Phuket Spread

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Breakfast at Boonrat Dimsum

These are the dog days of summer, which is why I have not been writing as much as I should. I have holed myself up in Phuket with directives from my editor to update my book, but I have been unable to do any work, since it would impinge on my eating everything in sight in a bid to transform into Russell Crowe. I am only halfway there right now. Catch me in a few months, when I will look like I am auditioning for the lead role in a George Lucas biopic.

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Documenting the amuse-bouches at Pru, where set menus are 6 or 8 courses, but they surprise you with more stuff

One thing I did manage to do was convince my friends to trek into the Old Town, where gorging on dim sum for breakfast is a thing. Everyone is familiar with dim sum (aka yum cha), but the experience in Phuket is unique. Because this is Thailand, most of the difference is in the sauces. The dipping sauce is thick, sweet and spicy, meant for everything on the table; when you don’t feel like that, you have the tart black vinegar known as zisho, ideal for the rolled rice noodles stuffed with minced pork, or the steamed pork dumplings crowned with bits of fried garlic.

Because of the island’s sizable Chinese population, Phuket is chock-a-block with dim sum places, some more reminiscent of the motherland than others. But for a real Phuket dim sum experience, few are more famous than Boonrat Dimsum . However, both Boonrat Dimsum shops are only open from 6-10am, which means a mad scramble into town unless, unlike us, you managed to get to bed nice and early the night before. The worry was that we would be unable to pick out the humble shophouse with the red sign on the road, but we needn’t have worried, since it was the only place completely mobbed with waiting customers.

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The Boonrat Dimsum sign

Both branches have the same open shophouse setting, with the various offerings — steamed dumplings, various meatballs, stewed pork ribs, steamed buns — out in front for you to poke at and salivate over until your table is called. Despite the enormous queue, tables were quick to turn over — so quick, in fact, that my friends, who had opted for a quick snack of pig’s trotter on rice (khao kha moo) next door during our wait, had to cut short their pre-breakfast and hurry back.

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Pork trotter next door

(Photo by Christian Bauer)

Because we were just on the edge of closing time, there were only a few things to choose from: specialties like rice porridge, sausages, sticky rice dumplings, everything deep-fried, radish cakes, steamed stuffed buns and even chicken feet were all gone. Instead, we had to content ourselves with steamed pork, crab and shrimp dumplings, seaweed-wrapped minced pork, steamed rice noodles with pork, and numerous meatballs made from either fish or pork bits. It was still a substantial spread. My friends, who were Chinese Malaysian, said they had never experienced dim sum like it before, which is a very good thing to say because it gives you the choice to take it positively.

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The next time I come, I will, obviously, come earlier. I might even come on a weekend, when yellow chicken curry with steamed buns are available. Who knows, I might even treat myself to the Boonrat “Gold” branch, where fried spring rolls and Western breakfasts are available (although why would you order a Western breakfast at a dim sum shop? It reminds me of those Thai seafood places that offer plates of sad, soggy fried chicken wings on limp lettuce leaves as a consolation prize for the one seafood hater who couldn’t be left at home).

And, of course, I will need to find more hungry friends.

 

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Glutton Abroad: The Case of the Missing Appetite

It was like a body, dressed haphazardly in formalwear, glasses askew and smeared lipstick on a too-young face, discovered behind a couch in the library. It was a purple-faced vicar collapsing to the ground in convulsions in the middle of a cocktail party. It was a reviled industrialist with a mean streak, found murdered in a locked bedroom.

It was my appetite.

Now, my appetite had its share of enemies. It had cut many a mighty swathe through even the most intimidating of restaurant tables, guest house countertops groaning under the weight of myriad dishes, cows mooing in the fields, etc. But the facts are irrefutable, and they are this:

  1. The appetite went missing during the week of July that I was in London
  2. The suspects could only have been those encountered in the course of that week
  3. The prime suspects are one of the following places, unless they all ganged up, “Murder On the Orient Express”-style, and finished it off together

Suspect 1: St. John

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The famous bone marrow with a parsley-caper relish at St. John

There is no denying the impact that nose-to-tail pioneer St. John has had on the global restaurant scene. Indeed, there was a period of time when no restaurant could open without claiming to be a “nose-to-tail” specialist, all the while serving only oxtail stew and a token pig’s ear or tail terrine of some sort (but I digress). St. John was the first to make that philosophy paradoxically glamorous, and I have been a fan of chef Fergus Henderson for years (I even have the cookbook). I had wanted to go for as long as I can remember.

Knowing this, I tried as best as I can to wake up my appetite for this momentous event by having only a coffee for breakfast. So I thought it was well-equipped to take on the kohlrabi salad, mustardy pig’s tongue with green beans and pickled shallots, half of my daughter’s sweetbreads and a taste of my husband’s roasted marrow — normally a walk in St. James Park for this creature, aka my appetite. And even though everything was perfect, seasoned just the way I like it, and served with the good humor and aplomb that only the best places can muster, I still felt like a lead weight had invaded my insides after about an hour, and was forced to miss the mummies at the British Museum in favor of sleeping it all off back at my hotel room. Later, I caught a performance of “The Lehman Trilogy” at the Piccadilly Theater (full disclosure: I am a 0.0000000001 percent investor), which means I had only one meal that day. What happened???????????

2. The Wolsley

Since skipping breakfast didn’t work, why not just get a good meal out of the way? Truth be told, The Wolsley was not my choice, but my husband’s, who wanted to have what he said were the best scones in the world. Alas, we are Asian, so we did not know that scones are not served for breakfast. Luckily, The Wolsley has a great breakfast: there are deviled kidneys, and kedgeree, and kippers, none of which I ordered. This is because there was a bacon sandwich on the menu. I also got a Chelsea bun because I didn’t know what it was. It turns out that it is like a cinnamon bun without the cinnamon.

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The Wolsley’s Chelsea bun

According to The Wolsley’s website, it is the most profitable restaurant in London, and I am pretty sure I know why. Upon entrance to the dining room, you are stopped by a maitre’d, who at a moment’s notice assesses your person to determine where you should sit in the dining room. It turns out that The Wolsley’s maitre’d is not an avid reader of Bangkok Glutton. We were dispatched to an upstairs Siberia, where I actually enjoyed a great view of the entire dining room and how this informal hierarchy gets arranged (the most coveted tables appear to be directly in the middle, which doesn’t make sense to me since there’s no good vantage point for spying on other people). Service was similarly condescending, adept at giving you the feeling you are being well tolerated. The result? I want to go to The Wolsley every day for breakfast (but only if I get the same table every time.)

3. Tayyabs

I don’t think any food lover goes to London without some intention of hitting up some South Asian goodness. London is a hotbed of great Indian and Pakistani restaurants, and all I had to do was pick one. My friend Gareth said that he was confounded as to why I would trek all the way out to Whitechapel when Dishoom was right there, but then again he’s not as crazy about Indian food as I. Because the fact of the matter is, Tayyabs is one of the most famous Indian restaurants in London for a reason.

Tayyabs specializes in Punjabi food, but is crowded with people of all stripes at just about any time of the day. I want to say that taking the trouble of booking a table in advance was useful, but I’m not really sure if they cared. They will simply stick you anywhere you will fit, Thai street food-style.

There are a few dishes that everybody orders: the tarka dal, chicken tikka masala (the General Tso’s chicken of the British Indian food world), the tandoori chicken. Everything is a bit more fiery, less creamy and rich than the Indian food you get in Bangkok. But the standouts are the lamb chops, which are really out of this world, intense enough to make me momentarily forget about my missing appetite troubles.

