Category Archives: beef

Getting to the meaty part of Chiang Mai

Fish larb at Raan Larb Pa Than

Northern Thailand is a lovely place full of peace-loving people, but their food betrays a bloodthirstiness not readily apparent to the casual observer. There is the dish of light and butterflies known as khao soy and the barely perceptible calf muscle exercises called “Lanna dance”, yes, but there is also bile and blood and innards and raw meat, the stuff you see in the aftermath of a hyena attack, the stuff that people shy away from in the wet market. This is real northern food.

Raan Larb Pa Than, out past the Pa Than bridge, specializes in this type of food. Like everywhere else in the north, it’s full of fun-loving gentle northerners strapping on the feedbag big time; unlike everywhere else, this restaurant specializes in larb dee kom, or minced salad of anything considered delicious, like fish, pork, or beef (no chicken, and pork and beef also come in raw versions). A particular stand-out is their larb of freshwater fish, lighter and more delicate than its bloodier counterparts.

Our neighbor’s table

But larb is not the only thing they have. There is also saa, which, contrary to my earlier understanding, does not refer only to vegetables, but appears to be a term nearly interchangeable with yum — a spicy, tart salad made with chunks of stuff. There is lupia, yet another meat salad term that refers to combining the minced protein with blood and lemongrass to diminish any hints of gaminess. There is yaw (tripe) and jin nung (steamed bull, really) and sai tod (fried innards) alongside the usuals you would want to run to like a child to its mother like gaeng om (clear, tart soup) and som tum (minced vegetable or fruit salad). It’s a place of serious meat eaters AND drinkers — the Saeng Som was out in full force at lunchtime on a Tuesday. It’s food for people who work hard, flavored with dipping sauces and a nam prik tha dang (red-eye chili paste) spicy enough to blow steam out of your ears.

You might need this

Another spot for people who, at the very least play hard, is Midnight Fried Chicken (also somehow known as Midnight Sticky Rice, or Midnight Fried Pork, or likely anything else this place is good at) on Kamphaeng Din Road. As the name suggests, it is open like clockwork at the stroke of midnight, every day, until 5 in the morning.  The clientele reflects this accordingly: young, T-shirted hipsters out on dates or in groups, stuffing themselves with fried things right before bed, as the young frequently do. It is not a place for me, but I was here all the same, and would come again, if only for the heavenly fried pork which, in all fairness, should be the name of this food stall.

Midnight Chicken

You will probably be able to pick out this stall from the queue of hungry clubgoers waiting patiently outside; if you are lucky, as we were, you will get a table roadside instead of a table on a lower level in the back. You pick out your choices by checking the names of dishes you want (in Thai); you serve yourself water from a jug and bin of ice behind the partition. It is, to put it mildly, a down-at-home kind of place. That doesn’t mitigate the enjoyment of stuffing your face full of delicious fried meats with sticky rice and nam prik (chili paste), not one bit. So what if it’s a weeknight? Sleep in late tomorrow, and indulge tonight.

Stuff your face

(All photos by @SpecialKRB)

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Filed under Asia, beef, Chiang Mai, chicken, fish, food, food stalls, Northern Thailand, pork, restaurant, som tum, Thailand

Glutton Abroad: I dream of African barbecue

Nyama choma with all the fixings, at Governors’ Private Camp

Do you remember the song “Africa” by Toto? If you are of a certain age, of course you do. Picture this: it’s 1907, and we’re listening to Toto at my apartment in Haverford (please don’t ask why). I get into a deeply heated argument with Brian Minier over the lyric “Kilimanjaro rises like a leopress above the Serengeti”. Note the spelling? It’s obviously a female leopard (although the lyric is ridiculous, obviously. In what way would a mountain “rise”? Do female leopards “rise”?) He insists the band is referring to a female leper. Really, Brian? Really?

So when I see Kilimanjaro, looking a bit like melting vanilla sundae, out the window of my ridiculously tiny Cessna (the safari version of the shuttle bus), that lyric gets stuck in my head, and I get indignant all over again.  I mean, who would differentiate between male and female lepers anyway? But, as usual, I digress. Because, while most people go on safari and want to see blah blah leopards blah blah rare rhinos blah blah lions nom-nomming on something, I am on the hunt for something else. I want to be the one nom-nomming on something. I am looking for nyama choma.

“Nyama choma” is basically a cooking term referring to grilled meat — frequently goat, but also beef, pork, mutton, what have you. As is the case with grilled meat of any persuasion, nyama choma is delicious — as seen by the numerous stalls selling it roadside. But for some reason, people don’t seem to believe you want to eat African food. Typical menu offerings at these lodges are “fresh-out-of-the-bush” concoctions like beef carpaccio, roasted pumpkin soup, and grilled fish with Hollandaise sauce. Nice stuff, but some people want to experience new countries through their stomachs, too.

The folks at Singita Sasakwa (www.singita.com), where I first stay, are kind enough to indulge a few requests. One, suggested by my friend James, is “masala fries” — a perfect colonial fusion of Anglo-Indian influences. They are like junk food, they are so good: crispy fries, meaty within, coated with a tangy, salty spice coating of masala and dusted with a bit of parsley. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be in every vending machine in every corner of the globe. I have to figure out how to make these at home.

Masala fries at Singita Sasakwa

They also indulge us with an “African tasting menu” that includes some things I’ve never seen: ugali, maize cooked into a solid mass that resembles glue, meant to serve as the backdrop for everything else; mchicha, a Tanzanian curry of spinach and peanuts; mishkaki, skewered, impossibly tender beef; maharage ya nazi, kidney beans stewed with coconut cream; “coconut rice”, cooked a la risotto, but with coconut milk instead of broth; and a sort of kachumbari that they appear to call chachandu, a tomato-chili relish served alongside grilled tilapia. Of course, it blows everyone away. Why is there not more of this?

