Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Beauty of Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit is in season, so needless to say I'm eating a lot of it. It's cheap, it's beautiful, and when it's in season, it's really pleasant to eat.
Dragon fruit Dragon fruit

Unfortunately, dragon fruit gets a bit of a bad rap. Perhaps the initial taste cannot measure up to the striking appearance. I've met many a person who tells me that they do not buy dragon fruit becasuse it tastes bland. This is a shame because right now the dragon fruit is excellent. It's being sold by vendors with baskets, on carts, out of the backs of trucks, and even prepared and served in plastic bags.


Ask any thai person about fruit and they can tell you what order fruit comes into season. This is good to know as it is useful to shop for what is in season becase: if it's in season, it has likely come from very nearby, it is fresh, it tastes better than the fruit that is out of season, and it is very very cheap. I don't buy fruit that is out of season because it is not as fresh, tasty or cheap. Right now dragon fruit can be had for between 15-20 baht a kilo. I'll be having a lot.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Where to eat.

Have you ever wondered where to get a decent bowl of noodles? How about an ice cream sandwich? I've started to geotag my photos. It's a mammoth task, but it really helps put the place in perspective.

I have tried to be as precise as possible, thus if a bowl of noodles appears on some random spot that looks like a sidewalk, it probably is.

Go here to see my photos placed on a map.
enjoy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Roti Sai Mai

Here's a real dentist's friend. It's roti sai mai.
Roti Sai Mai
It's threads of sugar, rolled up in a flour pancake.
Roti Sai Mai
If you like sugar, this one's for you.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Old Posts pt 4: Million Dollar Som Tam

The following is from another blog I previously contributed to, the now defunct bangkokfood.blogspot.com. I thought I'd reprint a few of the relevant entries.

Million Dollar Som Tam
The story of our soi would not be complete without a post about our favorite local food stall. We are, what anyone would consider "regulars" at the Isaan food stall which sets up almost directly across from our building. We are not the only ones. When we moved in here, our landlord pointed it out as the "millionaire som tam stand" because the tables are always full, there is always a queue down the soi and sometimes (like last night) you have to wait for upwards of 30 minutes for your food. "You have to be very patient." But it is worth it.

Narathiwat Soi 6 Isaan Stand

Isaan food, for the uninitiated, is the typical food of the northeastern region of Thailand which is closely connected to Laos, however, it is widely popular in Bangkok and throughout Thailand. I would venture to say that som tam stands are one of the most common food stands to be found on the streets of this city, rivalled only by noodle stands. In some ways, Isaan food is the undiscovered cuisine of Thailand. It is hugely popular here, and even farangs like a sweet watered-down version of som tam, but most of the popular dishes you would never find in a Thai restaurant in the west. Isaan food is intensely spicy, salty and sour and it often includes scary bits of meat like liver and other indiscernable innards, so it is not for the faint of palate, but once you try it it soon becomes a comfort food because of its fresh, savory simplicity. Eating Isaan is one of the cheapest ways to eat well and stands are always packed with motorcycle taxi drivers and construction workers (many of who are from the northeast) as well as more well-to-do Thais (like our landlord).

Som tam is green papaya salad and it is the signature dish of Isaan cuisine. The stands are unmistakable because they always feature a distinctively tall mortar and pestle in which the shredded papaya is pounded with lime, sugar, dried shrimp (or more traditionally fermented land crab) peanuts, tomato, and, of course, chilis. Som tam is an essential dish in Isaan cooking, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Aside from som tam (which has several variations) Isaan stands specialize in grilled meats (our favorites are the chicken and catfish although the fatty pork is also popular). All the grilled "yaang" dishes come with a rich sauce which includes roasted chilis and tamarind and is cooked down to intensify the flavor. We always order som tam Thai (the kind with shrimp), and grilled something and a third dish which alternates between laap, nam dtok and soup.

Isan food
Grilled chicken, catfish laap and som tam with sticky rice.


Laap is kind of like a meat salad in that it is ground or chopped meat mixed with lots of herbs and a spicy limey sauce and is served at room temperature. Laap muu (pork) is the most famous and our stand specializes in laap bpet (duck), but my personal favorite is the laap bplaa duk or catfish/snakehead fish laap. "Nam dtok" actually means waterfall in Thai, but at the Isaan stand it is a dish similar to laap, but with more onions and a slightly different sauce, which is supposed to include the drippings from the grilled meat. Sometimes we order Tom Saeb, which is kind of an Isaan take on the classic Tom Yam--it is a spicy soup full of herbs like lemongrass and galangal.

Jim-Jum

Occasionally, for a change, we opt for "jim jum" alone rather than our usual spread of dishes. Jim jum is like an activity. The soup has a tamarind, chile and herb base which comes in a special clay pot on a clay charcoal burner. You load it up with veggies, glass noodles and the meat of your choice and let it simmer and steam on the table until it's ready. It takes a while to polish off an entire pot with just two people, but that's all right as the broth gets richer and tastier as it simmers. The real challenge lies in getting through the meal without dying from heat exhaustion.

In any case, whatever else we order we always get sticky rice, which is usually served in cute little baskets which keep it moist. Most everything comes with a big plate of fresh raw veggies: cabbage, long beans and lots of basil. The best part about isaan food is that you get to eat it with your hands.

Old Post pt. 3: Plastic Baggin' it!

The following is from another blog I previously contributed to, the now defunct bangkokfood.blogspot.com. I thought I'd reprint a few of the relevant entries.

Plastic Baggin' It

This isn't a sexy post. This isn't a post about the best Thai food there is to be had. Rather, it is a look at a popular way to grab a complete meal with minimal effort and money.

To understand the phenonenon of bag food, and the prevalence of street food for that matter, it needs to be mentioned that Thai people by and large do not cook much. When it is time to eat most Thais hit the streets for a meal. Often times though, rather than sweating in the street while eating one's fill, the food is brought back home. The vehicle for transporting food is the ubiquitous plastic bag. In fact in order to ask for your food "to go" in Thai you say "with a bag;" sometimes they'll even give you two. There is also an entire class of food which is made specifically to be bagged.

Give Me That!

Bag food is the cheapest of the cheap. I'm not talking about your average cooked to order food which is then put in a bag to take home. Bag food is even cheaper and faster than fast food. Basically the way it works is somebody's grandma cooks up a few pots of this or that, scoops it into bags and sits on the street selling them for 10 baht a pop. The menu changes daily and the average Thai person in the neighborhood merely waltzes up, takes a look at what there is and 40 baht later has a complete meal for the family.

Last Bag Standing

Sometimes the food is prebagged, but sometimes it is more of a pick and point scenario. The most common bag foods are stirfries and curries with the occasional soup or yam (thai "salad") thrown in for variety. It is basically the most typical Thai food. Bag food varies greatly in quality, so it is important to know your bag lady!

Furious Bags

Old Posts pt 2: Dessert Time

The following is from another blog I previously contributed to, the now defunct bangkokfood.blogspot.com. I thought I'd reprint a few of the relevant entries.

Dessert Time!

Thai food is somewhat different from the food I grew up eating and is somewhat different than what most westerners consider "normal." Of course, if you have an idea that normal actually exisits, you should never leave home as a panic attack will likely ensue and nobody will want to be around you when that happens. Of a particularly delicious dessert, a co-worker exclaimed "It isn't really like dessert at all is it?" Of course the phrase :"It isn't really proper (insert food name here) is it?" has been uttered far too many times to count. The point is Thai desserts are a little different. They're served hot, cold, frozen, etc. They're sweet, salty, savory, and or somehwere in between. The idea is that a dessert is often comprised of flavors that mix together making a complex and rich taste. It's actually a lot like a delicious Thai meal eaten family style. You are not meant to eat just one dish by yourself, but order many dishes to share as a group to enjoy the best possible complimentary spread of flavors. Thai food is also known for its complexity and that means they do things that we westerners find crazy at first like putting sugar in their noodles. Desserts are the same on a small scale: provide a range of flavor that is not simply sweet. Got it? They are also often made of ingredients that would be more likely to find themselves on a dinner plate than a dessert bowl in the western hemisphere. Common ingredients include beans, corn, squash, sweet potato, and taro.

Favorite Dessert

Here's a good example. This is tapioca with corn and salty coconut milk. The coconut milk by itslef is quite salty, but mixed in with the tapioca and corn makes the flavor just right. The corn kernels add a bit of crunchy texture.

IMG_1083

This is a favorite. It is sweet custard in a pumpkin that is slightly bitter. It is really sweet and rich. It's best to have someone to share it with.

IMG_1130

Here's a gorgeous spread of desserts bought without regard to calories.

Old Posts pt 1: 12 Baht Noodles

The following is from another blog I previously contributed to, the now defunct bangkokfood.blogspot.com. I thought I'd reprint a few of the relevant entries.

12 Baht noodles:

So to start this off I might as well stay close to home as my favorite noodle stand in Bangkok is right outside my front door. I live in an 18 story apartment building between the busy businessy streets of Narathiwat and Sathorn, but, as everywhere in Bangkok, when you get off the main thoroughfares find yourself on back alleys, in old neighborhoods crowded with food stalls where the common people get their fill of tasty, cheap fare 3, 4 or even 5 times a day.

Now, noodle stands, in particular, are a dime a dozen in Thailand and they are usually quite passable, but unremarkable. Noodles are the food of the masses, people slurp them for breakfast, lunch, dinner or anytime in between. 12 baht noodle, as we affectionately refer to our local, is definitely the cheapest bowl of noodle you're likely to find in Bangkok, but somehow the quality doesn't suffer for it. I guess they rely on pushing quantity. Seems to be working as it's always packed with local families and construction workers.

Favorite noodle stand

The stand is a modest, no frills affair which has clearly occupied its particular niche on the side of our soi for decades. The stand is on one side of the narrow street, but the broken down tables line both sides and diners are constantly endangered by the passing motorbikes and tuk tuks. The chopsticks dry in the sun, but maybe not quickly enough as they are all a bit mildewy. The green jug in the photo is self-service ice water. Free water is a nice bonus to eating at cheap street stalls rather than in restaurants where they only have overpriced bottled water.

