Category Archives: Thai-Chinese

Something Special

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I — like many of my fellow Bangkokians — am feeling a bit down. The kind of down that doesn’t bear talking about.

So why am I writing a blog post? To tell you the truth, I don’t really want to write a blog post. For something that is better done, funnier and far more likable, you should deffo check out writer/actress Mindy Kaling’s blog: http://theconcernsofmindykaling.com/, because we all need a little bit of inspiration now and then, and where better than from the author of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” (the answer is yes).

Do you want your inspiration to come from somewhere closer to home? I am nothing if not obliging. Let me do you a favor and direct you to another something special, http://mysousvidelife.wordpress.com/. Is she not adorabun? Someone get this woman a cooking show, stat! Another thing: despite being a “flood refugee”, she is still decorating Halloween cupcakes and figuring out fun things to do with all those shmackets of Ma-Ma noodles lurking in all our kitchen cabinets (no need to front, you know you have them too).

Are you still here? Geez. Well, if you’re not up for something fun and uplifting, I’m your girl. As one would naturally expect, the floods are taking their toll everywhere, including on the sidewalk. Many, many, many of my fave vendors are MIA: the buay loy guy on Mahachai Road; the khao kluk gapi (rice with shrimp paste) vendor in front of Baan Phra Arthit; the Hainanese chicken rice people in front of Great Shanghai; the chicken and bitter melon noodles guy behind Emporium; the Sukhothai noodle guy (why didn’t he call to tell me?) next to Klong Saen Saep; and the guay jab people across from Benjakiti Park. There are more, many more whose absences I have yet to discover and mourn.

 

Not available right now

These people spent their working lives making us happy; now they are gone, with nothing to mark their absence except maybe a shuttered storefront or, more disconcertingly, nothing at all. They have vanished into thin air.

Then there are the people who are stubbornly sticking it out. They deserve special plaudits, because they are idiots*. Riverside, prey to the fickle lords of high tide? Sign me up! Alongside the beef noodle folks at Nai Soi and the famously taciturn Roti-Mataba is Khao Na Gai Ha Yaek (085-124-5511, open 10-19.00). Just steps down Phra Arthit road from Roti-Mataba, this chicken-and-gravy on rice vendor is quietly packed most lunchtimes, but inspires none of the usual fanfare, which makes it very special indeed. Yes, there is the khao na gai (35 baht), as well as versions with gun chieng (sweet Chinese sausage, 40 baht) or runny fried egg (42 baht), or best of all, both (47 baht). There are also noodles topped with chicken gravy, deep-fried noodles with chicken gravy, and sticky rice with red pork. But the namesake dish is the best.

Wandering down the road at high noon, unable to find ANYTHING I once loved in a landscape that looked familiar but wasn’t, this plate of chicken gravy on rice crowned with torn fresh coriander, fried egg and sweet sticky sausage was a godsend, the best thing I had eaten in weeks. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to be hungry, and ate it all.

*Obviously, I don’t really think they are idiots.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, chicken, food, food stalls, rice, Thai-Chinese, 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.

 

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

The other Chiang Mai

Rot duan at Suthep Market

Sometimes you don’t feel like treating Chiang Mai like a non-stop food safari. Sometimes, the usual parade of big names — Huen Phen, Lamduan Faham, Samerjai, OMG! — makes you feel all weary inside after thinking of the inevitable throng of people in line for a bowl of khao soy. And sometimes, you just want to eat where all the other jaded Chiang Mai-ers eat.

Because sometimes, Chiang Mai people are sick to death of aharn nuea (Northern Thai food), just like how Hua Hin people get sick of crab (unbelievable, I know, but it happens). And when that happens, they go to places like Yen Ta Fo Sri Ping on Suthep Road, where the chipped plastic bowls feature al dente thick, thin or glass vermicelli noodles liberally swimming with a garishly pink, chili-flecked seafood sauce crowned with a single, perfect fried wonton (35-40 baht).

