Two Beautiful Shots of Bangkok

Turning away from the politics, the Xanga fundraiser, and all that serious stuff, I just wanted to share with you two pictures of Bangkok taken the past few days. This isn’t a particularly pretty city, but these two pictures do manage to capture the city’s nicer side.

Taken by visiting Singaporean friend David Chein (follow him on Instagram at davidchein), this is a view of Lumphini Park taken from the Dusit Thani Hotel. On the left side you see the Silom Skytrain line running past the headquarters of the Thai Red Cross. In the distance are the upscale hotels and offices in the Ratchadamri neighborhood. In the foreground is the statue of King Rama VI, which sits at the corner of Rama IV and Ratchadamri Roads. We have had strong winds the past few days so very little haze.

Late yesterday afternoon, I took this picture of Terminal 21, a mall, office tower, and service apartment complex located at the corner of Asoke and Sukhumvit Roads. With the setting sun behind it, the building took on a glow that looks just like a computer illustration. It was a real photo, though!

Pictures like this remind me that while Bangkok can be a bit scruffy sometimes, there is still beauty to be found.

 

Rainy Season in Bangkok

About six months of the year. That’s how long our rainy season lasts here in Thailand. Starting in May and concluding in October, nearly every day sees some precipitation. 

A typical Bangkok afternoon this time of year looks like this. Big, ferocious clouds darken the skies. They move quickly, forming close to the ground like wisps of steam in reverse. The wind begins to pick up, a sure sign that rain is imminent. In fact, with the picture above, while I had a good view at least a kilometer down the tracks, within ten seconds (literally) of taking this picture, the rain had started and within thirty seconds, the view had diminished to what you see in the following picture.

The rain came down with such force that visibility was reduced to just a few hundred meters. Anything beyond that was lost in the grey mists. Thankfully, I was at the Skytrain station and could sought shelter. 

The intensity of our storms is often matched by a surprising brevity. I boarded the train within two minutes of the storm starting. It took eight minutes to travel west four stations (less than six kilometers). I exited at Phloen Chit finding the rain finished, very wet pavement and large puddles the only signs of its visit. That is the nature of our rainy season – one corner of town will receive a downpour and another corner is enjoying sunshine.

 

In terms of volume, there are peaks at either end of the season. So far this year, we have had pretty normal rainfall. Look out for September, though! While this amount of rain would probably drive lots of people (except those from Seattle) crazy, I actually like the rainy season. Yes, there are the flooded streets and the torrential rains for which an umbrella does absolutely no good. But the cloudy skies offer a respite from the otherwise cruel sun and the breeze usually picks up, helping lower the ambient temperature.

 

Châteaux Faugères Wine Lunch at Quince

This week, Tawn and I were invited to join a small wine-tasting lunch at local restaurant Quince, featuring wines made and distributed by Châteaux Faugères. The four-course menu was tasty, complemented by an overwhelming number (eight or nine – I lost count) of enjoyable wines.

Châteaux Faugères is located near Saint-Émilion in the Bordeaux region of France. I do not know a great deal about French wines and enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the owners talk about the differences between the different varieties. They seem very passionate about their wines and I look forward to searching some of them out in local wine markets.

 

The meal began with a crab cake served with a beet puree and fried squid. It went very well with a number of whites wines, including a very crisp Bordeaux Blanc. 

By the second course, we were into red wines. The dish was a poached egg served with a Parmesan foam, slice of duck breast, and soybeans. Very tasty dish.

There was a bit of a pause between the second and third courses. By this point, we had more wine glasses going that I could keep track of. The conversation was fascinating as we had the opportunity to network with food and travel writers as well as other interesting people, some of whom we had met before, others of whom were new acquaintances.

The third course was a nicely cooked piece of steak and a slice of potato galette. Very simple but executed well and attractively plated.

Final course, dessert, was a passion fruit panna cotta, served in two halves of the fruit with passion fruit gelato, whipped cream, and candied corn flakes. Very nice conclusion to the meal.

This was our first visit back to Quince since original chef Jess Barnes left. (He is at the newly opened Opposite Mess Hall which we tried last weekend and I will soon write about.) Being a big fan of Jess’ cooking, I was curious how the quality at Quince has held up. From the looks of it, the new chef, Wilfrid Hocquet, seems to be putting his own take on the menu while not departing too far from the style of cooking that Quince has become known for.

 

Food in Bangkok: Elvis Suki

Elvis has left the building and is now selling Thai sukiyaki on a street-side restaurant not far from the Hualamphong Railway Station. Recently, my foodie friend Chow (author of the Bangkok Glutton blog and the helpful street food guide, Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls) invited me to join her family for dinner at Elvis Suki. One does not decline a street food invitation from Chow and, once again, her choice was excellent.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese style hot pot dish. The Thai version bears only a faint resemblance to the original Japanese version. While there is still a hot pot component available at some restaurants, at other restaurants like Elvis Suki, “suki” refers to a bowl of vegetables and meat, with or without mung bean vermicelli, and with or without broth. The one thing it always has is a super-fiery dipping sauce made of chili paste, chilies, lime juice, and cilantro. The above example is a seafood suki with broth.

