Dining in Bangkok: Krua Apsorn

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my friend Chow for lunch at Krua Apsorn.  Chow, who is the author of Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, was researching restaurants for an article in an Australian airline’s inflight magazine and needed an extra mouth to help her evaluate the food.  Who am I to shirk my duty as a friend?

Krua Apsorn is a Central Thai style restaurant that has garnered much attention in recent years.  With a homey charm, decent food, and a slightly obscure location, it is the type of place that makes foreigners feel like they’ve stumbled into a secret cave of culinary treasures.  While it is worth a visit, I wouldn’t necessarily put it on my list of “must-visit” restaurants.

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The original location of Krua Apsorn (there are now three) is on Samsen Road, which runs north from the Khao San backpacker district towards the Dusit Palace.  Located a little ways past the National Library, the restaurant is off the beaten path for most visitors but not terribly difficult to reach.  The chef used to cook for the King’s now-deceased mother and older sister and when this restaurant opened, Princess Galayani was known to visit it.  Six years ago, the Bangkok Post named it one of Bangkok’s best restaurants and you can now find it listed in nearly every guide book. 

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Lunch reservations are recommended as this location is popular with large groups of office workers.  The interior is modest and the emphasis is on the food rather than the decor.  The staff is friendly although rushed and it took a while for us to get their attention to order and then again to get the bill at the end of lunch.

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To ensure we gave the restaurant a fair sampling, we brought tremendous appetites, ordering and (for the most part) finishing more dishes than you would think two people could eat.  We started with a classic Central Thai appetizer: miang kana.  These make-it-yourself appetizers feature a variety of sweet, sour, spicy, savory, and salty tidbits that you wrap in a kailan (or Chinese broccoli) leaf with a splash of tamarind sauce.

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Can you spot the following items?  Shallot, lime, white ginger, peanut, dried shrimp, and fried pork rind.  Combined with the tamarind sauce, this appetizer exemplifies the typical flavor profile that Thai dishes aspire to, a balance of different flavors that leave you very satisfied.

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While I’m leery of ordering mussels thanks to a bad experience years ago in Seattle, we couldn’t pass up this dish that sat on nearly every other table.  Called hoi malang puu pad chaa, these super fresh mussels were stir-fried in basil, fish sauce, and chilies.  At first they didn’t seem too spicy but trying to avoid the chilies was a challenge and eventually you just had to give in and enjoy them.

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Another dish was gaeng kiaow waan luuk chin plaa, green curry with fish balls.  Green curry is one of the more accessible types of curry for foreigners’ tongues.  This one was passable but the taste was watered down.  

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The rice arrived molded into the shape of a heart.  Na rak maak! (Very cute!)

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A dish for which the restaurant is famous is neua puu pad prik lueang – crabmeat stir fried with yellow chilies and long beans.  The portion of lump crabmeat is generous, fresh, and sweet.  The sauce itself is also a little sweet, almost tasting as if it had ghee added to it, although I doubt it does.  The long beans were a little undercooked for my taste – reminding me of how when I brought my now-deceased paternal grandmother to eat Thai food once, she commented on a dish of stir fried vegetables, “My, they certainly like their vegetables crunchy.”  All in all, this was a well-made dish, though, and one I would order again.

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A dish of pad yot pak maew – chayote stems fried with garlic – provided a simple and refreshing contrast to some of the other, more strongly flavored dishes.

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Another highlight from Krua Apsorn’s menu is kai fuu puu – crabmeat omelet.  Their version, however, is so unlike the omelets you see elsewhere that it really makes you take notice.  Cooked in a narrow dish rather than a broad skillet, the omelet gains a lot of volume, looking more like a souffle than a traditional Thai omelet.

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Cross section of the kai fuu puu – standing very tall.  That said, the amount of crabmeat in the omelet seemed skimpy when compared with, say, the amount of crabmeat in the stir fry with the yellow chilies.  Still, this was one of the best dishes.

