Adventures in Chinatown, Part I

fish stew storefront

This is a khao tom pla (fish rice porridge) shop that was the only food stall open along a deserted alleyway in Yaowaraj (Chinatown) on a Sunday night following the Red Shirt protests. Called Sieng Gi Khao Tom Pla (Mageng Alley, behind the Grand China Princess Hotel), this shop is famous for–you guessed it–at the relatively exorbitant price of 300 baht a bowl (for Glutton-sized portions. For regular servings, it’s 200 baht).

There’s not much more to be said about fish porridge, except that it comes in three varieties: fatty pomfret with the silvery slivers of skin attached (pla jiramit, favored by Thais), plump chunks of seabass (pla kapong, which was just meh), and oyster (hoy nangrom).  The charms of such a straightforward dish can be elusive: simply poached fish in a fish stock with boiled rice, accompanied by a brown fermented soybean sauce, it draws the fine line between subtle Chinese-Thai delicacy and hospital food. And for the princely sum of 300 baht, one could find a showier, more flavorful deal somewhere else.

But, for us at least, it’s the food equivalent of your favorite aunt–comfort food, with enough exotica to differentiate it from the everyday.  In this case, some of the exotica comes in the form of a honking huge bowl of fish eggs, served on a bed of roughly chopped Thai celery and garnished with deep-fried garlic, an unusual side dish (also 200-300 baht) that is smooth and savory yet slightly grainy, like what a suede purse might taste like.

The rest comes via the–shall we say, homey–atmosphere of the shop itself, an alleyside hole-in-the-wall manned by an elderly Chinese man and his formidable wife. Entertainment comes in the form of rodent-sized cockroaches that tickle your toes as you eat; the squeamish need only complain and the waitress will be only too happy to shoo them away for you, at no additional cost. Enjoy.

seabass porridge

fish eggs

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, restaurant, Thailand

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