Vanilla Home Cafe

About two years ago, I asked Jarrett Wrisley, the American food writer and proprietor of Soulfood Mahanakorn and two other restaurants in Bangkok, what he thought the next food trend would be here in the City of Angels. His response: home style Thai food cooked by locals with really good quality ingredients and refined technique.


He was spot on. In 2014, we started to see more and more restaurants here in Bangkok that serve what you might call “Grandma’s food” – dishes that you rarely see most Thai restaurants serve, especially outside of Thailand. There are many places that are doing this trend well, and in this entry I visit Vanilla Home Cafe.

Located in the basement of the recently remodeled Silom Complex, Vanilla Home Cafe comes from the same family-run business that owns the S&P chain of eateries. Interestingly, some of the “Grandma’s food” menu items from Home Cafe are making their way onto the S&P menu, which I count as a good thing.


Appetizer of Gratong Tong – crispy golden cups with minced chicken and sweet corn. This isn’t the rarest of dishes but is one that be a candidate for the endangered list. Crispy cups with a chicken and corn relish. What’s not to like?


Yam som-oh – pomelo salad with a dressing of lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, shallots, and chilies. This is also pretty common. The “yam” style salad can be made with countless ingredients but the pomelo version is one of my favorites. Perfect balance of flavors and not too sweet.


Naamprik mamuang gunghaengbon plaasalidpuu – green mango chilli relish with crispy fish. The “naamprik” is really the dish that set this “Grandma’s food” trend in motion. There are many different versions of this dip, all of which are served with blanched vegetables and other condiments. Some are fiery, others not so much. This version with green mangos has a really nice balance of flavors. Spicy, but with just a small amount with some veggies to cool the fire, it is fantastic and fantastically healthful.


Gaeng kuahaed paw – Earthstar mushroom curry, a forest mushroom in a rich curry that isn’t as spicy as you might expect. Served with an interesting local green that has the same effect as asparagus on your urine’s smell.


Kaijiaw gapraw muusap – minced pork with chili and basil omelet. Probably the most common dish but a classic that grandma would be remiss not to serve!


Muutod plaakhem – deep fried pork patty with salted fish. Yes, at first you think it is just a pork patty. And then you taste the salted fish. And the chilies. And the shallots. And the lime. And the coriander. Wow, there is a lot of flavor going on here!


Plaahaeng taengmo naamkaengsai – crazy obscure dessert. Perfectly ripe watermelon served over crushed ice with dried fish. Yes, you read that right. Think of it this way: you know how sweet watermelon and salty feta cheese is all the rage these days? This is the non-dairy version of that flavor combination.

Location: Basement of Silom Complex, adjacent to Saladaeng BTS station in Bangkok.


More Dining on Sukhumvit Soi 38

More than a year ago I wrote about Sukhumvit Soi 38, a small alley near the Thong Lo BTS Skytrain station that is lined with food shops that are open only at night, at which time they spill out into the street.  Soi 38 offers a lot of variety, freshness, and affordability, even if “fancy” isn’t on the menu.  The other evening we went there for dinner and I thought I’d share a glimpse of the tasty dishes we enjoyed.


Guaytiaw kua gai – Stir fried wide rice noodles with scrambled egg and chicken.


Guaytiaw kua gung – Same as above but with shrimp.


Yam woon sen talay – Vermicili salad with seafood, dressed with a mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, and chili.


Bami giaw moo krob – Egg noodles with wontons and crispy pork


Noodles in Thailand always come with condiments – the final seasoning is up to the diner.  The four most common condiments, usually served is a container with four glass or ceramic jars, are soy sauce (in this case, served in a Coke bottle!), sugar, crushed red chili flakes, and fresh chilies in vinegar.  Also notice that the egg noodles, which I ordered “dry” (they could also come in a broth) are served with the broth on the side.


Dining in Chonburi: Seafood Extravaganza

 The family of one of Tawn’s university friends owns a famous seafood restaurant in Chonburi province, about a 90-minute drive southeast of Bangkok.  In all the years he has known her, Tawn has never been down to visit the restaurant.  A few weeks ago we decided to finally accept the friend’s offer and drove to the restaurant.  It was, to say the least, a seafood extravaganza.


The unassuming restaurant is in a busy market area near the Gulf of Thailand.  An open-air shop house, the restaurant looks like it has been there for ages, which it has.  It is clean but not fancy.  The counter between the kitchen and the dining area is lined with bottles of their homemade chili sauce, a Warhol-esque decorating statement.  Large photos of the dishes on the menu line the walls.


