Occasionally, I am invited to make the odd television appearance, usually for an afternoon or so where I natter on about street food and show the host a vendor or two. These are usually fun for me because I get to eat free food. Sometimes, I get to find new places I would never have gotten the chance to see otherwise.
So when a very knowledgeable and well-respected food personality asked me to appear on a round table about Thai food, I said sure, even though it was a day after returning from New Zealand, where I spent an entire week waking up at midnight after two hours of sleep, reading books and watching the ceiling until the birds started singing. On an empty stomach, I started chugging beers. By the time the actual shooting rolled around, I was utterly, irrevocably trashed. My ensuing evening went a little something like this:
So it wasn’t great. But it did give me the chance to explore the Thalad Baan Mai (New House Market) at Chachoengsao, and sample the many delights hidden in plain sight just an hour’s drive (!) from Bangkok.
There are countless steamed and rolled desserts made from palm sugar and coconut milk, killer coconut ice cream topped with shavings of fresh young coconut meat, Chinese-style dumplings stuffed with garlic chives, and maybe best of all, hor mok (fish mousse) wrapped in banana leaves and grilled instead of the usual steamed.
Another first: a taste of the makwit, a croquet-ball-sized round fruit that appears hard and impenetrable on the outside, and, once past its formidable shell, like an alien brain within.
Thais wait for the fruit to drop from the trees, when it is almost immediately eaten before the flesh becomes pulpy and muddied by a gloopy, white film. In other words, before it gets like this:
The flavor is reminiscent of tamarind, but the texture is slippery and a bit slimy. It’s not my cup of tea. But gourmands with a taste of sweet, ripe-smelling tropical fruits would probably love this.
Close to the makwit vendor and the excellent iced coffee stand, three elderly sisters (the eldest of whom is 84) continue to cook up aharn tham sung (made-to-order) lunchtime favorites like ped pullo (stewed duck in Chinese five-spice broth) and grapao moo (stir-fried holy basil pork). And only a few meters down from them, next to the river, Raan Pa Nu (038-511-006, open 10-22) draws the most customers of everyone in the market. In a no-frills open-air dining room that extends out onto a wooden pier set over the riverside, diners get local specialties like lard na pla (stir-fried noodles in fish gravy), nam prik kai pu (crab egg chili paste dip), yum pak kood (river cress salad) and sour seafood curry (gaeng som), dotted with squares of deep-fried egg studded with tannic bitter greens.
Everything has its silver lining.