Bullitt's Bros

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thai Food

I would have offered this post on Thai food earlier, but I wanted to wait until about the last day to get an overview of things. This strategy has an advantage: I have a fairly clear impression about Thai food, which is the hard-won fruit of my eating a whole bunch of stuff. On the other hand, there is a disadvantage: I don't remember half of what I ate, at least in any detail. Nonetheless, I'll give it the old grad school try.

I start with some disappointment: by and large, the Thai food in restaurants is, in my opinion, nothing special. Wife and I went to some recommended restaurants in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Lanta, and Ko Samui, and almost none of them blew my socks off. Generally, the fancy restaurants are pretty pricey--say, $100 for two people, which is a lot in Thailand--and in most cases they're not the kind of place you'd rave about to a friend.

Now, I want to qualify this "nothing special" assessment. The food in many of these restaurants is still Thai food, and Thai food is delicious. So I don't want to give the impression that the food is not good. It's very good, if you like Thai food, but it doesn't blow away the Thai food in the States. With one exception: the mango sticky rice here is to fight over. Wife and I had several sticky rice wars, in fact, with us usually evenly dividing the spoils. Some of the mangoes here are very fresh, the sticky rice is always well-cooked, and the sauce they put on the whole concoction--heated coconut milk with melted palm sugar and sesame seeds--is divine. It's salty, sweet, and gives the dish a soupçon of yumminess. More than just a soupçon, actually; more like three to five soupçons.


There is a flip-side to this disappointing verdict: while the restaurant food is nothing special, the street food surely is.

Just in case you don't what I mean by street food, I'm talking about small vendors with carts, frying pans, portable heaters, etc., who cook up one or more kinds of dishes and charge a small fee (between 30 cents and $5) for them. There is a lot of street food in Thailand. Like, it bespeckles the streets and is available at most every hour of the day. There's a fair number of mango sticky rice vendorsa--always worth a trip--and lots of people selling roti filled with bananas, or honey, or chocolate, or jam, or some combination of the above. In most cases, the roti were like a cross between crepes and pancakes. Thicker than crepes, but chewier than pancakes (and greasier. Yum!). Never more than $1 either.

The most impressive areas for food, though, were in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In Bangkok the place that thrilled was the food court of the Siam Paragon, reputed to be the fanciest mall in Bangkok (and, I assume, Thailand). There were, first of all, all manner of restaurants: portuguese chicken purveyors, Thai-Italian fusion, Thai-French fusion, Mexican food, Japanese food, Indian food, New Zealand food; but there was also a strange semi-circle of booths, each of which sold intriguing food. There were white, boiled chickens (headless), as well as red, long-cooking ducks (headful) hanging from hooks; lots of stews, most of them clear, but at least one dark, and floating with crispy pork; coils of fried noodles; lots of dumplings, some steamed pale, some fried brown, all apparently filled with deliciousness; and all manner of vegetables. Today, I ate at Siam Paragon, and had some dynamite chicken Tikka Masala and garlic naan. The naan was buttered, and the chicken was charcoaly and high-quality, while the sauce was mild but still had a bit of kick. To wash it down, I had, first, a guava juice, and second, a blueberry smoothie.

Siam Paragon is good--I plan on having some more later today--but the place where the street food really sang was Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Market.

Chiang Mai's Sunday walking market is a delight. Every Sunday, the city of Chiang Mai cordons off one of its more interesting streets from car traffic and just lets in foot traffic. It's set up on a fairly long street, Ratcha... Rama... well, it's some massively besyllabled name beginning with an "Ra". It think it's Ratchadamuran, but I can't be bothered to find out right now. I'm writing from an Internet cafe, and time is money. Anyway, Ratchawhatever gets filled up with happy Thais and tourists interested in seeing what's all this, then? Along the way, there are wats--Buddhist temples--with Thais giving offerings, burning incense, or praying (on the night we went, there was also a 70-year old Thai Elvis impersonator sitting right outside the front of one wat; we tried to get a picture, but I'm afraid it's rather blurry), and Westerners looking at the nice designs. Most important from my point of view, though, was the food.

It was the best food I had in Thailand.

First, wife got the best roti-dessert I had ever had. It was crunchy, chewy, and filled with bananas and chocolate. It was just a step beyond all the other roti. But I got the best dish I ever had: braised, sweet pork literally pulled off the pig, laid atop a bed of rice with a soupçon of a mildly sweet sauce. Trust me when I tell you it's better than you or I. In addition, I had a perfect strawberry shake (take twelve sweet strawberries, put them in a blender with ice, and blend. It works!) and I'm sure a bunch of other stuff. Moreover, there was some really tasty-looking roasted honey chicken that I didn't have room in my stomach for, and an odd black jelly, supposedly coming from a tree if I remember correctly (and I never do), gooped onto some crushed ice and syrup. It didn't look good, but it did look weird.

So much for the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Market. So much for street food. I just have a couple odds and ends to add.

First, worth its own mention is the Thai proclivity for juice. They love the stuff. Seemingly every foodery has fruit juice, fruit shakes, and fruit smoothies, and they come in all manner of flavor: watermelon, kiwi, guava, lychee (my favorite), mango, jackfruit (it tastes like a cross between an apple and sugarcane), orange, dragonfruit, and others. They are good. We need to do this in the States.

Second, wife and I discovered one of those delicious holes-in-the-wall you always hear about but rarely find; a place called Da's kitchen. It was an Indian restaurant in Ko Lanta run by a family of Thai Muslims, and they had maybe the best naan and certainly the best roti I've ever had. I hesitate to describe the naan as the best I've ever had because it was so different. Really chewy, not crunchy, and sharp in flavor.

Third, Thais cannot make a hamburger to save their lives. Which leads me to conclude:

U-S-A! U-S-A!!!



  • I am so looking forward to speaking to you at your return. Sounds very exotic. Love to you both.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:36 AM  

  • isn't is "soupçon"? or have i been misled in this, as in so many other things?

    By Blogger kmosser, at 9:34 AM  

  • It IS "souPçon".

    I didn't want people to think I was dodging responsibility by correcting it.

    I take full responsibility.

    I shall edit it accordingly.

    By Blogger Bobcat, at 1:24 PM  

  • I love it when people who DO ethics HAVE ethics.

    I'm more like Wilfred Sellars, who, when asked why he didn't do ethics, said "it's too hard."

    By Blogger kmosser, at 9:41 AM  

  • and i thought it was soup song. silly me

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:19 AM  

  • and i thought it was soup song. silly me

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 AM  

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