Sri Ping's yen ta fo

There is also the requisite tom yum noodle (30-40 baht) and egg noodles with red pork and dumplings (40-50 baht), but nothing is as deliciously saucy as the namesake yen ta fo, a dish sure to get on your shirt and all over your face. And yes, I did rub my eyes after eating, and yes, severely regretted it for hours afterward.

I would argue that the namesake dish at Guay Jab Nam Khon Sam Kaset, right by the city’s monument to the three kings, is not the best dish here, although it is light and peppery and includes plenty of luk lok, a sort of soft porky sausage (50 baht). The gow low (broth without noodles) centers on a richer broth that tastes of beef and plenty of coriander (50 baht), and the khao moo krob is as good as anything you would find in Yaowaraj: a mix of crackle and fat, a thick sweet sauce enveloping the rice grains (50 baht). What can I say? I really like sauce.

Crispy pork rice at Guay Jab Sam Kaset

But if it’s something light and fresh you desire — Thailand via Hanoi rather than Hong Kong — there is always Raan Fer Wiengjan on Rachadamnoen Road. You have your choice of chicken (30-40 baht), fish (40-50 baht), tofu (30 baht), and the Northern delicacy moo yaw (30-40 baht), a pork “pate” originally created by Chinese-Thai chefs seeking to replicate French meat terrines.

Pho moo yaw

Vegetarians, don’t despair: Chiang Mai is thinking of you too. Or, specifically, Raan Jay Yai on Nimmanhaemin Road is. Anything on the regular menu can be made “jay” (a stricter Thai form of vegetarianism), including great versions of khao kluk kapi (rice fried with “shrimp paste”, 35 baht), guaythiew kua “gai” (noodles fried with a chicken substitute, 30 baht) and pad see ew (stir-fried noodles in soy sauce, 30 baht).

Jay Yai's pad see ew

This is all well and good, but did you really think I went to Chiang Mai without having ANY Northern food at all? What am I, an idiot? (Don’t answer that). Of course I went, and filled my face with nam prik ong and thum kanoon and sai oua and shrieked and gurgled as every Northern dish passed me by on the way to someone else, and wished myself stuffed full of everything that was good in the world. So that is how I found Haan Tung Jieng Mai (Northern dialect for Raan Tung Chiang Mai) on Suthep Road by the Chiang Mai University campus.

Khao pad nam prik num at Haan Tung Jiangmai

It’s a typical aharn tham sung (made-to-order) stall, but made achingly cool by the scraps of paper doodled by bored university students coating the tables and the kitsch-retro furnishings. That said, the food is solid, if slow, including rice fried with young green chili dip, pounded young jackfruit, and a nam prik ong that tasted suspiciously like shrimp paste (in the landlocked North, most recipes call for tua now — fermented beans, or nam pu — the juice of pulverized rice paddy crabs, instead of kapi).  Plus, there was a perfectly cooked kai ped yang matoom, a duck egg boiled just enough so that the yolk is “sticky”, like rubber sap.

No, our trip wasn’t all about food. I DO have other interests, you know. For instance, the PURCHASING of food. That is where the Saturday morning organic market off of Nimmanhaemin Road comes in. Organic producers of vegetables, fruit, rice and ready-made foods meet once a week to sell their bounty to the general public, and it’s a shame something comparable isn’t happening in much-bigger Bangkok.

Whole-wheat salapao at the organic market

Food for thought, maybe, for an organized and responsible food lover? (Not me). Maybe, just maybe, we can bring in something from Chiang Mai that doesn’t involve hastily-taped cardboard boxes and a few anxious moments by the baggage claim carousel.

Or maybe not.

@anuntakob and @aceimage caught haggling at Suthep Market

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Filed under Asia, food, food stalls, markets, noodles, Northern Thailand, pork, rice, shopping, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

What your khao mun gai place says about you

Have you ever read those stories promising to tell you all you need to know about yourself, based on something completely random, like, what’s in your left pocket at that particular moment, or what ice cream you had last week? I certainly do! Aren’t the findings always totally arbitrary, and frequently infuriating? Yay, random generalizations!

