to find, and comfortable to sit in (aka air-conditioning) are actually bad things that should be actively avoided. Food hipsters like to flirt with danger. Oh, the fried chicken is hand-foraged from a dumpster out in back? The oil in the wok hasn’t been changed since the vendor’s mother opened her doors in 1956? The restaurant is located on top of a tree in the Kanchanaburi jungle? These are all risks that true food-lovers are willing to take. Take the Ruenton Coffee Shop in the Montien Hotel in Bangkok, which appears to have been last renovated in the spasm of economic hedonism that accompanied 1980s Thailand. The food here is not only excellent, the service is efficient and the portions are BIG. Also, it is deserted.

yentafo

Not just chicken rice: Ruenton’s yen ta fo

Perhaps the most naff place you could think of as a food hipster is the one that everyone in the world already knows about. Someplace like Blue Elephant, which even has a branch in London, that’s how well-known it is. Does this mean the food is something to turn your nose up at? I was so confident of having a decent meal there that I allowed my friend Susie to comp my lunch, so I can risk looking like I sold my soul for a deluxe multi-course meal of butterfly pea dumplings, warm duck salad, stir-fried stinkbeans in shrimp paste, a green curry, and a side of mango with sticky rice (it’s mango season after all).

dumplings

Butterfly pea dumplings at Blue Elephant

This is probably the least food hipster-y thing I’ve done in a while (aside from lunch today, which was at Greyhound Cafe, come at me haterz) so I wanted to make sure I got my stomach’s worth.  Maybe next week I’ll be back to slurping beef blood noodles in an alley and risking malaria riverside as I down raw prawns plucked from the Mekong. Or maybe I’ll be eating hotpot for dinner at 5:30 at MK (it’s so healthy, you guys). There’s a whole city of food out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

River prawn paradise

crabdip

Crab egg nam prik at Jay Dum

One of my earliest memories was of the restaurant Aloha, located in the balmy paradise otherwise known as Youngstown, Ohio. It was the sort of place that served flaming pu-pu platters and just the thing to stand in as “Asian” food in an area starved for ethnic cuisine.  They would also give you a cocktail umbrella in your drink, even if it was something like a Shirley Temple. To my mind, that was the best thing about it. I saved my cocktail umbrella, a pink one, for weeks, keeping it in a drawer in a my desk to bring out at the most opportune moment.

Maybe a couple of months later, the opportune moment finally came. It had started raining heavily, and I was at home. I took out my umbrella and rushed out onto my apartment balcony, brandishing my pink umbrella over my head. Of course, the rain destroyed my umbrella in about 10 seconds flat. It was, up to that point, one of the most disappointing things to ever happen to me (SPOILER ALERT: I had yet to discover that Santa Claus didn’t exist). But what can you expect? I was, after all, only 23 years old.

I have since been hardened by the resentments and misunderstandings of my life into a miserable, cynical person. So when people suggest an old-style, locally foodie-famous restaurant for lunch, my first instinct is to shore myself up for the inevitable disappointment. Because that is what usually happens. There is the longstanding Thai-Chinese favorite on Rama IV Road that serves soggy fried chicken and salads slathered in mayonnaise in the name of nostalgia. The internationally-lauded open-air standby that purports to cook old-fashioned recipes even as they serve tom yum thickened with condensed milk. And all the places, born from the first flush of post-WWII prosperity, that have fallen by the wayside. Often, the eateries with grand reputations appear to be trafficking on their names, happy to slide into brand-stamped mediocrity. It’s not a great time for real retro either, at a moment when newer, shinier, splashier spots are opening every week.

Jay Dum, which is all the way in Patum Thani (Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok Rd Klong 10, 33/19 Moo 4, 02-546-1477, no reservations), is one such place with a grand reputation, but what sets it apart is that it is all the way in the middle of nowhere. So if you come here, you are really coming here, just to this restaurant, unless you are lost. My parents have been here enough times that they can say with authority that this day was better than that other day which was better than that other month, let’s not talk about that. I have only been here once. The specialty of the house is what the specialty of the house always seems to be, the grilled river prawn. It is central Thailand, after all.

prawn.JPG

Grilled prawns, of course

But it’s all that other stuff that really gets me, because it’s special in the way a really good destination restaurant is special. There are the thin slices of bitter melon half-buried in egg omelet and the stir-fried morning glory peppered liberally with green bird’s eye chilies. The springy fried fishcakes (tod mun pla) with a cucumber relish. Those same fish turned into green curry with meatballs — made by loads of meticulous beating, because using a blender would turn these balls crumbly when they’re supposed to fight you a bit in your mouth.

greencurry

Fish meatballs in green curry

And then, there are the sautéed lotus stems, crispy and juicy and garnished with prawn legs (!) which is a first for me because, really, who wants to waste their time shelling those suckers? But my favorite of all, I have to say, is the crab egg chili dip, so thick with orange crab roe it would make you weep, and all tarted up with pickled baby onions.

If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood (why?) then by all means stop by without calling them first, because they don’t take reservations. But if you’re not in the neighborhood but have a hankering for fish in patty or ball form, and grilled river prawns in a place outside of Bangkok but not at the beach, you could do far, far worse than Jay Dum. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized