Adventures in Thonburi

Hoy klang, or “blood cockles”, across the river

“Run,” he said. “If you want to leave, go now. Or you won’t be able to leave until closing time.”

For the last three hours, Christina and I had been sitting riverside, enjoying a beautiful sunset, and getting gently — but irretrievably — sloshed on a steady diet of designer cocktails with no food. Every move we made to leave was greeted with exhortations to “Stay! Enjoy!” by the bar’s disarmingly generous owner, cocktails turning into glasses of wine and then wine bottles as a silent young man smiled blankly next to her. It was like being held prisoner in a booze-filled tower by an especially charming sorceress. And the smiling sphinx at our table was our way out.

So we did what any person of honor would do in our situation. We ran. We ditched. We didn’t ask about money. We didn’t look back. Later, floating for what seemed like an eternity on the river, I thought of karma as the wine threatened to make a reappearance on the Chao Phraya, the boat bobbing its slow, aimless way to freedom. But we had more pressing things to think about. Like dinner.

Thonburi is often ignored, because it’s all the way over there, across the river, in the no man’s land also known as Collection of Big Places that are Hard to Get To. It’s the Queens of Bangkok. You have to really want to go. Tonight, Christina was giving me two good reasons to trek over from my safe place of cake shops and sushi bars.

Our shrimp, pre-baking, at Jay Piek

The first, called Jay Piek (Charoen Rat Road near Soi 1 at Wong Wien Yai, 086-613-0587) specializes in something of a rarity in Thai street food stalls — the Thai-Chinese dish known as goong ob woonsen, prawns wrapped in glass vermicelli and baked in a metal container, a method which ensures maximum juiciness and aroma. What sets the shrimp at Jay Piek apart is the seasoning: packed full of scallions and coriander roots, coriander seeds, shreds of pork fat, and a finishing dash of ground white pepper before it is sent over to your table.

The finished product, in half-light

There is also crab given similar treatment, grilled salt-encrusted seabass, baked mussels in herbs, and the Thai shellfish known as “blood cockles” because of the blood-like liquid they ooze when they are cooked. It’s a small menu, but a smart one, and Jay Piek — as its constantly-crowded tables attest — seems to do it the best.

But as awesome as Jay Piek is, we found something even better. I mean, people talk about things being a “revelation” a lot, and that’s when you know to turn off the computer and never go back, but I’m doing it now. Because this nameless ice cream place in the tent at Wong Wien Lek, fronted by satay and egg noodle vendors and flanked by a Chinese restaurant called Ah Gu, is my personal revelation, the best thing I’ve had in years.

Serving a type of old-style ice cream known as i thim kai dip (raw egg ice cream), this stall specializes in a dessert that has gone out of vogue for obvious reasons. The ice cream container must be very, very cold. The eggs must be very, very fresh, coddled right then and there. The vendor must be very, very sure that those yolks will be frozen.

“Raw egg ice cream”, pre-freezing

But when everything is right, the stars are aligned, and the vendor finally looks your way, the results are mind-blowingly delicious: vanilla-scented cream shot through with streaks of savory sunshine, an extra oomph and push to something that already has a whole lot of egg yolks. What’s one more, right? And when it’s dotted with look chid, or syrupy lotus seeds, and set in front of you after what seems like an eternity spent waiting for that yolk to freeze, it is hard not to consume the entire three or four scoops, all by yourself.

Streaks of sunshine

7 Comments

Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, seafood, Thai-Chinese, Thailand, Thonburi

7 responses to “Adventures in Thonburi

  1. Andy

    Oh please tell me where I can find this delightful sounding bar by the river that sells designer cocktails.

  2. Pingback: 100 Thai Dishes to Eat in Bangkok: The Ultimate Eating Guide

  3. Apsarablu

    There’s a shop selling i-thim kai dip under the bridge at Pratunam which I heard about a while ago. Now that you’ve explained the gloriousness of its taste in detail, I shall head over this afternoon to try it!

  4. That’s worth crossing the river for! First of all those prawns started making me hungry… then as I read further your description of the raw egg ice cream sounds so good that I’m contemplating jumping out my computer chair this moment to try and find it!

    • Thanks Mark! I had never heard of this dessert before, but I absolutely love it. I hate to say this, but it is worth the salmonella risk. Not that I’m advocating risking your health for food. Oh wait, yes I am.

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