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The final dish we ordered, this one from the daily specials menu, was puu lon pak sot or salted crab and coconut cream stew with fresh vegetables.  This is a dish that is less common for foreigners to try and one that I haven’t run across too many times.  It is made of salted crab, minced pork, coconut cream, and a variety of herbs and spices, boiled until thick.

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The dish is actually more of a dip than a stew, as it is served with a selection of fresh vegetables – two types of eggplants (including the white ones), tumeric root, cabbage, and cucumbers – with which you eat the puu lon.  I found the taste of the dish to be interesting, both complex and unusual.  It is a bit sour, a bit salty, and very herbal.  Chow didn’t care much for it because it has sort of a milky aftertaste but it wasn’t a problem to me.

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For dessert, we tried some of the homemade fresh coconut sorbet (which was refreshing but didn’t photograph well) as well as this saku biak tua dam – miniature tapioca with black beans, served in sweetened coconut milk.  This is one of my favorite Thai desserts because it is not overwhelmingly sweet and has a bit of saltiness as well as the heartiness of the beans.

What to think of the restaurant overall?  You have to start out by understanding that this type of restaurant serves aahan juut, literally “bland food”.  It is the type of food that appeals to your grandparents, comfort food that isn’t too assertive.  That’s not a knock on the restaurant itself, because the food is well prepared with a lot of attention to the quality of ingredients and the methods of preparation.  The flavors are relatively bland because that’s characteristic of Central Thai cuisine when compared with Northern, Northeastern, or Southern Thai.

With all that in mind, Krua Apsorn delivers a good dining experience and value for the money.  Is it worth seeking out?  If you are already near the restaurant, it is worth stopping by.  If you have to trek all the way across the city, there are probably other aahan juut restaurants closer by that will satisfy you just as well and, if you are visiting from outside Thailand, there are other restaurants I would recommend you try before you get to Krua Apsorn.

 

Food in Bangkok: Prik Yuak

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Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is popular among locals and visitors alike for its almost endless maze of vendors selling everything from fashion to frogs, souvenir trinkets to silverware for your dinner table.  Shopping isn’t the only reason to visit the market, though.  Hidden amongst all these vendors are several restaurants that are worth a trip, even if you have no plans to shop.  A few weekends ago, we ate at Prik Yuak, a popular place whose good food and convenient location makes it worth a visit.

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Prik Yuak is a Southern Thai style khao gaeng place.  Khao gaeng refers to the prepared curries (and other dishes) that are served with rice.  I shared a bit about this type of food in the third volume of my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series. 

Ordering at Prik Yuak is both easy and hard: easy because all you need to do is point and they will plate the dishes up for you.  Hard because you have to figure out what each thing is.  My advice: so long as you have no allergies, religious dietary restrictions, or adverse reactions to chilies, go ahead and point away!

Portions are small – think “Thai tapas” – and this allows you to try many different tasty dishes even if you come to the restaurant by yourself or just one other person.

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The restaurant itself is modest, located next to the edge of the market, immediately adjacent to exit 3 of the Kamphaeng Phet MRT station.  In fact, make a u-turn to the right as you exit from the station and then continue back as far as you can go (40 meters or so) and you’ll have reached the restaurant.  Grab a table after ordering and they will bring the food to you.

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Plaa kem tod – The name of the dish refers to the salty fried fish that is the main flavoring ingredient.  In this case, it is being served along with broccoli, although it is also served with other greens.  Salted fish is a popular ingredient in Thai food, especially in the south, where it is an easy method of preservation for a region that is close to the sea.  For foreigners, the taste can take some getting used to because it is very salty.  The saltiness is balanced by the clean, unseasoned flavors of the vegetables, though.

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Kai palow – This dish of stewed eggs and pork belly is often prepared with a Chinese five spice sauce.  In this case, Prik Yuak uses a palm sugar caramel and soy sauce.  This dish is ordered to accompany spicier dishes, as the sweet richness of the dish helps to counter the spice.

