Category Archives: dessert

July’s Bangkok Diet

Mango pudding at Prince Restaurant in HK

There is a recurring feature in NY Magazine called “New York Diet” that I think is just brilliant (my favorite is this one). It’s basically the food equivalent of the “What’s in your purse?” stories that ladies’ magazines sometimes do (and that, of course, I also love). It’s people letting you become a voyeur inside their stomachs. You can tell some people are super-uncomfortable about it, and others are very honest — in every case, you get a very good glimpse into an unfamiliar life.

We don’t have an equivalent of that in Bangkok, although that would be a great idea. Looking over @SpecialKRB’s photos over the past month, I thought, why not just do it here? It’s not like the editor won’t like it! So here, from what I can remember, is what I ate over the past few weeks.

Monday, July 2

I help conduct a tour around Aor Thor Kor, which is mildly excruciating. I’m not a Great First Impression person. So this is sort of uncomfortable. Also, everybody knows everything already. Why am I there? I do meet some very nice people though. I hope to see them again.

When I get home, @SpecialKRB is there! It’s the beginning of a loooong holiday for her, when everything is wonderful and still full of promise. Of course, the first thing we do is go to Greyhound Cafe at Emporium. It’s a big favorite of hers and she always gets the same things: chicken wings, sandwich in a bowl, watermelon shake.

Greyhound’s fried chicken wings

Tuesday, July 3

I wake up and do stuff. It was a month ago, folks! What I do remember: dinner, with @SpecialKRB and our friend Annelie at my favorite Bangkok Isaan spot right now that’s not on Petchburi — Moo Jum at the entrance of Suan Plu soi 3. It’s been a favorite of food-loving types for ages because of its sticky, mouth-watering grilled fatty pork neck. However, I think the namesake dish — a sort of Isaan-style sukiyaki sometimes called jaew hon — deserves some love too.

Isaan-style sukiyaki at Moo Jum

Wednesday, July 4

How better to celebrate U.S. Independence Day than with a tabletop full of egg noodles with Tabitha and Akio at Rungrueang noodle shop on Sukhumvit 26?

Egg noodles from Rungrueang

Thursday, July 5

There was a time when it was next to impossible to get a bagel in Bangkok, and to sort of have one, you had to trek to Villa and get one of those Danish Bakery bagel approximations, which were not so great. Those times are over now, thanks to BKK Bagel Bakery. We order a whole mishmash of things; of course my Reuben comes last. Of course I eat it all.

BKK Bagel’s Reuben

And of course, I’m still hungry. So it’s on to the second lunch, at Din Tai Fung (yes. Really, yes) where we get pork xiaolongbao and dan-dan noodles, my absolute favorite noodles of anywhere.

Pork soup dumplings and lemonade at Din Tai Fung

Saturday, July 7

It’s hard to find things at the airport, I get it. Different airlines have different types of lounges, and Thai Airways doesn’t always have the best stuff. Things you can count on at a Thai Airways lounge: Chinese steamed dumplings, tuna sandwiches, and what is obviously @SpecialKRB’s favorite, Mama noodles, particularly tom yum goong flavor, which we agree is the best flavor for instant noodles, ever.

@SpecialKRB tries both “spicy lemongrass” and “minced pork” flavors, just to be sure.

Mama noodles at the Royal Orchid lounge in Suvarnabhumi airport

Later, we are in Chiang Mai, the City of Great Food. Really. We do not have a single bad meal there. What we have most of, naturally, since we are doing research for my next book: copious bowls of khao soy, some at the same place twice.

Chicken khao soy at Samerjai in Chiang Mai

Monday, July 9

Sometimes I consider adding a “level of difficulty” category to the food stalls in the book, because some stalls are a genuine pain in the ass to get to. Niyom Pochana in Lampang (in front of Muangsat temple, in case you were wondering) counts as one of those stalls, scoring a strong “9” on the “level of difficulty” scale. That said, it is still worth it if you like beef or pork noodles. It’s all in the meatballs.

Niyom Pochana’s meatballs

Tuesday, July 10

Back in Bangkok for a night. Unbelievably, while @SpecialKRB and my family are stuffing themselves silly at India Hut, I am at a “dinner” at the newly-opened Cabochon Hotel, where no food is readily apparent, anywhere. I do have 900 glasses of wine though. I’m sure that really impressed everywhere there.

Wednesday, July 11

In Ubon Ratchathani, where our first meal is a gigantic succession of Thai-Vietnamese dishes at Sabaijai. The northeast of Thailand is thick with great places like this started by Vietnamese who fled their homeland during the Vietnam War. Unlike the nearby Indochine, Sabaijai still retains a sense of humility; prices appear to be similarly down-to-earth.

The spread at Sabaijai in Ubon

Friday, July 13

We get back from Ubon in time for a fun pop-up dinner at Opposite (theme: “Crudo”, cooked by Chef Paolo Vitaletti). There is crabmeat risotto and a range of salads that run out far too quickly (but are rapidly replenished) and a scrum over the cured meats. But the standout for me is clearly the raw bar: oysters, a ceviche smelling of smoke, a single sweet raw scallop, dressed with olive oil and a garlic chive. I still think of that scallop sometimes, not in an OMG I WANNA NOM NOM NOM way, but intellectually, as a memory of what scallops should taste like. Ultimately worth all that scrumming.

