Category Archives: fish

What’s Cooking: Gaeng som

Shrimp gaeng som at Mamapapa Restaurant

The last time I went to Phuket, my husband took me to what looked like a secluded selection of shanties set over the water, accessible via a small dirt road. I was starving and, obviously, grumpy, but our beachside breakfast — gaeng som with rice — reminded me why I love Thai food, its strong clear flavors and its honesty, communicating everything that in regular conversation is all-too-often too nuanced for me to pick up.

I sought to recreate this experience — sans Phuket sand, glimmering ocean and dozing old man at the next table — in my own kitchen. With store-bought nam prik gaeng som (I know, I know), it was criminally easy, but if you want to make your own chili paste base, mix a handful of red bird’s eye chilies, shallots, garlic cloves, a pinch of salt and a few lemongrass bulbs, galangal and kaffir lime leaves into a paste. Some people add a dollop of shrimp paste as well.

Gaeng som (sour curry) (serves 4)

– 4 Tablespoons nam macaam piek (tamarind syrup)*

– 6 knobs of grachai (wild ginger)

– 1 Tablespoon palm sugar

– 1 firm, white-fleshed fish such as pomfret, boiled in half a pot of salted water (save cooking liquid)**

– 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

– 4 Tablespoons fish sauce

– 2 bunches cha om (acacia leaves)

– 3 eggs

– 4 heaping Tablespoons gaeng som paste (see above)

1. Chop grachai into small pieces and pound into a paste with mortar and pestle.

2. Deflesh fish from the bone, add to mortar and pound further. Add your nam prik gaeng little by little, mixing carefully so that you don’t get any in your eye (again), which is very painful. It will look like this:

3. Add paste to fish cooking water on the stove along with palm and granulated sugars and fish sauce. Bring to the boil.

4. When boiling, add tamarind juice.

5. Add your white fish pieces. Do not stir, or gaeng will become “fishy”.

6. Taste to correct seasoning, adding if necessary more tamarind juice (for acidity), sugar (for sweet) and/or fish sauce (for salt) as you see fit.

7. Allow to boil for another 10 minutes. Your gaeng is finished!

8. As your soup boils, chop cha om with scissors into bite-sized pieces.

9. Heat 4 Tablespoons of cooking oil in a big frying pan.

10. Whip eggs as you would an omelette and add half the cha om. It will initially look like this:

11. Over medium heat, cook in hot oil until puffy, then turn over and cook until golden-brown. Take out and drain on a paper towel.

12. Serve omelette by cutting into squares, placing at bottom of bowl and ladling your gaeng som on top, accompanied with rice.

*You can make your own tamarind syrup by steeping a tamarind pod in hot water for at least 10 minutes. A tamarind pod looks like this:

 ** Obviously, you can substitute the fish for anything else you would prefer — shrimp, chicken, and/or some blanched mixed vegetables.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, cooking, curries, fish, food, recipe, restaurant, seafood, Thailand

Golden Oldie

Soft oyster omelette, or aw suan, at New Kwong Meng

Getting old sucks. Granted, there are some people who rhapsodize about how it brings a new maturity, a deeper understanding of life, and some other useless blahbadiblah that no one really ever wants, but these people are usually young (and therefore stupid. I can say this because I am old, and jealous). Age announces itself in a series of sharpening steps: first, the twinges and inexplicable aches upon waking; the stuttering metabolism that thickens the waistline; the sudden urge to pee in the middle of the night; the inability to sleep beyond 7 in the morning; the face that suddenly, startlingly, turns into your Grandma’s one morning.

Before you know it, you are sitting over beers with another old fart, reminiscing over that one time Digger lost his satellite phone in the Khyber Pass and when Scoop got tipsy at lunch and threw tomatoes at the bureau chief. Who is this person? How did this happen? Where was I this whole time? These are questions that will never get any satisfying answers.

New Kwong Meng Restaurant (4-8 Padsai Road, or Yaowarat Soi 19; 02-224-2201, 02-224-2170, open 11-2, 5:30-9) is a whole five years older than me, but it seems to be wearing its middle age well, the bitch. Part of a string of excellent Teochew restaurants (I’m told most Chinese-Thais are Teochew, or Chaozhou) tucked into the Old Market side of Yaowarat Road, New Kwong Meng reminds our parents of the days when they were young and sprightly. This is probably why it is packed with, uh, our parents and all their friends. Young, hip and happening, this is not, but is that the point?