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Kuag gling moo – Shredded pork fried with spices, most notably turmeric, with a garnish of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaf.  This dish, which is spicy hot, has very assertive flavoring, making your taste buds come alive.  The texture is also very fun to eat, small shreds of slightly crispy fried pork and fried shallots.

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Gaeng tae po – This vegetable dish features something known locally as “morning glory” – not related to the flowers – a tubular green that grows near the water.  It is served in a curry and is quite spicy but in a way that is very pleasant.

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Panang moo – Panang style pork curry, which is milder than many other Thai curries.  It has a heavy dose of coconut milk which provides some richness on the tongue, countering other spicier dishes.  What makes Prik Yuak’s version of this dish unique is that they braise the pork first before cooking it in the curry.  The result is a bowl full of very tender pork.

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Pad prik king gai – Shredded fried chicken, cooked southern style with a dry curry (i.e. no coconut milk).  At first glance, this appears similar to the kuag gling dish, above.  But the flavor profile is very different.  Instead of having turmeric and lots of spices, this curry is made mostly of chilies, ginger, galangal root, coriander root, and lemongrass.  It is much more herbal and has a kick to it.

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Kai tom yang matoom – A common condiment for the khao gaeng shops is boiled egg.  Here we have boiled duck eggs done to a soft, creamy yolk.  Again, the richness of the egg helps counteract the spiciness of several of the dishes.  It is also an easy source of protein.

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To provide some more veggies, a little crunch, and some cooling relief to your mouth, a platter of crudité is served.  From left: kamin khao (white turmeric), long beans, and cucumbers.

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And to drink?  How about a coconut bowl of the favorite local cola: Pepsi.  While I normally don’t drink sodas, it is a very refreshing accompaniment to a meal like this.

Conclusion: The food at Prik Yuak is first rate in terms of quality, price, and flavor.  Best of all, the small servings allow you to try so many different things.  I hope that as you read the descriptions, you noticed how varied the dishes are and how they complement each other.  Something spicy, something sweet, something salty, something rich, something astringent – this is the quality of a balanced Thai meal, a feature that is lacking in a lot of western cooking, particularly in fast food America.  When I go for too long without Thai food, I find that my palate is bored from the lack of different flavors in a single meal!

Egg Sausage

One commenter on my previous entry about making sausage expressed surprise about sausage being a part of Thai cuisine. Sure enough, Thais like stuffed intestines just as much as about everyone else! After posting the entry, though, I learned from a friend about a unique Thai sausage used as an ingredient in a clear soup. The sausage is called “look rok”.

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It is made by filling sausage casings (intestines) with uncooked, well-beaten chicken eggs. Then you boil the sausage until the egg firms up. The sausage is then sliced and, if you want to be decorative, the cut ends are scored into quarters. The pieces are added to a clear broth that has minced pork and whole shrimp added to it. Looks quite pretty, doesn’t it? Seems like a lot of work, though, for just one ingredient in the dish.

Food in Chiang Mai: Huen Jai Yong

On our final day in Chiang Mai, Tawn and I drove east of the city to search for Huen Jai Yong, a restaurant highly recommended by our hotel’s staff.  Four or five people around the front desk agreed that this was the restaurant locals went to when they wanted to eat good Northern Thai food.  In fact, the restaurant is known particularly for its Lamphun style cuisine.  Lamphun is the province directly to the southeast of Chiang Mai.

As I learned from Wikipedia, Lamphun traces its roots to the 9th Century, when it was founded by Queen Chama Thevi as the capital of the most northern of the Mon kingdoms in the area that is now Thailand.

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Located on Route 1317 some 15 kilometers west of the city, Huen Jai Yong still feels like it is out in the countryside.  Its landmark is the large rain tree out by the driveway.  In reality, though, civilization is fast approaching.  Not a kilometer away, rice paddies have been transformed into housing developments.

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The gardens behind the restaurant were in the midst of lamyai or longan season, with the trees heavily loaded with fruit.  Chickens were strutting about the garden, scratching for bugs amidst the herbs and vegetables.

