One of the great things about Thai street food is the constant reinvention that occurs, naturally, as vendors try to stand out in a crowded field. This is what happened with Yai Krieng, a Sukhothai noodle vendor who hit upon the idea of khao perb, a type of pork broth-based dumpling that can’t be found anywhere outside of the region. The dumplings are made in a style reminiscent of khao kriab pak mor, a type of rice dumpling made by steaming the batter over a pot of water with cheesecloth stretched over it. The filling inside is fresh cabbage and aromatic basil. To make it even more interesting, the batter is made of fermented rice, in the manner of kanom jeen. Then to finish it off, the dumpling is placed in a bowl of pork broth and crowned with a steamed egg and red pork.
The khao perb is the namesake dish here, but it’s not the dish that’s most at risk of running out if you arrive too late in the afternoon. That honor probably goes to the mee pun, crepes made, once again, out of fermented rice batter flavored with your choice of either pork broth, chilies, or original herb seasonings. My personal favorite is the pork broth. Once again, these items are steamed. Yai Krieng is big on steaming.
But while mee pun is popular, it’s not my total favorite dish at this noodle shop. That honor would go to guaythiew bear, made of thin rice noodles that are absolutely smothered in a tangy tamarind sauce and blanketed in a square of red pork and fried pork cracklings. Like pad Thai, it’s a bit of a take on Sukhothai noodles, what with the tamarind, fish sauce, peanuts, lime and pork. I’m not sure if the noodles in this dish are made from fermented rice, but yes, once again, they are steamed.
I’ve been to this place a few times now, but one of my favorite things about my latest trip was meeting Yai Krieng herself, and realizing that, like Jay Fai and me, Yai Krieng has her own groupie too. In fact, this woman took me on a little tour of the premises, showing me the containers with the fermenting rice batter and telling me about Yai Krieng’s whole history as a single mother of five (!) Apparently, there are now other stalls selling khao perb in Sukhothai, but none of them hold a candle to the original. Seeing how exponentially Yai Krieng’s business has grown since my first visit to this spot years ago, I am happy that she has found such success.
But hey, why take my word for it? Why not see for yourselves, in this video painstakingly put together by my friend @christao408? Catch it below:
Once again, I did not sit down at my computer today with the intention of writing about lists (sorry forever, pending larb recipe post!) But a list that was released recently made a huge splash, and I felt like it would be hugely remiss of me to not address it, as a food blogger based in Thailand. For you see, it was an outrageous list, and injustices like this list cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
It’s this list: https://www.thecut.com/2021/03/prince-william-declared-sexiest-bald-man-in-dubious-study.html. In this “list”, if we indeed are going to continue calling it that, a toe with eyes is declared to be the best looking “bald” man in the world, if by “bald” we mean “thinning on top but trying not to make a big deal out of it by attempting a combover”. And who, you may ask, is in “second” place on this list (yours truly will be making much use of “quotation marks” in this post)? Why, it is the Adonis known as Mike Tyson, noted champion boxer, facial tattoo aficionado and convicted rapist who made a stirring “comeback” in the “classic” movie “The Hangover”. And then Jason Statham limps in at third. Other famous honorees: Vladimir Putin, he of the temper tantrum after being called a “murderer” by Joe Biden (ATTN ALL: if I am to pass away soon after drinking tea, please refer the police to this post). Who else? No doubt Lord Voldemort, Karl Rove and and Moby. A stellar list, this. Not questionable at all.
You see, there is an art to making lists. If there is an entry that is ridiculous or, at the very least, controversial, you have to buttress it with choices that can be characterized as “safe”. In this vein, you do not follow up Prince Baldemort (thank you, random commenter on celebitchy.com) with Mike Tyson. You have to throw a Stanley Tucci or LL Cool J in there or at least, someone like Patrick Stewart or Common, someone everyone with a brain likes. You cannot follow up “huh?” with “OMG what?”. That’s just bad list-making. And then to fill that list out with scary people who might sprinkle poison powder in my underwear, yikes, no way, what are you thinking? This is why the list has generated so much publicity (much of it negative), with actual articles devoted to the methodology (number of Google mentions) so as to make sense of how this list could possibly have come to be.
