Category Archives: bamee

Useless election-pegged food quiz

Passing vans blare loud music, election posters mark every signpost. Thailand is officially in the throes of Election Fever, once again.

Some people seem to be unsure of who to vote for. But more pressing matters await our contemplation. Maybe, if you are like me, you need a little quiz to figure out whether your political allegiances dovetail with your food stall choices? After all, quizzes tell you everything you need to know! I once spent an entire afternoon taking a plethora of “Which Hogwarts House are You?” questionnaires (I am a Hufflepuff, of course).

So in honor of looming elections, here’s a quiz that pretends to sort out everything for you via highly inaccurate and gross generalizations, without really telling you anything! Remember, it’s all in good fun! *laughs nervously, then runs away*

 

1. When you were in grade school, you were known as:

a. The great big nerd who told on everybody and cried when I (I mean she! I mean you!) got a “B”

b. The daydreamer who frequently got caught staring off into space

c. A big ol’ bully

d. Sort of a rebel, like Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club”. No, I do not have more recent cultural references. Too bad for you, Person Born in the 1990s!

e. You were home-schooled

 

2. Who do you find more handsome?

a. P’Mark. He went to Oxford and everything!

b. Richard Gere. He is a Buddhist who still managed to make tons of money out of “Pretty Woman” and then, against all odds, “Runaway Bride”!

c. Russell Crowe, now

d. Russell Crowe, “Gladiator” era

e. Yourself

 

3. You most value:

a. Tradition and stability

b. Tolerance and kindness

c. Law and order

d. Equality and fairness

e. The right to dress animals in clothing. Oh wait, what?

 

If you answered mostly A’s, you like … 

BLUE

What does blue stand for again, aside from how I feel when I’m standing on the scale? I forget. Anyway, congrats! You like blue. And people who like blue can do worse than heading to the blue plates of Nai Peng (20, Chula Soi 20, Suan Luang market), where delicious guaythiew kua gai (chicken fried noodles) are the order of the day. You can even throw caution to the wind and order “taro” (processed squid strings) instead of noodles! It’s a crazy night out for you! Go insane!

Flat fried noodles with chicken and egg

 

If you answered mostly B’s, you like …

WHITE

With a color like white, you like everything and nothing. Because of this, who really cares what you eat? But if you must be pressed for a choice, then why not opt for the warm, comforting embrace of the Chinese-style rice porridge at Jok Samyan (245 Soi Chula 11)? It’s like a mother’s hug, only gooier. And that’s what you’ve been secretly yearning for all along, haven’t you?

Chinese-style rice porridge with preserved egg

 

If you answered mostly C’s, you like …

GREEN

Look, eating on a rickety stool while taking exhaust-fume farts in the face from passing buses is not your thing. There is nothing wrong with that. No need for any pretense otherwise. We are all non-judgmental here, to your face. So go ahead and spring for the panorama of deliciously stir-fried  greens at Nakorn Pochana (258-260 Chula Soi 11), where the crab fried rice and deep-fried crayfish are city-renowned, the beer flows plentifully, and the air-conditioning is on at full blast.

Garlic chives with pork liver

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

If you answered mostly D’s, you like …

RED

Red is the color of passion and of fire. It is also the color of hot, hot chilies. You know where I’m going with this, right? Of course you do!  Just two, er, three (or more) words: Hai Somtum Convent (2/4-5 Convent Rd., off of Silom).

Somtum Thai, with minced pork salad in background

 

If you answered mostly E’s, you like …

YELLOW

Yellow is the color of sunlight and (some) butterflies, and cookies. Also, snow that you shouldn’t touch or eat. Also, bananas. Yellow is such an all-purpose, useful color! Do you know what else yellow stands for? That’s right: bamee, or egg noodles. And where better to have some delicious egg noodles than on Sukhumvit 38, close to mom’s house? Make sure you arrive close to opening time (20.00) if you want a good parking spot for your luxury SUV. Haha, just joking! That’s the driver’s job!