The menu choices at 12 baht noodle are fairly limited; it's mainly pork noodles. They do serve a couple of salad items (isaan-style), but I've yet to branch out. The noodles are just so tasty. As with any noodle stand in Thailand you order by specifying the type of noodle you want, the meat and whether you want soup or not. This stand only has rice noodles (kuaytiaw) which are classed by size: sen mii (vermicelli), sen lek (narrow and flat), or sen yai (fat and flat). They are all delicious, so it is just a matter of personal preference. 12 baht noodle only serves pork, so there's no need to mention the meat unless you don't want it (some places also have fish balls, chicken, beef or even duck). Last you say whether you want broth with your noodles: naam means "water" and haeng means "dry," so our typical order is: sen lek naam.

The secret is in the deliciously rich broth, the massive amounts of crunchy fried garlic and the fresh bowl of veggies they serve on the side.

IMG_3345

Best Bowl

Once it arrives at the table we load it up with condiments: sugar, vinegary chili sauce, fish sauce, chili flakes and, of course as much basil and bean sprouts as we can fit in the bowl. Give it a stir and...shlurrrrp!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

World's Smelliest Vegetable

I buy a lot of vegetables out of the backs of trucks. It's cheap, it's easy, and it's really convenient.
Produce

Recently I decided it was time to branch out and buy some things that I had yet been able to identify.
I came home with this:


It is called cha om. The first thing one notices about this little lovely is the revolting smell. I have lived in Asia for some time, and this is perhaps the worst smelling thing I have ever eaten. As you probably know, durian has no effect on me. Whilst cooking on the stove with eggs and a healthy splash of fish sauce I actually started gagging. Fortunately, the bad smell cooks away.


Cha om belongs to the acacia family. The leaves are harvested when they are young and tender. There's only one use for this herb that I know of. Omelettes. They are either eaten as a stand alone dish or chopped into pieces and eaten with either gaeng som (sour curry)
IMG_0679
or with naam prik (chilli sauce; I'll blog this one sometime.)

Many Thai people do not cook. If they do it is often outside due to the strong smells that are associated with Thai cuisine. Cha om is the kind of herb that can make your neighbors complain.

In the last year or so I've tried more snacks than I could have possibly imagined. All the local snack and fruit sellers know me. I have yet to really familiarize myself with all the strange and interesting vegetables. That sounds like a challenge.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunrise Tacos


Lately I've let things slide. If you know me, I have a fair bit of contempt for many people I know for not taking full advantage of the brilliant and cheap cuisine here in Thailand. It's all too easy for many to set themsleves down in a fake pub, a chain fast food restaurant, or some other poor imitation of the familiar than to try something local. I've probably uttered this on this blog before but I'll say it again: Eat locally for the highest quality, authentic, and cheapest food. Perhaps there's nice Italian in Bangkok, but it will cost several hundred percent more than the excellent local cuisine. If you want Thai food back home, it will cost one thousand percent more. This is not an exaggeration. Take advantge while you can.


Friday night saw a group of us make a pilgrimage to Sunrise Tacos down on the dreaded Sukhumvit Road, near Asok BTS station. We were hungry for the promised tacos and burritos, and thirsty for the margaritas.

I ordered a burrito. It was ok. Then I ordered some tacos.

What's wrong with these tacos? Well, what's right? The tortillas were at least fresh and made on the premise. Unfortunately, the jalapenos, the sour cream, and the cheese were all very wrong. Not that they tasted bad, just not right.
Sauce

We ordered some margarits. In fact we ordered a couple of pitchers.

We ordered both with an added shot of tequilla to make sure they would not be weak. The first pitcher was alright, the second was weak. A friend in my party even told the owner this, but we were assured that they were both made as ordered.

The owner is, to be perfectly honest, a balding overweight America. I was hoping this was due to his sampling of Mexican cuisine. A sign of his experience and expertise. He was proud to tell me that many of the ingrediants were imported. I think he told me twice. This admission helps me emphasize the fact that ingredients for this kind of food are not easy to get even in Bangkok. Some in my party described the owner as a former used car salesman who continued to offer upgrades to our food with the refrain, "That'll cost a little extra." This wasn't a problem for me, but now I can't get it out of my head. The owner was personable but a little overworked. He had just gotten write ups in a couple local publications.

The place was full of giddy diners who were looking for the opportunity to eat the rarest of cuisines in bangkok. I wonder what they thought.

It was a little like North America. I got to look at a parking lot while I ate.

The verdict: mehhh.
To say that this one fills a need, a special craving, would be a stretch. Perhaps people who grew up not eating alot of Tex Mex, never sampled the street fare in Mexico, or have not eaten this kind of food in a VERY long time, this place is a nice little novelty. But I can not help but feel that this food is a poor imitation of something I really love. To choose to eat at this kind of place is selling both myself and the cuisine short. I would rather eat at a place where the ingredients are more easily procured so the food can be prepared up to standard.