Archive for the 'Thailand' Category

The best food in the world

The food in Laos was really underwhelming, and while Cambodia was a little better, I think I can say with authority that Thailand has the best food in the world (yep, the world. Or at least of all that I’ve been exposed to, it’s my favorite)

We landed in Chiang Mai and immediately got on a bus to Chiang Rai, where we have friends who are teaching English. Chiang Rai is a nice, relaxing small town with a night market that is a LOT calmer and less crowded than the one in Chiang Mai.

One of the first orders of business was to locate some Khow Soi, which is not too tough to do in Northern Thailand.
kow soy restaurant

I have already written about my love of Khow Soi here, but it’s so good I think it deserves some more attention.

kow soy 2

The red curry and coconut soup with yellow noodles and crispy noodles on top is good on its own, but simply isn’t complete without lime, shallots, and pickled cabbage.

sides

The next day was Thanksgiving, which started out with a typical Thai meal of sticky rice and papaya salad. We heard rumors that there was a turkey dinner at an American-owned restaurant called Don’s, which is a few kilometers out of town, so we hopped on mopeds to go check it out.

dons menu

There was no turkey dinner, it turned out, but there was HOT SAUCE!

hot sauces

I got macaroni and cheese (which unfortunately wasn’t very cheesy) and drenched it in hot sauce. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything with chipotle!

After Chiang Rai, we took the bus back to Chiang Mai. It was great to be back, and we had a really fun (and tasty) night hanging out in our old neighborhood.

I spotted a cart with the ingredients for what I called “fried rice ball salad” because I never knew the name in Thai.

nam khao ingredients

It turns out, it’s called naem khao-tod, and it comes from Laos (but I never saw it there). It’s crumbled up rice patties, mixed with peanuts, fresh ginger, chiles, green onions, lime juice, and fish sauce. It usually comes with sausage mixed in, but I prefer it without.

nam khao

I’ve always loved green papaya salad (som tham), but during this visit to Chiang Mai, green mango salad (yum mamuang) seemed to be more readily available all over the city. It’s a little sweeter, and this version came with dried anchovies, which were incredibly salty.

yum mamuang2

At the Saturday night market on Wualai Road, we found a few things we’d never tried before. these grilled sticky rice patties were slightly sweet, with a crisp exterior and soft rice inside.

grilled sticky rice

Black jelly, which I’d seen but never tasted (until now), has a strong smoky black tea flavor. To serve, it’s shaved off the giant block and mixed with ice and sugar.

black jelly

There were also tons of giant steamers filled with all kinds of dim sum (which is technically Chinese, but is common street food in Thailand)

steamed things

There’s a saying that you haven’t been to Chiang Mai until you’ve had Khow Soi and been to Wat Doi Suthep. On this, our third visit, we finally made it to the wat (we’d already eaten plenty of khow soi!). It’s about 16 kilometers out of town, on a hillside with a fabulous (but slightly hazy) view of the city.

view from doi suthep

A lot of the inside was covered with scaffolding, but it’s still a beautiful temple.

doi suthep

We had a great time eating our way around Chiang Mai for a few days…then it was off to Bangkok on the night train!

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The Final Countdown

What do you do when you’re down to your last two days in Bangkok? You know the last day will be filled with cleaning out the apartment, getting all your travel documents together, packing, and changing money, so you’ve got to make the most of that crucial second-to-last day. Here’s what you do:
Have some kow niaw ma muang (mango with sticky rice) for breakfast. After all, it’s peak mango season right now.
mango sticky rice 2