Bamee at Sukhumvit Soi 38

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, chicken, food, food stalls, Isaan, noodles, restaurant, rice porridge, seafood, Thailand

Taking it for granted

Allow me to get a little personal with you today. It’s been only a few months, but I feel like I know you already.

I could tell you a long and boring personal story, but I have been told it is far too long and boring to torture readers with on this blog. So I will tell you this: I am in the process of distributing my book. It has seen interest from everyone we’ve talked to, but I have to leave it at that because I’m superstitious and can’t take anything for granted until the ink on the forms is dry (although I can say all the paperwork for distribution at B2S is done! Yay!)

It’s a good book, one that a lot of people worked really hard on. It was a first time for all involved, and I am proud of the work we all did. The stalls are all excellent, and you should definitely try them out.

The problem: I left something out. Namely, this.

 

Bamee Asawin from Bamee Gua

I first went to Bamee Gua maybe 15 years ago. I was not yet Bangkok Glutton, and despaired in the lack of air conditioning, in the small portions, in the silent, elderly diners around us. Known by some as “Bamee Asawin” after their signature dish, Bamee  Gua is the very best type of egg noodle shop: clean and efficient, with enough confidence in the kitchen to offer a wide variety of noodle- and rice-based dishes.

But I turned my nose up at the bamee asawin, delicately flavored with bits of thang chai (pickled turnip) (35-45 baht). I ignored the buttery, silky e mee topped with strips of ham and chicken (100-160 baht, available only on Saturdays). I didn’t even see the delicious khao na gai (rice topped with chicken and gravy, 30-35 baht) or khao moo yang (grilled pork rice, 30 baht). I basically acted like my 9-year-old daughter now acts when we drag her to a street food stall. Like I was counting the minutes to Burger King.

Chicken and gravy rice with Chinese sausage

Since then, Bamee Gua’s e-mee has become a weekly habit, picked up every Saturday to reward myself after a punishing workout. I bow down to the excellence of their egg noodles (ranging from 35 baht for regular yentafo, or pink seafood noodles, to 55 baht for egg noodles with chicken, squid, pork, fish dumplings and fish meatballs). I acknowledge the buoyancy of their fish meatballs (40 baht with pork dumplings). Their minced pork-topped flat noodles, accompanied by a single raw egg yolk and accented with lots and lots of cumin (35 baht), are absolutely delicious.

My Saturday lunch

Are they in the book I just released? No. I know, I know. I know! I took them for granted. I plum forgot about them, writing about other places as I chomped down on their hammy ambrosia (to be fair to me — because we must always be fair to me — there is a whole bunch of awesome street food in this city, ESPECIALLY when it comes to egg noodles). I hope they don’t cut off all ties in retaliation, denying me the pleasure of my typical Saturday lunch. To make up for it, please allow me to say: Go here. Eat at this place. It tastes good.

Bamee Gua (full name: Bamee Gua, the originator of “Bamee Asawin”)

On Lang Suan, across from the Kasikornbank building

02-251-6020, 02-251-9448

Open Mondays-Saturdays 9.00-14.00

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, chicken, fish, food, food stalls, noodles, pork, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

Caught in the culture wars

 

Thai food: a focal point of the culture wars

 

I vowed never to talk about this again, but Sunday’s “Bangkok Post” opinion piece about the state of Thai cuisine drove me, once again, to the keyboard (I don’t have many interests, and nothing else to talk about). Like a Katherine Heigl movie, it starts out reasonably enough, and then somehow turns crazypants somewhere in the middle.

The basic premise is, modern Thai food has atrophied as a result of the culinary shortcuts commercial cooks take today, resulting in processed dreck that bears little resemblance to the dishes they are supposed to be (while this is very true, it sounds a little to me like running into a McDonald’s and complaining, “Why do they only use cheap ingredients? Why is everything so poorly made? Where is the care and thought put into my hamburger?”)

