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Posts from the ‘Thailand’ Category

Chote Chitr

Even though most English you’ll hear in Bangkok is marked by an Australian or German accent, you still might end up dining next to the vocal American foodie. It’s uncanny.

Chote chitr facade

We were thankful to have finally been able to try Chote Chitr, the much lauded, no secret to anyone, 90-plus-year-old Thai restaurant in Banglamphu. We were thwarted our first day in Thailand when we trekked over to find a closed gate, no explanation. It wasn’t until our last night in the country, two weeks later, post-Hua Hin and Penang, that we were able to get back to that neighborhood and hope for the best. It turns out that they are only open for dinner, 18:00 posted on the backside of their sidewalk chalkboard.

We were excited. The only downside was knowing we wouldn’t be able to eat more than three dishes unlike at Sripraphai where we always over order in anticipation of leftovers. I’m more about choosing wildly than wisely.

Chote chitr interior

Meanwhile, we were getting a reverse Park Slope from the table across from us. Instead of parents demonstrating their genius aloud, teaching their toddlers algebra in the subway or color theory in Ikea, this adult expat child was schooling his visiting parents (and girlfriend) on the right things to order. Shut up, foodie?

Maybe I was just being overly sensitive because he dismissed our order of mee krob, one of Chote Chitr’s signature dishes that he declared, “popular but too sweet.” It Is sweet, the noodles are practically candied. But if you’re going to sample this often maligned, nay ignored (I didn’t think it existed in NYC, though I checked and it is on the menu at Sripraphai. I’ve never heard anyone mention it) preparation, you really do want the non plus ultra mee krob, a designation assigned to Chote Chitr’s rendtion by numerous publications. Just yesterday, I read yet another convincing testament on a CNNgo.com post about five forgotten Thai classics.

Chote chitr mee krob

Here is gaucheness on a plate. Are you over it yet? It is unusual, a tangled ball of crispy sweet and slightly sour noodles, sliced green onions, bean sprouts and mustard-type greens on the side. Apparently, the ingredient that makes this mee krob unique is peel from som saa, a green bitter citrus fruit that like many Asian fruits is non-existent in the US.

Chote chitr banana blossom salad

The banana blossom salad is another classic that isn’t ubiquitous in the US. Though the dressing looks creamy, this was the hottest dish we were served, the coconut milk barely tempering the chiles. Bits of chicken and shrimp are tossed with the shredded banana flowers and the pile is topped with fried shallots.

Chote chitr crispy bacon with green beans

We ordered the crispy bacon with green beans because all vacation we had been looking for an equivalent to Sripraphai’s crispy pork with chile and basil (as well as the crispy watercress salad—I’ve deduced that it’s an invention not a standard). This was more like Chao Thai’s crispy pork pad prik khing, and it was awesomer because while essentially the same dish everything was amplified. The meat had a richer, porkier flavor, there were more lime leaves that I see used in Queens and with a brighter citrus taste, the dish was also less salty while more fish saucey at the same time.

I like to think that there are scores of restaurants in Bangkok with an adherence to tradition and quality while offering such a voluminous menu, and that they’re lesser known only because they aren’t English-friendly. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Chote Chitr is definitely notable and repeat-visit worthy. My only fear is that if I stayed in Bangkok long enough I might just become the opinionated foodie at the table.

Chote Chitr * 146 Thanon Phraeng Phuton, Bangkok, Thailand

PlearnWan

PlearnWan, I can’t think of an American equivalent. Colonial Williamsburg? Too sprawling, too established, ancient history. We don’t really celebrate mid-century Americana beyond a love of Formica-and-chrome diners. Sonic and Ruby's are bringing back carhops, and oddly, even Malaysia has jumped into the Happy Days fray).

Plearnwan exterior

From what I can gather PlearnWan is a 2009-created site meant to simulate the 1950s, nostalgic fun for young and old alike. It’s kind of a museum despite lacking an educational component, it’s like an amusement park but there is only a small ferris wheel, there’s also a motel, bar, boutiques, vintage shops and food stands selling items that may or may not be old fashioned because I’m not familiar with mid-century Thai fads. The whole complex is compact, narrow and stylish like a modern Manhattan condo, wedged in along the highway just outside of Hua Hin.

