Category Archives: Thai-Chinese

Sukhothai, -ish

A bowl of Sukhothai noodles at Baan Kru Eiw

Do you ever find yourself in that situation where you recognize somebody across the room whom you haven’t seen for a while? What if they recognize you, too? What if you both sit, paralyzed, unsure of who is to get up and make that first stab at conversation? And if you lose this internal wrestling match and you do get up, what if you see that undeniable flash of resignation flit across his face, that “Oh crap, now I have to talk to this person I haven’t spoken to since my wedding in 2007” look? What if you catch that person desperately attempting to hide from you as your eyes lock onto his ear, trying to avoid the upcoming “Oh crap I said I’d call you back five years ago” conversation by suddenly becoming fascinated by the septuagenarian cashier near the entrance, the telltale hand coming up to shield his precious face from your gaze?

I admit it. I have nearly been run over by a bus in my haste to avoid an ex in San Francisco. So I know what it’s like to run away from someone like a bar of soap and stick of deodorant when faced with the likes of Johnny Depp in Full Hobo Mode.  But you can’t run away from me, Sukhothai. I admit, you nearly succeeded, what with my preoccupation with the north, and then Isaan, and that brief flirtation with Phuket over the summer. But there was no way I was not going to knock over every vendor in the city in my search for the best Sukhothai noodles — an ingenious dish that combines a Chinese base (rice noodles) with Thai seasonings (lime, fish sauce, chilies, palm sugar), topped with a signature flourish of julienned green beans.

Sukhothai likes its food sweet, and is fond of its coconut milk. This is why Sukhothai can be considered more of a central Thai city, and less northern Thai. Sukhothai noodles — usually built upon sen lek, or thin white rice noodles —  contain no coconut milk, but epitomize all the great things that characterize Sukhothai’s food: sweetness tempered by a bit of spice, a fondness for the pig in whatever iteration, and generous use of the region’s famously gorgeous cut lime. There is crunch from the blanched beans, crushed peanuts and tiny crumbs of pork crackling; there is a pork-bone broth flavored with tamarind juice and thick with slices of tender boiled pork. It’s hard to not like this particular hometown specialty.

The best place to have it may not be a street food stall. Instead, it’s a “comfort food”-style restaurant, what a diner would be like if it existed in Thailand. It’s called Baan Kru Eiw (, located in downtown Sukhothai(ish) and named after the teacher who opened this restaurant out of her home a little over a decade ago. Teacher Eiw ran this restaurant in her spare time because she loves cooking and wanted to showcase Sukhothai specialties. That means you get other local favorites like naem nueng, a Vietnamese-derived do-it-yourself noodle dish featuring steamed pork “pate”, and gluey chuem, or boiled bananas in sugar syrup. Last but not least, there is pad Thai — a no-brainer for every Sukhothai noodle vendor in the city, since Sukhothai noodles are basically pad Thai in soup noodle form, with the same seasonings if not always the same protein (the pad Thai here usually involves pork instead of seafood). Kru Eiw wraps her stir-fried noodles up in a thin envelope of egg and crowns the result with a scattering of coriander leaves, with a side of bean sprouts, banana blossom and garlic chives (and of course, a cut of that big, juicy Sukhothai lime) to mop up any grease (Thais are very concerned about kwam lien, or greasiness in their food). At Kru Eiw, there is little grease to worry about. But if you see someone you recognize across the room, you’re on your own.

Kru Eiw’s pad Thai


Filed under Asia, food, noodles, pork, restaurant, Sukhothai, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

Pretty in its own way

Guay jab at Sukhumvit Soi 38

Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town 15 minutes from the Ohio border had its good points and bad points. Good points: a safe place where you could build forts in the woods and ride bikes with your friends all day long; living a short walk away from the school and park; great Italian-American food, Indian food, and Middle-Eastern food. Bad points: I was Asian. Not the only Asian, mind you — I was the Asian Girl. My friend KK who was also in my grade was the Asian Boy. Classmates would come up to me (and probably him) from time to time to ask “Why don’t you go out with KK? It would be SOOO perfect” like the world had rained for 40 days and nights and they were in charge of building some sort of Noah’s Ark with Asian people.

This sounds small, but it wasn’t. I was never a viable person that anyone in their right mind would ever consider going out with (and by “going out”, as this was 7th grade, I mean asking your mom to drive you to the Christmas dance in the junior high cafeteria while I wear a Talbots dress borrowed from my mom). I would never get to wear my “boyfriend’s” football jersey on Fridays before the game. I would never get to go to high school parties on the weekends. (I did, however, get to watch a lot of foreign films over sleepovers and play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, things that have actually helped me a bit later on in life).

