Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Somewhere outside the city

The goal for Saturday was to take a bicycle ride from central Bangkok out into the boonies. We were shooting for nowhere specifically, just toward the ocean. Reachable yes, but not really the destination. We crossed the river at Sathorn and rode into Thonburi.

As you exit central Bangkok, you enter what I call the endless outskirts. They seem to go on forever. You pass through many communities full of life and commerce that you'd likely never have reason to visit. You also see the places where the marginalized temporarily put down roots before being pushed somewhere else once again.

The further we rode, the hungrier we got of course. Luckily, as you get farther from the center of town, the better the food often is. I can't swear by this as there are gems everywhere, but my better dining exploits are almost always outside of the center proper.

On Rama II soi 33 we spied a busy open-air affair along side one of the many khlongs spotted along our ride. Large tables surrounded by city dwellers suggested that people had traveled far for a meal at this particular restaurant.

We started simple with som tam Thai sai pu: papaya salad with dried shrimp, peanuts, and fermented crab. This is how I usually order my som tam these days.

Next we tried something new. It was a sour chicken soup, but I've forgotten the name. Something like "home chicken" in Thai. A little help? Seasoned with galangal, shallots, chilies, and tamarind shoots, this soup packed a nice spicy/sour kick. This soup is worth returning for.

Last we got a plaa chon thod, whole fried snakehead fish with tamarind sauce. You can probably see all the great things covering this monster. It was covered in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce with garlic, shallots, ginger, chili, lime, lime leaf, peanuts, and dried shrimp. It was kind of like eating a fried fish covered in miang kham. Maybe that sounds weird but it was certainly excellent.

This is not the only time I've had a dish such as this. I've also had it with sea bass, which is also excellent. It's beautiful and really a full on dish with many quintessential Thai flavors. It does sit heavy though.

Hello fish. If having to look your fish in the eye as you eat makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn't be eating it. When you cut pieces off before cooking, you really lose a lot when you get your finished product. Just because the eyes are gone when you eat, doesn't mean that they were not there at one time.

I absolutely love a good Thai dessert. I was not to be disappointed. We spied someone eating lod chong so we ordered away.

What arrived was beautiful and delicious. The flavor from the mix of the palm sugar and coconut milk was perfect. Simply the best I'd ever had.

After lunch we headed further out towards the abyss. Actually, we were heading toward a place on the map where it appeared that the development ended, and the tidal flats began. As we approached the general region we started to hit a mix of the pristine and the encroaching development. We passed signs advertising new housing developments, a couple of 18th century style palaces (unbelievable but true). and the shanties of the workers building them. The contrasting images of garish palatial monstrosities, and a man on the side of the road sifting through a smoldering rubbish pile for either food or valuables is as good an argument for a redistribution of wealth as I can imagine.

As we rode along an overflowing khlong, or maybe it was a fishpond, we spied a large temple worth inspecting. When we got closer we were surprised to recognize the place from a recent newspaper article. It was wat Hua Krabeu, a place where the Abbot in residence has been collecting buffalo skulls for 35 years to eventually construct a shrine for the animal, made entirely of skulls of course. He also collects antique Mercedes Limousines. He was once investigated by his superiors for acquiring such things, an apparent violation of his vows. After much bad publicity, he was exonerated. Supposedly the cars are collected for novices to learn auto repair, so if and when they leave the monkhood, they will have a marketable skill.

That was the farthest we would go, as we were satisfied that we had in fact gotten far away from where we had begun. The way home took us passed large expanses of water where a variety of sea creatures were being farmed on the tidal flats. We saw many stalls set up selling mussels, cockles, and crabs. Carrying a festering bag of seafood a couple dozen kilometers into the city by bicycle sounded less that ideal. We gave it a miss.

Somewhere on Pracha U-Thit road we happened along a very large market and festival at a mosque. It was really just a refueling stop before the last ten or so kilometers. We did a double take at a roti stand. They seemed quite large. One had to be purchased.

It seemed that these rotis were not pounded out as flat as usual nor were they cooked with as much oil as I'm used to. I guess you could call it a healthier roti.

It had a nice thick doughy texture. It wasn't so oily, but it certainly had plenty of sweetened condensed milk to keep the calorie count high.

After a lovely day of riding, nothing seemed more perfect than an evening of eating in Chinatown. The camera stayed at home.


Robyn said...

Wow - excellent post! More off-the-beaten track adventures (and food), please. You're making me seriously sad that we ever left Bangkok.
Um, did you actually get back on your bikes right after that huge lunch? ;-0

a said...

Thank you. I think there's more on the way. Stay tuned.

I was impressed and inspired by your "Best Isaan in Bangkok?" post recently. My attempted comment was gobbled up by Typepad once again though. Your post convinced me I needed to put the effort in and rustle up some new and excellent food. I had previously been taking a break from the street and spending a lot more time in the kitchen.

Yes, we got back on the bikes and happily rode away into the afternoon sun. I think the lod chong gave us superpowers.