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The restaurant itself is a charming old teak wood house, with seating upstairs, downstairs, and in a few adjacent buildings.  A small gift shop is located out front where Tawn is standing.

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We opted for the open-air seating under the house.  This picture doesn’t show it very well, but several of the tables are made from old long boats with planks added to make the tabletops.  On the sign in pink chalk you can see the restaurant’s name in Lanna, the old Northern Thai language that traces its roots to a time when this region was a kingdom independent of Siam.

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We ordered a variety of foods, sampling several dishes we had eaten at Huen Phen as well as some specialties we had not tried on this trip.  Sticki rice is a staple.

First, let’s answer the question, what makes Northern Thai cuisine distinct?  Thailand has four major regions (North, Northeast/Issan, Central, and South) and each has its own style of cuisine although the have become increasingly merged as Thais move about the country.

Generally speaking, Northern Thai cuisine reflects the peoples who have historically lived in, passed through, and traded with the region.  These include the Mon, Shan, and other Burmese groups; the Hui and Taochew people from China; as well as Indian, Northern Lao, and Malay people.

Northern Thailand is more mountainous, has better rainfall, and somewhat cooler temperatures than other parts of Thailand.  The food tends to be heartier, a bit less spicy, makes more use of fresh herbs and vegetables, and makes less use of ingredients like coconut milk and fish than in other regions.  Whereas fermented fish and shrimp are used as a flavoring in other regions, you see fermented soybeans (trace the roots to China) used more commonly in Northern Thai cooking.

Let’s take a look at what was served:

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This dish of steamed squash and parboiled greens (similar to kale) and eggplant are served as a kind of side dish that you can go to for a break from whatever main dishes you are eating, kind of like the ban chan in Korean cuisine or pickles in many cultures.

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Once again we see the ubiquitous sai oua sausage, this time served with some muu tod or fried pork, known in the Northern Thai dialect at jiin muu.

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This dish, which is kind of hard to see thanks to the boiled eggs on top, looked at first to be nam prik noom, the roasted green chilli dip.  In fact, though, it was tam baakeua, a salad made of roasted eggplant.  Very tasty with the smoky meatiness of the eggplant enhanced with a variety of herbs and spices then served with the rich boiled eggs.

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One option for eating the roasted eggplant was this dish of kaep muu or chitlins (as they are called in the southern United States), deep fried pork skin.  Oh, so bad for you and yet so good, too!

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An unusual dish was larb kua plaa nin, of a salad of pan seared tilapia fish flavored with lemongrass, shallots, chilies, and other herbs.  Tasty and similar to, but less spicy than, other chopped meat salads that come from the Northeast.  Interestingly, I learned that tilapia was introduced to Thailand as a gift of Japanese Crown Prince Akihito in 1965 to H.M. King Bhumipol.  It has adapted very well and is found in rivers all across Thailand.

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Another version of gaeng hong lay, the Burmese style stewed pork with a tomato based sauce.  This particular version came very close to massman curry and was sweeter than the version we had at Huen Phen restaurant.  While it was tasty, it was almost too sweet for my taste.  Also interesting, it was made with fresh ginger instead of fried ginger.

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Northern Thai cuisine uses fresh herbs prodigiously and we were served this plate of various herbs and yard beans.  While I didn’t confirm it, I get the impression that these herbs are grown on the grounds of the restaurant.

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We ended our meal with gaeng pak waan, a soup of “sweet vegetable” which are the tips of a vegetable similar to spinach but much less earthy in flavor.  The broth is made from dried fish.

Our bill came out to about 400 baht for the two of us, about US $13.50.  The meal was a perfect conclusion to our trip to Chiang Mai.  The food is tasty, fresh, healthy, and the flavors are perhaps more accessible than any other style of Thai cuisine.  Now, the question is, when are you coming for a visit? 

Directions: From Central Airport Plaza take Mahidol Road towards San Kamphaeng (Route 1317) . Pass the junction of the Outer Ring Road and Route 1317 intersection, the make a U-turn at km 9. The restaurant will be on your left at the large rain tree.

 

Food in Chiang Mai – Khao Soi Sameujai Faaham

Back to food in Chiang Mai, after a morning spent teaching monks how to cook, err… make sandwiches, I was hungry for some Thai food.  The previous day Tawn and I had tried one highly recommended place for khao soi, the northern style curried nodles that are among my favorite foods in the world.  We decided to head over to another well-recommended restaurant, Khao Soi Sameujai Faaham.

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On Faaham Road across the Ping River from the old city, there are two khao soi places just about 100 meters apart.  Khao Soi Sameujai Faaham (Thai: เสมอใจฟ้าฮ่าม) is on the west side of the road right next to Wat Faaham.  The other restaurant, Khao Soi Lamduon, is on the east side of the road just a bit south of the wat and reportedly serves a spicier version of the dish.  Sadly, we did not make it to Khao Soi Lamduon on this trip.

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Yet another Northern Thai restaurant sponsored by which cola company?  Regretfully, they do not have an English language sign but if you can find the wat (temple), the restaurant is immediately to the right of it.  The good news is, their interior signage is very English friendly with photos, names, and descriptions of each dish.

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The building is more of a food court, if you will, with different vendors offering different dishes, mostly Northern Thai but with some other common dishes (somtam or green papaya salad, with is really Issan or Northeastern Thai, for example) also available.  The khao soi vendor is front and center, literally, with huge pots of curried broth and coconut cream simmering away.

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Our khao soi arrived with the ubiquitous plate of condiments – picked cabbage, a slice of lime, and some shallots (the chilli paste is in a container on the table) – carefully balanced on top of the bowl of noodles and meat.  Artful presentation or just efficiency?  You decide.

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Once the condiments were moved out of the way, I got a view of the goldenrod color of the broth.  Like always, I tried a slurp of it before adding the condiments, the better to appreciate the unique attributes of this dish.  The broth was a little bit sweeter with a slightly more pronounced curry flavor than what we had at Grandmother’s Khao Soi.

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As a point of comparison, here was Grandmother’s Khao Soi.  The color correction is accurate: the broth is a little darker and has a slightly meatier flavor than at Khao Soi Sameujai Faaham.  Also, despite the big vat of coconut cream bubbling away at Sameujai Faaham, Grandmother’s was a bit more liberal with its application.

Which is better?  Oh, you aren’t going to lure me into the middle of an impossible dillema!  Both versions were very good and both had their own unique qualities.  Oh, and I’ll be going back to both on my next visit to Chiang Mai!

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The other vendor located out front is preparing satay gai, or grilled chicken skewers.  This treat is definitely an import from the Indonesia/Malaysia corner of the world.  It is more than just simply grilled chicken, though.  The key to Thai satay is that the meat is marinated in a coconut milk and curry dressing so it takes on a rich flavor and retains its moisture.

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Typical service for the satay: pickled cucumbers, chillies, and shallots and a dipping sauce made of ground peanuts, red curry paste, coconut milk, and lime juice.  I know a lot of recipes tell you to use peanut butter, but trust me, it isn’t the same.  Commercial peanut butters have many added ingredients, which change the taste of the sauce. 

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We ordered a dish of naam prik noom, the dip made of roasted green chillies.  Compared with the version we ate at Huen Phen restauarnt with its fancy blanched vegetables, this version is quite modest with just some cabbage and cucumbers.  This version of the naam prik, though, was spicy!

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We also ordered sai oua, the herb-filled pork sausage.  This is one of those foods that everyone does a little bit differently, so if someone is serving it, you should try just as a point of comparison. 

We had every intention of saving room so we could stop down the street at Khao Soi Lamduon and split a bowl of khao soi just to try, but we were really full by this point.  Alas, yet another reason we must get back to Chiang Mai soon.

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Walking back to the temple next door where we had parked our car, we spotting this helpful bit of wisdom.  Yaa puut nai sing tii mai ruu, leh yaa putt tuk yang tii ruu.  “Don’t speak about things which you don’t know, and don’t speak everything that you do know.”  Good advice with which to lead your life.

In my final entry about Chiang Mai food, we make a special drive out of town to try a Lamphun style restaurant, and I explain a bit about what makes Northern Thai food unique.

 

Food in Chiang Mai: Huen Phen

When four independent sources, sources who are friends, colleagues, and other trustworthy sorts, recommend a restaurant, it’s a fair bet that the restaurant is worth visiting.  For our first dinner in Chiang Mai, we wanted to eat somewhere in town that was well-known for its Northern Thai cuisine.  We ended up at Huen Phen, located on Rachamankha Road in the southwestern quadrant of the old city.

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There’s sort of a funny story about how we ended up here.  Our first afternoon in the city, we met an American retiree friend, Vic, who has just recently moved to Chiang Mai from Bangkok.  Vic is the sort of person who, shall we say, likes to stay in his comfort zone.  When we met in the late afternoon, Vic suggested several restaurants we could eat at, all of which were branches of Bangkok chains, all of which were located in the city’s largest mall, and none of which featured Northern Thai cuisine.

Somewhat surprisingly, we persuaded Vic to join us at Huen Phen.  We almost lost him along the way, though.  We didn’t have a precise address so parked in front of a nearby temple and asked some locals.  They said the restaurant was several blocks away and recommended we drive there.  Once back in the car, following their directions we headed down a small, dark side street.  By this point, Vic was getting a bit skeptical.  Tawn saw a sign for parking, though, so we pulled to the curb, parked the car, and then walked up to the main street.

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The exterior of the restaurant looked closed for business.  Chairs were upturned on tables, the lights were out, and the gates were closed.  Only this illuminated sign (can you guess which cola company sponsors it?) and a single gate were open.

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As it turns out, there are actually two restaurants of the same name.  The exterior restaurant, the one that was closed, is the lunchtime restaurant.  It serves basically the same food but all prepared in large pots.  The dinner restaurant is located down this narrow path that passes through a garden.  Only a chalkboard sign posted on an easel pointed out the way.  It was enough to make you think they didn’t want to be found all that easily.

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The interior of the restaurant is packed with antiques and bric-a-brack, mostly Thai in nature.  In appearance it is like a Lanna version of TGI Fridays.  We had to wait only a few minutes before we were shown to our tables.  As busy as the restaurant was, I’d imagine reservations are a good idea.

The crowd was mixed, although there were a lot of tourists.  This is a worrying sign as restaurants that have too many tourists and not enough locals usually aren’t very good.  Thankfully, though Huen Phen was every bit as good as all our friends, colleagues, and the employees of our hotel had promised.

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We ordered quite a few dishes, considering there were just three of us eating.  This first dish, a Northern Thai classic, is nam prik ong.  It is minced pork with tomatoes and is only mildly spicy.  It is served with blanched vegetables and is eaten as a dip.

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The second dish was another type of dip called nam prik noom.  “Nam prik” means chilli sauce.  This is made from fire-roasted green chilies and the spiciness varies depending on how many of the seeds and how much of the seed membrane are left in.  In this case, it was pretty darn hot.  The use of nam prik is one way Northern Thais consume a lot of vegetables and it sure beats ranch dip any day of the week.

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The third dish, also served with some vegetables on the side was sai oua, the ubiquitous Northern Thai pork sausage flavored with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal root, red curry paste, and turmeric.  It is usually only moderately spicy.  This is a favorite dish of mine because I think the very herbal flavor of the sausage is distinct and enjoyable.

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We also had gai tod, or fried chicken, seasoned with their special blend of herbs and spices.  Very juicy and even finger lickin’ better than some other friend chicken recipes.  It is served with the sweet chilli dipping sauce that is common with fried chicken in Thailand.

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This is a version of larb muu, a minced pork salad that is actually more commonly associated with Issan, or Northeastern Thai cuisine.  It is made with shallots, lemongrass, lime juice, and ground toasted rice.  Very tasty.  You may be noticing a theme here in the fact that meat is usually served as an accompaniment to vegetables, not as the main attraction.

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A dish that I’ve never tried before and we thought would be interesting: gaeng khanoon sii khrong muu.  It is a soup made with young jack fruit and pork ribs in a tamarind-flavored broth.  I thought this was very tasty and something I would seek out again. 

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Of course, everything was eaten with this northern staple, khao niaw, or sticky rice.  The traditional way is to eat with your hands, pinching off a small amount of rice, rolling it into a ball, and then dipping it into sauces, curries, etc.  We used our fork and spoon as is the more contemporary Thai custom.

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A final dish (although we ate a few more, I did not get photographs of them) was this Northern Thai/Burmese classic, gaeng hong lay.  This is a stewed pork dish that has a broth made of tomato and curry.  On one level, it bears some resemblance to massaman curry, but that is a much thicker and less tomatoey dish.  This dish, which I ate a lot of while in Chiang Mai, is one of my all-time favorite dishes.

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Our entire meal, which was a ton of food for three people, totaled 900 baht or 30 US dollars.  From a Thai perspective, that’s a pricey meal, but by the standards of the quality and quantity of food, it was still quite inexpensive. 

Now, to clear something up, while the restaurant spells its name “Huen Phen”, the pronunciation is more like huu-in pain with the “huu” pronounced through a wide smile.  Because if you pronounce it as the restaurant chose to write it, you will likely not be understood.  Especially if you pronounce the “ph” as “f”.  The “f” sound is always transliterated with an “f” in Thailand, never with a “ph”.  (Phuket is pronounced “puu get”, for example.)

 

Food in Hermosa Beach: Buona Vita Trattoria

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I’m fortunate that I have a very good working relationship with my boss and colleagues and enjoy my job and the company at which I work.  Because of the twists of circumstance surrounding my move to Thailand more than five years ago, my current manager was my subordinate’s subordinate before I moved.  For my trip to Los Angeles, she and another of my colleagues traveled out to meet me for two and a half days of meetings.  One evening we dined at an Italian restaurant in Hermosa Beach called Buona Vita.

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Buona Vita is on Pier Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Hermosa Beach.  I first went here back in 1995-6, when I lived in LA for my second time.  A colleague, who was of Italian heritage, loved going here because the food reminded her of her grandmother’s cooking.

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There are actually two dining rooms, located about four doors apart.  One is the trattoria, pictured above, and the other is the pizzeria.  My recollection, though, is that you can order the same menu items at both restaurants.

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We started by sharing the Insalate di Pollo e Formaggio di Capra, mixed greens served with chicken, tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese.  I remember this salad from my visits more than a decade ago and it is every bit as good today.  In fact, with a little bread, two people could share this salad and have a perfectly healthy meal.

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Our main courses looked a little more “American Italian”.  I had Polenta Bolognese – grilled polenta (a cornmeal cake) with meat sauce and melted mozzarella.

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My manager enjoyed Lasagna Di Carne – a meat lasagna with Bolognese sauce and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.  Both these dishes were very good but even before digging in we cut the portions, placing about two-thirds in a two-go box and eating only a third.  Portion sizes were too large.

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My colleague had Spaghettini Alla Checca – thin spaghetti noodles, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, dressed in basil and olive oil.  Portion size was more reasonable and it was overall lighter in composition. 

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For dessert we tried two things.  The first was the tiramisu.  This seems very different at each restaurant.  I like that this version was less gloppy.  The espresso and liquer mixture was much lighter and the dessert didn’t taste boozy.

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I had the cheesecake which was fine but uninspiring.  The whipped topping doesn’t taste like cream.  I might be wrong, but it tasted more like whipped “topping” rather than whipped cream.

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And here is my colleague and my manager.  All in all, the meal was very enjoyable and food and service were good.  The pasta dishes are a bit heavy and portion size is large, but the salad was certainly a hit.