I used to be sad that I wasn’t an Erin or an Amy or, best of all, a Jennifer. Instead, I was a Chawadee (aka Dog Chow aka Chow Time aka Choo Choo aka Chewbacca). But later, as I grew older, friends would tell me I was “pretty in my own way”. That could be bad, like “you are pretty in a way that no one recognizes”, but it could also be good, like “you are uniquely you”. Looking back, I choose to read it in the good way. I am me.

Guay jab — that Thai-Chinese street food dish featuring curled-up flat rice noodles, random bits of pork and either a thick soy sauce gravy (nam khon) or clear soup (nam sai) — might be considered “pretty in its own way”. It’s the least glamorous of all the noodle soups: the silky, savory voluptuousness of a bamee (egg noodles), the easy-to-eat immediacy of a guay thiew moo (pork noodles), the eager-to-please popularity of a guay thiew tom yum (noodles in spicy lemongrass broth). By comparison, guay jab is too challenging, too hefty, too porky — bits of lung, intestine and pig skin mingling with tenderly poached slivers of meat, noodles and, in the case of the thick broth, half a boiled egg. There is no mitigating flourish of lettuce, no handful of palate-cleansing greens. It’s Piggy with a capital P. What are you gonna do about it?

There are people who see guay jab for what it is — a celebration of the pig — and like it in their own ways. For the thick-bodied version, look no further than the stand on Sukhumvit Soi 38, the first stall on the left as you enter. Those who like it more in the Chinese style should go to Yaowaraj Road, where the clear, peppery version awaits at Guay Jab Oun Pochana. Either way you like it, you can’t go wrong.


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

Adventures in Thonburi

Hoy klang, or “blood cockles”, across the river

“Run,” he said. “If you want to leave, go now. Or you won’t be able to leave until closing time.”

For the last three hours, Christina and I had been sitting riverside, enjoying a beautiful sunset, and getting gently — but irretrievably — sloshed on a steady diet of designer cocktails with no food. Every move we made to leave was greeted with exhortations to “Stay! Enjoy!” by the bar’s disarmingly generous owner, cocktails turning into glasses of wine and then wine bottles as a silent young man smiled blankly next to her. It was like being held prisoner in a booze-filled tower by an especially charming sorceress. And the smiling sphinx at our table was our way out.

So we did what any person of honor would do in our situation. We ran. We ditched. We didn’t ask about money. We didn’t look back. Later, floating for what seemed like an eternity on the river, I thought of karma as the wine threatened to make a reappearance on the Chao Phraya, the boat bobbing its slow, aimless way to freedom. But we had more pressing things to think about. Like dinner.

Thonburi is often ignored, because it’s all the way over there, across the river, in the no man’s land also known as Collection of Big Places that are Hard to Get To. It’s the Queens of Bangkok. You have to really want to go. Tonight, Christina was giving me two good reasons to trek over from my safe place of cake shops and sushi bars.

Our shrimp, pre-baking, at Jay Piek

The first, called Jay Piek (Charoen Rat Road near Soi 1 at Wong Wien Yai, 086-613-0587) specializes in something of a rarity in Thai street food stalls — the Thai-Chinese dish known as goong ob woonsen, prawns wrapped in glass vermicelli and baked in a metal container, a method which ensures maximum juiciness and aroma. What sets the shrimp at Jay Piek apart is the seasoning: packed full of scallions and coriander roots, coriander seeds, shreds of pork fat, and a finishing dash of ground white pepper before it is sent over to your table.

The finished product, in half-light

There is also crab given similar treatment, grilled salt-encrusted seabass, baked mussels in herbs, and the Thai shellfish known as “blood cockles” because of the blood-like liquid they ooze when they are cooked. It’s a small menu, but a smart one, and Jay Piek — as its constantly-crowded tables attest — seems to do it the best.

But as awesome as Jay Piek is, we found something even better. I mean, people talk about things being a “revelation” a lot, and that’s when you know to turn off the computer and never go back, but I’m doing it now. Because this nameless ice cream place in the tent at Wong Wien Lek, fronted by satay and egg noodle vendors and flanked by a Chinese restaurant called Ah Gu, is my personal revelation, the best thing I’ve had in years.

Serving a type of old-style ice cream known as i thim kai dip (raw egg ice cream), this stall specializes in a dessert that has gone out of vogue for obvious reasons. The ice cream container must be very, very cold. The eggs must be very, very fresh, coddled right then and there. The vendor must be very, very sure that those yolks will be frozen.

“Raw egg ice cream”, pre-freezing

But when everything is right, the stars are aligned, and the vendor finally looks your way, the results are mind-blowingly delicious: vanilla-scented cream shot through with streaks of savory sunshine, an extra oomph and push to something that already has a whole lot of egg yolks. What’s one more, right? And when it’s dotted with look chid, or syrupy lotus seeds, and set in front of you after what seems like an eternity spent waiting for that yolk to freeze, it is hard not to consume the entire three or four scoops, all by yourself.

Streaks of sunshine


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