Dining in Bangkok: Tonkatsu Raku Tei

Tonkatsu 1 Last weekend Tawn and I took a little time to get out of the house, run some errands, and see some friends.  This, despite the heavy load of work.

BK Magazine, a free English-language newspaper, published a list of what they consider to be the best five or six tonkatsu restaurants in town.  Japanese make up the largest expatriate population in Thailand and we live in the heart of the Japanese section of town.

Not too surprisingly, there is some really good and affordable Japanese food to be had.  In fact, every time I head back to the US, one of the things I specifically don’t want to eat (besides Thai food, natch) is Japanese food.

We decided to try one of the recommended restaurants: Tonkatsu Raku Tei, located in the basement level at the Citi Resort service apartments on Sukhumvit Soi 39.

When you walk in, it becomes very clear that Tonkatsu Raku Tei (Hey! They have the same initials as former Prime Minister Thaksin’s political party… conspiracy?) is the real deal because all the other diners are Japanese.  That’s a good sign, right?

What I really wanted to try was the tried and true standard of all tonkatsu: rosukatsu, made from fillet of pork loin, with a thin layer of fat along the side, breaded in panko breadcrumbs, and lightly fried.

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Served with two homemade tonkatsu sauces, an original flavor and a really good spicy one that tastes a bit like barbecue sauce but without the tomato, the tonkatsu was tender and not too oily.  The pork itself was a bit bland, although moist, and served as a neutral carrier for the sauces’ flavors.

One lesson we learned – sadly, after the fact – was that the sesame seeds in the bowl on the left and meant to be ground up, using the wooden pestle on the far right of the picture that we mistook as a chopstick rest.  Oh, silly us!

 

After lunch, we stopped by Scott and Jum’s house to see their new baby.  They live in an interesting townhome development that is very Grecco-Roman in its design.   Too bad I didn’t get a wider picture so you could fully appreciate the number of columns that adorned each building.

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P1090805 The baby, whose name I’m not sure how to spell correctly so I won’t try here, is very cute.  He’s a mixture of Thai and American heritage so has blended features.

He’s so low-key.  He didn’t really mind who was holding him, but apparently really hates being cooped up indoors and his fussing quiets when he is brought outside.

We drove Jum and baby over to a gathering of former United Airlines colleagues.  Tawn flew with UA for a few years around the turn of the century.  (That sounds old, doesn’t it?)  Sadly, we just received news that as part of their further cutbacks, United will be closing their Bangkok flight attendant base for the second time since the 2001 attacks.

The colleague’s house at which the gathering was held is up near the old airport.  It took a bit of driving to get to and we were confused and overshot it by a few kilometers.  Along the way, we passed the remnants of the elevated rail line that was originally going to run from the center of the city up to the old airport and then on out to the Rangsit area.

The project, which was operated by a Hong Kong-based conglomerate called Hopewell Holdings, ran into problems in the late 90s and the contract was canceled by the Thai government.  Due to the inability of the project to ever really gain traction, it became largely derided as the Hopeless Project.  All that remains of the project are a significant number of columns running along the Don Meuang Tollway.

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A sign of optimism, there were several housing estates built along the Hopewell right of way (which has a still-operating train line underneath it), including this slightly over-the-top property called Monte Carlo:

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So the trip to see Tawn’s colleagues was a good use of time if for no other reason than it allowed me to get an up-close look at the Stonehenge of Thailand.  Every so often, there is talk of reviving the project or using the surviving infrastructure to build the extension of the airport link (which is still another year or more away from opening) to connect both the old and new airport.

One final thing to leave you with, a very nice pizza I ate at Bacco restaurant, just at the other end of the soi from us.

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I think the restaurant makes its own ricotta cheese.  It was so good!

 

Khlong Toei Market

Saturday proved to be a fruitful day for blog fodder: blueberry muffins, Khun Nui’s visit, the Independence Day celebrations.  I’ll squeeze one last entry out of that day based on the walk from the football pitch to the Skytrain station.

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Since the weather was cloudy, breezy and relatively cool, we decided to hoof it all the way to Sukhumvit, a good 25-minute walk.  Instead of staying on the main streets, we cut through talat Khlong Toei – the wet market in the Khlong Toei district. 

Map_Khlong_Toei 2 Khlong Toei is a rough and tumble part of town, home to a number of slums that have sprung up on unused land owned by the port authority and the state railway. 

Located originally near the abattoir or slaughterhouses, the section of town provided housing for the poor workers.  To this day it is still known as place where the poor and destitute live. 

Once a year or so, a fire will sweep one of the slums, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of thousands of people.  Amazingly, they rebuild quite quickly.  Sadly, the homes are never any safer.

In fact, there is the interesting story about the work of Father Joe Maier, an American-born Catholic priest that has spend more than thirty-five years working in this community fighting the ravages of poverty, disease, prostitution and drug addiction.  Here’s a link to a recent book about his efforts.

Unlike some of the other wet markets in the city, which are listed in the guidebooks as “unique” (but decidedly accessible) looks into the heart of the daily lives of residents of the Big Mango, Khlong Toei’s market sits in relative obscurity.

It is one of the largest markets in the city and if you eat at restaurants or street vendors anywhere along Sukhumvit or in Siam Square, it is certain that at least some of your food was originally purchased at this market.

Let’s take a virtual tour of some of the sights in the market:

Below is a look down one of the long aisles in the market. 

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By late afternoon, almost everything is closed and vendors have cleaned up and gone home for a few hours of rest before their day begins again in the middle of the night.

The concrete footpaths are still damp from scrubbing.  Sunlight filters down through the tarpaulins.  The community of shopkeepers is tightly-knit.  Friendships are made and families intermarry.  True to the Thai ethos, despite the hard work there is always time for some fun.  And nothing is more fun that some chit-chat and gossip.  Well, except eating!

 

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Above, a view of the khlong – canal – that runs through the market.  This used to be used as an open-air sewer, the tides flushing refuse out to the river twice a day.  While it still isn’t the cleanest water in the city, shopkeepers are now forbidden to dump anything into it.  From what I understand, most of them comply.  Quarters are close as houses are tightly packed but this part of the district is by no means the most humble.

Thai Buddhists love pork but rarely eat beef.  The taste of Thai Muslims is the reverse.  But poultry, below, is a favorite food for Thais of all beliefs.  Guaranteeing freshness, you can buy your chickens and ducks alive and kill them yourself at home, or if your condo doesn’t allow that, have them slaughtered and cleaned for you.

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The market offers an interesting array of food and no shortage of people who were curious about the farangs walking through their world.  I want to go back in the predawn hours, when the market is at its busiest, and see how it looks then.  Probably a lot harder to take pictures, though.

If you’re in town, you should stop by for a look.  The market is a very short walk from the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre subway station.