Category Archives: curries

Roadside Buffets

The "curry rice" stand on Methenivet Road

While researching the street food book, I spent a lot of time formulating some sort of tried-and-true criteria that could be used to determine the kind of “street food stall” perfect for the book. I did this because I got a hella annoyed at stories that would claim to explore “Bangkok’s most authentic street food”, and then take you to the Food Loft at Central or something. I mean, I like the food there too, but come on. You are supposed to “suffer” for street food. You are supposed to wander aimlessly in the street as people say “there she goes again, that farang” and pretend you don’t understand, acting out the role of “clueless foreigner” in this bizarre trade-off people call “social discourse in Thailand”. You are supposed to sit at a rickety stool as the sweat pours off your face and people point and laugh and say, “Look at how uncomfortable she is! So funny!” or they politely pretend not to notice, which might be worse. Street food is an enterprise where the awards are commensurate with what you put into it. That’s just the way it is. (I know. We are all now wandering aimlessly down the length of this paragraph, wondering “When does this road end? The book did say it was supposed to be RIGHT HERE…”)

The thing is, I hardly had the wherewithal (or the stomach, to be frank instead of Glutton) to explore all the kinds of proper street food stalls that there are in Bangkok. That included aharn tham sung (made-to-order stalls, marked by raw ingredients arranged in front of the cook) and khao gub gaeng (“curry rice” stalls, marked by ready-made curry vats arranged in a row in front of the cook). I did briefly discuss, amid all the purple prose, the awesomeness of made-to-order stalls in a post here. Now, I’d like to talk about the tantalizing roadside buffet that is the khao gaeng stall.

Of all the stalls out there (except for maybe the nam kaeng sai, or iced dessert stalls), curry rice stalls are the most inviting Thai stalls around. Their purpose is to beckon to the grumbling stomach — here, you could be having this RIGHT NOW — instead of suggesting the promise of the future, as a made-to-order stall does. It appeals to the immediate in all of us, which is why our book features a particularly famous one on its cover (Mae Malee at Aor Thor Kor).

That said, there are so many stalls out there, on practically every street corner, most offering a variation of the following: green basil curry, usually chicken and/or chicken feet; stewed bitter melon stuffed with minced pork in a clear broth; stir-fried long beans in red curry paste; some sort of stir-fried Mama noodle or glass vermicelli with pork and chilies; stir-fried veggies; fried pork with garlic and black peppercorns; and fried eggs, yolks ready to break open at the slightest slash of a spoon. If it’s a particularly good one, you’ll also get maybe a yum (spicy sour salad), usually seafood, a gaeng jued (bland clear broth soup to counteract the spiciness of everything else) and something cool and ornamental, like kai luk kuey (son-in-law’s eggs, which are deep-fried and slathered in a sweet sauce. I once wrote a story about Thailand’s “foreign son-in-laws” for, oh, let’s call them Schmeuters, and my editors misunderstood and thought I was referring to “luk [something else]”, which was really, really annoying. Minds in the gutter, much? Anyway.)

Because I love eggs: krapao at a made-to-order stall

You might be wondering where the best place to find a khao gaeng stall may be. I would once have said the one on Sukhumvit 24, across the street from Emporium, but it has since disappeared, taking its green curry spaghetti with it. So let’s go with Krua Aroy-Aroy (it’s a favorite of Ferran Adria’s, after all!) at Thanon Pan, across from Maha Uma Devi Temple (Wat Kaek), 081-695-3339, open 8:00-21:00 daily. The laminated menus are gone! The massaman curry and nam prik platu are still there … just don’t order the nam ngiew (I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. It’s a sickness).

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, curries, food, food stalls, rice, Thailand

Glutton-related matters: Sick

I am sick. Actually, I am more than sick: I am a walking cesspool of germs, a petri dish with legs and arms. And although I know it could be worse, I am still very busy feeling sorry for myself, especially since my “mean” Singapore sometime-overlord is making me jump through hoop after hoop before I leave for Japan in two days.

My current state of sick is not the same as the sickness that comes from eating at a food stall. That is a scary sort of sick that goes beyond concerns about the “curry tummy” into the realm of the potentially lethal. The jury is still out on whether this terrible death was definitely food-related, but the bottom line is: you risk getting sick any time you eat food not prepared by you. Most food stalls are relatively clean, and as Richard Barrow points out, there are ways of minimizing your chances of getting ill.