It’s no wonder, then, that at closer inspection, the list is discovered to have been compiled by a plastic surgery clinic, no doubt offering hair transplant procedures. OF COURSE it is. When faced with a list like that, no wonder people would be Googling “how do i not look like prince william?” It’s like if you chanced upon a list of “best public restrooms in Tibet”, and the list ended up being compiled by a colostomy bag maker. Of course you would go with the colostomy bag. Anyone would.
So I’m here to dive into what it takes to make a good list. Number one, you have to know what you are talking about. No one would trust me to compile a list on the best haberdasheries in Bangkok. I don’t even know what a haberdashery is. Number two, you must be sincere. I suppose I could write up a list about where best to take an Instagram pic of your bikini bod, but you had better believe that I would be doing that from Google searches and not from personal experience. In other words, I would be doing it the way 90 percent of travel and food journalism is done.
And … those are the two criteria. So with that in mind, I — a food blogger based in Thailand — will be writing about the five most recent places where a bite of something gave me goosebumps. This is a good, focused topic, unlikely to be challenged (how do you know I didn’t get goosebumps?) Now, a caveat. I read recently that not everyone gets a goosebump reaction when moved by a piece of music, or a movie, or a good dish. To those people, I say, I’m sorry. I love getting that goosebump feeling, and there are times when I deliberately search it out, like when I get to the final part of “Bullet in the Head” by Rage Against the Machine (a band that does NOT support Trump, OMG listen to the lyrics, people) and I’m running on the treadmill (RIP treadmill) and the chill climbs up into the back of my skull and spreads out through my chest and arms.
Well, I get that feeling from food, too. Here are the five most recent places:
Bankara Ramen (The Manor 32/1 Sukhumvit 39) — There was a time when I could get into this place with no wait because not that many people came to this restaurant. That time has come and gone. There is almost always an Isao-style wait here now, and staff are only just adjusting to it. In any case, it’s still my favorite ramen shop in Bangkok, one of my very own “happy places”. My fave dish to order is the Taiwanese-style maze soba, which, yes, is not strictly Japanese. It’s a soupless spicy noodle dish, a la dan dan noodles. And it gives me goosebumps.
2. Lai Ros (120/4 Sukhumvit 49 across from Samitivej Hospital) — This restaurant serves the summertime dish khao chae all year round, so it’s usually thronged with people looking for this dish, especially if it’s lunchtime in March-April. However, this place serves plenty of other great dishes that you don’t always come across at every Thai restaurant: for example, guaythiew nuea/moo sub (noodles with minced beef or pork, stir-fried in curry powder), or khao mun somtum, a Central Thai spin on the Isaan grated salad with the addition of green curry and coconut rice on the side (only on weekends). For me, the can’t-say-no dish is sen mee pad pak krachate, rice vermicelli stir-fried with shrimp, chilies, garlic and water mimosa, a vegetable that recalls grassy green young asparagus shoots. Here, they also include shrimp roe. It is irresistible.
3. Appia (20/4 Sukhumvit 31) — Speaking of irresistible, I’m loving that Appia is now open for lunch, which is the meal that I can safely pig out on guilt-free (I’m old). I came across this “troccoli” dish by accident, when expecting a broccoli pasta. It’s better than broccoli pasta; it’s handmade ropey udon-like noodles slathered in a cheese sauce punctuated with a hint of anchovy, then freckled with a shower of summer truffle. It is SO GOOD.
4. Samsara Cafe & Meal (1612 Songwad Road) — I’m always surprised when I’m told I didn’t take everyone to this riverside place yet; I’d always assumed they had discovered it already. In any case, my most recent visit was with my friends Chris and Tawn, after a long slog through Chinatown that also delivered dish number 5 (it was an evening of goosebumps). Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the sunset, but this eggplant salad — replete with a garnish of bacon, just like at the much-lamented Soul Food Mahanakorn — came to the table, cut like nasu dengaku but awash in Thai yum dressing, and was the perfect bite in the perfect setting.