Sunday, July 15

Big Bite Bangkok. It’s the second one we’ve done and @DwightTurner does all the heavy lifting, but I am still kind of a mess at the beginning. What if people have a terrible time? What if I poison someone with a rogue chili dog? What if no one knows what Sloppy Joes are?

In the end, everything turns out OK, thanks to Chris’s unshakeable calm, @SpecialKRB’s stellar salesmanship, and great contributions from the other vendors. I am sad the food runs out by the time I am ready to eat — at least someone snares me one of Quince’s black puddings, and I get a sip of the tom yum martini that everyone is lining up for.

At Big Bite Bangkok

Wednesday, July 18

Before we leave for Phuket, we go to Soul Food Mahanakorn with Chris for what will basically be our last dinner in Bangkok together (sniff sniff). We order all our personal favorites on the menu and then some — smoky tart eggplant salad with bacon and deep-fried shallots; a Masaman chicken curry; mieng kum with morsels of porkiness. While waiting, we pass the time by discussing how we would cast our movie selves: we decide Chris is Steve Carrell, @SpecialKRB is Tina Fey, and I am Lena Dunham. We are all secretly offended by these choices.

When the food does come, it is an enormous amount, enough to give us pause and take it all in and realize how enormously lucky we are. Jarrett (who we’ve decided is Joseph Gordon Levitt) also sends out a stuffed squid stir-fry with slivers of chili and basil, and a northern Thai-style duck larb that reminds me of what my dad used to make for us after he came home from work — in other words, it is meaty and savory and grounded, exactly as it should be. A nice taste of home before a long trip away.

(All photos by @SpecialKRB)


Filed under Asia, bamee, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, chicken, dessert, food, food stalls, noodles, Northern Thailand, restaurant, Thailand

Chiang Mai Redux

Chicken khao soy at Lamduan Faham

When people go to Chiang Mai, they usually want to eat the local food — aharn muang. Not all Chiang Mai-ers are as infatuated with northern Thai fare, of course, but as a resident of Bangkok — where good northern Thai cuisine is as hard to get as a pair of rubber boots — there was no way I would not hit all the typical places that one goes to for this food. Anything else would be a waste of time.

Now, I am a northerner. Yes, I grew up in Pittsburgh, and yes, my dad would make kanom jeen nam ngiew and call it “Thai spaghetti” in order to get us to eat it. But having grown up with a dad from Chiang Rai and a mom from Chiang Mai, I feel pretty qualified to figure out what is northern Thai food and what is not. What drives me crazy is that a lot of times, people do not know what northern food actually is. I hate this about myself, that this petty little thing drives me crazy. But it does.

So when a guy who is couched as a “northern Thai food expert” calls the central Thai dish yum samun prai (lemongrass spicy salad) northern, it drives me crazy. When some other dude asks me if, while on my trip up north, I ate mieng kum (a DIY central Thai appetizer of betel leaves, sometimes Chinese kale leaves, with dried shrimp, cubed lime, chilies, what have you), that drives me crazy. When yet another person asks me if khao chae (cold rice porridge with deep-fried sides eaten in the hot season) is northern I … you get the point. Many people don’t know what aharn muang is, Thai people included.

I think this is because northern Thai food — with the exception of khao soy — isn’t particularly friendly. It lacks the sweet-tart overtones that make central Thai food so appealing, or the in-your-face sour-fire that Isaan food boasts. It’s salty and heavy; it has weight and gravitas and a bitter backbone, echoed by all the lawn clippings and this-should-be-in-a-compost-pile tree leaves that usually accompany it. It’s flecked with blood and bile, fat and parts — we Northerners do love our pig parts. All this, because we live in the mountains where it is “cold” — the weather dips below 30 degrees C sometimes OMG!  The further north you go, the more “northern” food gets. Chiang Mai is actually aharn muang lite.

Yet I do love Chiang Mai. I have been there twice in the past three weeks: first, with @ChefMcDang, who was filming something I can only describe as an “unnamed chef competition series” (I was designated Shirt Holder); then, with my mother’s family, meeting up for the annual katin, which is essentially  an opportunity to “make merit” at the family temple. Both times were thinly-veiled grabs at eating as much northern Thai food as I could.

Making merit

Yes, I am that person: next to the food table at parties, hiding in the kitchen at big get-togethers, in the self-styled “market” next to the temple during prayers. But would you blame me?

Kanom toei at the "market"

Every year, there is khao soy and kanom jeen nam ngiew. There is pork on skewers grilling over an open flame, hunks of grilled chili dip (nam prik num) wrapped in banana leaves, soft, comforting bowls of fried noodles, garnished with purple orchids. Som tum, muang-style, flavored with nam pu, or the juice from pulverized field crabs. Yum pakkad dong, or a spicy salad made out of pickled cabbage. No, not everything is northern, but it is served with a gracious smile, ravenous cousins poking you from behind with their bamboo baskets, waiting for their turn. And it is FREE … as long as you are willing to wear a pa sin (old-fashioned sarong), and make awkward small talk at various intervals.


