We were meeting with a former work-colleague of C’s (who is now based in Bangkok) for dinner and were asked to pick a place. We decided to go with a recommendation from our good friend Christine of Ramblings from a Gypsy Soul. She had eaten in Somboon Seafood during her trip to Bangkok and had rave reviews. Serving Thai-Chinese food, Somboon Seafood is a popular restaurant for both tourists and locals. With good reason – the food was fantastic! My only regret is that we were only three people and couldn’t order everything on the menu! We had the Curried Crab which is their specialty. C ordered a steamed garoupa “with lemonade and chili”. Hmmm. Something must have been lost in translation there. We figured that it was prepared with lemon and chili, which sounded good to us. Looking at the menu, I thought to myself that “lemonade and chili” sounded much cuter and “lemon and chili” ever could :) Cute name or no, this fish was a revelation. Lemon and chili sounds familiar enough but, like all dishes in Thailand it seemed, the flavors were so sharp and distinct…like I could taste each one as if they were answering a roll call. Aside from the chili and the lemon, the fish was piled with cilantro/coriander, an herb which I love (and had in shameful amounts while in Bangkok, along with Thai basil). The crab curry was fabulous…like nothing I had tasted before. Was it Thai? Chinese? A blend of both? I couldn’t tell. But as I was poking the shells for bits of meat and scraping up all the luscious sauce (which was a mysterious consistency between solid and liquid) I figured that perhaps it didn’t matter. The third and last dish we had (not including the steamed rice which we had at every meal) was the Fried Morning Glory (like our kang-kong), water spinach fried with garlic. Simple enough but just as tasty as the other two dishes we had. We washed everything down with two bottles of the local Singha beer. Definitely worth being taking for a ride! (Please read Christine’s post about being taken for a ride on a tuktuk…the same thing happened to us, but because we were forewarned by her post we were able to avoid a scam). Somboon Seafood: Surawong Road.
The Infamous Food Courts
Aside from the street food, another Bangkok gastro-destination touted by many are the food courts found in the many malls around the city. The food courts are huge halls lined with stalls that sell many of the dishes you will find on the street, much of them just as good. Although I do enjoy the home-cooked edge that street food has when actually sold on the street, after a day of marathon shopping, enjoying these dishes in air-conditioned comfort is no small luxury. We ate at two food courts while in Bangkok: Central World’s and Siam Paragon’s. Central World Plaza (formerly WTC) is walking distance from our hotel so after our flight we headed straight there. C was cross-eyed with hunger already and we needed some food…fast (he doesn’t eat plane food…he is not chi-chi-gourmet, he just can’t/won’t…you should see him when he gets off a long-haul flight….wheelchair please!). Our first meal in Bangkok: Tom kha gai (soup of chicken, coconut milk, galangal, and lemongrass…a big favorite of mine), Fishballs in red curry, and a spicy noodle soup. Our first taste of Bangkok, in just an ordinary food court, and already we were loving it! The whole “eating Thai food in Thailand” that everyone was talking about was hitting its mark dead center. Despite the tears in our eyes from the spiciness, we kept shoveling it all in until there was nary a noodle left. After our meal, I headed over to the stall where I spied some khanom buang. I first heard of this filled, crispy-pancake like snack from Ramblings from a Gypsy Soul. It sounded so good that I had my eyes peeled for them. Inside the crispy pancake (made of rice flour) is coconut cream, shredded coconut, and sweet strips of fried egg yolk. They are just as yummy as Christine says they are! There is a savory version too with chopped scallions and some cilantro…also very good. Of course, I had both :) Beside the food court was a grocery section where I happily stocked up on curry pastes. The other food court we visited was the one at Siam Paragon, after a long day of shopping (more on that later). C was feeling rebellious and got his meal at a Japanese stall. I would not be deterred in my Thai-ness and got a plate of ground pork with holy basil, which was served with steamed rice and a fried egg, along with a plate of som tam (I couldn’t get enough of this!). This time I had bought my khanom buang beforehand so I didn’t have to move anymore…just sit down and pig out in earnest. Central World Plaza: Ratchadamri Road. Siam Paragon: Rama 1 Road.
One of the sights on my “things to see” list was the old teakwood house of Jim Thompson – Thailand’s favorite foreigner. Thompson served in Thailand during World War II, and decided to move to Bangkok after the war, as he found New York too tame for his liking (!!). An architect before the war, he built for himself a splendid abode of teak, using traditional Thai architecture infused with his own touches. The house is beautiful (and beautifully maintained!)…add lovely examples of Southeast Asian art and a lush, jungle-like garden, and tuck the whole thing by the river, and you have got one gorgeous crib. But more on Jim, his fabulous home, his eventful life, his mysterious death, and the goodies you can get at his gift shop, later. Now we are going to talk about Thompson, the wonderful restaurant on the premise. Thompson serves traditional Thai dishes amidst a contemporary backdrop – all polished concrete, silk cushions, patterned walls, and relaxed ambience. The tranquil setting, gracious staff, and cool air-conditioning are just the thing after a morning of vigorous scouring at Chatuchak Market (more on this later). We dragged our ratty shopping bags, and our even rattier selves inside, grateful for the cool air and the serenity of the place. Up until this point we had eaten in food courts, markets, sidewalk stalls, hole-in-the-walls, and noisy restaurants. Suddenly I was enveloped in the perfumed air of a more up-market clientele…and quite conscious of the dregs of Chatuchak no doubt still clinging to my clothes. Only for an instant though, before the charming hostess gently Sawatdii-kha’d us to our table. I could literally feel myself slowing down. To start, we had fresh spring rolls that were served with an amazing dipping sauce that had hints of lime and cilantro/coriander and other flavors I couldn’t place my finger on. We ordered a phad thai that came wrapped in a thin sheet of egg which C loved. I ordered the Green Curry (kaeng khiaw-waan) with Prawns. Green Curry is my favorite among the Thai curries (Red, Green, Yellow – like a traffic light…and green means Gooooo!). I can eat this in massive quantities and this time was no different as I scraped every last bit of sauce long after all the prawns were gone. C decided that we should try something new and ordered the Lemongrass Chicken which turned out a triumph of crunchy lemongrass bits and tender tasty chicken, dipped in a lip-smacking chili paste. We washed everything down with a tall glass of Thai iced tea each. To full for dessert (aw! I know, I know!), we capped our meal of with Thai coffee…served good and strong atop a layer of condensed milk. Heavenly! Eating at Thompson was like a spot of precious quiet in the riot that is Bangkok. Not that I don’t like the riot. I do. It’s just nice to re-group in this tranquil place before plunging back in! Thompson: Jim Thompson House, Soi Kasem San 2, off Thanon Rama 1. Tel – 02 6123601.