For a little more clarity into what’s inside the bowl, here’s a “dry” version (no broth) of a pork suki. Lots of green veggies and, despite being pork, a piece of squid made it into the bowl. The suki is satisfying, inexpensive, and easy to eat. The dipping sauce is seriously spicy. Be warned.

Elvis Suki is also known for their grilled seafood. Here is a plate full of cockles served with the dipping sauce. The seafood is very fresh, although I’m not a big fan of the flavor of cockles.

 

A very un-Thai specialty are these scallops grilled with a piece of fatty pork, slathered in butter and loads of garlic. You wouldn’t think scallops and pork would go together, but they actually make a nice pairing. And with all that butter, who could complain?

One other specialty is this hard-to-see whole fish served wrapped in banana leaf and covered with pandan and kaffir lime leaves. The brownish mixture is actually a fine mixture of chopped herbs including lemongrass and galangal root (related to ginger). Needless to say, the fish has this incredible aroma after having been grilled with these herbs.

Elvis Suki is worth a visit if you enjoy experiencing true local cuisine. There is also a good homemade ice cream shop right next door so you are covered for dessert, too. Usually it is hard to explain where you can find these types of restaurants but Elvis Suki’s owners make it easy: the GPS coordinates are on the menu!

 

Sunset on Rattanakosin Island

The core of Bangkok is the old city, the section of Phra Nakhon district known as Rattanakosin Island. It was here, in 1782, that King Rama I established Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – what we foreigners call Bangkok.  In addition to being the home of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and many government buildings, there are many vibrant communities on Rattanakosin Island and plenty of great food. The other evening, I took a canal boat into the old city as a brilliant sunset bathed the City of Angels (for that is what the Thai name for Bangkok means) in gold.

This is a fascinating little neighborhood nestled just next to Fort Mahakan (see the map below) looking east towards Wat Sakhet, also known as Golden Mount. Fort Mahakan is one of only two forts that remain from the original 14 that defended the old city. Wat Sakhet itself predates Bangkok by many years, but the man-made hill was built during the reign of King Rama III. It was originally meant to be a giant chedi, or stupa, but the ground could not support the structure and it collapsed mid-construction. Over many years, it was covered with brush and locals came to refer to it as “Phu Khao” or Golden Mount. Under King Rama V (late 1800s), a small chedi was built on top of the hill and is said to contain relics of the Buddha, brought from India.

Looking the opposite direction from nearly the same spot as the first picture, you see a plaza with a statue of King Rama III. Wat Ratchanadda is in the background. This plaza used to be filled with a grand old cinema – the Chalerm Thai (pics here) – that was torn down in 1989 to create more inviting views along Ratchadamnoen Avenue. While I generally hate the idea of destroying old single-screen movie palaces, the view at this important corner was definitely improved with its removal.

A few blocks away, we stopped for an early dinner on a small soi just off Thanon Tanao, is the center of the map below, right north of the intersection of Thanon Bamrung Mueang. This cute little neighborhood, called Phraeng Phuton, features one of the first automobile repair shops in Thailand (still in business and has a collection of classic Aston-Martins and Mercedes parked inside) and it was also Bangkok’s first driver’s license bureau. 

This is one of the corners of the city, just a few blocks away from the noisy (and very foreign) Khao San Road backpacker neighborhood, that deserves more attention from visitors to Thailand. In many ways, it is a time capsule, very easy to slip back and see what life was like in Bangkok many decades ago.

The Wikipedia map, in case you want to reference the locations of the above pictures. Original and larger versions here.

Let Them Eat Cake

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Not only is “Let them eat cake” the phrase commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette, it is also the name of a cute patisserie and dessert bar on Sukhumvit Soi 20 in Bangkok.

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Dessert shops are plentiful in the City of Angels but most western style desserts are rarely worth the calories they contain. Let Them Eat Cake proves to be a delicious exception.

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Located in one of the “community lifestyle malls” – smaller, open air shopping centers that have sprung up across Bangkok like mushrooms after the rain – Let Them Eat Cake is charmingly decorated but a little small. Waits can get long at key times so come early or be prepared to wait.

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I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the names of each of the desserts we tried. I do know that this is a chocolate St. Honoré, an elegant combination of puff pastry, creme filling, and caramel.

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A tart of some sort with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Don’t know if I ever tried this or just took a picture!

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A tarte au citron – lemon tarte. Was tasty but I found the crust a bit tough.

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I don’t remember what this pink, rose-shaped dessert was. A gelatine and with something inside, I think.

All in all, Let Them Eat Cake offered better, more authentic French style pastries than a lot of shops here in Bangkok. I look forward to my next visit and I promise to take more careful notes – and to sample a wider variety of desserts!

 

Katsu at J Curry

There is a small Japanese curry stand located on the basement level of the UBC II Building at the mouth of Soi Sukhumvit 33. Outdoors, directly across from the entrance to the Londoner Pub, the J Curry shop is impossible to see when you pass by on the street level. Nonetheless, its excellent homemade curry is worth seeking out.

Made from ground spices, apples, and other fresh ingredients, the curry is tangy and sweet and loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. Combined with your favorite vegetables, some protein (I love their breaded lean pork cutlet, or katsu), a scoop of Japanese rice, and a small portion of pickles, the curry makes for a healthy and satisfying lunch. How they manage to stay in business with such lack of visibility is a mystery, but I’m glad they do!