The first thing to be placed on the granite tables are a trio of sauces: the homemade chili on the left, a sweet “plum” sauce in the back, and a fish sauce with chilies.  The small green chilies in the fish sauces are called prik kii nuu in Thai – literally, “mouse shit chilies”.


The restaurant’s specialty is a kind of seafood sausage, if you will.  It comes in two types: Hoy jaew is the round one, and is made of crab meat; Hae gun is the flat one and is made of shrimp.  Both are wrapped in tofu skins and steamed then deep fried.


Another batch almost ready to come out of the deep-fryer.


And interior shot of the hoy jaw – basically a crab cake.  Large chunks of fresh crab meat.


Another menu item the restaurant is famous for is the bpuu jaa – crab shells stuffed with a mixture of crab meat and pork, then fried.  The flavor is especially good at this restaurant because they mix the meat with coconut milk.


Goong ob wuun sen – baked vermicelli with prawns with a sauce made from oyster sauce, cilantro, and ginger.  The secret ingredient is pork fat, which lines the clay pot to prevent ingredients from sticking while the dish is baked.  As it is served, the dish is stirred and the melted pork fat is distributed over the noodles, which absorbs it.  Yummy!


Tom yum talae – Traditionally “tom yum” soup with fresh seafood.  Moderately spicy with a tamarind flavored broth.


Khao pad bpuu – Stir fried rice with crab meat.  The owner spoiled us by making it stir fried crab meat with a little bit of rice in it.  Tasty!


Plaa muk kai tod gratiam – Young squid that are filled with squid roe, fried in a sweet sauce and topped with fried garlic.


Plaa tod – Cotton fish filleted and fried…


and topped with yam mamuang – a sauce of green mango, carrots, cilantro, chilies, and dried shrimp mixed with fish sauce and lime juice.  Perfect with the fish and not as spicy as you might expect. 


The star of the show, a basket of steamed crab!


The mother of Tawn’s friend as an expert at cracking and peeling crab.  She sat there at the table and opened a half-dozen crabs for us, making the choice bits easily accessible.  Normally, crab is something I won’t bother with if I have to peel the shells and pick out the meat myself because it seems more work than it is worth.  But with an expert peeling them – well, I’m all in!


Sauce of death!  Chilies (loads of the “mouse shit” variety) blended with lime juice, fish sauce, and not much else.  This is super spicy.  And really good with the crab meat.


The strange interior membrane of the crab, which I was encouraged to try. Very astringent, briny flavor and not something I’ll have again.


For the most part, the food wasn’t very spicy but was really tasty.  The sauce for the crab, though, is just spicy.  There’s no two ways about it.  This required a lot of water with lots of ice to cool down the mouth!

Growing up in the US, I didn’t eat a lot of seafood while I was growing up.  I only came to appreciate it once I started having really fresh seafood prepared in simple ways that emphasize the freshness and flavor of the meat.  Needless to say, this restaurant reinforced all the great things about seafood.


For dessert, some khanom niaow – basically, a Thai-style mochi (pounded sticky rice) served with a palm sugar sauce and fried cooked rice.

After lunch we strolled around the local market.  I’ll share those photos tomorrow.

Taking Fu to the Floating Market

You know it is a small, digital and virtual world when you start receiving guests who are friends of friends, when all the parties have met through the internet and, in the case of the friend and the friend of the friend, they’ve never met in person!

So it was this week as I had a visitor who was recommended to contact me by Curry.  After completing five years studying in Hiroshima, Japan, Fu was traveling around Asia on his way back home to southern Malaysia.  Nice guy and this is his first visit to Thailand.

Originally, Curry had recommended Fu contact me so I could take him to Pad Thai Ari.  This ended up not being part of the plan as Fu was in his final days in the country and was interested in seeing the floating market.  There are several floating markets but the only one that runs every day is the one in Damnoen Saduak (“convenient pathway”) which is near the school in Bangkhonthiinai.

I met Fu at 6:30 so we could beat the crowds and we arrived at the market just after 8:00.  Things were still cool and uncrowded and I negotiated a two-hour ride in a dugout boat.  Tawn suggested that I use this negotiation technique: after rejecting the original quote out of hand, I was to say “phom mai bpen muu” – I am not a pig, a reference to the slang term of someone who is an easy mark.

The lady running the boat tours thought that was funny and decreased the price a bit.

The two hours were nice, the occasional annoying buzz of a long tail boat (which are powered by old Toyota pickup engines) breaking the otherwise tranquil nature of life along the canal.  Of course “life along the canal” means people who sell tacky souvenirs from shops in front of their homes.  Each shop is the same as the next, some selling vaguely “Thai” souvenirs and others selling things that are totally incongruous.



