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MBK Center

Say what you will about the malling of America. But as a rule, foreign food
courts…well, rule. We totally got hooked on the sixth floor food court at
MBK, which seemed like the lowbrow mall in town. At least not as fancy as
the nearby Siam Center or Gaysorn Plaza. It's like a multi-storied, and most
importantly air-conditioned Chatuchak. The fun of the food court is that you
don't use cash (I'm not quite sure what the logic is, maybe something to do
with scamming money), you buy coupons at a little window, which can be
refunded if not used that day. And you really get a bang for your baht. We
bought 400 baht's worth (about $10) and couldn't even spend it all. Some
stalls use English, others don't, but you can get the gist from pictures and
from simple observation. James seemed hooked on ordering duck noodle soups
everywhere we went. I opted for red curry and Vietnamese spring rolls. I
could've eaten more, but the main floor of MBK has a section with tables of
homemade food for sale. It's crowded and nothing is in English, but you can
figure out about 75% of it. I was enamored by the crispy fried pork by the
pound (or would that be kilo?), served in plastic bags (they have a real
penchant for plastic bags–serving soda in baggies is bizarre) with
toothpicks, and vegetable dumplings in vivid purples and greens (beets and
scallion, I discovered). The demented Santa's Hamburgers chain is also
positioned nearby, but I never dared try the food.

MBK Center Food Court *
444 Phayathai Rd., Bangkok,Thailand

Eat Me

Toh Plue

I know that a crispy catfish and mango salad was ordered and eaten, but the
rest of the meal is a bit vague because I started to feel faint after
sitting down. (It's like that urban myth where if a subway crushes you,
you'll stay alive until the car is moved off your body. As long as I was
boiling hot I was fine, but as soon as the air-conditioning hit me I started
wilting.) Chatuchak can really take a lot out of you. After a few solid
hours of crowds, bargaining and oppressive heat, you just need to sit down.
I wish I were better acclimated because I'm sure I missed out not trying any
of the non-English outdoor food stands. But I had to swallow my pride and go
into full tourist mode, eating at the indoor, air-conditioned restaurant in
the market where all the other white people had congregated, Nancy Chandler
maps in tow (I'd actually bought and brought one with me to Thailand, but
forgot to bring it along on this excursion).

Toh Plue * Chatuchak Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Blue Elephant

This was the best of the upscale Thai we tried. I've since decided we
should've eaten more "regular" food, but was enticed by the favorable
exchange rate (it's not every day that a poor New Yorker like me can afford
high end restaurants). It also seemed sort of odd to eat at a worldwide Thai
chain restaurant while actually in Thailand. But I was curious.

The dcor wasn't minimalist chic, but rather made use of lots of bamboo
and accoutrements, in a royal Thai vein. The menu wasn't completely
traditional, however. There's were a few fusion flairs scattered throughout.
We way over-ordered, which made me feel guilty to leave so much behind (I'm
usually the queen of doggie bags). We had mixed satays: chicken, pork, and
buffalo, for a starter. Then a side of pad Thai (the only time in Thailand I
ordered the ubiquitous dish) which barely got touched. I ordered a green
curry with black chicken that came with mini rotis. It was really very good,
perfectly spicy and filled with those tiny pea eggplants you can never find
in NYC. Being addicted to gai pad grapow (which he's dubbed E3 after its
listing at the Thai restaurant near his office), James had to try the lamb
chop kapraow with wild rice and fried basil, which looked pretty impressive
(I love those fried herbs). Grapow? Kapraow? I know, there's not
consistency, I'm just going with the individual restaurants' spellings.

We were seriously walking distance from our hotel, but being Bankok in
the midst of a furious downpour, we opted for a cab. Also being Bangkok this
was a trauma because we were on the wrong side of the street and going right
(where our hotel was) would take going left for like a mile or so then
looping back. I felt like such the dirty American, as the maitre d' made one
of the staff go out in the rain and hail us a cab. We were given enormous
umbrellas to keep dry while the French, slightly sleazy (I didn't really
think he was sleazy, but he made some comment about how in Bangkok "you can
have anything" and James took that to mean sexual favors) maitre d' made
small talk with us, commenting on how he and James were dressed the same
(wearing a suit-kind of weird in Bangkok) and sort of tried bonding with us,
like one rich Westerner to another. I'm probably reading way more into the
little exchange we had, but I felt sort of spoiled with all the service and
attention we received in Thailand (it's supposed to be the land of smiles,

Blue Elephant * 233 South
Sathorn Rd., Bangkok,Thailand

Prik Kee Noo

I really had no idea what to expect of Bangkok. I figured it would be hot,
dirty, crowded and trafficky since that's what everyone says. I'm a New
Yorker, I can deal with huddled masses, right? Well, no. The heat was beyond
oppressive, and it wasn't crowds so much as impossibly crowded sidewalks,
the night markets made it difficult to walk at a typical New York clip. Half
the time there weren't sidewalks or street lights and giant cracks and
puddles with frogs in them. You really had to be careful where you stepped
(how people wear heels is beyond me). I'm not used to leisurely paces. But
the biggest shocker, what I hadn't anticipated, was that the concept of
crosswalks and signals wouldn't exist in Bangkok. On top of being
hyper-vigilant as to not being run over by motorbikes and cars, you also
have to look opposite directions than accustomed to since they are left-side
drivers. Being a pedestrian is totally exhausting in Bangkok.

According to my Time Out guidebook there was a restaurant, Kao Gub
Kaeng, that stayed open late, and that seemed walking distance from the
hotel. This was going to be my dinner plan. Making it to Soi Convent was a
total trek despite being maybe ten blocks away. And once there, we
absolutely couldn't find the restaurant. The side streets were all dark and
leafy and we started fretting that maybe we'd get accosted or something. It
was totally desolate compared to Silom. Plus, I was starving. We threw in
the towel and ended up at a the lesser of nearby evils, Prik Kee Noo (I
wasn't ready to eat alfresco sans English menus, but McDonald's and the
Irish pubs dotting the area seemed so wrong).

The food was actually pretty good, though not markedly different from
what I'd expected (granted, my perceptions might be skewed since Sripraphai
in NYC is a pretty dead on quality Thai restaurant). I mean, this was my
first Thai meal in Thailand and I was ready for the real deal, none of this
half-assed American crap. We tried the popiah, a seafood salad, and basil
chicken, a.k.a. E3. Still, not acclimated to the tropics, I had a total
spazz out when I saw a lizard on the wall next to us. Lizards would continue
to haunt us during our stay in Thailand. On the way back to the hotel we
completely accidentally ended up on Patpong, which was an unplanned
unsettling adventure of its own.

Prik Kee Noo * 1/2 Sivadon Bldg., Convent Rd.,


I'm not sure that where we ate was actually Kopitiam. I'd heard there was a
24-hour hawker center in the basement of the Meridian Hotel, and this was
the food court in the basement of the Meridian Hotel, but nowhere did it say
Kopitiam. It was a rainy Sunday morning, our last day in Asia. The place was
pretty dead, but we had fun wandering, nonetheless. James tried the chicken
rice because it was crime that we hadn't had it yet, and I got rojak because
I hadn't tried it yet either. I was told rojak loosely translates as crazy
salad, and that would make sense. There are a ton of different variations,
Nonya rojak, Indian rojak, and more. I think this was a pretty standard
version, from an Indonesian stall (where everything was fried and tempting).
If I'm correct, the rojak contained pineapple, cucumber, turnip, bits of
fried crueler, topped with a thick, sweet and spicy, dark kecap manis-like
sauce and crushed peanuts. I'm just guessing, I've seen recipes containing
jackfruit, papaya, mango and other things, so who knows. Oh, I also got
fried Vietnamese spring rolls because it's just not right to eat a meal in
Singapore without one item having been dipped in oil.

Kopitiam * 100 Orchard Rd., Singapore

S.E. Asia or Bust

I don't know why Santa hawks burgers in Bangkok

How cool is a rendang burger?

One of the first indications that Hua Hin was an odd place. Thai workers in drindls and lederhosen were quite a surprise.

"Buffalo wings" from the Hua Hin Hilton. Don't forget that traditional marinara for dipping. After eating Thai pizza, it only seemed fitting.

No, it's not Mulberry St. When you think of Thai beaches, don't pizza pies come to mind?

I don't recall palm trees in Little Italy.

Ignore James's big head. I'm a very bad photographer and was trying to capture the Filipino Tom Petty in the background.


Chili crabs in Singapore? Of course it must be done (despite pepper crabs
seeming tastier in appearance and by description). We decided to head out to
the East Coast Seafood complex on a Friday night. I'd actually made
reservations, but it didn't really matter because you were still given a
number scrawled on a yellow plastic square (which I still have) and made to
wait like everyone else. They just kept adding more tables and chairs as
more people showed up. We were practically at the water's edge, the furthest
table, until a group of Germans (I don't actually know that they were
Germans, but I like to scapegoat them for all the annoying tourist behavior
in S.E. Asia) insisted on having their table put between ours and the river.

The funniest part was how immediately a woman came up and asked if we
wanted satay with our meal. James was irked, thinking it was a pushy
waitress and said he wanted to look at the menu first, which we hadn't
received yet. I didn't think they even served satay, and it turned out they
didn't. She was just a renegade satay hawker, which seemed way more like a
Thailand move than a Singapore one where everything's so darn orderly and
regulated. Being semi-clueless we ordered a large chili crab for the two of
us and were told that we really wanted a medium one. Ok, fine enough. And we
ordered a female because I think the roe is supposed to a selling point. We
also got a side of green vegetable (Chinese broccoli, I think). Yes, the
crab was big and swimming in sauce. A huge red, sticky, eggy mess, in the
best way possible, of course. Yes, I know that's how chili crab is, but I'm
weird about getting my hands dirty so had to just dig in and worry about
napkins later (they give handy wipes, but you burn through them in no time
flat). I did know enough that you're supposed to order mantou, little fried
buns to daub up the sauce, which we did. But apparently not to our
waitresses liking who told us we needed to eat the sauce (I was totally
bursting at the seams by this point) and that she'd bring out mantou (she
didn't realized we'd already gone the mantou dipping route). After the
second bun sopping routine there was still tons of sauce, so we tried to
scoop it into a pool and hide it under the crab shell. I've never had to do
something like that before, but I don't think I could stomach another course
of fried buns, and I love fried buns. Next time I'll try the pepper crab
(it's not so saucy).

Jumbo * East Coast
Seafood Centre, Singapore

Katong Laksa

My first Singpore laksa in Singapore. So not like the crazy
I initially got hooked on. Though Taste of Bali (clearly
wrong by using a touristy Indonesian city in their name) prepared the dish
non-traditionally, they did set my preference for the rich, coconut milk
based Singapore style. I'm totally ruined for the sour assam version you'll
find in Malaysia. My laksa love started as a near novelty, who knew that
half a decade later I'd have a full blown Malaysian/Singaporean food

I heard talk of, or at least had read of the "laksa wars of 1999."
Seriously. They're serious about this stuff and I don't blame them. And East
Coast Rd. is home to a row of laksa shops. But that's not where I went.
Accompanied by someone in the know, James's coworker Alvin, and short on
time (though he was low on workload due to the NYC blackout and subsequent
shortage of email directives) we tried the Katong Laksa, not in Katong, but
in cute, suburbanesque Holland Village. Alvin claimed it reminded him of New
Jersey where he grew up. If only I could just skip across the Hudson for
food like this.

Overly-vigilant, Alvin ordered the soup without the cockles. My stomach
could've handled it, I swear. The laksa "gravy" (it weirds me out that they
call the broth gravy) is thick, curryish, spicy, yellow, with rice noodles,
hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, shrimp and bean curd. I was told this stall's
trademark was that the noodles are cut up for easy eating. For a chopstick
bungler, that was a selling point. We also had otak otak, and fresh lime
juice, most likely from those adorable mini limes everyone seems to use over

The nice thing about Singapore stalls is that almost always you can
choose from a variety of sizes. Unlike NYC where everything is huge and you
want more for your money, in Singapore it's actually wise to order small
(which are never actually small) to save room for "second lunch" or "second
dinner" (as James and I took to calling our many food courses that didn't
fit into a traditional three square meals) This isn't an actual tradition
(that I'm aware of), we just invented the double meal on the fly.

Katong Laksa * Holland Village, Singapore

Coriander Leaf

Honest to goodness I can barely remember the food. And oddly enough, James
claims it was one of the highest credit card charges from our two-week S.E.
Asian excursion. It wasn't that the food was unremarkable, we were just
overwhelmed and tired. It was our first proper, sit-down meal on the
continent. I recall there being some naan and some prawns…heck, the
restaurant was in our hotel and we were beat. I started to feel
self-conscious when we asked for a shared dessert, neglected the two extra
plates provided and shared the treat on the plate it came on. Perhaps that's
not the thing to do? It was the first, though hardly the last, time we'd get
odd stares for eating off the same plate. Are these folks germ freaks or
just plain particular?

CorianderLeaf * 76
Robertson Quay, Singapore