My husband bought me a painting for my birthday. On some days, it looks to me like the tumultuous juncture where the four elements meet, clash and learn to coexist (earth, fire, water, air). On other days, it looks like a chicken on fire. What I see varies from day to day, depending on what mood I’m in.
Similarly, there are some Thai restaurants that I simply do not “get”. Foodie darlings that get a pass for whatever they serve, thanks to the strength of a couple of specials, or the exclusivity of the surroundings, or the remarkable history. But the onus of “getting” them lies on me, rather than the other way around: I am feeling ill that day, or am in a bad mood, or whatever.
So it is with trepidation that I admit, I have never been able to bring myself to enjoy a meal at Thai institution Chote Chitr, which is nearly a century old. It’s not for lack of trying, on either my part or theirs. Unlike some other places that seem to coast on their reputations, Chote Chitr is sincere in its intentions (sincerity is a big thing for me): the food is made with care, the service is prompt and welcoming, there are no shortcuts. It is genuine home cooking. And it always shows, like in its well-crafted nam prik platu (shrimp paste chili dip with fried Thai mackerel and all the fixings) or well-thought-out specials (on our recent visit, a smashingly good tamarind-laced sour gaeng with mushrooms and deep-fried salted smelts).
But sometimes, and no offense to the lovely, lovely Tim Krachochouli and formidable Lucky and Nam Waan (her two dogs) — the food is too sweet. Even the nam prik, which I enjoyed, is too sweet. I know they don’t resort to using granulated sugar (the horror). I know everything is made from scratch. And I have as much respect for R.W. Apple as anyone. But it’s just too damn sweet. I can’t go to town on the food, because I know I’ll feel nauseated halfway through. That’s just the way it is. It’s my problem.
And yes, I know extreme sweetness is a necessary feature of the somehow-this-became-what-they-are-known-for mee krob (yeah yeah, flavored with a rare citrus fruit blah blah blah, I have tons of respect for Bob too). It’s my belief mee krob should be balanced by a spicy curry because each cancels the other out — it doesn’t work any other way. To eat it without thinking about this is sort of an example of what I mean when I say Thai food — as a whole — is getting too sweet in this city. It’s becoming an (admittedly superior) version of the sweetened Thai you find abroad. I blame the gradually Westernized palate in Bangkok (although mine is as Westernized as they come and … oh, never mind. Meatloaf, anyone?)
I want to point out that it’s not that I don’t like Chote Chitr, because I do. It’s just that I like some other Thai restaurants better, and I don’t think they get as much attention. My favorites: lunchtime-only old-school joint Sanguansri (59/1 Wireless Rd., 02-252-7637), especially their kanom jeen (fermented rice noodle) dishes, or Sukhumvit standby Ruea Thong (351/2 Thonglor 17, 02-185-2610), which serves an awesome gaeng kua with marble-sized “exploding” mushrooms and a great nam prik made of ground peppercorns — a reminder of the pre-chili days before the Portuguese when the main spice in Thailand was pepper, or prik Thai. Also promising: the only week-old Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Thonglor, 085-904-2691), which is built on a great idea (street food with air-conditioning and superb cocktails) but more on that some other time. I am zonked out on Dayquil (obviously) and can only ramble incoherently for so long.