Above: Sampling some khanom khrug – a rice flour pancake that is a little sweet and a little savory at the same time.  Below: Along the way, I purchased a few bottles of local honey from this lady and her young daughter.



Above: Even Thais come to see the floating market!

By the time we were wrapping up after 10:00, the Russian tourists had arrived by the boatload and things were less pleasant.  It was a good time to be finishing.



After taking some pictures from the shore, we headed to Bangkhonthiinai for a quick visit.  I wasn’t sure if the school was back in session after their winter break, but everyone was there (except for the now-retired Ajarn Yai) and so we spent about an hour with the children, practicing basic questions and answers.  Hopefully a good experience for Fu.

Of course, the grapevine works quickly and by that evening I had a call from Ajarn Yai, pretty much along the lines of, “You came to Samut Songkhram and didn’t call me?”

Oh, you can’t win.


In other news, our contractor Khun Guang assures us that we’ll have access to the house next Friday.  Still some fixturing after that, but only small things.  That should give us two weeks to get moved in.  Below: Tawn test-drives some mattresses.




Above: An interesting mixture of cultures as seen on a small soi off Sathorn road: a vintage car drives past a business displaying the Thai flag and symbols of the Chakri dynasty, next to images from Hong Kong juxtaposing a seated Buddha and Minnie Mouse.


P1010424 Rainy season is coming to an end but the waters from further up country are heading our way.  Reports are of expected flooding in Khrungthep.  At the same time, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority has a construction project underway to rebuild and raise the sidewalk curbs along Asoke Road.

The curbs are raised 3-4 inches (10 cm) in most areas, stretching around into driveways and making an already inhospitable sidewalk even more so for those with mobility impairments.  Of course, nowhere in this city is really hospitable for people in wheelchairs or who otherwise have challenges getting about readily.

Given how much flooding we had two Novembers ago, raised curbs will be just a bandage on a much larger problem as it was largely reported (somewhat sensationalistic) last week that Khrungthep is sinking.


P1010439 Over the weekend, we ran more errands related to the condo, including going to Emporium to buy a new refrigerator.  When we cleared the condo for remodeling, the current, older refrigerator was brought over to Tawn’s parents for storage. 

Tawn’s father appropriated it, paying us a few thousand baht for the trouble, and now we need a new one.  After much comparison shopping, we settled on a Mitsubishi model that will give us more space – 12.9 cubic feet – and lower energy consumption.  Plus it is a three-door model, with the vegetable compartment being its own pull-out door.

Unlike refrigerators in the United States, all models of which are engineered so that the handles and door hinges can be swapped so the doors can open either to the left or to the right, all models sold in Thailand are designed to open one way only: left to right.  That means that when open, the back of the refrigerator door will block the kitchen. 

A small detail, perhaps, but if I have to physically walk out of the kitchen, open the door, close it, then walk back into the kitchen, that will take much more time when repeated thousands of time a year rather than just being able to lean from the kitchen, open the refrigerator door, and reach in to get what I want.

What about you in other countries?  Can your door handles and hinges be swapped?


Exhausted from the refrigerator buying, we ate at the food court at Emporium.  Top to bottom: bami ped yang (roast duck over egg noodles), pad thai goong (fried rice noodles with shirmp), and buttered Texas toast with ultra-sweet pandan leaf flavored frosting.  That was for Tawn – too sweet for me.




P1010480 Some additional errands were run including a stop by the condo. Left: Me in my new kitchen – still a few details to finish.  Bottom: Tawn poses with a secretary he likes at a furniture store.





Ajarn Yai called and asked how the trip to the US was going.  Kobfa and I offered to drive down and have lunch with her in Samut Songkhram.  Ken, just back from his trip to Paris and Amsterdam with his partner Chai, joined us.  We ate at a restaurant with cute little sala – pavilions – right next to the river.  There was a good breeze and it rained on and off but we were well-sheltered.



Above: Kobfa thinks about what to order while Ken dishes up ice.  Below: Me and Ajarn Yai.



Above: gang som cha-om chupkai (“orange” soup – tamarind flavored, with shrimp and omelet).  Below: After some of the soup was served, the sterno started getting a bit out of control, shooting green flames out the top of the chimney and orange ones out the side.



Above: sanghaiyaa maphraw – an egg custard dish sweetened with palm sugar with pieces of squash inside, served inside a coconut.  More commonly this dish is served inside the squash itself, and slices of squash and custard are served. 

After the rain, the many flowers were glistening.