 

Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 3 – Thai Breakfasts

Here’s the third video in my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series.  In this chapter, Tawn and I head out for a typical Thai breakfast in our neighborhood, Thong Lo.  While Thong Lo has developed over the years in the “Beverly Hills of Thailand” it is actually still a very local neighborhood with a wide socioeconomic range, various cultures, and everything from Mercedes Benz showrooms to sidewalk vegetable stalls.

Our breakfast consists of two things: jok (congee), a Chinese style rice porridge served with ginger, green onions, a fresh egg, and white pepper; and khao gaeng, a “curry and rice” shop that serves various curries, soups, and stir-fried dishes that you pick and choose from in a “Panda Express” sort of way, but much better.  One thing that was interesting is that we ordered the jok at one shop, then carried the bowl down to the khao gaeng shop, returning the bowl after we were done.

Previous entries:
Vol 1 – Guaytiaw (Rice Noodle Soup)
Vol 2 – Khanom Krug (Rice Flour and Coconut Pancakes)


Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 1 – Guaytiaw

As Andy whirled into town for a three-day side trip from visiting his parents in Taipei, I had high hopes of producing this mega-video in which we would taste all the great things to eat in Bangkok.  Sure enough, during the course of two full days we ate a whole lot of things that would qualify for the “great eats” list.  But as I sat down to edit the video, I realized that I didn’t have enough footage to really address that many dishes.

Since I promised a video a few days ago, I’ve gone ahead and edited a first volume of what I expect will be at least a dozen (and probably more) videos that highlight various great eats in Bangkok.  Volume One focuses on guaytiaw – rice noodles – and particularly the pink-broth fish soup called yen ta fo.  It doesn’t provide as much depth on the various types of guaytiaw as I’d like, so I imagine a revisit of the subject will occur one of these days.

Before editing the next video, I’m going to shoot some more footage and do better advance planning so that I can make sure that future volumes provide you with the high level of quality that you deserve.  In the meantime, you can visit Andy’s blog to see some beautiful pictures of the other foods we ate and the places we went. 

Please share any feedback you have, let me know if there are any particular types of Thai food you would like me to address.

Thanks to Andy for taking the time and energy to visit.  We had lots of fun and look forward to seeing you again soon.

La Gaetana Phuket

The first night in Phuket we drove 30 km to Phuket Town, located on the south end of the island, to enjoy a fantastic dinner with Stuart and Piyawat.  The venue was this hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant called La Gaetana.  And let me tell you, it was without question the best dining experience I have had in Thailand.

That may sound like hyperbole, but Polermo native Gianni and his Thai wife Chonchita run the most charming of restaurants with the most attentive service I’ve ever received in the Land of Smiles.  The restaurant, located in a charmingly decorated 80-year old building, seats just 32 so reservations are a must.

The food is great, atmosphere is cute, etc. but what really makes the experience worthwhile is the passion with which Gianni and his staff, many of whom have worked there for years, attend to your needs.  His tableside bottle-opening and decanting is a show in and of itself, and illustrates just how much care is given to each detail of the dining experience.

Here’s a video that shows it all.

Lest you don’t want to watch the video, here it is in pictures:

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Italian antipasto platter.  Yummy!

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Grilled veggies in the back and a variety of bruschetta in the front.

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Minestrone soup with fresh ground pepper.

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Palate cleanser of passionfruit sorbetto.

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Homemade spaghetti with pancetta and sundried tomatoes.

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Grilled salmon with lemongrass sauce and spinach.

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Homemade fettuccine with mixed seafood and tomato sauce.

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Grilled bistecca (angus) served with veggies.  Very lovely cut with lots of flavor.

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For dessert, Gianni displayed the same attention to detail as he did when opening the wine bottles, garnishing each dish before it was served.

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The desserts had a very French feel to them.  Here, a tarte tartin.

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Classic crème brûlée

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Baba au ruhm with more sorbetto.

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Finally, an Italian dessert!  A tiramisu “island” with cinnamon and basil “palm tree”.

This is exactly what I could imagine myself doing in the future.  Running my own small restaurant in some idyllic town, spending my days making my guests happy and ensuring they enjoy excellent food, wine and service.