Dream fuel

kanombueng

Kanom bueng, a Thai dessert “taco” of candied prawn and meringue at Icon Siam

Nothing is more snore-inducing than listening to someone else talk about their dreams, so here are mine. There was the dream about the bees that kept chasing after me, and another one where I was chased by crocodiles in a water park. In another one, I tried to jump out of a high-level window into a shallow lily pond to escape from some invaders who were … also chasing me. I’m sensing a theme. In any case, the dream that recurs most often is the one where I’m at a sprawling buffet (although sometimes it’s a jewelry store, or an underwear sale) where everything looks good and I can’t quite decide what to get, but once I make my choice what I want is gone or lost (“this is difficult to interpret,” said no one, ever).

It’s rare to encounter in real life what you’ve already experienced in your dreams, but this is what happened to me when I dropped by for lunch at Icon Siam. In case you haven’t been to Bangkok in a while, Icon Siam is the latest high-profile mall opening in a city that is chock-a-block with them, but on the Thonburi side of the river instead of in a majorly trafficked part of downtown Bangkok. It’s the first really big development in Thonburi, so only a handful of vendors have been displaced and the street food scene in general there is still pretty robust.

Full disclosure: I was approached a couple of years ago to help consult on a “street food” section for Icon Siam when it was still gestating, but was never contacted again. So — as with anything that I write about “Game of Thrones” the TV series, or most Asian food television programming — anything that I say about Icon Siam can and probably should be interpreted as sour grapes.  That said, the last few GOT seasons have been trash, marred by illogical storytelling and huge misinterpretations of key characters. Icon Siam is not as bad as Season 5 Sansa.

You encounter the thoughtfulness they’ve put into how they present their “street food” the instant you step through the door. They’ve built a Vegas- style “canal”, with careful lighting and nicely dressed vendors set up at various stalls alongside the water, a nice nod to Thai street food’s origins. The food up in front — mostly sweets and snacks — really does look great. It’s just a shame there IS NO ENGLISH LANGUAGE SIGNAGE.

lookchoop

Look choop, mini-fruits made from mung bean, part of the Portuguese-influenced dessert cart

Existing translated signage is wonderfully vague, even in Thai.

thaidessert

As you proceed further in, food translations get better, featuring both Chinese and English. Not surprisingly, these areas were busier.

chickentoesalad

Chinese translations for spicy chicken “toe” salad, heart cockle salad, and fermented pork salad

All the same, it was daunting to get a bowl here, because a dearth of places to sit meant latecomers like myself would be doomed to eating fish-sauced specialties with their dishes balanced precariously on their knees. Come on guys. I am a very clumsy person. Smelling like fish sauce is bad when you are taking public transport. And the chi-chi section in the back, where there actually are seats, serves “nice” stuff that I didn’t feel like eating, like Chinese seafood and Dean & Deluca-style deli salads.

They tucked the best vendors off to the side, like kids who hide their favorite dishes from the table by sticking it behind their elbow. These are the savory vendors serving big-ticket one-dish meals like kanom jeen (fermented noodles with curry) and popular snacks like satay and tod mun pla (deep-fried fish cakes).

Here, the signage was extensive. But the seating,  just like at an actual outdoor floating market, comprises a bunch of tiny child-size stools and is the opposite of extensive. I get the “replicating the floating market” thing, but you are still in the mall, so you have already made a choice. You chose to include air-conditioning, so why not more substantial seating? Of course, this is coming from someone whose butt is too big to sit on a seat that resembles the stool you put your purse on in fancy restaurants.

kanomjeen

If you are wondering where the rest of the street food is, some of it is tucked up even further out of view in the mezzanine or “UG” section, accessible via TWO escalators in the same quadrant of the mall (one in the central area, one in Takashimaya). This is annoying because I discovered it only after finally choosing a place to eat, which was, just like in my dreams, nowhere near as good as what I could have been eating (like the soup noodles or pig’s trotter on rice in the mostly deserted UG section, which actually had seating). Instead, I ended up choosing yakitori on the ground floor of Takashimaya, which was the dumbest thing I could have done because yakitori needs smoke and a real grill to be good, and those things are impossible to do in a mall. Also, all of the plating was done in plastic cups, including salad (!) and cold edamame (!!) Is this a tailgate party? Are we in a parking lot? Not surprisingly, I was completely alone.

giphy

To be fair, Icon Siam’s food “court” isn’t completed yet. There’s still a market off to the side that needs to be finished, and a bunch of vendors needed to fill out the mezzanine section (and maybe better signage for that too, since the Thai massage parlor on that same level was also completely deserted). As with all ambitious undertakings, Icon Siam will need a little time, and it’s only just begun. This already puts it in a better position than “Game of Thrones” Season 8.

 

 

 

 

 

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