Friday, November 09, 2007
Bangkok Bound: All I could eat and then some…part 1
We are back and what a trip that was! I am still on a wonderful Thai-high and I just don’t want to come down :) Bangkok was an amazing adventure in so many ways and at so many levels…it certainly did not disappoint all my whimsical imaginings.
Bangkok is a frenetic dance of old world and new; endlessly swirling in vibrant color, so you never know where one ends and the other begins. It is a monk’s silent gaze and a teenager’s flippant swish of her micro-mini-skirt. It is awe-inspiring temples to Buddha and mind-boggling temples to commerce. It is bustling markets filled with all manners of goods and shiny new malls that taunt you with high-end designers. It is a riot you can lose yourself in…it is a riot you want to lose yourself in.
Of course, weaving in and around everything, there is the food. Immensely important and central to life in Thailand…and rightfully so. Its flavors are intense, crisp, clean, bright. Thai food is like a symphony with each note having its own distinct character, clear as a bell, that immediately draws your attention, but still has the ability to blend perfectly with all the other flavor notes. And let’s face it; more than anything else, I was in Bangkok to taste that symphony for myself.
I love Thai food, and although we have some pretty good Thai places here, I had listened to friends go on about how “nothing compares to Thai food in Thailand” one too many times. It was finally my turn! I could feel the kaffir lime and chilies even before our plane touched down. Like before, I’m dividing my trip into highlights for easy digestion :)
The gastronomic highlights on our trip (part 1):
This was a recommendation from Robyn of Eating Asia, who graciously shared with me a wealth of tips for Bangkok eating. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to them all (more for next time!), but I did get to this…and were we ever glad we did! Chote Chitr is a tiny five-table gem of a place tucked away down an unassuming lane off Tanao road. It’s a short cab ride from the Grand Palace so we hopped over for lunch in between wats (temples). The chalkboard menu outside was all in Thai, which only made me more excited. We placed ourselves in the capable hands of the very charming proprietress, only asking for the mee krob (crispy noodles with a sweet-sour-salty sauce). The rest we left up to her. Aside from the mee krob, we ended up with a steaming bowl of tôm yam (spicy and sour soup), hor mok (fish in red curry steamed in banana leaves), and steamed rice. This was one of my best meals in Bangkok...one of my best experiences in Bangkok. Everything from hunting the place down, to its cozy feel, the afternoon breeze that wafted in throughout the meal, the complete absence of foreigners (except for us), the helpful proprietress, her unbelievably fluffy dog, the tôm yam that was the best I had ever tasted (she used heart of palm instead of the usual mushrooms – for its sweetness she said), the mee krob that was excellent in every sweet-sour-spicy-crunchy bite, my first taste of hor mok (with its delicate pieces of fish cradled gently in a bed of softly set red curry which hid a mound of fragrant Thai basil leaves all ensconced in a banana leaf cup), to the satisfied lethargy that enveloped me after this perfect meal. Chote Chitr – 146 Phraeng Phutorn, Tanao road.
After our meal in Chote Chitr, I wanted to try another of Robyn’s recommendations – the sticky rice at Kor Panich, which is said to be the best. The kind lady over at Chote Chitr gamely offered to walk us there (it was just out of the lane and across the main street). Apparently, it’s been around for quite some time and with good reason…the sticky rice is really all that delicious! A big covered metal bowl contains the rice which the girls behind the counter open to stir once you’ve placed your order. You buy the mangoes from another lady that is sitting right outside the shop. We got our order to go since we were still full from our lunch and had one more wat to see. They pack it all up for you, peeling and slicing the mango and including a plastic pouch of coconut milk and another of the crunchy topping, as well as some plastic utensils. I had this scrumptious dessert sitting on a bench at Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn…more on this later), in the shade of one of its chedis (large bell shaped tower). Bliss. Kor Panich – 431-33 Tanao road.
Street Food and Market Stall Hawkers
I was soon to find out that, just as it is hard to take a bad photo in Boracay, or have a bad coffee in Spain, it is hard to have a bad meal in Bangkok (oh, I’m sure there are whammies hiding there somewhere, but I thankfully didn’t bump into them). This is probably because there is such deliciousness to be found on every sidewalk corner and down every tiny soi (lane). Bangkok’s streets are literally lined in gastronomic gold. Being a big fan of, not only Thai food, but street food in general (we have our own gems too…more on that someday!), I was determined to sample all this city had to offer. Let me tell you, I could have eaten double what I did and I would still feel that it wasn’t enough. I had sweet coconut water still in its husk, vendors hacking at it to crack the shell and insert my straw, then scraping out all the tender meat for me to eat with my fingers. I had deep fried sweet things at Chatuchak Market that look too tempting to even ask what they were (banana fritters I think I was told…but I would have tried it no matter what it was). Outdoor hawkers at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar served a dizzying array of dishes…each one looking better than the next (not that I was in any way daunted oh no not me), the perfect re-charge after a night of shopping. C had grilled chicken and I had som tam, a spicy green papaya salad that I am now seriously, irrevocably addicted to, and we shared a plate of phad thai (stir-fried noodles). We had grilled chicken and pork on sticks in between the ruins of Ayutthaya (more on that later)…the hunger-inducing smell reeling us in. Hot of the grill, they were incredibly juicy and soft and so tasty. We ate them standing in the grill-smoke, oil and juices dripping down our chins. At one such stall the meat suspiciously did not taste like chicken (although they told me it was)…did I care? Not me! It tasted even better than chicken! Bring it on I say!
I have divided my Bangkok eating highlights into two posts to avoid getting long-winded (although I fear it is much too late for that). I meant to have it all in one post before I realized exactly how much I could just go ON and ON about this cuisine that obviously has me on a leash. I’ll be posting about the sights and such too…temples, shopping, Thai massage and more! Stay tuned! :)