The media also deserve blame for the commodification of Thai food, concerning themselves only with “tasting this or that dish” and on “atmosphere and decor rather than offering any real knowledge concerning the food” (Because NO ONE cares about that stuff! Silly journos. Tell me once again about how the Indians and/or Portuguese inspired coconut milk-based curries).

Because of these shortcuts, Thais DESERVE to lose their mastery of their own cuisine. Because we’re so stupid! Now David Thompson has blown into town and his place is packed and that sucks, because our lives suck and so his should too! But we’ve done this to ourselves, because we bear witness to culinary crimes like this:

“…pizza with a dry version of gaeng kiew waan luk chin pla or with dry tom yum goong. These combinations are a slap in the face to both the Thai and Italian cooking traditions.”

First of all, what’s with all the slaps in the face? Is there no other way for writers here to convey getting insulted? No tug on the ear, perhaps, or maybe a kick in the pants? Get a new rhetorical device!

Secondly, well, I am no fan of crap-topped pizza either. That said, I’m sure someone probably thought tossing spaghetti with pla kem (salted fish) and dried chilies was once a daft idea, too. Now you wouldn’t bat an eye seeing this dish on a menu. And how did Thais take to the first bowl of khao soy, a “fusion” creation of egg noodles and coconut milk said to be invented by cooks in Chiang Mai from a dish originated by the Chin Haw Chinese-Muslim minority group?

 

Khao soy at Khao Soy Islam

 

(photo by @SpecialKRB)

I was lucky enough to get the chance to help work on the first English-language cookbook by Thai TV chef McDang (“The Principles of Thai Cookery”, in case you’re interested — it’s very good! Not that I’m biased or anything …) In it, Chef McDang discusses quite clearly how all the different parts of a Thai meal fit together (a minimum of five elements: a clear soup, a curry, a fried dish, a stir-fried dish, and a kreuang jim, or chili dip with vegetables), why Thais use forks and spoons (in order to kluk, or mix the different elements of the meal together to your liking), and how all the ingredients in a Thai dish are supposed to interact. That’s why traditional Thais get all crazy about substitutions like onions for shallots, or adding spring onions instead of coriander leaves.

That said, Thai cuisine is also the beneficiary of a number of foreign influences that have seeped in from interaction with the rest of the world over the course of Thailand’s history. In the Sukhothai period (1238-1438), we were scarfing down fish, fruit and wild boar on rice flavored with peppercorns, cilantro roots and palm sugar. And then, in the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767) the Portuguese came along, and gave us this:

 

"Golden threads" and "golden drops": traditional Thai sweets that are also Portuguese

 

They also introduced us to eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and sugarcane; co-introduced us to savory uses for coconut milk; and showed us a crazy new way to flavor our food with these things called “chilies”. They also found a way to form a curry custard by mixing fish and egg and steaming it; the result was called hor mok:

 

Steamed seafood curry at Aor Thor Kor

 

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

And then there were the Chinese. What to say about the Chinese? Without them, Thai food would not be “Thai food”. From them we got: shrimp paste, fish sauce, the use of duck meat in cooking, pans, stir-frying, and frying. Another innovation: an interesting alternative to rice in the form of long, thin strands of rice flour (and sometimes egg-based flour), which can be served in soup, blanched, fried, or even in desserts. They are popular in Thai street food, so keep your eyes peeled for this rare, strange delicacy:

 

Bamee at Sukhumvit Soi 38

 

So sometimes fusion isn’t so bad after…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzOh, sorry, you’re still here?

Thailand is at a point in its history where its future — like that of the rest of the world — is uncertain. Maybe people are unsure of where they stand and so long to return to a time when things seemed more secure. Food serves as a convenient stage on which to act out this current identity crisis. But that doesn’t mean we should shut out foreign influences, or, for that matter, a foreigner who is doing the exactly same thing as us.

