(Photo courtesy of Chili Paste Tours)
I don’t often give street food tours. Don’t get me wrong — I like getting out and about and meeting people — but if I do go with someone, it’s more of a walk-a-long to somewhere I’m trying out anyway, because I’m not sure I’m a very good guide. The thought of charging for an experience that may or may not be useful to someone is very fraught for me. I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED, OKAY?
So when I went on my own Bangkok food tour, it was an interesting change of pace for me. Recommended by the talented Anne Faber, Chili Paste Tour (www.chilipastetour.com) is a name that frequently springs to mind when people ask me for street food tour recommendations. Because I have mentioned them a couple of times, Chin — the tiny powerhouse behind Chili Paste — generously offered to take me to her favorite food stops. This was an incredible windfall for me, since these stops fall in my favorite part of town: the loop from Pra Arthit Road bypassing Rachadamnern Avenue, up through the Chinese Swing, and onto Tanao Road.
Now, I like to think I have fairly delineated tastes, meaning very few things are neutral to me. I like to think that I can be picky, but fair. I also like to think that I’m nice and that if I don’t like something, it doesn’t show, but my husband has just told me that I’m an abject failure at that. In other words, I can be a raging bitch. But Chin, while managing to veer nowhere near Bitchtown, is even more exacting, and really knows her food: she frequently spends entire afternoons sampling the offerings of vendors in nearby towns, trying to find a suitable place to take her charges. A famous som tum place is dismissed for being too “sweet”; a widely lauded Thai lunch spot is “bland”. Almost everyone is guilty of too much MSG. So when Chin likes a place, I feel like it must really be good.
First up: Chin’s favorite restaurant, Krua Sam Hom at Praeng Puthon Square. This road may sound familiar to you because of the perennial tourist favorite, Chote Chitr, which is close to the entrance from Tanao Road. Krua Sam Hom is a little further in, on the right hand side, directly across from the “park” that forms the square. It is, like most of the places in that neighborhood, surprisingly empty. But that ends up being a blessing, since Chin commandeers the kitchen (she takes a lot of people here), gathering ingredients for a spicy pomelo salad, the recipe for which she has loaned below. She is a whirlwind of instructions and information: the best pomelos come from Samut Songkhram and Nakhon Pathom; good nam prik pao (roasted chili paste) can be bought at Aor Thor Kor; she adds fresh orange segments from a particularly tart type found only in Samut Songkhram. And other stuff: how many modern Thai stir-fry cooks rely on margarine to add color and sheen to their creations, at the expense of aroma; to always have pomegranate juice vendors squeeze their juice in front of you, because many bulk up their bottles with cheaper watermelon juice.
We also get a beautiful plah goong, a prawn salad blanketed in minced lemongrass, mint, shallots and kaffir lime leaves and a stir-fry of morning glory and chilies. There is also a gaeng som (sour soup) with more prawns and squares of acacia leaves battered in egg, its rich red color courtesy of polished red chilies hand-picked by the chef, who keeps the discards in a plastic bag by the stairs.
Now, being a Glutton is my thing and all, and I really thought I might end up going home hungry, but that was foolish. After lunch, a stop at what is probably still Bangkok’s most famous ice cream shop, Nuttaporn: mango and coconut were especially recommended. Then, an iced coffee at the corner with the possibility of 12 baht pork noodles on Dinsor Road looming on the horizon and … I was stuffed. Stuffed like an 18-course meal at Eleven Madison Park (where I was convinced they were trying to kill us) stuffed. What can I say? We all have our limits.
Chin’s pomelo salad (for two)
– 5 pomelo segments
– 1/2 som kaew (glass oranges from Samut Songkhram)
– 1 Tbs roasted chili paste
– 1 Tbs peanut powder
– 1 Tbs dried coconut
– 3 Tbs palm sugar mixed with tamarind juice
– 1 Tb fish sauce (more to taste)
– 1/2 lime (more to taste)
– 5-6 dried chilies
– 1 Tbs roasted peanuts
– 1 Tbs fried shallots
– 4 cooked shrimp
– 3 fresh bird’s eye chilies
– 3 Tbs lemongrass, minced
– 2 tsp granulated sugar (to taste)
1. Mix roasted chili paste, peanut powder, palm sugar/tamarind juice, fish sauce, lime, fresh chilies, lemongrass and granulated sugar to form dressing.
2. Add citrus segments, squeezing them a bit to add juice to the dressing.
3. Garnish with shrimp, coconut, shallots, dried chilies and whole peanuts.