So let’s pass judgment, even though we know absolutely nothing about each other! Where do you like to eat your Hainanese chicken rice?

Montien Hotel Ruenton Coffee Shop (54 Surawongse Rd.)

You like tradition, and stability, and saying you know more than anyone else. You like big portions, and creature comforts, and stuffing your face. You are kind of boring and your friends are only pretending to listen to what you say. You also really like good chicken rice. For the record, this is my favoritest chicken rice, EVAH, still, after all these years. I like this chicken rice almost as much as I, like, commas.

What makes it isn’t really the big tranche of plump, tender chicken meat (dark meat or breast), topped (or not) with a sliver of skin, nestled next to two slices of congealed chicken blood and resting atop sliced tomato and cucumbers. It’s not even really the rice, glistening with chicken fat. It’s the sauce. People who really like sauce will LOVE this dish, which comes with not one, not two, but FOUR sauces: sweet thick, slivered ginger, brown bean/garlic, and soy sauce/chili. Yum!

Khao Mun Gai Gwon Oo (at Thalad Gow, Yaowaraj)

You are straightforward and like simplicity and honesty. You dislike and mistrust frou-frou, complications and anything overly ornate. This means you are a little bit like a hobbit, or other magical little creature that people idealize without actually envying.

I like the chicken rice here because it is about pure chicken flavor. The boiled chicken is presented simply, shredded and without skin, on top of rice carefully cooked in chicken stock and set off by slivered cucumbers for texture. The sauce and soup are almost like afterthoughts. This dish is about substance, not bells and whistles. It’s almost … wholesome (for a dish where chicken fat plays a starring role).

Gai Tawn Pratunam  (Petchburi Soi 30)

You like nostalgia, reminiscing over your plate of food with dusk threatening, headlights sliding past you as you contemplate next week’s work project. You are social and trusting and tend to believe the best in people. Also, you are sort of old.

Random enough for you? Honestly, this place is pretty good, even if I don’t get to it as often as I could. I would totally have included it in my book … if not for the, uh, 50 other food stalls that I put in it. So there’s that. They are proud of their dish and take care in selecting and presenting the best chicken (non-egg-laying female chickens, to be precise) that they can. The soup has good flavor and service is efficient. It has all these things going for it. They don’t need little old me anyway. We can still live together in harmony.

Shanghai Chicken Rice (Rama IV)

You yearn for adventure, newness and surprising others. You hate convention and conformity, and like to be onto the Next Big Thing before anyone else. However, your tendency to tell people about the Next Big Thing helps to undermine you, and can sometimes threaten to make you look like an asshat. You are probably a food blogger.

Because this place is open 24 hours, you are also probably a bit of a night owl. Nighttime is good for you, because this place is a lot less crowded when it’s not serving lunch. You have your choice of steamed or fried chicken, rice with Chinese seaweed, or “Shanghai chicken rice” with a dipping sauce liberally flavored with chili oil. For you, variety is good, and the possibilities are endless.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, chicken, food, food stalls, restaurant, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

Groupthink

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 (tonguefun@gmail.com, 089-111-6836). If worse comes to worst, go find an ESFP. They’ll believe the best about anyone.

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

Will it cut the mustard?

This is not to be confused with cutting the cheese — because of course I will cut the cheese. No, “cutting the mustard” is an old saying that implies something has passed muster, is deemed acceptable. The question here, as always on this blog, refers to food — the future children of my pots and pans.

I am going to be embarking on a cooking challenge, aided by inner voices supplied by Chef McDang and my aunt and Win’s grandmother and whomever else has written a Thai food recipe. I do this because, while I am a competent cook of English roasts and Italian pastas and French, uh, fries, frozen from the bag, I have never put my hand to a real Thai food recipe, not even once. And that bothers me.

That also places me in the realm of the “average-mediocre” in terms of cookery skill here; it won’t be as alienating as reading a cookbook by, say, Thomas Keller, but (hopefully) I won’t be a complete doodoohead either — I do know the difference between a beurre manie and a roux. Which won’t help me much in this case. Yet however.

