Saturday, January 12, 2019

Of Buddha and Boat Noodles, Part 2: Restaurant Meals

It seems impossible to capture the food we ate in Thailand with photographs, except I can taste the flavors when I look at the pictures.  So, this will serve as a record for my family to remember all those wonderful meals and hopefully also serve as some instruction in the food culture of Bangkok.  I'm focusing here on restaurant meals because street snacks will take up a whole other post.  But my mother-in-law tells me that even many of the restaurants we ate at are considered street food.  With a few exceptions, the restaurants were hole-in-the-wall, haphazard, but extremely clean places run by families.  No one in our party became ill, no doubt in part because they chose specific places for us to go and also because the food is fresh--they don't have the refrigeration to store it (nor is any of it processed on a huge, national, industrial scale like, say, Perdue chicken or lettuce that crosses the country) and they cook it at high heat to order, so not a lot of mass production and processing and sitting around.  And some of them actually had Michelin recommendations!  The flavors are complex, almost always salty, sweet, and sour together (not as much bitter and I know they cut down on the spice for us.)   With different textures--crunchy but "juicy" sprouts added to dry noodle dishes, herbs like parsley or cilantro accompanying almost everything (which they also cut out for some of us), and they don't shy away from bones and skin and heads and body parts.  They also like gelatinous textures.  There are lots of little condiments and additions and customizations to each dish.  There was no dairy (but lots of coconut milk), very little wheat, lots of sugar--mostly this was in the drinks, but one noodle dish had a tablespoon of white sugar on the edge of the bowl to stir in!  We always ate family-style; though people could make specific requests, all the food was shared (though, all the seafood eaters were careful not to hog the chicken dishes Sis and I relied on.)  There wasn't a progression to the meal--you ate what came out first and worked your way through dishes as they showed up.  Drinks were often bought separately; I almost always got iced coffee or iced tea, Thai style--which means sweetened condensed milk.  We drank water out of bottles; sometimes we tried chrysanthemum or lemongrass tea or butterfly pea drink (which was purple.)

Nai Mong Oyster Place
This restaurant has a Michelin recommendation--and I'm sure it deserves it.  Though, I didn't eat any of the fried oyster omelet, everyone but Sis and I thought they were outstanding.  The man stands at the window near his wok and stir fries the oysters, just as his father apparently did before him.  Ma and Gong have been coming here a long time.


Fried oysters on sprouts

Yentafo Noodle Place
Yentafo is a particular sauce, made from a particular soy bean paste, translated as "pink noodle soup."  I think this was our first foray into Thai restaurants, with our cousin joining us for the meal. Everyone got a bowl of soup (the only time it wasn't family style was if we were having bowls of noodles) and could ask for specific toppings.  Mine was pretty plain, with chicken.  

A standard bowl of Yentafo
My more reserved chicken version

Yarwalat at Night
The sidewalks were packed and all the street food vendors were out.  We were with our cousin again, who guided us to the best places.  We ate peppery soup with Guay-jup (spiraly) noodles--I liked these, though they were so spicy, but I could eat the little fried "croutons" you dropped in the soup--and then had Hong Kong stir-fried noodles at a separate place..  I don't think I got any photos of the food this time, which was a rarity.  By the end of the trip, no one would eat until they checked that someone had a picture of it!

Som Pong Seafood Place
We ate here with a couple of aunts and uncles.  It's a roadside restaurant that has grown in size since Ma and Gong first started coming here.  I've included several photos of the table, but I don't remember all the dishes we had.  They served great lard nar (a chicken vegetable stew dish for Sis and me) and amazing mango with coconut sticky rice. Bud ate all manner of seafood, including mantis shrimp (which are kept in a special tank because they can break the glass with what is the fastest punch by body weight in the animal kingdom, equivalent to a speeding bullet.)  There were also several good sauteed veggie dishes.

Steamed whole fish

Chicken Lard Nar, the go-to dish for Sis and me.

The dish at the bottom is sun-dried pok with keffir leaves, one of our favorite dishes
of the whole trip.

We loved stir fried greens, which we ate at many places.  They are seasoned with
soy sauce, garlic, etc.  The greens are various plants, one called
"Morning Glory."

THIS.  Mango sticky rice with coconut cream and crunchy
roasted mung beans. BEST. DESSERT. EVER.

Suan Thip
Our late lunch was at the royal Thai food restaurant Suan Thip, a Michelin-recommeded place housed in numerous traditional Thai houses and nestled in a lush garden with a canal. The food is served in numerous Thai set meals, meaning a collection of dishes that go together and in this case were served on woven trays. There were make-your-own appetizers in kefir leaves, rice crackers with peanut pork spread, fish curry, royal basil chicken, pineapple Thai fried rice, Chicken in pandan leaves, and this amazing coconut ice cream sundae with roasted mung beans, blue palm heart, yellow jackfruit, pink water chestnuts fried in tapioca, and green pandan noodles. We had Thai iced tea (which is an orange rooibos always served with sweetened condensed milk), coconut shakes in fresh coconut, pineapple shakes, and a lemongrass iced tea.

A traditional Thai appetizer, where you put various minisculely-chopped tidbits like onion,
lime, shrimp, roasted coconut, peanuts into a keffir lime leaf and eat it.

That's galangal soup on the upper left.  The main dish is a
fish rice, if memory serves.

Coconut smoothie in a coconut

Little fried pork packets with plum sauce

Very spicy fish curry in the foreground

Royal Basil Chicken for Sis and me

A very tasty peanut/pork spread for rice crackers


Coconut ice cream with jack fruit, palm hearts, "ruby tip" water chestnuts,
crunchy mung beans etc.

Chinese Banquet at SBL Restaurant
We feasted on a formal Chinese banquet with some of the extended family at a restaurant favored by Ma's dad, Lao Gong, because it served Teochew specialities. We had two special Teochew appetizers (one was a cold pork jelly and the other was sauteed duck tongue), crispy pork skin, fried fish, soy sauce fish, Peking duck rolls, crispy duck, crab with scallions, stir fried pork, noodles, shrimp shumai, chilli prawns, sauteed goose feet, fried taro nest, sauteed sea cucumber, chicken soup with young bamboo, custard buns, taro bread with red bean paste, and tapioca taro dessert soup with coconut milk, plus chrysanthemum tea. Whew.  Most of this was passed around via Lazy Susan; all of it was family style. 

Sauteed crab with scallions and peppers

Roasted pig--you eat the crispy skin first and then they take the pork
and stir-fry it

The lazy Susan at work--that's young bamboo chicken soup in the foreground

A lovely little custard bun

Snow fish in sweet soy sauce

Sauteed goose feet

Cold jellied pork 

Fried crab

Stir-fried sea cucumber

Soy sauce noodles, served at the end so guests don't fill up on cheap carbs

Refreshing chrysanthemum tea and a steamed taro bread

Dessert--taro soup with coconut milk and gingko beans

Ban Ong Restaurant by Canal
We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant the family has long visited--it was Lao Gong's favorite restaurant (he is Mama's grandfather), with his favorite green curry with egg omelet.  There were also chicken wings, sauteed vegetables, and a lovely chicken with royal basil dish for Sis and me. Goo and Gong tempted the fates by eating the super spicy boar, which neither could finish. The amazing dessert was taro dumplings in fresh coconut cream. And we liked the lychee iced tea, and sharp and a bit salty sparkling limeade (like at our Vietnamese restaurant back home.)

Omelet and Royal Basil Chicken

Various drinks and dishes, family style

Stir-fried wild boar.  SPICY! 

Coconut milk with noodles and taro.  So good.

Boat Noodle Place in Ayutthaya
"Boat Noodles" are a Thai speciality, so called because they were (and still sometimes are) sold by purveyors in boats on the Chao Praya.  These are small bowls--a regular adult could probably eat four or more in a serving.  And you can get all manner of meats and toppings.  Yum!  This place is famous for its boat noodles and it was packed--we sat at three separate tables across the entire place.

The various toppings

A snack of sesame-fried bananas while we waited.  So good!

Thai iced tea, which is essentially rooiboos with sweetened condensed milk.

Boat noodles!

A sweet palm sugar sponge cake with shredded coconut.

Shabu Shabu at MK Restaurant
This is like a Thai Friendly's, with lots of meal options and lots of desserts.  We had hot pot, where you cook various meats and veg in the center pot.  Ours had pork and chicken, I think.

Fast Restaurant
Yep, sometimes I just didn't know the names of where we were eating.  Thai has 44 letters and 22 vowels, plus inflection symbols!  So I gave the places nicknames, like the fast place.  We ordered a dozen or more dishes (which are usually relatively small, less than a US entree--each dish would give each of us a small serving) and they kept coming and coming.  We ate to make room for the next plate.  So good!  I don't see a photo of it, but this place is known as one of the best places for Tom Yom Goong soup--it was spicy and sour and complex.  I liked it thought I couldn't eat much of it.

Most restaurants and shops are narrow, at least in the first room or so facing
the street.  

You can almost always see them cooking and prepping your food.  In many places,
we walked past or through the prep area to get to our seats.

This place expanded out some in the back.

Mee Krop--sweet and sour crunchy noodles with sprouts

Ketchup macaroni with Worcestershire Sauce.  This has long been a family dish--but Mama didn't know it
was from a restaurant and not made up by her grandad.  Nope, it's a "real" thing.

Chicken Lard Nar

Sauteed Morning Glory

"Lime-y" noodles


Noodle Meal by Ma and Gong's House
This is the meal that bit me.  I was happy to order Gua Tiew (wide white) noodles with minced pork and dug right in, only to find fish balls, fish cakes, and cilantro!  UGH.  My least favorite meal.  I downed an entire iced coffee to get rid of the taste.  Betrayed.  Luckily, everyone else was happy and didn't notice.  I ate a lot of fried wontons and turnips that night.

Even the minced pork had some fish in it, or was fried with the fish.

One-Hundred Year Old Restaurant
If I understood correctly, this restaurant is owned by a distant cousin of Gong's family (or of Gong's brother-in-law's family.)  A hundred years ago or so, the ancestor living in this small, traditional village by the river, paid an official to re-route the railroad away from town so that it didn't destroy their community.  The track went 4 km away and it is still a sleepy little place, with wooden houses from 100+ years ago, including this restaurant which is famous for its crispy fried wontons.

Crispy wontons as the base for pad thai.  Yum!
A chicken dish for Sis and me (Pad Si Ew, I think)

Royal Basil Chicken

Noodles with teensy tiny little red shrimp--can you see them?

Can you see them now?  They look like little chili flakes, but with black eyes. Apparently,
these are a very traditional flavoring in Thailand.

Siam Paragon Mall Food Court
So much better than any American food court I've ever been in.  Instead of crappy mall-only chains (like Sbarro or the oily Chinese or some random taco place like Texas Tacos or whatever), the purveyors at the food courts we went to were top Bangkok restaurants serving their best dishes.  Apparently, they compete to be in the malls!  So much variety, so much good food.  We had pad thai, lard nar, Heianese chicken, and I forget what else--and that was just scratching the surface!  I could have eaten there for days.  And this was the food court.  There were actual mini-restaurants in another section of the mall, serving sit-down meals.

Chicken Lard Nar and Heianese Chicken

I think that's the Pad Thai.

Breakfast at the Hotel
Breakfasts in Asia are not the egg-and-carb fests we have here and in Europe.  You start with either a broth soup or a rice porridge (congee or jook) and add toppings like vegetables, various meatballs, lots of pickled condiments, etc.  Mama and the kids loved having this a few times to start our day.

The porridge breakfast toppings

Feeding the Monks
The last meal to discuss isn't actually one we ate--it was the one we bought the monks.  Thai monks take their begging bowls out after sunrise to collect donations for their day's meals (which they traditionally eat before noon; monks who have followers collect food for them too, as little boy monks don't go out begging.)  It's become quite organized, with monks going to certain places where vendors have pre-arranged meals that people can purchase and gift them.  Ma bought a meal for each of us to give a monk, plus some extra fried doughnuts.  The monk opens the bowl and you put the food in, careful NOT to touch the bowl or the monk if you are a woman (don't get me started.)  Then the monk will give a blessing or a lesson and preside over a quick finger cleansing ritual (symbolic to your whole self, I think.)  One of the monks we fed had a man following behind with an insulated cooler so he could collect extra, presumably (hopefully) for his followers.  I like that they get cookies!