But, no. My sick is the kind that turns my nose into a runny faucet and renders conversations frustrating exercises in mumble-roaring. Naturally, there is a plethora of home remedies from garlic to ginseng to chicken soup, but the Thais have their very own way of dealing with these things, and it involves bombing the crap out of your cold with chilies:

Tom yum from mushroom lady on Sukhumvit Soi 24

There is something about that heady mix of chilies, kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass that somehow cuts through the traffic jam in your sinuses, bringing you back to the land of the living. But if the street isn’t really your preferred culinary ‘hood, you can still get relief from a bona fide “fancy” place: Bussaracum, which specializes in “royal Thai cuisine”, even provides a “menu from 120 years ago” cobbled together from recipes straight out of @kanitthaifood’s old books. Here, a tom yum from a century ago and the modern interpretation (which one is which?):
Guess which one is which?

The old-school version includes roasted chili paste and mango for acidity (so if you guessed the thick, chili-looking one, you were right!). The entire menu is 690++ baht for seven courses, so head on over there if you want to try any of their other boran dishes side-by-side with their modern-day counterparts.

And if you are sick, like I am, bring a hefty supply of tissues.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, curries, food, food stalls, restaurant, Thailand

Dishes to Try Up North

Pak ki hood, blanched and served alongside nam prik

Believe it or not, I am not going to write about kanom jeen nam ngiew or the Steelers today. I know, I know. I know this makes you sad. But I must branch out. Show all my brilliant colors. Spread my wings.

So instead, I will ramble on semi-incoherently about my childhood in the era of Rama VI, back when rickshaws ruled the North and people foraged in the jungle for food. My fascinating reminiscences include memories of being abandoned at the post office as my nanny chatted up her then-boyfriend, and being menaced by a homicidal goose tethered to a pole in the middle of her front yard. Did you know geese are thoroughly unpleasant creatures? Now you do.

I also remember my Aunt Priew, who lived right next door to my grandmother’s house — easily accessible from our yard once you managed to jump over a tiny hill of ferocious red ants. Somehow, I never really made the jump and was bitten every time I tried. Yet day after day would find me once again testing the anthill because my Aunt Priew is a tremendous cook, possibly the best cook of Northern Thai food in the kingdom.  Roasted lin fa (sky tongue) beans, julienned and stir-fried with glass noodles or paired with a fatty raw larb; a touch of magorg, or water olive, added to a fiery nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) — my aunt is full of these little touches with the local produce that set her dishes apart from the rest. Now if I could just convince her to open a restaurant …

These are some of the Northern Thai dishes that are worth the long trek up to the tip of the country. They go just as well with khao suay (jasmine rice) as they do with khao niew (sticky rice). Try them for a real taste of Northern Thai food:

(Note: Please forgive the photos. They are a little … blurry. No, it wasn’t the wine.)

Gaeng om, Northern-style

Gaeng om, sort of


Unlike the light, prickly Isaan gaeng om, the Northern Thai version is — like much of the rest of Northern food — richer, meatier and fattier. The curry paste is that for a typical gaeng muang (Northern curry), with a couple of additions. There is lemongrass, galangal, dry chili, shrimp paste and garlic, plus pla sarak (kind of like pla salid, but bigger) and bakwan, which, if not Sichuan peppercorn, is something very similar, with the same tongue-numbing effects.

The tongue-numbing peppercorn bakwan

This paste is then fried in oil and augmented by fresh chilies, pork innards, bruised lemongrass and red shallot bulbs, and kaffir lime leaves and stewed, and then garnished with dill and coriander. It has a lingering meat taste that is very Northern.

Gaeng gadang

Pork “jelly” with pork rinds


Some dishes seem like they were engineered by mistake. Puff pastry is one; this is another. It’s basically a gaeng muang focused on kaki (fatty pork leg) and/or moo sam chan (three-layer pork), left out in the cold. It’s a distinctly “cold season” dish because traditionally it was left out overnight to congeal; today, it is chilled in the refrigerator and served in slices like a terrine. Very unusual and very porky.

Saa pak

Northern Thai “salad”, or saa pak

This is hands-down my favorite dish up North, but something that, aside from a few vendors in the Chiang Rai wet market, is very difficult to obtain. The reason could possibly be the 10+ types of local leaves (pak puen muang) required for a real saa pak (“spicy leaves”).

Greenery includes thinly sliced brinjals, young mango leaves, water olive leaves, pak pu ya (“grandfather-grandmother leaves,” a kind of edible blossom), plus sliced shallots and chopped fresh tomato. It is then tossed, like a chopped or Caesar salad, with flaked fish meat which has been grilled or boiled (with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf to lose the fishiness), plus nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) and sliced water olive.

This is a dish I am going to try to recreate at home with plain old lettuce, onions, tomato and avocado. I think it could give me a little taste of home, even in the middle of Bangkok.

 

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Filed under Asia, Chiang Rai, curries, food, food stalls, markets, Northern Thailand, Thailand