I was drawn in by the sharp retro design I had seen on their website, which I stumbled upon accidentally. They’re not even trying to cater to non-Thai tourists. There wasn’t a lick of English on signs and no one was speaking it, only a handful of other non-Asians were bumbling around.

We didn’t bother trying to get a ride from The Putahracsa, fearing that our hotel staff would try to discourage us from visiting (Thai hospitality workers seemed to have strong opinions on what tourists would and wouldn’t enjoy) or try to put is in an overpriced car. We did learn the hard way that while a mile-and-a-half walk in NYC is reasonable, it’s punishing under the instantly sweat-inducing Thai sun. Already sunburned from the day before, I took a cue from the locals and used an umbrella as a shield. Even then, I genuinely thought I was going to have a heat stroke on the walk back to town. We never did figure out how to catch a songthaew.

Plearnwan crowds

Despite the numerous stores and services, no one at PlearWan was buying anything. Instead, the entire grounds were like a grand sound stage ripe with photo opportunities. I’m probably now in the background of hundreds of Thai flickr sets. I wonder if the Japanese feel relived that the ‘80s snap-happy tourist stereotype is fading post-digital camera boom. Even the bathroom wasn’t safe from cameras; a group of girls were practically posing on top of me while I tried to wash my hands in peace.

Plearnwan ice shaving

Shaving ice the hard way.

Plearnwan cafe

A coffee shop. Many of the cans and packages in front are just for show.

Plearnwan dessert cart

Yellow, red and green squiggles with matching ladles, to be served over ice, I assume. The green must be the most popular. Personally, I like the little cat figurines.

Plearnwan fried taro & rice rolls

Fried rolls filled with what I think were taro and glutinous rice. The crushed peanuts and chiles were sitting atop a thick, gooey sweet sauce.

Plearnwan kanom buang stall

I’m fairly certain these were the same Thai tacos, kanom buang, I had been seeing around Bangkok but even better with a slew of sweet flavors.

Plearnwan kanom buang choices

I spy some pumpkin, squash, raisins, coconut, sprinkles…I can’t read Thai, though. I picked the green custardy one, which I assumed was pandan.

Plearnwan bar

The bar was empty; I don’t think it was open yet.

Plearnwan photo taking

In the background are three painted scenes primed for photo-taking.

Plearnwan ice cream parlor

Ice cream parlor. The pandan, coconut milk ice cream was wonderful. I was dying of thirst and slammed a paper cup of water from the metal cooler on the counter and got a mouthful of moldy mildew flavor. No one else seemed to have a problem with it, though. Maybe it’s a microby taste you get used to.

PlearnWan * 4/9 Soi Moo Ban Bor Fai, Hua Hin, Thailand

Bei Otto

As has become de rigueur on Southeast Asian vacations, I ate at a German restaurant in Bangkok. Indulging in a little pork shank and sauerkraut doesn't make me feel guilty in and of itself, but I shudder at being pegged as a homesick tourist (that's what Sizzler is for). German food isn't any less foreign than Thai food to me; it’s the double-foreignness that makes it perversely fun. The sickest thing about German fare in the tropics is how heavy it is for the climate. On our stop early into this trip, I couldn't bear to sit in the front beer garden (we sat inside). By my last night in Thailand, two weeks later, I was drinking outside in the elements (at a Thai bar, thank you) like a pro.

Bei otto pretzel rolls

These pretzel rolls were amazing. Why have I not encountered this warm, chewy bread before? They were also the first non-airline food I'd eaten in over 22 hours so my judgment could've been clouded.

Bei otto pork shank

Welcome to the pork shank. From this angle, the porcine hunk almost resembles a beige heart. Some of my favorite crispy pork preparations are Thai, so I knew they would get the tender-crusty contrast right. The dense, spongy potatoes had to have been instant (I have a fondness for instant potatoes but realize this isn’t a selling point for most). Luckily, they were the only dud and this meal was about the meat anyway. 

Bei otto

I don't generally recommend eating non-local food unless you're going to be in a country for at least two weeks. I couldn’t resist seeing how double-foreign food will turn out. There were no obvious Thai twists, the cuisine was very traditional. If I had more time to spare, I would've gone to Tawandeng, a brewery/entertainment center outside the city center that is more of a hybrid. They serve their deep-fried pork knuckle with a chile dipping sauce (and the requisite mashed potatoes and sauerkraut). I like my fatty meats cut with hot, sharp condiments like this. Now that I think about it, Bei Otto probably had sriracha sitting around—it’s not as if they don’t get Thai clientele.

Bei Otto * 1 Sukhumvit Soi 20, Bangkok, Thailand

Un-American Activities: Sizzler Bangkok

I had recently been thinking how I never ever think about Sizzler. It's a non-entity in the casual dining universe of New York City suburbs. The chain's prominence in Thailand really threw me for a loop. At prime dinner times, groups were actually crowded around the entrances waiting for seats. Maybe this merited a visit?

Bangkok sizzler facade

Of course it did. We hit the end of a lunch rush, lots of office groups and predominantly Thai, if you must know. No Malibu Chicken, the caloric charmer of my youth. The lure appeared to be the salad bar (which I didn't realize until later was all-you-could-eat). Iced tea so sweet it makes its southern relative taste like a health tonic, was also unlimited.

Bangkok sizzler salad bar

The salad bar wasn’t wildly different than an American one, but there were certainly differences like the pumpkin cashew salad and spicy pork. I don’t imagine we have tom yum soup in our buffets either.

Bangkok sizzler salad

The blue cheese, however, was nearly thick and unspreadable as refrigerated peanut butter.

Bangkok sizzler toast

Portions were very un-American, completely reasonable yet petite. The Texas toast cut into halves was meant for two.

Bangkok sizzler steak

I was certain they'd bungle my medium-rare request, and the steak, which I only ordered out of duty wasn't bad. I was expecting the dull, blandness that you get from places like Outback Steakhouse. This little filet actually had flavor and a pleasant texture. I have no idea where the meat comes from. Obviously not Australia since imported beef from down under is a special weekend promotion. Bangkok, only, though.

Bangkok sizzler dessert

I was owed a dessert so I picked up the mauve fluff instead of the brown fluff. It just tasted like artificial raspberry-flavored (oops, it’s supposed to blueberry—see? It’s impossible to tell) whipped cream.

Sizzler * CP Tower, 313 Silom Rd., 2nd Fl., Bangkok, Thailand

Suan Lum Night Bazaar

When I was planning my original not-to-be trip to Thailand for November 2008, I kept reading how the Suan Lum night bazaar was on the verge of closing and it could happen at any moment.  The sprawling, less dense and slightly less skin scalding (though no less humid) than Chatuchak night market in the center of Bangkok, lost its lease in 2007. Yet it was still there in 2008 even though I couldn’t get into Suvarnabhumi, and it was still there in March 2010 when I finally did make it to Bangkok.

Suan lum night bazaar food court

I wasn’t there to bargain or shop (James bought a “Prada” wallet) though I did spy some very cool shoes. I really liked those colorful oxford flats. However, I gave up on trying to buy clothing and shoes in SE Asia long ago (I had my eye out for Fat Story, supposedly at Suan Lum, at the very least for a photo op). It’s not worth the humiliation—if you’re larger than an American size 8 in either shoe or dress I suggest you find other pursuits in Thailand.

Suan lum night bazaar stage

Like eating. Suan Lum has a food court/beer garden with an enormous amount of seating and a large stage with a video monitor to showcase the er, entertainment. James said it all, “I’ve never heard so much bad singing in public.” True, no shame from Filipino cover bands at hotel lounges, the blind with microphones shuffling through tourist markets or the highly choreographed, costumed dance routines of the bands performing tone deaf Thai pop at Suan Lum. It hurts less when you can’t understand the words.

Suan lum som tam stall

But it’s all good fun. The food, I suspect is pricier than what you could get off the street and toned down a notch for foreigners, but is still quite tasty and hardly a rip off. Plus, there’s lots of beer and those outdoor misters you encounter all over Thailand and Malaysia that don’t even come close to approximating air conditioning but you’re thankful for anyway. You will never be able to stop sweating completely, maybe even if you lived there for a decade. I don’t think we spent more than $10 in newsprint stapled together tickets, which you buy from one booth and get your remainder refunded at another window upon leaving.

Suan lum seafood som tam

I really took a shining to som tam this vacation. I don’t think I’ve eat so much papaya salad in a two-week period. This seafood-laded version could’ve been spicer, though I might not have realized how demure it was if we hadn’t just been pummeled by what I’d expected to be a run-of-the-mill street version in a go-go bar corner of Hua Hin.

Suan lum grilled pork

The same stand also had fried pork neck with a chile dipping sauce. So simple and fatty, perfect drinking food.

Suan lum pad thai

I didn’t eat any pad thai in Thailand. It was probably good. I was just shying away from the obvious American choice. I do wonder if that’s an American thing or a if pad thai is the most popular dish everywhere outside Thailand.

Suan lum oyster omelet

Oyster omelet was a random choice. It’s not my favorite dish; even good versions are kind of greasy, filling and starchy. I bought a bottle of Heinz chili sauce, also called sriracha but slightly sweeter and more orange than the popular Huy Fong brand (yes, Vietnamese-American) condiment in the states.  Maybe I’ll attempt this eggy dish at home.

Suan lum staek house

I’m not even sure what they were selling at Staek House.

Suan lum french fries

There was no question what they were slinging at French Fries.

Suan Lum Night Bazaar * Corner of Wireless and Rama IV Rds., * Bangkok, Thailand

Gai Yang Boran

Dismayed by the no-explanation gate down at Chote Chitr, Bangkok’s most un-secret hole-in-the-wall (apparently, they do not open until 6pm despite dinner and lunch being touted in most reference sources) and first-day-in-the-tropics heat-shocked, plan B lunch became Gai Yang Boran, a rare air conditioned restaurant in the Saochingcha district. Import Foods’ handy map and guide proved very useful (as did James’ Blackberry—traveling is so different with online maps and GPS. My smartphone did not work internationally and I shouldn’t have even bothered bringing it as it got stolen out of my luggage. Three phoneless weeks later and I’m still quite angry about this and too frugal to buy a replacement).

I didn’t realize gai yang and som tum were so popular in Bangkok. The common Northeastern twosome (sticky rice rounding out a perfect trinity) were everywhere on the street, food courts and non-touristy yet comfortable bilingual menu restaurants like this place.

Gai yang boran chicken

Of course we ordered the grilled chicken. Supposedly, the chickens are farm-raised and the sweet chile sauce is made in-house. Thai chickens are scrawnier and more flavorful than our typical grocery store birds. Notice the plain rice in the background—I didn’t think to specify sticky rice when ordering.
Gai yang boran catfish

A salty, hot, catfish salad with lots of roasted rice powder. I was imagining that fluffy fried style but this was more pulverized.

Gai yang boran larb

Pork larb was springy, wonderful and punishing.

This was where we were introduced to the concept of “Can you eat spicy food?” This is typically what you’ll be asked if the staff speaks a little English  (when they didn’t, they often held up a chile pepper instead to see if you shake your head yes or no). Not do like it but can you physically handle it as if the ability to eat hot food were an inborn trait. I’m sure there are more sophisticated full sentence ways to explain yes, I can eat it, but I stuck with “chawp pet,” which roughly translates to I like spicy. It seemed to work even if I felt like I was using caveman speak.

Gai Yang Boran * 474-476 Thanon Tanao, Bangkok, Thailand

Sunshine


No one told me that Hua Hin was a German enclave. Or for that matter that like 85% of the foreigners in Thailand are German. Why? What's this about? But then, why ponder such questions when seeing Thai waitstaff in lederhosen and dirndls make you forget. 

We tried Sunshine for breakfast. The offerings were pretty basic: simple omelets and Museli. No gut-busting plates of bacon, hashbrowns, buttered toast and pancakes here. There was an abundance of Maggi sauce, which I don't get. Is it for Asians or Europeans? It's soy based, correct? I definitely know it's not for Americans. 

The open-air restaurant also housed a bakery and internet café. The bakery was doing a brisk business, selling heavy brown breads, cheese and sausages. So seemingly incompatible for the sweltering S.E. Asian climate, yet so amazingly popular. Most of these Austrian, Germanic joints also do Thai food, which I was too chicken to try. What there ought to be are Thai-German fusion restaurants. Yeah, it'll be the big food trend in 2004.

Sunshine Restaurant & Bakery * 130 Naresdamri Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand

Hua Hin Brewing Company

1/2

So, we spent more on a few pints of beer and novelty buffalo wings than we
had on our entire dinner. Technically, this was "second dinner" as we'd
taken to calling our excess of meals in S.E. Asia. A part of the Hilton, but
on the main drag, this new-ish place was next to outdoor bars with lesser
food and 95 baht drinks. We just wanted to try the Buffalo wings, that's
all. They came all precious and lollipopped, and instead of blue cheese
dressing they were served with a marinara they deemed barbecue sauce. The
whole shebang, coupled with bad cover bands doing that Julio Iglesias Jr.'s
song where he warbles and cries about being your hero, was top notch Thai
for tourists. I mean that in the best way possible. It was fun.


Hua Hin Brewing Company * 33 Naresdamri Rd., HuaHin,
Thailand

Bella Roma

Pizza seems so wrong for the tropics, but when in Rome, as they say. Due to the inexplicable volume of pizza places in Hua Hin, our curiosity got the better of us. There were a bunch of similar seeming pizza joints in the touristy area, if one was better than another we couldn't tell. We were seated in an air-conditioned room with British (or possibly Australian–I'm bad at deciphering eavesdropped accents) families who seemed to be having a good time. Not that I take that as an accurate judgment of the food. We split a Hawaiian, I mean if you're going to do pizza in such an unorthodox setting you may as well go blasphemous with the toppings (at least pineapple is a crime in pizza-centric NYC). I can't say the pizza was anything to write home about (literally) but the experience definitely was. Novelty goes a long way with me. Used to big city portions, we were still totally hungry after eating our not so large, large pie. We headed out for equally misguided (yet beguiling) buffalo wings at a nearby bar.

Bella Roma * Hua Hin, Thailand

Chao Lay

Our first Hua Hin meal, at the outermost edge of pier, more balmy than
sticky, was a wonderful respite from Bangkok. We should've done this sooner.
I wasn't sure about James's choice of curry powder crab, which sounded gross
because I kept thinking of blah grocery store bottled curry, but the crab
wasn't bad at all. It was really akin to Singapore chili crab, in that it
was spiced and saucy and cooked in the shell. This rendition had the crab
hacked into large pieces. We also ordered southern fried rice, absolutely
not knowing what southern style meant, except that here in NYC there's a
dish called southern curry, which is the hottest, craziest dish I've ever
had. This was not spicy like that. It was just really good rice with an
astonishing amount of prawns and squid tossed in.

We were still acclimating to the spooky, tropical beach climate where
lizards seem to roam freely. At one point, what I thought was a bat starting
flapping right near James's head and scared the shit out of both of us. It
was a massive moth. Now I get how the Japanese could fathom the concept of
Mothra. We also got a jarring surprise from a cat that jumped up on the pier
next to us. Seeing a cat wasn't a surprise, but we couldn't figure how it
came from under the pier since we were suspended over water.

The meal was satisfying and leisurely, that's why I hate to admit that
this was the only evening in S.E. Asia that I got stomach sick. Later that
evening I was laying on the bed, delirious and queasy. I say delirious
because when James asked, "do you want some Tums?" I thought he said, "do
you want som tam" and I was like yeah (I could always go for a little papaya
salad) if I wasn't so ill. I started to laugh, but had to suck it back in as
to not barf. Ah…memories.


Chao Lay * 15
Naresdamri Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand