Bamee Road Trip

Tom yum noodles in Chumphon, Thailand

I recently learned that the famous egg noodle vendor featured in last year’s season of “Street Food” on Netflix has closed down, maybe permanently, due to a spinal injury suffered by one of the cooks. It is a shame, but the vendors had been attempting — several times — to retire for a while now. So, enjoy your retirement, guys. I hope your back is better now.

A bowl of egg noodles with crispy pork at Bamee 38, at its last location

Perhaps because bamee, or egg noodles, have been on my mind lately, I’ve been especially susceptible to suggestions that we stop at various famous bamee spots whenever we go on a road trip. Thailand has been pretty good at fighting COVID-19, but as with many other spots, it has not completely stamped it out yet, so I am still wary of getting on a plane. On recent trips to Chiang Mai and Phuket, we ended up traveling by car, which was tedious, yes, but also afforded plenty of opportunities to get our bamee on.

The first spot we tried was in Kamphang Phet on the way back to Bangkok from up North, called Cha Kang Rao Noodle (Ratchadamnern 1, 055-712-446). Here, egg noodles flavored with tom yum (spicy lemongrass) seasonings are the name of the game, and luckily for me, they are my personal favorite when it comes to bamee. The noodles are house-made, silky-smooth and substantially hefty, reminiscent of Japanese noodles. They float in a spicy-salty-sweet broth peppered with chili flakes, minced pork and plenty of chiffonaded coriander leaves which normally annoys me (those coriander leaves get gray and lifeless so quickly in hot broth) but added a great aroma to the dish.

A standard bowl of bamee in soup At Cha Kang Rao Noodle

As for me personally, well, it’s too damn hot. And when it gets too damn hot, I order my noodles broth-free, hang, or dry. Those broth-free noodles don’t come flavor-free, however. There’s plenty of pork, both barbecued and stewed, accompanied by the julienned green beans you see all over bowls in Sukhothai and a fresh glistening wedge of lime, famous in this area.

“Dry” bamee in Kamphang Phet

You have your choice of the egg noodles and/or the hand-tucked dumplings, plus thin (sen lek) or fat (sen yai) noodles, but if you go to the trouble of gettng here, why wouldn’t you have the homemade egg noodles, right? Each bowl is available at the kingly sum of 30 baht.

That’s not to say the South doesn’t boast great tom yum noodles either. I have to say, though, the regional differences really show. Whereas the North is more mannered, with silky lovely noodles and a shower of blanched greens, the South seems to be fully out there, shaking its moneymaker for all to see.

What I mean when I say that is, Tha Pi Sut Noodle in Wang Mai (283/1 Moo 9, Petchkasem Rd., Wang Mai, Chumphon, 080-873-2874) is Patti LaBelle belting “Stir It Up” at the top of her lungs right in your face.

A dry bowl of egg noodles with pork tendon and boiled egg

There’s a dizzying range of choice here, starting with the protein: crunchy pork tendon, seafood (shrimp and squid), “mixed” seafood (shrimp, squid and fish), minced pork with meatballs, or “mixed” (everything). The broth can be tom yum or clear (the choice here is obvious), as well as how much broth: dry, with broth, or nam kluk klick, which means half-full. There is a reason why half-full is an option and it is because a full bowl of this broth is simply Too Much: so much umami, sweetness and spice battling it out that it feels like Kill Bill in your mouth. Brothy noodles lovers should go with nam kluk klick; the ridiculous sounds that one must make while ordering it are worth the fleeting embarrassment.

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Impossible Dream

There has been some valuable discussion lately on the need to diversify viewpoints in the world of food publishing, sparked in part by a story in the New York Times. I have absolutely nothing of value to add to this conversation. What I will add is that, to friends who send me links to NY Times stories about Thai food: This is probably a waste of your time. I will not read it. And it’s not solely because the NY Times will never publish me. It’s because I’m not the intended audience for this article. If your friend Tracy comes to Thailand, you’re happy to see her, even if she brought an extra suitcase full of goldfish crackers and candy bars with her, “just in case” because you know, Thailand. Tracy is still a kind, smart person and a beloved friend with a great sense of humor and a lot to add to conversations. But if she went back home and wrote something about the food she ate while she was here, I confess I would only pretend to read it, because I want to avoid as much cringe in my life as necessary that is not of my own doing. No offense. I love Tracy. She’s just not very adventurous when it comes to food.