 

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, celebrity chefs, Chinese, curries, food, food stalls, Japanese, noodles, Portuguese, restaurant, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand, TV chefs

Markets: the Original

Where I grew up, there where a place where the cool kids used to hang out called “the O”. It stood for “the Original”, although to be frank I have no idea how many versions of this Pittsburgh hot dog shop had to exist in order to necessitate singling yourself out as the “original” one. It’s not like Pittsburgh is awash in hot dogs — although I do remember fondly the O’s “disco fries” (our version of the Canadian “poutine”, which does not seem like a very evocative name for these cheese-slathered, bacon-topped deep-fried potato slivers. Heaven on a plate!)

What’s that? I’m supposed to be talking about something you might be interested in? Oh yes, that’s right. This:

Thai "pla tu" on sale at Nang Lerng market

It’s Nang Lerng market, located in the Banglamphu area on Nakhon Sawan road. This is supposed to be the very first wet market to ever sprout up in central Bangkok. What I do know for sure is that, like all of Thailand’s wet markets, it’ a load of fun to visit and the go-to place for some pretty hard-to-find old-style delicacies, such as the glutinous pork-filled rice balls, eaten with lettuce leaves, fresh coriander and chilies — a sweetly piquant mass of satisfying goo in the mouth.

Or old-style haw mok (steamed seafood mousse in banana cups), a Portuguese-influenced concoction combining local ingredients with European technique:

Steamed seafood mousse topped with coconut cream and shredded kaffir lime leaves

Then there are the delicacies that you actually do want to eat, like coconut ice cream trad-style, in a little plastic cup and festooned with roasted peanuts.

Fresh coconut ice cream

But if you do make it over there, do not miss Roongroj, the duck noodle shop at 141,143 Nang Lerng market. A popular with politicians who send their drivers over at noon for some lunchtime takeaway, Roongroj deserves its reputation as a shop with an extensive menu, efficient service and generous portions of sweet, toothsome duck.

Egg noodles with duck

The choice is extensive: stewed duck, braised duck, duck in pullo (Chinese five-spice and cinnamon broth) are all there, plus stewed chicken, barbecued pork and some very  nice giew (Chinese dumplings). Yes, if the duck or noodles haven’t tipped you off already — this food is Chinese. But then again, what noodle stand in Thailand ultimately isn’t?

Three different orders at Roongroj duck noodles

It’s open every day, and from late morning to well into the evening, so it’s hard to miss out on getting yourself a bowl. Do yourself a favor and trek over into the old part of town; basking in the atmosphere of the “original” wet market is worth it.

(Photos by @SpecialKRB)

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A Tale of Two Noodle Stands

Pork egg noodles, yum-style, without broth

 

It’s a tale of two noodle stands.

Actually, long ago, Rungrueang (Sukhumvit 26) used to be one stand. The Chinese-Thai proprietor served up bowls of steaming egg or rice “tom yum” noodles accompanied by a spicy, tom yum-style broth, slivers of fish “meatball” and plenty of seasoned, minced pork (when the noodles were ordered hang, or dry, with tom yum seasonings, they were simply called “yum”). Customers flocked by the hundreds every day. The noodle stand became known as a popular lunch spot for work-rumpled desk jockeys and high-haired housewives in the Sukhumvit area. 

Then, as is known to happen, the original proprietor died. His two sons took over the noodle stand, which expanded. And, as is known to happen, they quarreled. The noodle stand split in two, co-existing side-by-side, observing an unspoken cold war. A wall eventually sprouted up between the two shops.

This detente is basically how things stand today. There are two Rungrueangs: one, the original, on the left side, a little smaller than its sibling and marked by the original red sign. Interestingly enough, the son in charge is said to have red shirt sympathies, so it is strangely fitting. Since it is known as the original, diners “in the know” appear to favor it, and it is consistently full.

On the right side, a little bigger than its brother, the “new” Rungrueang is announced by a yellow, handwritten sign (a recent addition). And guess what? Yes, this brother leans to the yellow side. The noodles are EXACTLY THE SAME (it is the father’s recipe, after all). And, maybe because of this, it is also consistently full.

So that is the story of Rungrueang. Which, it turns out, ends up being a political story. And a sort of metaphor for Thailand. Yes, all that, dumped into a pink plastic bowl, engulfed in a spicy lemongrass broth, and drizzled with chopped peanuts, the way a proper bowl of minced pork tom yum noodles should be served.

 (Picture by @SpecialKRB)

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The Ultimate Noodle

The "wall art" at Gobu Rot Sing

With the earnest onset of the rains this year comes a general sense of malaise. I can’t seem to get anything done. Deadlines to be met, babies to be diapered, self to be showered, cookies to be baked (yes, my Carol Brady moment. All for charity! Contact @NamjaiMarket) — all pressing demands that I somehow manage to consistently ignore, day after day.  It’s like a helmet of smog has been fastened onto my head, and I can’t seem to shake it off.

And then, with @anuntakob and @aceimage on a wild goose chase to find the egg noodle stand belonging to a picture we had stumbled upon in a guidebook, a brief reprieve from the smog of apathy. But I should start from the beginning.

We’re working on a project that I don’t want to talk about, because I don’t want to jinx it. It’s the whole reason I’m here, sullying the web with my senseless chatter. Anyway. One night over a little monjya (a gigantic, flour-and-egg-based type of Japanese crepe) and a lot of Asahi, we chanced upon a picture of a bowl of crinkly yellow noodles, crowned with a sprinkling of spice and ringed by a line of egg — almost pristine in its perfection. The party responsible: Gobu Rot Sing (Klong Jan, across from Nida), the last two words in the name literally translating into “racing flavor”. Naturally we had to go.

So we went — somewhere. We don’t know, because we got lost. Numerous times. Terrorizing a number of cats skulking along quiet neighborhood lanes, dead-ending into countless gardens, driving slowly toward the bank of what appeared to be an enormous lake … you get the picture. This place was wicked hard to find. Finally, in front of a 7-11, just around the corner from what would end up being our final destination, interrogating the 80th person who claimed not to know what we were talking about, we back up to u-turn in a quiet side-alley only to find a rickety wooden shed outfitted with a series of burners, a bubbling cauldron set up over an open fire, and a massive display of egg crates. It looked like a caricature of what movie people would imagine roadside noodle stands to be, like something out of the Japanese noodle western movie “Tampopo”.

But what’s in the bowl is anything but Japanese. I’m sorry to have to say it, because I know people are suspicious of superlatives — people like what they like, this coming from the person who prefers France to Spain, cooking over sous-vide, Troisgros over Fat Duck (yes, I said it). Maybe because of that you won’t believe me when I say these were the best egg noodles I’ve ever had. But they are: the tom yum broth made the traditional way, with no coconut milk to muddy the strong, clear flavors; the noodles freshly blanched in a pot set over an open flame; shot through with roasted ground chilies that lend a nutty, almost woody heat to the broth; two barely cooked eggs which coat the noodles with a thick, carbonara-like silk. It is all kinds of yum.

Egg noodles in tom yum broth at Gobu

Now, if only I could manage to find this place again…

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Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, food, food stalls, noodles, pork

Who rules in Bameeland?

I know, it’s a hard question to answer. Everyone has his or her favorite egg noodle stand. One of mine is produced out of the back of a dilapidated red pick-up truck and is nicknamed “Bamee Slow” by regulars. Take a trip to the corner of Ekamai 19 and you will quickly find out why (it will be the only “quick” thing about this whole experience).

Delicious egg noodles with distracting silver spoon detail

Despite the tortoise-like pace of its “kitchen”, Bamee Slow is packed every night, marked by a long queue of patrons with similarly long faces. Is it good enough to warrant a half-hour wait for a simple bowl of noodles? You be the judge.

Courtesy of pbinbkk

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