Sugarcane on a stick

So that was a place I would call very familiar. But I made a new discovery too, thanks to the New York Times story on “northern Thai food” in Chiang Mai. I am glad I read it (thanks @DwightTurner!), or I would not have found out that Krua Phech Doi Ngam (125/3 Moo 3, Mahidon Road) has some of Chiang Mai’s best northern food, better than (dare I say it?) even Huen Phen.

Not to mean that it’s perfect. There’s that lemongrass salad, which is award-winning, apparently, but, uh … not Northern. Nice recipe though! There is their insistence on calling what is basically a beef version of Northern gaeng om a gaeng jin hoom, which is a different dish entirely, usually made of fatty pork stewed with turmeric and lemongrass until the juices evaporate and all that is left is a salty and (you guessed it) fatty glob. There is the nam prik pla rah (chili dip with Thai “anchovies”), marred by the strange addition of cherry tomatoes.

But there is also everything else, which is pretty pretty good. In fact, it’s great, even the faux gaeng jin hoom, which I wish I had taken home on the airplane — stewed-til-tender slivers of thick, melt-in-the-mouth beef in a deliciously unctuous sauce. The chicken gaeng om (here, with the same base as jin hoom), pepped up with the addition of chicken livers. The fabulous thum kanoon (pounded young jackfruit), which makes Huen Phen’s version an anemic, sad little pretender.

Krua Phech Doi Ngam's jackfruit

So next time I go to Chiang Mai, there may be a new must-go-to in town, alongside Lamduan Faham and Aunt Ton’s house and, yes, Love At First Bite (I hate that I like this place, but what can I say? I love pie). Even better: the hordes snapping up all the food in front of your eyes at Huen Phen are, strangely, absent at Krua Phech Doi Ngam. All the more food for me.

Because I love pie: LAFB's coconut cream



Filed under Asia, Chiang Mai, dessert, food, Northern Thailand, pork, restaurant, Thailand

Why Food

The unseasonably wet weather and ensuing traffic snarls have put me into a meditative mood. So indulge me for a moment as I blather on like your 84-year-old great-aunt, the one who doesn’t see people very often and puts SWAT-team-level preparation into “going out”.

Because that is how I feel nowadays. My Thai has never been the greatest — conversations frequently turn into an unwieldy catalogue of what has NOT been said, a litany of all that has NOT been communicated. I am literally two-dimensional; beyond initial remarks on the weather, what to eat and where to go, I am cashed out of words, making do by playing the role of the dim-witted auntie, a role I am getting unnervingly good at.

This is leeching into my English language communication, which is fast becoming a halting negotiation of what to express and what to leave out. Interaction is Thailand is an unspoken deal: say the expected things at the right time and you will have passed. Saying something different means you have not kept up your part of the bargain. This is something that has taken me years to learn, but is somehow understood by Thais who have grown up here — just like everyone knows you don’t eat durian with alcohol, or without mangosteen, or that you don’t transport it on the Skytrain because then people will look at you like you just took a baby, a kitten and a puppy and forced them to listen to the Black Eyed Peas’s latest album. All Thais somehow know these things.

So food is a wonderful oasis for me. When you are cramming your piehole with stuff, you don’t have to talk. When your table is groaning under the weight of tasty food, people around you are happy. When you venture to talk about this dish or that, people are invariably willing to discuss it — food is a fine, happy place, where everyone loves you, as long as your plate is still full.

It’s logical, then, that I would love Restaurants of Bangkok, which offers a nifty monthly program they call “Running Dinners”. Every course — appetizer, main, dessert — is offered at a different restaurant in the same area. Despite the logistical difficulties of herding up to 20 increasingly inebriated people to different places every hour or so, it’s surprisingly well-run, and a great way to feature restaurants that are new or easily overlooked. (In the interests of full disclosure: next month’s dinner includes dessert at Maduzi Hotel, which belongs to my husband’s family.)

Blurry photo of dessert course at Philippe, taken after fourth glass of wine

But I’m an equal-opportunity gobbler (uh, duh). I obviously like to go the opposite end of the spectrum too. Sometimes you need to work a little for your food fix, just sayin (don’t you hate it when people write “just sayin?” Like, didn’t you already just say it? I see it more and more frequently, and it is almost always preceded by something semi-obnoxious — “BLAH BLAH STUPID STUPID MOUTHFART MOUTHFART. JUST SAYIN.” Blech. Okay, rant over.)

So the beef noodles on Sukhumvit Soi 16, across from the Korean restaurant, are also a wonderful refuge for the socially impaired. Beloved by office workers and motorcycle taxi drivers alike, it is the “we are the world” food stall of that particular road, where people can set aside their various color allegiances or complete and total political apathy (I’m lookin at me, Bangkok Glutton) and jostle each other for bowls of delicious beef water instead.

Options are rice vermicelli (sen mee) or thick noodles (sen yai), or no noodles at all (gow low). Open 7am-1pm, closed on Sundays. Call 087-564-9469.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, dessert, food, food stalls, French food, noodles, restaurant, Thailand