So here goes

Jay Maew's giant pomfret with pickled plums

People sometimes ask me where I like to eat. I suspect this is so they do not have to worry about bumping into me somewhere. I’ve been asked this enough times that I have decided to write down a handy little list, detailing the places I make a serious effort to go to again and again.

You may notice there is a pattern. As I get older (I am 75), I get more set in my ways. You will never, ever catch me in a place with throbbing music, or packed with people, or outfitted with beds instead of chairs, unless Anthony Bourdain is there, in an outfit made out of sun-dried beef. I will try my very best to avoid a place that describes itself as fusion, unless it is something like Eskimo-Mongolian, because — well, who wouldn’t want to see that? I also steer clear of theme restaurants, unless they involve ninjas, or pirates. Or, uh, knights and jousting. Never mind. Just scratch what I said about theme restaurants.

1. Jay Maew
Just off of the highway in Samut Songkhram on the way to Hua Hin, this Thai seafood place is … about to close, because the owners want to retire and enjoy their lives. This is a shame (although I am all for the owners wanting to enjoy their lives), because their gaeng som is easily the best within 100 km of Bangkok. Also delicious giant pomfret, stewed with pickled plums or steamed with soy sauce and ginger; grilled crab, thick with eggs; freshwater shrimp, heads oozing, lightly blistered. Try not to miss it!

Before going over Mae Nam Tha Jeen, stick to left, go under bridge, U-turn, make first left, and it’s on your left hand side.

2. Jay Fai
Let me tell you a story about Jay Fai. I wrote a book about street food stalls, and although the bill at Jay Fai falls quite outrageously beyond the price limit of 100 baht per meal, I included it, because her cooking is incredibly delicious, more so once you find out she is self-taught.

Well, she didn’t like being included in a book with the pad thai guy down the street and the assorted noodle vendors here and there on the sidewalk. Her food is “on another level”, she said. Well, I can’t say I disagree with that. “Dry” thom yum (spicy lemongrass soup), festooned with prawns as big as a child’s hand; double-fried lard na, thick flat noodles paired with skinny yellow ones, topped with a flavorful seafood gravy; or, my favorite, a Japanese-inspired omelette stuffed with gigantic hunks of crab — this place is the first place I think of when someone I like wants to eat great Thai food.

Jay Fai's crabmeat omelette

327 Mahachai Rd.

3. Chesa
People are sometimes confused when I say this Swiss restaurant is my favorite Western restaurant in Bangkok. Who knew raclette could be so alluring? How could fondue be such a draw?

Truthfully, although I love cheese, raclette and fondue aren’t big draws to me either. Yet I come to Chesa every chance I get because nearly every item on its menu is well-cooked. I like that the chef includes seasonal menus — focusing on, say, white asparagus in late spring, chanterelles in the fall. I like the brisk, efficient service. I like that they don’t mind substitutions. I even like that it’s slightly fusty and quiet. Best of all, I love that this is a restaurant that does not shy away from offal — veal kidneys in a mustard sauce, liver with rosti, breaded fried sweetbreads, these guys have it all.

Kidneys with brussels sprouts

5 Sukhumvit Soi 20

4. Soul Food Mahanakorn
Every time I mention Soul Food Mahanakorn to anyone, I am invariably told one of a several things: 1. that it is their local; 2. that they have had the party for their book/exhibition/film/album there; 3. that they had a very interesting conversation about (insert something here) with the owner; and 4. to try the lamb grapao/Burmese-style stewed pork belly/spicy eggplant salad/excellent cocktails.

The point being, everyone loves this place. What started out as being a trendy new place with promise has turned into something that people genuinely love to go to, again and again. Everyone has picked out their favorite dish on the menu (mine is the Hat Yai fried chicken); everyone has had some sort of party there (including me); everyone has had an interesting conversation with Jarrett (boo, Eagles). This is because it is very easy to do all of these things, thanks to a smart menu, a convivial, homey atmosphere, and Jarrett’s genuinely warm personality. You feel like he could be your best friend: we could watch movies together, and do each other’s hair, and he could listen to me blather on about “Game of Thrones” for hours on end … right? Jarrett? Hey, where are you going?

56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55

5. Bamee Slow
I travel more than I should, and this is the first place I always try to go to once I get home. I love bamee kai — I am a fool for eggs, and a boiled egg, cooked just enough so the yolk runs all over a silky, fragrant handful of egg noodles accented with red pork and fried garlic, is probably my idea of an edible heaven. Best/worst of all, the wait can take up to 25 minutes, ramping up the anticipation for your first bowl (I immediately order two, broth separate, to avoid unnecessary drama) that much more. It’s the very best street food, the slow kind.


Entrance to Ekamai Soi 19 (after 8pm)


Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, curries, fish, food, food stalls, noodles, restaurant, seafood, Thailand

14 responses to “So here goes

  1. Lisa

    Hi Chawadee, I hope you’re well. I really want to go to Jay Fai when I’m in Bangkok in the near future. There is a lot of confusion on different sites about the day of the week it’s closed.. In your book it says that it’s closed on Saturdays. Is this definitely still the case? Thanks, Lisa

  2. Gautam

    When I read of Thai fin fish cookery in English, the species seem limited to the snakehead family, the larger catfishes, pomfret etc. Found some interesting pointers on smoked Wallago spp.

    I would be interested to learn more about how rural or urban Thais use some of the following: the major and minor carps, Glossogobius, Scatophagus, Lates calcarifer [pla kapong kao?], Anabantids [climbing perches], Pangasius species, Ompok spp. [featherbacks], Tenualosa ilisha, plus small fishes of the rice fields like Amblypharyngodon mola, Chela spp., and Puntius spp. All of the last 3 are highly prized in many South & SE Asian countries in spite of their diminutive size & command prices as high as those of the large fish mentioned before. The same is true for fingerlings of various Channa spp., the snakeheads, as well as those of important food fish. Enjoying fingerlings is an ancient practice turned unsustainable in South Asia, and I would be curious to learn if this custom is common in Thailand’s inland fisheries. Thanks.

    • I know pla kapong is steamed Chinese-style, but most fish, for rural Thais, are deep-fried. That is because most fish come from the river, and they still worry about things like worms, and deep-frying was the only surefire way they knew to kill off all parasites. So there are a lot of recipes for deep-fried fish. In Isaan, fish are also coated in salt and roasted. And of course, small fish are caught and sun-dried, used as a condiment for rice porridge, in spicy salads, or in soups without coconut milk.

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  4. Chissa

    Jay Fai one of my faves and want to go back…with somebody rich who is willing to foot the bill. Also yes, please send more “western ingredient-friendly” thai recipes and we will try it out.

  5. 75, eh? That how you feeling these days? Ha ha…

  6. Janet Brown

    Love this piece and it has me sobbing and ravenous. The price of Thai food in my new home has sent me to my miniscule kitchen–more recipes please along with your splendid essays!

  7. Hi, Would like to send you a reply but I don’t think appropriate to post on public forum. If I reply this way, is it public ? Cheers, William

  8. SpecialKRB

    I woke up, read this, and immediately craved much more than my usual coffee and yogurt. Gonna be a long, hungry, unsatisfying morning…

    Is Jay Maew the place with the oysters? The night we ended up at the lake and my back went out?

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