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Dinner at Tayyab’s: tarka dal, chicken biryani, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala

4. New Fortune Cookie

Folks, if you ever find yourself in London and for some reason or other are in search of a Thai person, have no fear: you will find that Thai person at New Fortune Cookie in Queensway. Make sure you come during the first lunch shift, because after 1pm the dining rooms will be taken up by actual Chinese people.

The food here is excellent. I can’t say if it’s the best roast duck in London, but it’s got to be one of the best. And I’m not saying that because, even though we stayed only a few steps away from Chinatown, we never braved the queue at Four Seasons. Why would we do that, when we can just traipse into New Fortune Cookie at noon (after one quick Tube ride, or almost-as-quick bus ride) and get a table immediately?

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Don’t worry, we overordered, and people had to take leftovers home after lunch. And don’t worry, I wanted to die after eating. But I promise you that not a shred of that duck was left (and, protip, you can also order it with all the bones already taken out).

 

 

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Ped, ped, goose

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Roast ped — or duck — at Duck Noodle House

My friend Mauricio, who is one of the very few Thai food chefs in Brazil, told me about this duck place while discussing his favorite solo lunch places in Bangkok. Thinking I had stumbled on a sparkling new discovery, I asked my friends if they would be up for a bit of exploration.

“Oh that place?” said James (who lives across the river and also gave me the title for this post). “I always take my guests there before we get on the boat.”

It’s Duck Noodle House, but locals know it by its real name, Ped Thun Jao Ta (Stewed Duck at the Pier, 945 Soi Wanit 2, 02-233-2541) or, more simply, “the duck noodles at Talat Noi”. The most popular order is, for sure, the bamee (egg noodles), served simply crowned with slices of tender duck in a Daffy-rich broth, but plenty of diners also opt for the plate of sliced stewed duck paired with a simple bowl of white rice. Goose is also available, but it’s clearly a second-class citizen in this joint. Indeed, so popular is the duck that the pile of roasted birds that greeted me upon entry to this shophouse was nearly depleted when we had finished our meal, about 30 minutes later.

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James’s order

What excited me, though, was the guaythiew kua ped (fried rice noodles with egg and duck), which I had never eaten before. This is Mauricio’s favorite lunch in Bangkok, and what I had set my heart on.

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Fried duck noodles

I have to say, guaythiew kua in its normal form is not my favorite street food dish, although I do enjoy a nice big faceful of grease every now and then. Although duck is also quite a fatty, rich meat, it felt totally at home with this silky, uber-comforting plate of soft slicked rice noodles, unhindered by a negligible amount of egg and paired with a little bowl of Sriracha sauce (Sriracha Panij, to be precise). Or, I could just have been hungry. It was a revelation to me, at least.

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The front of the shophouse

 

 

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Little Portugal

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Plates of kanom jeen gai kua at Yai Thi

I noticed that I haven’t been complaining about the heat lately, so I thought it was time to get back to my regularly scheduled programming. It’s really hot, guys. Even when it’s supposed to be rainy season, it’s still hot. The rain doesn’t really help very much. This heat sucks. The end.

But even with this heat, I still managed to corral a few of my friends into taking me to the Portuguese neighborhood of Kudichin, centered on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River around the Santa Cruz church. This patch of land was awarded to the Portuguese by King Taksin for their help in fighting the Burmese in Ayutthaya, and they have retained a cultural hold on the neighborhood ever since. I’m sure you already know about the impact the Portuguese have had on Thai culture, but to fill up this post with more words, I will say that the seafaring adventure-lovers that were the Portuguese spread their culture all over the world. This includes Asia, where they introduced us to heretofore unheard-of ingredients like chilies and created desserts like the egg-and-sugar extravaganza tong yod (a stand in for ovos moles) and kanom mor gang (a coconut custard, inspired by tigelada). Some other stuff the Portuguese brought to us: foy tong or “gold threads”, a stand-in for fios de ovos; look choop, mini fruits inspired by massapa’es but filled with mung bean instead of marzipan; corn; potatoes; guava (!); pineapple (!); papaya (!); cashew nuts (!); pumpkin (!). And of course tomatoes, which they brought to everyone, including the Italians. This is new stuff we all learned at the Baan Kudichin Museum.

