Author Archives: Bangkok Glutton

About Bangkok Glutton

Eating and writing in Bangkok.

Samui stopover

Pork boat noodles at Guaythiew Ruea Khun Paw in Samui

I noticed only recently that I rarely write about Samui; if I do write about an island, it is usually Phuket. It’s true, I am partial to Phuket, I am playing favorites. And for whatever reason, I don’t get the chance to go to Samui that often unless it’s for yoga. In the interest of turning over a new leaf for the new year, I’m giving some love to Samui.

It’s also true that I don’t write that often about boat noodles. It’s easy enough to explain that one: I’d rather be having other types of noodles. But while in Samui on a family holiday — where I overindulged in champagne and freaked out in a French restaurant — my father really wanted to have boat noodles, and these boat noodles in particular. Being a busybody as usual, I asked hotel staff if the place that my father wanted to go to was legit.

“Oh boat noodles? You must be going to Khun Paw on Chaweng,” they said, and they were right, although I’m sure it’s not the only boat noodle place on the island. The fact is, if you’re from Samui, Guaythiew Ruea Khun Paw (“Dad’s Boat Noodles”) is famous, and everyone knows about it.

Now, boat noodles have a great mythology around them about having been invented and sold on the boats that plied the waterways way back when. They come in pork and/or beef versions, with a smattering of organ meats and maybe a handful of Thai basil to go with the broth, which is thickened with cow’s or pig’s blood. Despite the bloodthirsty description, it’s actually quite a sweet dish, with notes of cinnamon and star anise in the soup. And in spite of its association with Thai canals, in a lot of ways, this dish is a lot more Chinese than Thai.

Bad boat noodles, though, are really bad. They smell and/or they are overly sweet. At Guaythiew Ruea Khun Paw (Chaweng Beach, 086-408-2281), they do not fall into these terrible traps. Instead, these noodles are deliciously meaty, laden with scrumptious liver slices in a fragrant broth with just a hint of sweetness. Long story short: I was supposed to be pescatarian this month. I ended up eating the pork version of these noodles, and inhaled 10 (!) enormous sticks of grilled pork meatballs slathered in a sweet chili sauce to boot.

These meatballs are not tiny and dainty

Did I regret my rash actions? Not at all! I did, however, end up having an existential crisis at a French restaurant later that evening when I discovered that there was nothing that I wanted to order on the menu. What am I? Why am I?

But that is a story for another day. In the interest of the new year, I will choose to dwell on the sunny side of the street: these boat noodles.

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New Year, New Stuff

As you may have ascertained from all the fireworks and celebratory end-of-year posts on the Internet, it is a new year — 2021, to be exact. To us Thais though, it feels a little bit like 2020: The Sequel. With that in mind, my friend Chris and I are unveiling a series of videos that we were able to film when travel in Thailand was still unfettered.

These were filmed while doing research for my upcoming cookbook (my first!), tentatively titled “Real Thai Cooking.” It’s full of the recipes that people actually cook in my house and in my relatives’ homes, for meals that aren’t very elaborate or complicated, but still tasty and satisfying.

With that in mind, our first video — handily shot and edited by Chris — was made with the help of our friends Francisco and Kevin, who are now based in chilly Finland. It’s about the Portuguese influence on Thai cuisine, something a lot of people (including Thais) forget.

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The Gift of Watermelon Seeds

Toasted watermelon seeds at Err

I found out my grandmother had passed away while I was in Chiang Mai, her hometown. It was not a surprise — she was 102 years old, after all — but it hit me all the same, amplifying by a thousandfold all the memories I had of her.

I remember her as quiet and unassuming. She loved the color pink, showed affection the old-fashioned Thai way (by hom, or smelling your cheek deeply) and giggled at my lame jokes when she didn’t understand what I was saying. She also harbored strange opinions, like her abhorrence of pants in public because she thought only Chinese people wore them (I myself am a devoted public pants-wearer). She spent her last years in Bangkok, even though we often said we would travel to Chiang Mai together.

We called her “jiao yai“, which I thought was something everyone called their mother’s mother. Only far, far later did I learn that it meant she was a sort of princess, the granddaughter of Prince Intavaroros Suriyavongse, who served as ruler of Chiang Mai for 9 years before his younger brother took on the role. The title was eventually dissolved, the kingdom incorporated into Siam upon the marriage of my grandmother’s aunt, Dara Rasmi, to Rama V. My grandmother never spoke of her childhood, and for some reason, we never asked her. Everything we knew came from snippets told to my mother and then passed on to us, like a game of telephone.

Despite her upbringing as a jiao, my grandmother knew tragedy in her life. I was once told of my grandmother’s first marriage, to a man of similar background. He died by suicide, and the police were called in to investigate. The investigating officer was my grandfather. Her first baby with him caught smallpox, and could only stand to sleep on a banana leaf in the night air during his final few weeks. Later, she would be in a car accident that took her sister’s life. She escaped with a broken collarbone.

Yet I only knew my grandmother as a kind, gentle person. She was not much of a cook, preferring to leave most of the food decisions to my grandfather, who reveled in planning lunch and dinner menus. But she did introduce us to our first taste of Thai snacks and candies: sweet-and-sour preserved plums; sweetened milk tablets; pulverized sweet durian, fashioned into logs and cut into coins. The one that most sticks out in my mind were the dried watermelon seeds, which she would crack with her teeth, one by one, pushing the unshelled seeds across a Thai newspaper on her lap to my greedy, grasping paws on the other side.

Watermelon seeds are stingy stuff, gleaning little meat, an even more paltry prize for the effort than cracking swimmer crab legs. But my grandmother stuffed me full of these watermelon seeds, cracking as many as my little stomach would take, because I loved their salty, nutty pops of flavor. When I see a pack of dried watermelon seeds now, in the market or occasionally at my super, I think of her, and all the work she had to do for so little reward.

After she passed, I could not shake the thought of those watermelon seeds. I wanted to eat the seeds, but lacked the generosity of spirit to deshell them for anyone, even myself. That meant I could not simply buy them in the market. So I waited for my family to leave, nursing a plan to dine on watermelon seeds in a restaurant on my own, mulling on it like one would mull over plans to meet a lover. Once they left, I took the Skytrain to Err and ordered their toasted watermelon seeds the minute I sat down, cushioning it with other dishes like yum kai dao (fried egg salad) and fried rice balls with salted fish so that I wouldn’t look like a weirdo. The watermelon seeds came, dressed in lime juice and a little bit of fish sauce, with finely slivered kaffir lime leaves and chili. I ate them all.

They were good, but not as good as my grandma’s.

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