It is not when you are confronted with a soft, silky aw suan (soft oyster omelette) studded with succulently large oysters, a heartbreakingly tiny suckling pig enveloped in a crackly sheen, and slivers of finely sliced raw — is that sea bream? — strewn with sesame seeds and accompanied by a sweet soy dipping sauce.

Thai-Chinese "sashimi"

There is goat “ham”, festooned with white asparagus that looks suspiciously like it came out of a can, but a big favorite are what look like razor clams, sauteed with Chinese kale and shiitake mushrooms. Actually, they look like something else, but I’m not sure what that would be, really I’m not.

Clams, greens, mushrooms

And since every Chinese meal must end with some sort of starch, New Kwong Meng sends out a whopper: a delicately pan-fried sheaf of e mee (fried egg noodles), crispy outside and buttery within, topped with strips of ham and accompanied by a sour black vinegar Thais call “zisho”. This version is as good as the e mee anywhere in Bangkok.

New Kwong Meng's e-mee

I could go on, and talk about what we had for dessert, and how I drank too much strange Chinese whisky, and how we stumbled down the stairs into the night, where it wasn’t as hot as we expected it to be. There were wrong turns taken down winding Chinatown roads, and promises to not lose touch ever, and BFF presents exchanged that didn’t get opened. I could go further, but I’m tired, and late for my nap.



Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chinatown, Chinese, fish, food, noodles, seafood, Thai-Chinese, Thailand


I recently took a test called the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI, for people who are thisclose with this sort of stuff. BFF!), and discovered that I am an INFP. In case you aren’t well-versed in the alphabet soup-like murk that is the MBTI, allow me to illuminate you (because that is my leading function. No, it is really not): there are different kinds of people in the world. One group of people likes to go out and make friends and be happy, and the other likes to mope around in their rooms, listening to The Smiths and doodling “Mrs. Tom Colicchio” in their journals over and over again. Yes, they do! And one group likes to look at the world as it actually is, and the other likes go lala in lala-land with their fingers in their ears. And one group likes to think and be logical, and the other…you get the picture…they don’t like logic, no not at all.

So take all those characteristics that pretty much guarantee you will be misunderstood and socially awkward, and you get INFP. This makes it tricky for us (2.2 percent of the population, because I’m all about the numbers. No, I’m really not) to go out and socialize, but if there is a stonking big heap of deliciously grilled scallops, myriad bowls of fried noodles and a couple of plump sea bass(es…?) cocooned in a layer of banana leaves, there is enough distraction to ensure that no one will go away thinking you are a great big weirdo who says strange things.

That is why I like Elvis Suki (00/37 Soi Yodsae, Plabplachai Rd., 081-899-5533, 02-223-4979, open 17-23 daily. Now with an air-conditioned room!). Because there is a lot of food there. Also because it is delicious. Thai-style sukiyaki is a sort of hot-pot that a Thai-Chinese man claimed to have invented in the 1960s from a dream (no, seriously, I am not making this up…probably. His restaurant is on Rama IV road next to the “Galaxy No-Hands restaurant”, another great Thai contribution to the world).

The suki here comes ready-made and is not so purty, so there is a bit of disappointment for those ESTJ types who like to boss everyone around and do everything themselves (just kidding. No, I’m really not), but the delicious, sweet-tart sauce lightens the sting a bit. Another dish that completely wipes out that sting and replaces it with the food-inspired goosebumps that all people who love food know and chase, every day: a whole sea bass, slathered in a swampy mass of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, and some other stuff that the waiter is very wary of revealing, baked in a banana leaf — a dish so yummy it will solve everyone’s problems and bring about world peace. I did not take a photo because everyone ate the fish before I could get to it. The second one, too. Selfish bastards.

The namesake dish

But I did manage to take a photo of their unofficial specialty, hoy shell song krueang, a grilled scallop paired with a tiny chunk of pork — ingenious — which, when drizzled with a little of the sweet-tart seafood sauce, bring out the sweetness in each other. Really! What I’m talking about:

All kinds of yum

The only thing about eating here, and I’m sorry introverts, but it’s true — you need a big group. Bribe them with fish and scallops. Pretend that you’re a lot of fun to be around. Tell them about the ice cream in front, a great little stand scooping up freshly made sorbets of lime, coconut, lychee and zalacca, plus “off” flavors like beer, vodka Red Bull, and banana-cheese (, 089-111-6836). If worse comes to worst, go find an ESFP. They’ll believe the best about anyone.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, fish, food, food stalls, noodles, seafood, Thai-Chinese, Thailand