Kudichin has something for everyone here, really: history buffs, architecture and design geeks, or people who really like walking around in hot places. For me, of course, it was the promise of food that I would not be able to find anywhere else, the Portuguese-Sino-Thai dish of kanom jeen gai kua, or fermented rice noodles in a mild chicken curry.

What makes this chicken curry and noodle dish different from, say, a standard Thai kanom jeen gang gai are the spices used to season the coconutty curry, which are mixed quite happily in a food processor instead of pounded in a mortar and pestle to release the oils (a shameful practice to Thais, who like to pretend that the food processor or blender don’t exist). The chicken is minced like in a bolognese and flavored with fish sauce, coconut milk, and a hint of chili. The garnish is always slivered green onion. The result is milder and lighter than something you would find elsewhere in Thailand, the flavors fewer and more focused. It is, not surprisingly, utterly delicious. I ended doing this thing where I tried to stuff it down my throat like I was a foie gras goose, but I was doing it to myself. This is not healthy behavior.

The first place where we had this is said to be the jao gow, or original vendor of the dish. Directly across from the Santa Cruz church next to the river, Yai Thi (02-472-5231) offers their most famous dish — prominently advertised in front of the restaurant — alongside more Portuguese-inflected fare like grilled pork chops with fries and a succession of thick toast with various toppings, including spinach with cheese and butter with caramel. There are chicken nuggets and waffled mashed potatoes, onion rings and garlic bread. It is essentially your picky 4-year-old’s dream restaurant.

Our favorite creation, though, was the banana “crepe”, which is actually a deep-fried samosa stuffed with mashed ripe banana. We thought it would be everywhere on our walk from the church to the Kudichin Museum, but it ended up being a unique thing to this restaurant.

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You will have to remove your shoes to enter the “dining room”, which in this case, appears to be the family living room. The kitchen is located right next to the river, so that the chef can enjoy a pleasant view while preparing your order. In our (in)expert opinion, it appears that various households in the neighborhood are supplementing their income this way, by welcoming strangers into their homes for meals. This is what we surmised, anyway, after heading next door to the next place serving kanom jeen, called Pa Jae (080-305-2448). Unlike Yai Thi, the menu is more Chinese-focused, offering stir-fried pork in oyster sauce on rice, fried shrimp on rice, and macaroni in tomato sauce besides the requisite rice noodles with chicken curry.

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Unlike Yai Thi, you are expected to add your own nam prik of coconut milk and blended chilies, which looks like this:

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A plus for Pa Jae is the karaoke, which is performed at your table, while eating your noodles. We blitzed our way through John Denver’s “Country Roads” (a Thai karaoke bar staple), what I believe was “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (I can’t be expected to remember things anymore) and “Top of the World” by the Carpenters before we took pity on the proprietors and showed ourselves out. The karaoke was free, something that maybe the owners should rectify in the future if they value their own mental health.

The third place we were aiming for was the most famous restaurant in the neighborhood, Baan Sakul Thong (213 Soi Kudichin 3, 062-605-5665), where we are told the dishes come from the recipes of great-grandmother Chawee Sakulthong. A set here is slightly more expensive than the other restaurants we visited, at 250 baht per person for a plate of the chicken noodles with two appetizers, a dessert and a soft drink.  Appetizers include Royal Thai-type stuff like chor muang (steamed dumplings stuffed with minced pork and dyed purple with butterfly pea extract) and jeeb tua nok (bird-shaped steamed dumplings stuffed with chicken). When we got there, we were confused by which door was the entrance and ended up busting in on a private family meal. Apparently, reservations must be made 2-3 days in advance. It took all of my willpower to not snap a photo of the family’s food from over their shoulders. I am not yet a savage.