giphy

Guess I’m not pitching to the New York Times

(via GIPHY)

What I also love is that this sparks a discussion, all of it important, about what is and what is not possible when it comes to writing for a wide audience now. The NY Times comes under fire often — the “both sides” headlines, the horrible Tom Cotton op-ed — because it is the accepted authority on “everything that’s fit to print” among Americans, and an important news outlet for English speakers around the world. That’s cool when sources are all too happy to be interviewed by you, but not so cool when people start to dissect what you say. Everything that is being consumed all over the world — media, entertainment, and yes, food — is being reexamined and the old ways of writing about other cultures, genders, even politics, are no longer cutting it. There is an ad on CNN for Michael Smerconish that never fails to irritate me because he asks, “Whatever happened to when we were united against a common enemy?” The answer to that is,  minority people simply weren’t saying anything because they had more than one enemy. What he’s really saying is, whatever happened to when people kept their mouths shut?

One story that I absolutely loved in the New York Times Magazine by Isabel Wilkerson talks about how this reawakening has led to a necessary examination of the old structure that has held up this status quo for decades in the U.S. She likens the American race problem to systemic rot that has seeped into the foundations of a home, threatening to send it all toppling down if not addressed. But one of my favorite moments was of her recollection of attempting to interview a Chicago store owner for a NY Times “Miracle Mile” story, and being brushed off by him because the NY Times reporter was due “any minute now”, refusing to acknowledge that Wilkerson herself was the reporter he was so eagerly awaiting. Things like this have happened to me many, many times, and I don’t even write for the NY Times. I saw myself in that moment, on that page. That doesn’t happen very often to me there.

As a middle-aged woman with all the life draining from me as we speak, I had come to accept that my cultural limbo — an Asian with a hard, inedible little American core — was ultimately a story that’s been “told before”, worthy of hearing only once before heading to the next “OMG durian!” or “bargirls eating bugs!” story. To hear that there may be more places for this “novelty” point of view, as well as many others, is something that I never dreamed possible.

 

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No more

 

 

YELLOWPERILBLACKPOWER

From artist Monyee Chau at chinesebornamerican.com

While watching the horrible video of George Floyd’s “arrest” on the news, I couldn’t help but also try to get in the mindset of the Asian officer Tou Thao, watching everything unfold in front of him. He seemed silent, looking around, at times watching with the detachment of a bystander who just happened to stumble upon the scene while out buying milk. He looked like the very illustration of a man who was just looking to get on with his day. This, to me, embodied the attitude of the Asian community as a whole. “Not our fight,” they said. “I just work here.” “Go along to get along.” “I’m just here doing my own thing.” “Don’t make waves so we can make money.”

I’m not talking about the Asian activists who are out there fighting against police brutality and racial injustice. They are awesome and far braver than I. But too many of us Asians have been sheltered, shielded literally by black and brown communities from a barrage of overt aggressions. These aggressions hit us sometimes — “Go back to your country!” “You guys are dirty and disgusting!” “Apologize for coronavirus!”(not linking to Fox News) — but are often expressed as microaggressions instead of outright hostility. As a result, Asians often bend over backwards trying to explain to white people that “we aren’t those kinds of Asians that you don’t like, whomever they may be” or taking on all of the burden to make white people like us.

Many of us, including me, have been silent for too long for fear of alienating our white allies. We can’t do that anymore. For my fellow Asians who align against the Black Lives Matter movement, please take a good look in the mirror, and I mean that literally. What do you think the man whom you support sees?

I pledge to do better. I hope my fellow Asians do the same.

That said, I just can’t with this right now. It’s too much of an easy dunk. This is from @Bangkokfoodieofficial’s Facebook page.

facebook

Look, most of Thailand has no idea about race relations in the U.S. And they clearly have their own issues with colorism.  But at the very least, I hope this company donates some of their proceeds to the Black Lives Matter movement that they are championing here.

 

 

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