Take a picture of the lady who sells it, so you can remember all the amazing vendors along “the mosqe street” (and kick yourself for never learning the actual name of the street, but always calling it that because it’s the only street in the neighborhood that has a mosque on it.)
ma muang kow niaw vendor
Accompany your husband to Daddy Dough, a doughnut shop down the street, because one of his students told him it had the best doughnuts in the whole city. Watch him agonize of the decision making process:
mike at daddy dough
Wow, they really do have a lot of good looking doughnuts!
daddy dough
Wait for the ferry at the Central Pier.
sathorn
Marvel at the fact that as soon as you get on the boat, it goes from nice and sunny to absolutely pouring.
chao phraya rain 2
Take the ferry up to the Khao San Road Area. Yes, it’s overly touristy, but you’ve been living like a local in Thailand for 3 months, so it’s okay to go there for the relaxing bars and hilarious people-watching. Enjoy your prawn crackers and beer (with ice!) while everyone around you consults their SE Asia on a Shoe-String Lonely Planets and reminisces about elephant rides and Full Moon parties.
Then find a book store and attempt to find a book for the interminable plane flight tomorrow.
bookstore
Give up, because the books are completely unorganized and you can’t find any worth reading. Figure you’ll have to settle for the best in-flight entertainment Royal Jordanian Airlines has to offer.
Take a taxi to Pahurat to indulge in some Indian food.
punjab sweets
Note that the cab driver is looking to keep his vehicle smelling pleasant.
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Don’t worry that you’re stopped at one intersection for a full 40 minutes. This is authentic Bangkok traffic, and it’s the last you’ll experience of it for quite some time.
Wrap up your night with a 30 baht bowl of yellow noodles with red pork, sausage, and egg like you’ve had every night for the past two weeks. You’re not going to end that streak until you absolutely have to.
yellow noodles with red pork
Now, you’re ready to say goodbye to Bangkok. Don’t worry, you’ll probably be back sooner than you think!

Almost like the real Middle East!

Well, maybe not.  But Sukhumvit Soi 3 is certainly much more Middle Eastern than anywhere I’ve ever been.  After stepping off the tourist morass known as Sukhumvit road, the Middle Eastern cafés filled with men smoking shisha are an unexpected sight.

We strolled the length of the street before settling on this place, mainly because I love that the sign says “halal all the way” (and because I’ve never had Omani food).

omani restaurant

I was also intrigued by the lamb carcass at the entrance.

whole lamb

Mike really wanted to smoke some shisha (flavored tobacoo smoked with a water pipe), and I really wanted to eat some Middle Easten food.  This place fit the bill for both.

Mike said it was the best shisha he’d ever had (he got the apple flavor).
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These kebabs were pretty good.  Excellent flavor, but a little dry.
kebab

The tabbouli was alright, and I thought it was funny that it was served with lime (but I guess that’s what you get in Thailand! I don’t think I’ve seen a lemon since we got here).
tabouli

The hummus was incredibly creamy, but didn’t have enough garlic.  I was still happy just to be eating hummus, though!
hummus

It was fun to get out of our neighborhood and see something really different in Bangkok!
suk soi 3

Japanese food (NOT sushi!)

There’s a street in our neighborhood seems to be the epicenter of shady nightlife in the area. We just assumed it was only home to cheap back-alley strip clubs, until one night we noticed this:
japanese-restaurant-silom
A Japanese restaurant! It had lots of hand-written signs in Japanese, and looked like it was a little more authentic than a lot of the Japanese restaurants I see at home.   We decided to give it a try.  (Sorry Mike’s arm got in the way here…)
japanese-restaurant

First up, of course, was some Asahi.

asahi
I like Asahi, but overall I’m getting a little tired of pale beer. I could go down to the Irish pub and get a pint of Guinness, but when you realize that a single pint costs more than you spend on food for two days, it just doesn’t seem like the smartest option.

Next was a block of cold tofu. I know that sounds less than appetizing, but it had grated fresh ginger, green onions, and some sesame oil. With a little soy sauce drizzled over the top, it was actually really good! The texture was a little more rustic than the silken tofu we get at home, but the flavor was more complex.
cold-tofu
The gyoza was okay. It was a little greasy and not evenly fried, and I thought the wrappers were a little gummy. But of course I ate it anyway, because soy sauce and rice vinegar can make up for a lot.
gyoza
I picked something at random from the menu, and had no idea what it was; I like to live dangerously. (Seriously, it can be dangerous in a place that loves serving liver and intestines.) What appeared before me was this giant yellow ball (and yes, that’s ketchup sliding down the side):
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It was a thin layer of cooked egg, and inside were these delicious noodles! Now I just wish I had written down what it was called so I could find it again.
noodles-in-egg
After finishing our food, Mike declared that we have to move to Japan immediately if not sooner. I wasn’t totally impressed by the food, but I wouldn’t mind a visit to Japan sometime in the near future.

The best Indian food of my life

I am known for overusing superlatives, but I really, truly mean that this WAS the best Indian food I’ve ever had.  Even our friends Kartik and Lucy, who KNOW good Indian food, said it was awesome!  Take a peek into our evening of gluttony:

mashoor-indian-signIt says “Sweet and Northern Indian Cuisine” but they also have Southern Indian food.  Jackpot!

A tomato uttapam is a fabulous way to start a meal.  I think of it as sort of an Indian pizza, with soft, spongy dough covered with tomatoes and spices.  It comes with sambar and chutney on the side for dipping.

tomato-uttapam

Up next we have butter masala dosa.  It’s a thin, buttery pancake wrapped around spiced potatoes.  It’s a little greasy but oh so delicious.  It comes with the same sambar and chutney as the uttapam did.  And by the way, I highly recommend making your own sambar at some point.  You will feel like SUCH a culinary badass.

Side note: I first learned about sambar from a 9 year old girl at my work (an after school program in California).  Her parents had moved to the states from India to get PhDs (“Do you know what those are?” she once asked me.  “They take forever!”)  She is one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met, and gave me some great advice, like “if you like Bollywood movies you should really learn Hindi because it’s a lot better than reading English subtitles” and “if you go to Delhi, be careful because the slides on the playgrounds are really steep.”  I miss her.

sambar-and-dosa

Kartik recommended chole bhature, which I’d never had before. These puffed breads are bhature (they are made with wheat flour and puff up when fried)…
buttra
…and this is chole (a Punjabi specialty made with chickpeas, tomatoes, and lots of spices):
chole-with-buttra

We also sampled some iddli, which are little steamed spongy cakes made from lentils (without their husks) and rice.  They’re okay, but I’d take a dosa over them any day.

iddly-sambar

To round out the meal, we had rich and buttery dal fry, a classic Northern Indian dish.  It may not look terribly appetizing, but looks can be deceiving.
dal-fry

Believe it or not, we still weren’t completely satisfied, and here’s why:

indian-sweets-case-2The most beautiful Indian dessert case I’ve ever seen! (OK, maybe tied for that title with Punjab Sweets in Pahurat).  But anyway.  See that mound of orange swirls in the center?  That’s jalebi.  It’s DIVINE….like the Indian version of a funnel cake.

Here’s a closer look:

jalebi

Laab, Grilled chicken, and good company

Our new friends Kartik and Lucy were back in Bangkok after a week or so of climbing down in Krabi, and we decided to get some dinner in our neighborhood.  We were all really hungry, so we ordered a TON of food.

We got two kinds of laab (duck and pork; this is pork):
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This spicy salad is made with ground meat, shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, green onions, cilantro, and toasted rice powder (which gives it a nice little crunch).  The dressing is delicious and just cries out to be mopped up with a little sticky rice.

Delicious grilled chicken:
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It came with two kinds of chili sauce – one very sweet, and the other more sour and hot.

Sausage salad:
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This pork sausage is really mild, and the simple salad just combines it with a little onion, fish sauce, lime, and chilies. It also looks like there might have been a little stir-fried kale in there.  I can’t remember because my mind was processing all the delicious flavors and not worry about trivial things like that.

The spread:
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We also got some sticky rice (in the little brown cylinder) and two kinds of som tham (one with salted eggs and one without).

I couldn’t resist a candid shot of everyone enjoying this awesome dinner!

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Very old eggs

I think of myself as a moderately adventurous eater.  I don’t go out of my way to eat disgusting things, Andrew Zimmern style, but I’ll give most things a try once.

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The first time I heard about century (or preserved, or hundred-year or thousand-year) eggs, I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat them. I mean really, just look at them… it’s not the most appetizing sight.

But then I started seeing them on the food carts here, either peeled and cut into slices, or sitting in their dyed pink shells.  And I started to consider trying them.  Salted eggs were a good intermediate step, so I thought these should be next.

Before digging in, I did some research, and I’m glad I did, because my inner science nerd really appreciates what I discovered.  (If you don’t care about the science behind them, skip ahead, but this is my favorite part!!)  The eggs (typically chicken, duck, or quail eggs) are soaked in a mixture of salt, calcium carbonate, and sodium hydroxide for a few days.  This mixture is very alkaline (pH between 9 and 12), and the egg takes up a lot of the sodium and hydroxide ions.  This changes the protien structure of the egg, and in breaking down various molecules, smaller, more flavorful compounds are made.

By the way, if the science of food interests you at all, this book is an absolute MUST READ! I took it on vacation and spent 5 days randomly informing anyone who would listen about why you can’t freeze milk and the intricacies of dry-aging beef. It’s a phenomenal book, and I could go on about it for days.

I like to order one of these eggs with my usual chicken fried rice.  In addition to making me feel kind of daring and hardcore because I look like I’m eating something rotten, it actually does add a nice element of flavor and textural contrast.