So Baan Sakul Thong was a wash, but it wouldn’t do to not have something to look forward to on our next visit to Kudichin. Wasn’t it Kierkegaard who said that true despair was having all of your wishes fulfilled? Maybe not. I was never that good of a student.

 

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Kindred spirits

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If you want to know what I was ranting about before, of course it is about Game of Thrones and Kit Harrington’s reaction to the script, which was terrible /endrant

My sister Chissa has been on my case for a while for not mentioning her in my blog. This is not true, but it is true that I have not mentioned her by name. So here I am, doing that. My sister is Chissa, and she is one of my best friends.

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I was wondering (briefly, because there is Netflix to be watched) about why I rarely mention Chissa, and I think it is because we never eat street food together. Sometimes we talk about going to a street food place, but it’s with the same kind of enthusiasm where you tell someone “we have to have dinner sometime” and then the both of you immediately regret it because they will have to think of an excuse not to go and you have to pretend to be senile and forget about it. So we don’t end up going for street food, because 1.) it is hot, 2.) a lot of it is far and 3.) Chissa is kind of a gourmet person, as opposed to a person like me, who loves MK and Hooters. This means any old street food won’t do, and do we want to wait 7 hours for dinner, really? It has to be 100 percent for real guaranteed, and, oh yeah, 4.) it has to allow for copious amounts of booze. This is too much pressure for me, which is why I always end up suggesting El Mercado.

But I went somewhere last week that I think Chissa would appreciate. That place is Someday Everyday (Next to Warehouse 30 on Charoen Krung Soi 30, open daily 9am-6pm), a khao gang (curry rice) venture spearheaded by culinary kindred spirits David Thompson (arguably the most famous Thai food chef in the world) and Prin Polsuk (one of the best Thai food chefs I know). Now curry rice is not only a type of Thai street food vendor but also an action on the part of the consumer: you are presented with your plate of rice (or kanom jeen, or fermented rice noodles, if you are in the South) and you have your choice of several curries and stir-fries with which to adorn your starch. Someday Everyday presents this hallowed street tradition — popular as a to-go breakfast on the way to the office, or during lunchtime when you are running away from the office — but in dressed-up Greyhound-y surroundings, and with top-notch ingredients that are good enough to warrant the THB90+ price tag. In other words, it’s a good tip of the hat to the tradition of Thai street food while still retaining the feel of a restaurant.

 

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House-made tong yip, tong yod and foy tong, Portuguese-style sweets made of egg and sugar

Even better, they have Rama V-era dishes that would be difficult to find on the street where prices have to be kept as low as they go — I mean, nam prik kapi is a stretch — so you find stuff alongside mainstays like green curry and pullo (Chinese 5-spice) eggs, like pork with madan leaves, nam prik (chili paste dip) and a gang gai (chicken curry) which is simply explained to me in English (several times) as “red curry” even though in my husband’s family, gang gai is always green WTF people are different!

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Lunch

There is a specials menu as well as a roster of regulars, so that the kitchen can feature great produce in season and you don’t get bored and blasé about the whole thing. Perhaps best of all, there is dessert, so you are spared from rushing to After You or, God forbid, Starbucks to satisfy your sweet tooth after the meal.

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Black sticky rice with coconut and longan

Awesome food? Check. Air-conditioning? Check. Cool neighborhood? Check. Booze? I don’t think they care. This has it all when you’re hot from the boat and don’t want to risk getting even hotter eating soup noodles on the main road.

Now all I have to do is convince Chissa to trek all the way there.

 

 

 

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Subverted expectations

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Mee krob at Meng Lee

People who have been reading my blog for a while know that I occasionally enjoy writing about “Game of Thrones”. This is in spite of the fact that no one has ever asked me my opinion on “Game of Thrones”. You’re welcome, world.

But saying anything now seems like a pile-on to basically everyone else on the planet who watched the finale. Can I add to what Aaron Rodgers, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have already said? No, I can’t. I can only subvert expectations by saying that I hope to kinda forget about the last few episodes as thoroughly as Dany kinda forgot about the Iron Fleet.

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I AM DISAPPOINT

(Photo by Karen Blumberg)

Luckily, there is food to channel all my rage into. I have been trying my share of great food, without bothering to take many photos, because I am realizing that the constant documentation takes me out of the moment too much. It is no longer enjoyable for me to imagine what other people will think of what I’m eating. Also, I think Instagram is ruining food, more than even Michelin, San Pellegrino and the celebrity chef culture (btw, follow me at @bangkokglutton)!

It’s hard to get your food, though, when your server is running away from you like Dave B. and Dan W. running away from enraged GOT fans. Also, when the restaurant is turning away foreign customers when they threaten to give the restaurant their money. This is what happened at Meng Lee (Na Phra Lan Road next to Silpakorn University, open daily 11am-7pm), and I’m thinking it’s pretty lucky that I managed to slip through the door like a Faceless Man without having to unleash my crappy Thai.

You’d be right to think that it’s crazy for a Thai restaurant across the street from the Grand Palace to turn away foreigners, almost as crazy as sending out warriors to fight dead things in the dark. But then again, you’re not Meng Lee. This Thai-Chinese restaurant is a longstanding “cookshop”, a type of Bangkok-specific eatery that serves Thai-Chinese versions of Western favorites. These are the dishes that the courts of Rama IV and Rama V served to Western dignitaries to show that they were “sivalai” (the Thai term for “civilized”). As yucky as this whole enterprise might seem upon deeper examination, this “sivalai” cooking could be credited with helping the kingdom in the long run, aiding in the effort to keep Siam (all together now) the only uncolonized country in the region.

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Meng Lee is — alongside fellow golden oldies Silom Pattakan, Florida Hotel Restaurant and Chairoj  — part of a Dothraki-like tribe of cookshops, which serve a distinctly Bangkokian form of cuisine. It basically comes from a smattering of recipes handed down from the chefs who helmed the palaces, embassies and wealthy households offering this type of food. Because Western chefs were difficult to import into Asia, most of the chefs hired were Hainanese, who, like the “water dancers” of Essos with their swords, were blessed with sterling reputations for great cooking. As a result, the ensuing dishes ended up being a hybrid of Thai, Chinese and Western influences.

Every restaurant specializes in something different, but every cookshop serves a “steak salad”, or salat nuea san. Here the meat comes unsliced and simply panfried to an innocuous beige, set next to a green salad with a tart-sweet clear dressing that is canonically accurate (unlike GOT seasons 7 and 8).

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There is also always mee krob, the crispy tart-sweet fried rice noodles dressed in tamarind and citrus that have become a Varys-ish caricature of themselves in recent years, lacquered to a cloying caramel crisp. Here, it is a soft jumble of mild crunch and tang, pleasant and comforting and not at all aggressive. Now, like the reason behind maintaining a Night’s Watch, no one knows why mee krob is always served at a cookshop. It is not particularly Western, Western-seeming or Chinese. We can only assume that, like Podrick Payne’s supposed hunkiness, it is something that simply caught on.

Not to say there isn’t anything else very Asian, because of course there is. Meng Lee is known for its beef-kale stir-fry, which, like Davos the Onion Knight, comes as you would expect, with no nasty surprises.

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And then there’s the omelet. Maybe Jay Fai has spoiled us all. But this is a latter-stage Tyrion Lannister version of a crab omelet, something I might slap together hung over and resentful over the intrusion of friends I’d invited over to the house the night before.

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At the end of the day, it might not be the food itself that lures you — if you make it past the Unsullied at the door — to this quiet corner shophouse oasis in the middle of everything touristy. It’s the nifty time travel that happens once you are seated: the checkered floor, the ceiling fans, and, yes, the elusive, super-shy servers. You are not transported “back” to fantasy medieval times; instead, you find yourself in mid-20th century Bangkok, when things seemed a lot simpler and the heat wasn’t quite so oppressive. Maybe this is enough reward to brave a trip through Meng Lee’s green door (BITTERSWEET).