There is also a post-Songkran bounty of recipes in my house, right at this moment. Win’s grandmother has two restaurant menus-full of them, laced with the Persian-Chinese-Thai influences that run though my husband’s family, who gather in Hua Hin every Thai new year to gorge on khao na gai (rice topped with chicken gravy) and khao buri, or “cigarette rice”, similar to the Thai-Muslim standard khao mok gai except more herbal.

Khao buri

I won’t start with that stuff though. That stuff is too hard.

So why not? It’s not like there is furious demand for my writing services. Somehow editors aren’t peeing themselves in ecstasy over my story ideas about exploring the little-known cuisine of the super-secret community of western Pennsylvanians in Bangkok (cheesy fries on cheese toast, with cheese) or an expose on noodle stalls helmed by cooks born to Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chefs moonlighting as doctors/lawyers/prime ministers on Thonglor. Somehow this gig isn’t working out for me right now. I have plenty of time.

But do I have the mustard? (For the record, I know I don’t need mustard to cook Thai food. At least I know that. I need ketchup).

Wish me luck!

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thai-Muslim, Thailand

Eating in the Year of the Rabbit

Tan Jiao Sua, ancestor to the Chinatown Bunnags

Every Chinese New Year, I look forward to coming to Yaowaraj, or what Thais call their Chinatown. I am not of Chinese descent, so every little ritual —  the burning of mini-replicas of cars and money, the praying to the ancestors, the giving and receiving of tiny little envelopes — holds a particular fascination for me. How did I go through my 70+ years without ringing in the year of the dragon or tiger or pig? How could I have missed out on those years of silky noodles, wobbling pork legs, glistening oranges?

New Year's offerings

So at the crack of dawn we bundle up and make our way down to Chinatown in the hopes of reconnecting with other family members and paying homage to Tan Jiao Sua, the ancestor of my husband’s particular branch of the Bunnag family, descended from Somdet Chao Phraya Pichaiyat. The Bunnags are a very large family with a gigantimongous number of branches, but all historical accounts point to Persian merchant Sheikh Ahmad, who moved to then-Siam in the 17th century, as the first Bunnag ancestor.

Now, the various branches are designated by where they come from: there are Thonburi Bunnags, Ayutthaya Bunnags and Chinatown Bunnags, descended from  Tan Jiao Sua, a former bottle seller in Chinatown who made his fortune after siding with the government during the Chinese uprising. He eventually saw his only daughter married to a Bunnag, and the Pichaiyat branch was born. At the height of their wealth, this family’s holdings included half of Yaowaraj; today, the “company” is all that is left.

But while the history is interesting, what really brings me here is the prospect of stuffing my face. Every year, at the “company” — what my husband’s family  members call their building in Yaowaraj — stands are set up offering oyster omelettes, chicken noodles, Chinese-style rice porridge and braised fatty pork leg. Later in the day, the family elders throw fist-sized gold coins into the air, sending all us “young” people scrambling, abandoning all pretense at dignity as we elbow three-year-olds out of the way to our booty. Later, as those crybabies weep into their baby formula, we gloat and hoot and let the heavy, shiny coins slide through our fingers, counting as we go.

I might be kidding about the last part. Really I am looking forward to the food. But this year, we arrive too early to get at the stands and their bounty. Instead, we are met by a bitter, harassed cleaning lady who says she is working all alone and needs help to get everything ready. So we do what any responsible adult would do and run far away, hiding in the second-floor cafe where we gorge on buttered, white toast and sausage of indeterminate origin, squealing at the occasional cockroach.

Later we go home before most of the family members arrive and are met with a welcome sight: the kind delivery of a vat of braised fatty pork leg, some bowls of clear bamboo shoot soup, and rice. So that is what we have, thinking that the Year of the Rabbit, so far, isn’t so bad after all.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chinatown, Chinese, food, pork, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand