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.
9 responses to “Markets: Thalad Baan Mai in Chachoengsao”
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Happy New Year Chow (and entourage!) love Anney and Peter XX (just back from NZ too! – we had some truely woeful Thai there in 2 cities – should know better, hey!).
Haha. I laugh because I know exactly what you are talking about! Happy new year to you guys too, and hope to see you again in 2014!
Please try this with really ripe makwit/wood apple which you can smell from the outside of its shell. This palette of flavors may be an acquired taste, but a food personality should investigate different things. Since you have enjoyed Indian food before, and your have the irrepressible Marc Wiens around somewhere in BKK, perhaps you can get together for a comparative tasting?
This is very popular in West Bengal: in your mortar/pestle, crush some small aromatic green or red thai chillies, aroma and heat both being desirable. Pound in some good quality sugar cane jaggery, failing which use palm sugar, coconut or arenga palm jaggery. Pound in the ripe fruit. You can use a Lao som tam mortar/pestle. PLEASE no garlic, try it this way first, then add your own spin. Next add good quality mustard oil, which can either be got from Indian or Bangladeshi stores or from Korean stores where it is called “kaeja” and is fearfully strong. The South Asian product is mellower and be sure to buy an excellent quality. You need to add just enough for it to be barely noticeable. Let it sit for a bit for flavors to meld.
This is a “lickable” item, a “lehya”, since the traditional Sanskrit/Indian meal concept prescribes 4 textures to a meal:
charvya ; chewables, including stringy materials like amaranth stems, Moringa oleifera drumsticks of varying maturities, radish seed stalks etc.;
choshya ; succulent materials, things that are sucked,
lehya: items that are “licked”, i.e. a tangy “chatni” which means “to lick”
peya ; things that are drunk; these include a cool or lightly chilled green mango “soup” that is eaten with a tiny bit of white jasmine rice at room temperature. Try this in BKK and see if you like it. You will need cubed sour green mango sans skin, black mustard seeds, 1 dry chili pepper for aroma, mustard oil, and a pinch of turmeric powder. Sea salt, sugar to taste.
Heat the mustard oil, drop in the dry pepper and gently let it begin to brown, add mustard seeds and watch them turn gray and pop. Don’t let pepper or seeds blacken. Drop in mango cubes, stir around, add pinch of turmeric, stir again for a few seconds, do not fry. Oil must be minimal.
Add water to cover and more and salt. Let it come to brisk simmer and then add sugar. Should be sweet and sour, to your taste. Not oversweet. Lightly chill. Serve in substantial bowls, drop a scant tablespoon of room temperature rice, and spoon it up. End of meal course.
Thank you! That is a lot of information. I appreciate your taking the time.
I tasted Wood Apple in Sri Lanka. It looks like makwit. Is that the same fruit.? In 2014 I will visited Bangkok. I will print your blogs. I wish you a culinair 2014. Greetings from Amsterdam.
Apparently it is the same fruit! I have to say I am not a fan. I hope you enjoy your visit to Thailand next year!
Careful Nigella, those things smell like rotten milk! But the sri lankans make some kinda juice out of them. I forget the English name, but will try and find out. Sounds like a cool spot made better by beer!
Everything is made better by beer!