 

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The New North

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Khao soy at Ong-Tong

Before Winner left to visit his family in California, he took me to Maliwan Kanom Thai (Ari Soi 1) to buy 20 bags of their pandan-flavored kanom chan (layered jelly of sticky rice flour and coconut milk). It’s just one of a bunch of great street food stalls on the street — and incidentally, part of an area that was saved from being cleared by the government thanks to the vendors banning together to petition City Hall. In case you are ever lost on Ari Soi 1 and in desperate need of some Thai street dessert, you will always be able to pick out Maliwan by the long line of people waiting patiently for a shot at their sankaya fuk tong (pumpkin stuffed with coconut custard) or khao niew dum kati (sweet coconut milk-covered black sticky rice). Although the kanom chan is probably the most popular offering at Maliwan, I am embarrassed to say we completely cleaned out their store of the green ones, although the purple (butterfly pea) and brown (original) were still available. Not that this information will help you in any way today.

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Maliwan’s pandan kanom chan

Despite Ari Soi 1’s cup overflowingeth with great street food choices, we could not pass up the chance to try the new(ish?) Northern Thai spot Ong-Tong Khaosoi Ari (17 Phahonyothin Soi 7, 02-003-5254), since Winner knows I love to complain about things and am rarely satisfied by Northern Thai food in Bangkok.

I will start out by saying that I have recently come back from braving the toxic air in Chiang Mai, where I indulged in old favorites at Huen Jai Yong (which I’ve written about before).

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Pak waan stew at Huen Jai Yong

I also had a chance to try the new “face” of the Northern Thai food scene a la Blackitch Artisan Kitchen, where local food celeb Chef Black is turning Thai ingredients into exciting new dishes, with the help of a pioneering spirit and a willingness to experiment.

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Works in progress at Blackitch: a silkworm fish sauce, fermenting shrimp heads, pickling Sichuan peppercorns

Ong-Tong doesn’t do this sort of high-concept experimentation, which is OK, because that makes Ong-Tong 1.) way cheaper and 2.) far less crowded (bookings only at Blackitch, and even then, be prepared to spend a lot of time by yourself downstairs in a room that resembles the cellar in a horror movie). The height of CRAY at Ong-Tong is their pairing of dry khao soy with sai oua (Northern Thai sausages), which could sound amazing but sort of lands with an anticlimactic huh on the palate. It’s sort of like Northern Thai chop suey. But you be the judge.

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Khao soy sans broth with sai oua

As for the namesake dish, khao soy, well … how bad can it get at this point? It’s egg noodles in a coconut milk-enriched curry broth, right? How can anyone hate on that and not be a total monster? All the same, I feel a little (a lot) like this dish, as lovely as it is, as much like the most popular and nicest sorority sister at the state university as it is … is sort of becoming the pad Thai of the millennial age. Ubiquitous, everywhere, inoffensive, universally loved. All hail, Asian Taylor Swift in noodle form.

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Not to say that this place is one big meh. A personal favorite — and something I like to complain about almost as much as GOT’s Benioff and Weiss or Donald Trump’s face — is kanom jeen nam ngiew, a fermented rice dish that features a thick pork stew (in Chiang Mai they add tomatoes, which flattens the flavors out a bit) seasoned with fermented beans (tua nao). And at Ong-Tong, hey, it’s good! I know I wasn’t expecting it either. The trick is lots and lots of deep-fried garlic.

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I’m thinking it will take a couple more decades for this dish to be as played out as pad Thai and khao soy — after all, there is still kua gai (stir-fried chicken noodles), kanom jeen nam ya (Southern-style rice noodles in fish curry) and even tum sua (somtum with rice noodles) waiting to be unleashed on the world. Until then, I can find plenty of other stuff to complain about.

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