At Governors’ Private Camp in Kenya (www.governorscamp.com), we get more English-y stuff the first night — chicken fillet in mushroom gravy and an impossibly tall tower of fluffy mashed potatoes that I cannot help but eat all of — but Patrick and Frank, our stewards, are more than happy and even a little tickled to accommodate a request for nyama choma. The next day they outdo themselves, grilling up strips of beef slathered in a parsley-and-onion speckled kachumbari.

Kachumbari, or tomato-and-chili relish

They also serve up heaping spoonfuls of sukuma wiki, a Kenyan staple dish that literally means “to push the week” and comprises braised, shredded greens studded with bits of tomato, cooked until it falls apart and finished with a bit of cream. Although I’ve had some indifferent versions of this dish, the one here is made with lots of love, “the traditional way”, Patrick tells us.

Traditional sukuma wiki

The next few days are a blur: githeri, a stew of kidney beans and corn, sweet and filling; matoke, made from stewed plaintains in a sweetened tomato-and-onion sauce; mandazi, crispy, giving dough “dumplings”, slightly sweetened, reminiscent of the Thai patongko. Our camp manager Colin tells us that South Africans eat a version of mandazi that is stuffed with mince, another smart Anglo-African fusion dish. If I ever go to South Africa, I am trying that immediately.

But I miss home. I rediscover chilies. Although they are a bit bigger and not as spicy as the prik ki nu (bird’s eye chilies) back home, I remember that it was the Portuguese who were supposed to have brought chilies to Thailand, and that these suckers were probably the ones they brought. So in a way, I have a bit of home at every meal, sprinkled on my fried eggs or tucked into my curries. Enough to tide me over until I get back.

Breakfast

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Filed under beef, food, Kenya, Portuguese, Thailand

A very Phuket breakfast

Dim sum in Phuket

There are times when “research” means stuffing yourself with lots and lots and lots of food in a very short period of time. God help me, it was the kind of research I was doing today — namely, three promising stalls, all for breakfast.

Lured by the promise of “beef bamee”, I was excited by the prospect of Guaythiew Rab Arun, a small noodlery in the shadow of Bangkok Phuket Hospital. Alas, they were not as excited by our appearance, and, double-damn, a beefy variation of the popular egg noodles with barbecued pork was also not on the cards. No, this was your run-of-the-mill beef noodle shop: choice of rice vermicelli (sen mee), thin noodles (sen lek) and thick ones (sen yai), with broth that did or did not include cow blood (nam tok). The broth was as good beef broths are, cinnamon-y and sweet; the bowl an unashamed showcase for all sorts of innards — lungs, liver and tripe.

Beef noodles without broth

All very nice — except for the bizarre delay in letting us settle the bill — but nothing I wouldn’t find in Bangkok. On the other hand, I haven’t seen anything quite like the dim sum shop we visited next. When asked the name of the place, a two-room shophouse on Sam Gong Road serving kanom jeeb (Chinese-style steamed dumplings) and a wide variety of little bits, our waitress acts like I have just asked her ATM pin code. “Just ask, everyone knows the Dim Sum Place Down The Road From The Hospital,” she said (TDSPDTRFTH for short). A trayful of plates is deposited onto your table as you sit; you pick what you want, and you are charged, conveyor belt sushi-style, for whatever you choose. Small plates are 10 baht, “big” plates (which are almost the exact same size as the small plates) cost 15.

The tray of goodies at TDSPDTRFTH

Is it the best dim sum ever? Of course not. Is it crazy cheap? Well, that depends on you, but for the most part, why, yes it is. It is indeed cheap. And that is sometimes what I am looking for.

So, a question mark on the first stall, a possible “yes” on the second. The third? A resounding I WILL BE BACK. Pa Mai (at three-way intersection of Sagul and Dibuk roads near Wittaya School, 076-258-037) specializes in curry — curry, and the Mon fermented rice noodles known as kanom jeen, what some people mistakenly translate into “Chinese candy”. A plate of the stuff is handed to you at the front by this nice lady:

Dispenser of kanom jeen

Once you receive your blank canvas, an array of curries awaits your artistry: a trio of nam ya, crab, fish and “jungle” (without coconut milk); chicken green curry, made the old-fashioned way with globs of congealed pork blood; nam prik, a speckled chili-coconut milk concoction that, unlike its terrifying name, is actually quite sweet; gaeng tri pla, or the famous — and fierce — southern fish entrail curry; and because this is the south, nam prik kapi, or shrimp paste chili dip, made to go with the innumerable garnishes that greet you at every table:

A table at Pa Mai

Is there any sight more gladdening than this one? A platter bristling with greenery: tart mango leaves, chewy cashew ones, boiled jackfruit, cubed pineapple, bitter, spice-defying baby eggplants. Soft-boiled eggs for 7 baht. Dried fish. An ajad of thinly-sliced cucumber in a tart-sweet syrup. And a happy variety of pickles (I just love pickles): cabbage, bean sprouts, lotus stems, baby garlic.

My choice (at first): crab nam ya

Best of all, you are only charged 30 baht for the kanom jeen, meaning those curries can be added, mixed, or replenished as you see fit. Really. So I first took some fish nam ya, then some crab. Some green curry. Some nam prik. And then a little left for the fiery tri pla. Don’t judge me.

We have found kanom jeen nirvana, and it is open from 7 to noon.

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Filed under Asia, beef, Chinese, curries, food, food stalls, noodles, Southern Thailand, Thailand