For our last night in Bangkok we decided to go to Hualamphu, and open-air restaurant serving Isaan (northeastern) food. We heard the food was good and it sounded like a “kick-back” kind of place, which I thought would be just right for winding down on our last night. So we hailed a cab and headed to Sukhumvit road (it’s located on one if the sois off Sukhumvit). Bangkok was not going to let us off that easy though. This was no walk in Disneyland…when in Bangkok you need to be ready for anything. This was, after all, the city Jim Thompson decided to live in because New York City was too staid. Driving down a dark soi, and conferring with some locals, we discover that the restaurant has closed. Criminy. Now what? With the meter ticking away I hastily spread out my all my notes and guides. Some place near Sukhumvit, c’mon, appear before me! My eyes settled on Vientiane Kitchen which was a few sois away from where we were. Recommended by the Luxe Guide for their “nuclear-hot Isaan food” (yeah!), and noted under their “relaxed” section of dining, I figure this would be the perfect substitute. The Luxe Guide also said it was “theme-y”, and we were soon to find out just what this meant. When we got there the customers were a motley mix of tourists and locals (more tourists though). Open-air with wooden tables scattered around, the staff is friendly and quick, and business seems very brisk. The décor and the band did seem, just as Luxe said, “theme-y”, but we hadn’t actually been to any other places that had local music and traditional dancing (unless you count the local pop bands in Suan Lum – which, although not of the cultural sort, were still fun to watch), so we sat back with the rest of the farangs (foreigners) to enjoy the show. I really enjoyed the host (who was the lead signer of the band), who I found immensely funny even if he spoke mostly in Thai – which just proves that laughter knows no language. Oh boy have I rambled! AnyWAY, theme-y or no, I was there for the “nuclear-hot Isaan food” and Luxe did not disappoint. We had a bowl of tôm yam (our last tôm yam in Bangkok…sniff) to start, which definitely did not pull the punches when it came to heat. We ordered a fried river fish which they told us was some sort of snapper. This was delicious…the meat was cut into pieces but still attached to the bones and the whole bit was deep-fried to perfection, super-crisp outside and tender and moist inside. It was served with that they described as their “sauce for seafood”, any more elaboration on this was lost in translation. The sauce was bright and green and reminded me a bit of the spring roll sauce at Thompson with notes of cilantro and lime, fish sauce and chili. We had to ask for extra. A lot extra. We also ordered a catfish salad, another typical Thai dish that I had wanted to try in its home turf and it was amazingly good! The catfish flakes where so crisp and light that if somebody had sneezed they would have blown all over the restaurant! They served all the elements of the salad separately so the catfish wouldn’t loose its crispy-ness, and you each could make your own mix as you see fit. Both C and I balked at the size of the serving but we soon made short work of it. It was that good. I also loved the basket of fresh herbs and veggies they place at every table. I was developing a violent dependence on Thai basil and needed to put it on everything. By the end of the night, I was feeling that contentment you get from a good meal settling in, putting me in such agreeable spirits that I gamely joined in clapping while our wacky host belted out a Thai “happy birthday” for one of the guests. A little bit campy, a lot delicious. Keep your humor and you will be stuffed to the gills in goodness and chuckling all night :) Vientiane Kitchen: 8 Sukhumvit Soi 36. Tel – 02 2586171.
No matter how many meals I had eaten, or even if I ate double what I did, or stopped at every road side stall, not even then would I have left satisfied. Not matter how full my belly, I still felt the grumble of dishes untried, restaurants unvisited, and meals uneaten. I still need to try more of iberry, a local ice cream place with its chandelier made of cups and locally inspired flavors (the banana and cheese was so yummy!). I definitely need to try more kanom jeen (rice noodles served with various curries and a score of fresh and pickled veggie condiments), which I only tried once, on our river cruise from Ayutthaya. I also need to finally try some miang, which I unluckily did not come across during my visit. And then there are all those recommendations from friends and kind bloggers that I did not get the chance to get to! Sigh…more for another trip! I’ll be back in Bangkok one day for a second serving! ;)
NEWS: Remember that cool new food magazine, Yummy, where I was a part of a feature on pantry essentials? Well they asked me to write an article for them and it’s out in this November's issue! If you want to find out how I started cooking check it out :) There are also pieces by other food bloggers like: Market Manila, Bogchinoypi, Wifely Steps, Table for Three, Please, Pinoy Cook, and Our Awesome Planet!
I’m not done with Bangkok yet! Sights, shopping, and more adventures coming up! :)