This dining experience happened nearly a month ago and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. Since returning from Hawai’i, I feel like there’s been a certain amount of delayed reality to my entries, probably due (at least in part) to a very heavy work schedule. That said, I’m trying to get caught up.
A few weeks back another Singaporean friend invited me to join him for lunch at Santawa, a classic Thai restaurant located on a soi, or alley, back behind the Bangkok Bank headquarters on Silom Road. We set a date for a holiday so the streets were very quiet as I walked in the blazing sun to the restaurant.
The restaurant itself is quite well-hidden, despite being right on the street. There is no English-language sign (and I was working from the English spelling of the name, not the Thai spelling) and even with the sign it is still sort of nondescript. In fact, I almost walked past it and Kelvin saw me and ran out to catch me before I wandered away.
Santawa has been a fixture of the Silom / Narawathiwat area for decades. Its primary lunch crowd is local housewives and the proprietress usually ran the show from a designated table near the front of the shop. Lately, it seems, her health is declined and she is no longer coming in regularly. Everything else, though, seems to continue unchanged.
Goong gra beuang – Crispy fried multilayered pancake with fresh shrimp and a sweet chili dipping sauce. Not the highlight of the meal, actually.
Tom kar gai – a coconut-milk based soup that is usually quite mild and bland. In fact, it is often used as an early food for children. As you might imagine, it is quite popular with foreigners. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the broth had a very complex flavor and it was really, really good.
Kelvin initially thought that Tawn would be joining, making four of us including his Thai friend. However, Tawn was unable to make it. When I arrived, Kelvin and and San had already ordered so we had massive quantities of food. Rice, anyone?
Yam makeua yao – Grilled eggplant served in a sour sauce with ground pork on top. This is one of those dishes that is a mainstay here in Thailand but is regrettably uncommon in Thai restaurants overseas. Soulfood Mahanakorn does a neat version of this dish that uses bacon instead of ground pork. Santawa’s original, bacon-less version was still very nice.
Panang curry with pork and heaps of basil leaves. Panang is one of my favorite types of curry and it, along with Massaman curry, is generally a more accessible type of curry for those not accustomed to Thai-style curries.
Stir fried greens with a salted fish sauce. Clean, simple, and satisfying with lots of umami. Salted and fermented fish and shrimp are common ingredients in Thai cooking, not to mention the near-ubiquitous fish sauce, which adds a certain something-somthing to the dishes that, if not added, taste a little flat.
The final dish, one I have never had before, is a duck breast, pounded, breaded and fried, served on deep-fried kale leaves with a mayonnaise like sauce. It doesn’t look as good as it tasted, so you may just have to take my word for it.
All in all, the restaurant was a pleasure, one of those bits of old Bangkok that have somehow been caught in a time warp and (thankfully) fail to keep up with the times.