What it means to be underrated

This is the last post of 2011 for me, and because of that, I want it to be special. Many people are predictably rolling out the “Best of…Worst of…” lists to punctuate the end of this strange, strange year, but I want to devote my last post to something more special, more near and dear to my food-loving heart. And that is Jet Li.

I love Jet Li. I love him even though other people gawk and aah and ooh over the usuals, all somehow resembling that boy in high school who was so so useless but still managed to breeze through life intact and popular — you know these boys, they are infuriating. Empty vessel of man-meat Brad Pitt, or repository of broken dreams George Clooney, or — snore — Ryan Gosling — how did he happen again? — you get the picture. They are basically iterations on the same boy. They will always have a “Hi, how are you?” as they whiz past you in the hall, not bothering to listen to your reply. That guy. That one.

Jet Li is not that guy. He is little and quick and quiet. He does silly martial arts movies with strange co-stars, a la Jackie Chan, but he has the acting chops to do serious stuff, too. He is not what anyone would call “conventionally handsome”, or “handsome”, or even “quite good-looking”. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even care if he is the bad guy. Unlike, again, Jackie Chan, he isn’t that desperate to be liked. This is what separates him from the other actors of his genre, like, uh, Jackie Chan … and, er … … … … … … ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Jet Li is underrated. Like hua pla restaurants (see what I did there? What a seamless transition!), which are grungy and dingy and not “charming”, “glitzy” or “stylish” in the least. They have the ambiance of an underground storage space, and clientele who are well past retirement age. And the dishes they offer — well, what do you expect from a genre of restaurant named for a “fish head”?

The namesake dish, bubbling in a "maw fai" (fire pot)

Yet these hua pla restaurants resolutely cling to life on the Bangkok dining scene, scattered here and there in the unfashionable sections of town. A subset of the Chinese-Thai restaurant, hua pla places also feature stir-fried seafood dishes, fried rice and noodles besides the namesake dish, a fresh fish (usually giant pomfret, or thao theuy) in either pickled plum or taro broth (pickled plum is better), bubbling contentedly in a metal pot set over a small flame.

Fried e-mee noodles at Hua Pla Maw Fai Nai Kwan

Of all the hua pla restaurants in town, the one I find most accessible is just beyond the Sam Yan subway stop, across the street from Chamchuri Square. Called “Hua Pla Maw Fai Nai Kwan”, this unassuming eatery is hidden in a soi behind the parking lot to the left of Wat Hualumpong on Rama IV Road. It boasts maybe six tables, creaky old Lazy Susans, and a kitchen in back that may have seen  World War II. It is also the perfect place for a quiet, no-fuss lunch on a relaxing Sunday with the day stretching ahead of you like an empty highway. And what could be better than that?

Stir-fried crab with peppers at Nai Kwan

 

12 Comments

Filed under Asia, Bangkok, fish, food, noodles, restaurant, seafood, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

12 responses to “What it means to be underrated

  1. I finally made it to Hia Khwan on a similarly recent no-fuss Sunday and really enjoyed it. The hotpot was one of the better ones I’ve encountered, and the other dishes were also really tasty. Already looking forward to future visits. Thanks for the heads-up…

  2. Subtle transition. Very true that some types of food are not as appreciated as they could be… not sure if that is true of Jet Li or not, but nice article nonetheless.

  3. Anney

    Dear Glutton!

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventures in 2011 and I wish you and your family a very happy end to 2011 and many more fine culinary (and other) adventures in 2012….. you never know, someday we may find ourselves sharing a late of something delicious somewhere in the world.

  4. Nope… But I do know that Tang Jua Lee (http://www.austinbushphotography.com/2010/03/tang-jua-lee.html) serves a pretty good mor fai, although I’m on the lookout for a new one.

  5. I don’t really know who Jet Li is but I’ve also had a craving for this dish lately, although I’ve yet to come across a good one. I had noticed Nai Kwan a while back — Bangkok restaurants obviously take precedence in my brain over movie stars — and will check it out soon.

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