5. Nai Mong (539 Pháp Phla Chai Road) — I can’t finish off this list without a shout-out to one of my own personal street food faves, this oyster omelet stall on the outskirts of Chinatown. I love that they are experiencing success, I love that they are crowded, I understand why they have had to size down their portions. I also love that they remember my order: hoy nangrom (oysters), grob grob (extra crispy) all the way.
I meant to write about something entirely different this week, but I really can’t do that song and dance today. After watching news about the murder of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, I discovered that I had been clenching my fists so tightly that I was bleeding from a cut in my palm caused by my pinky nail. I thought I probably needed to work through some things, and here we are.
Fact is, I don’t feel like doing my little “Amazing Thailand” routine about how awesome Thai food is right now. I’m sure I’ll get over that real soon, since I have a cookbook coming out. But right now, I’m just going to let myself be angry.
I didn’t think I would be this incensed over the news. I thought that I was insulated from it, because I had taken the advice of all of those people years ago who told me to “go back to your own country” (spoiler alert: I did!). But the fact is that hate crimes against Asian Americans rocketed by almost 150 percent last year, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and that trend doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. In actuality, we saw that curve rise daily, stoked by people who needed a reliable scapegoat in order to deflect attention away from their own incompetence in fighting the pandemic. We saw politicians cast themselves as “freedom fighters” against masks and vaccines while in reality attempting to take away the freedoms of minorities. I might have left, but my fellow Asian-Americans are still sticking it out at home.
Of course, there is context around it: “economic insecurity”, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. And although everyone around the world is feeling some of that insecurity, including yours truly, only a few places are really making that insecurity be known by knocking doddering old men to the ground and shooting women at their places of work. And before people say hey, #notallamericancities, well, yes, this stuff is happening on both coasts as well, don’t you worry.
The truth is, this was always a very real possibility. When people say “model minority” as a compliment, everyone takes it to mean “hardworking” and “self-reliant” and all that other stuff that Asian-Americans tell themselves. (Why else would so many Asian-Americans be diehard Republicans?) What “model minority” really means, though, is a pat on the head for “eating all the shit that gets doled out to you on a daily basis.” It means that any racist microaggressions, like “Where do you REALLY come from?”, “gentle” racist jokes on driving, getting elbowed out of the way by bigger people who pretend not to see you, are all met with almost no repercussions. What is the worst that could happen if you call someone a “filthy Asian” or make “slanty” eye faces at them? (Please google “Ronaldo slanty eye Korea” and see what else you come up with.) You hurt some people’s feelings? You end up on a Youtube video? You can always fight that by saying that you won’t be cowed by the “woke police”, or that you don’t like being “politically correct”, or that old chestnut, “fake news”, a phrase that my own 11-year-old son tries to use to get out of trouble. The assumption on the other side is that these aren’t real people you are insulting or belittling. They’ll just scurry back to wherever they were before you saw them; there are so many of them, billions in China! And they all look alike. Everybody knows that.
When there are no repercussions, it’s ridiculously easy for that kind of abuse to escalate, especially when the victims are treated as a faceless monolith. This was brought vividly home to me today, when I got angry. Atlanta police officer Jay Baker said the man who — allegedly! — killed eight people was having a “bad day”. This makes me hope that Jay Baker never has a bad day.
I also hope the (alleged!) Atlanta shooter of eight people feels better today. Please, guys, send your thoughts and prayers to this dude with the face like a steamed baozi bun that split at the bottom and started drooling out barbecued pork filling, because he had a bad day. Be nice to these guys! It’s all on us to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
The only way that Asians can really “rise up”, realistically, is to show their solidarity through their wallets. After all, what else have you been working so hard for, if not this? If there are businesses that support people who put you in danger, whether through their words or through their actions, why give them money? If people ask you for money (and views), only to turn around and incite violence against you, why would you help them?
Of course, I can be called “hysterical” and resorting to “racist cliche stereotypes” when recounting my own feelings and even experiences. It’s happened to me before. There’s nothing I can do about that, of course. What I can say is: