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Posts from the ‘Thailand’ Category

Soul Food Mahanakorn & Nahm

Some say that foreigners can't/shouldn't cook food that's
not their own, though arguments tend to be more specifically about white
guys appropriating Asian culture. (You don't hear so much dissent over
French-trained chefs of all nationalities. And really, about women like Naomi Duguid or Fuschia Dunlop because they are cookbook authors, not chefs, I imagine.) I believe that anyone can learn to
cook anyone's cuisine if immersed extensively (I wouldn't say a few weeks
in Vietnam counts) and just growing up with a cuisine doesn't make you an expert. A corollary might be gastropubs like Smith where Thai chefs have
no problem cooking scotch eggs or haggis.

Where you risk courting the most criticism is when
attempting to cook your non-native cuisine on its home turf. Like Andy Ricker
may get some shit over Pok Pok, but it's not as if he's an American running a
Thai restaurant in Thailand.  Jarrett Wrisley is with
Soul Food Mahanakorn (well documented here) though he manages to sidestep drama
since he's more restaurateur than chef–and it doesn't hurt that the restaurant is pretty likeable.

Kill me, but I'd describe Soul Food Mahanakorn as the Pok
Pok of Bangkok (I'm shocked that Google only turns up two "the Pok Pok of…" hits–neither for Soul Food Mahanakorn) by which I mean that both are casual with decor that nods to Thai pop culture and serve a curated selection of dishes that are nearly
unbastardized, yet appeal to a specific western sensibility. That
translates to snacky small plates of organic, responsibly sourced wings, ribs
and sausages, and cocktails crafted with bitters and egg white cocktails, as
well as Thai aromatics and herbs. Nice.

Soul food mahanakorn lamb grapow

Your typical all-in-one grapow with a runny fried egg, but using
roughly chopped lamb. This was particularly good because the meat had a little wok char.

Soul food mahanakorn fried chicken salad

Who wouldn't order a salad made of fried chicken? This yam
with all the requisite shallots, mint, lime, fish sauce and chiles, reminded me
of a similarly odd dish they used to made at more oddly named VIP@ Thai Cuisine in
Carroll Gardens. The Brooklyn version was served with the meat pulled from the
bone and tossed in and didn't have the green bean and cabbage garnishes. Both have their merits.

Soul food mahanakorn pork belly

Pork belly and kale! This is what I'm talking about when I'm
talking about specific Western sensibilities.  I wanted to see kale in a Thai context, except
that I'm fairly certain the kale mentioned on the menu was not the green that
arrived on my plate. This is Chinese broccoli and crispy pork, right?

* * *

Nahm is a different beast (and technically a chain since
there's an older Michelin-starred London location). This year it became the 50th
best restaurant in the world,
which I know doesn't sound so impressive compared
to Spain's continued dominance of the single digits, but it's a feat for the
only Thailand entry.

The project of Australian chef, cookbook author and Thai
obsessive, David Thompson, Nahm is more of a classic fine-dining draw. I
suspect that the
average patron is not there to experience obscure ingredients or
lost-to-the-ages preparations, they just want to eat at a good looking
restaurant in a stylish hotel.

For instance, the similarly aged, Brooklyn-ish
(yes, kettle black) couple we were seated next to were
unfamiliar with, non-obscure mangosteen and durian, and ordered the latter because they
were charmed by its descriptor as "the king of fruit." Yes, they
learned a lesson (frankly, I don't get the big stink over durian–it's not that
foul) but I don't they were at Nahm to be schooled.

Nahm starters
Expensive for Bangkok, but stellar value by NYC
standards, the 1700 baht ($55) set menu with five courses, each with vast choices (nam prik, soup, salad, curry and
stir-fry/steamed/grilled dish) plus desserts, is really the way
to go. After the amuse and canapes (above: smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumplings; grilled chicken satay with peanuts and tart chili sauce; coconut cup cakes with red curry of crab;
spicy pork with mint, peanuts and crunchy rice on betel leaves) everything shows up at once,
Thai-style (which took me by surprise the first time I encountered it at Bo.lan, a similarly minded restaurant run by Thompson proteges).

Nahm set menu

The array is
both dazzling and overwhelming with portions that initially seem dainty but nearly
push you over the edge by the time the sweets arrive.

Nahm sweets

If I'm
giving the individual dishes short shrift (I am) it's because I always find
tasting menus daunting to blog about to the point that I just don't anymore
(not without weird OCD regrets–I'm still torn over not taking photos or
blogging about Reinstoff in Berlin, the only upscale meal I ate during last November's vacation). But I'd still like to
convey the style of food served.

Nahm minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream

The most memorable dish (with the least illustrative photo) or rather
seemingly incongruous group of dishes (we were trying to think of American
things that would be equally nonsensical together–chicken, waffles and syrup? Cincinnati
chili?) was a nam prik/relish that pushed the limits of sweet, fatty, fiery and
bitter. In front is mess of very spicy prawns and oysters, covered in shallots,
chiles and a floss of some sort. This was accompanied by a small dish of caramelized
nuggets of pork belly and a small deep-fried fish with raw vegetables and herbs
like long batons of almost menthol galangal. The intense flavor of the rhizome
made it very apparent why substituting ginger like Westernized recipes often recommend,
wouldn't work.

This is the kind of recipe that I would read about, want to eat, but wouldn't
even bother to attempt because of the steps involved. Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook (a Christmas present from last year that admire but from afar) has nothing on 688-page Thai Food.

Soul Food Mahanakorn * 56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Bangkok, Thailand

Nahm * Metropolitan Hotel, 27 S. Sathorn St., Bangkok, Thailand

The Pizza Company

Pizza Hut gets a lot of play online because the
company's path to success in other countries appears to be paved with stuffed
crusts and other novelties.


Pizza hut 12 cones pizza

They were doing the shrimp cone thing on my
previous visit to Bangkok in 2010.

Pizza hut promo

This time? I'm not sure. Is a soft floppy crust that exciting? I may be missing the point of this promo.

This time I wanted a taste of the homegrown, and
that meant The Pizza Company. It's the Thai Pizza Hut. This particular branch was in the MBK mall, others are delivery-and-takeout-only. (There are alternatives
to American imports. Black Canyon, for instance, is the local chain that
competes with Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.)

Pizza company pad kee mao spaghetti

Pizzas and pastas are equally popular; combos are
available and most parties order both. 
Seafood and spice both play major roles, as shown in the pad kee mao spaghetti,
a logical fusion of drunken noodles with Western pasta. This was not bad.

Pizza company personal pan pizza

Pan pizzas are called "personal" in the US
for obvious reasons. The diminutive though bready quarters are meant for one.
In Thailand it is suggested for up to two diners. Two slices of shrimp,
mussels, fake crab, pineapple and chiles on thousand island dressing is
probably more than enough for most Americans anyway.

Pizza company bubblegum sparkling drink

I don't know what the ketchup was intended for. Also note the turquoise Bubblegum Sparkling beverage. Caffe Nero glowing in the background is a Black Canyon offshoot. Offshoots are big.

Pizza company mbk

Do not be fooled by the old white guy (this was also
the only place where I encountered American Spanish-speakers in two weeks in SE
Asia and the Middle East) The Pizza Company is just as popular with Thais as

The Pizza Company * Multiple Locations, Bangkok, Thailand


Soi Polo Fried Chicken

Soi Polo is one of those restaurants like Chote
that is a secret to no one with even the vaguest chowhoundish tendencies.
Was it the doing of R.W. Apple Jr.? I don’t know.


Polo fried chicken exterior

It would take me more than the
five days I had to scout out (no, not gems–I decided this week that that word
is no longer usable) un-blogged stars. Thailand is tougher than Singapore and
Malaysia with their English-friendly signage (and Malay is written in Latin
script with food words that are easy to figure out) plus you really need to
stick in one place for a while to get a sense for what’s truly off the radar
and noteworthy.

Polo fried chicken

But after two previous fried chicken-free Bangkok
visits, Soi Polo had to be done. Known for its fried chicken and som tam, and
that’s exactly what we ordered. The chicken was crispy, golden and covered in a
mulch of fried garlic. Good, but certainly not the world’s best. I like the
sweet crunch from the garlic and the meat was moist, but I’ve yet to encounter
anything that beats the simple perfection of Willie Mae’s Scotch House, the New Orleans
favorite is no less discovered than Soi Polo.

Polo fried chicken som tam

Straightforward payapa salad with fresh shrimp, no
dried seafood or fermented crustaceans.

Polo fried chicken meal

Chang beer on ice and a wad of sticky rice pried out
of its plastic interior rounds out a nice lunch.

Polo fried chicken interior

I’ve read reviews disparging the air conditioned restaurant that used to be a small stand, but it was certainly not air conditioned unless I was missing something. No amount of fans can counteract the humidity.

Speaking of fried chicken, I saw this tweet while at
MBK and had to see for myself.

Kfc fried chicken bangkok
It was totally American-sized, but you do get real plates and silverware. Don’t forget the sweet chile sauce.

Kfc featured coleslaw

The coleslaw, however, came in a plastic container and was nowhere near the size as the salad-bowl version in the ad.

Soi Polo Fried Chicken * 3 Soi Polo, Wireless Rd., Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok: Goth & Animal-Style


The person behind Plearnwan, a baffling-for-foreigners (i.e. me) faux old-timey theme park with food but no rides in Hua Hin, has developed a goth mall for Bangkok called Mansion 7. I’m certain I would enjoy it even if I didn’t fully understand what was trying to be accomplished.

Casinoroyale Having just opened on Halloween, I don’t think all of the restaurants are open yet. However, I do like the sound of papaya salad catered to different blood types from Somtumized and kanom jeen at Krueng-Zen made with black rice noodles.

So far, the only food report I’ve found (in English at least) is from My "Sous-Vide Life" who ate at the international restaurant, Casino Royale. The non-surprising verdict: just so-so.

But my god, they’re serving “animal fries,” a crinkle cut mess smothered in sautéed onions, American cheese and thousand island dressing that bears more than a passing resemblance to a dish served at a little Californian chain you may have heard of.


Along with the chicken caesar salad, duck confit and pork chop also advertised on a blackboard menu, I see black cod miso. That specialties from In-N-Out and Nobu could comingle at the same eatery, is one reason why Thailand is so great.

Interior photo from the Mansion 7 Facebook page

Dining pics from My "Sous-Vide" Life


My Bo.lan tasting menu printed on heavy stock and an elephant-shaped swizzle stick from a Sofitel bar in Hua Hin were two of the odder things that went missing from my suitcase during baggage handling ($50 USD and my mobile phone with the adorable custom banh mi photo cover were the more ire-inducing, less unusual theft targets).

While photos and taste memories (ugh, I kind of hate that phrase) are valuable, I often rely on the printed word for dish details, especially when describing complex items with numerous ingredients. That's why I've left Bo.lan as my final vacation meal revisit (also, I get extremely pissed whenever I think about my stolen items because I have anger management problems).

This was the one and only truly upscale meal during this two-week-jaunt. If I've learned anything from traveling—I picked this up immediately on my first Asia visit to Thailand in 2003—it's that just because you can afford to indulge in fine dining (there's a thrill to having an exchange rate work in your favor) it doesn’t mean that's a good use of your time and stomach. I've always had more memorable meals in casual surroundings, especially in Thailand where high end tends to be French, Italian or toned-down beautifully garnished Thai amidst teak, reflecting pools and silk pillows.

Bo.lan, the product of a youngish couple, two chefs who worked at David Thompson’s Nahm in London, managed to present traditional cuisine in creative ways without muddying the end result or boring to death. Not easy.

I was skeptical after reading some unfavorable online chatter. Not another all style no substance fancy restaurant with prices to match. But it wasn't at all.

My only minor criticism, was that there was just too much food, a rare complaint. (Maybe I shouldn't have had that MOS Burger late lunch.) The tasting menu went well beyond tastes; the portions were generous for two and didn't come in courses-for-one Western-style, but all at once, was more like an amazing potluck. Dishes to dig into were everywhere: soups, herbs, dips, stir-fries. Not everything got enough attention from us.

Bo.lan amuses

I thought this was an amuse, but it was more of a pre-palate cleanser. The green liquid is pandan, juice, Thai whiskey in the background and a chile salt scattered along the front of the plate.

Bo.lan bigger amuses

These were the amuses, five in all, quite a bit of amusement. The mixture in the glass was full of baby herbs and quite bitter, the creamy panang-type curry in the shell next to it balanced it out.

Bo.lan crab dip

Crab dip, coconut-milky not cheesy, with big fat chunks of seafood. The dip-ins included okra, tiny eggplants, water apple (I'd never encountered so much water apple in a two-week period) mystery gnarly herbs and buds, a two slices of a battered, fried sausage. This, and the following main dishes were served with a scoop of jasmine rice and chewy red rice (you can have one or both).

Bo.lan rabbit red curry with winter melon

Rabbit is not a meat I think of in Thai cuisine. But here it is paired with winter melon in a red curry. I wish I could chiffonade my lime leaves that fine.

Bo.lan crayfish dish

A salty crayfish dish mixed with ground pork.

Bo.lan prawn & eggplant salad

Eggplant salad with duck eggs and giant prawns. I'm remembering backwards, but I enjoyed this more than the smoked eggplant in a similar vein that I had at Fatty 'Cue recently.

Bo.lan smoked fish soup

A soup of your choosing (there were three options) comes at the same time as the main courses so it's hard to know what to focus on. My smoked fish soup was lukewarm before I got around to sipping it.

Bo.lan fruit in syrup

Rock sugar, cinnamon and fresh fruit strips in syrup. Cooling and slippery.

Bo.lan dessert sampler

James and I were given different dessert samplers. His contained more cakey items and was dare I say, more masculine? Mine felt lighter and fruitier. Longans, a taro chip in the back, a sweetened coconut milk broth topped with a thicker crunchy chip and a spoonful of pandan jam and coconut shreds. I was having a hard time working through this, though I can always make room for pandan and coconut.

Bo.lan sweets

But it wasn't the end. The sweets were just too much. We stuffed some mini meringues and palm sugar caramels into our pockets. They were a nice surprise to find the following morning.

Bo.lan * 42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong Sukhumvit 26, Bangkok, Thailand

Raan Jay Fai

It’s not often that I encounter a knife and fork prawn, a meaty curled specimen that’s more than three bites. Raan Jay Fai’s pad kee mao goong is full of these monster shrimp; maybe that’s why this dish commands the notoriously high 250-baht-price ($7.75 today) when you can get a plate of drunken noodles for a fraction of that elsewhere in Bangkok.

Raan jay fai pad kee mao

These wide rice noodles are seared with a crisper bin worth of vegetables: shiitakes, strips of carrot and red pepper, fat snap peas and wedges of a sweet crunchy root that I’m 85% sure was taro though it lacked the tell tale mauve speckles.

Raan jay fai stove

The charcoal-fueled flames waiting for a wok.

Raan jay fai interior

Rows of condiments waiting to be used. I had heard about long lines and crowds but the open-air restaurant was next to empty shortly after their 4pm opening.

Raan Jay Fai * 327 Mahachai Rd., Bangkok, Thailand

Hua Hin Night Market

  Much of the food at the touristy Hua Hin night market is unremarkable, and whatever you do don't get suckered into one of the "Western" sit down restaurants along the perimeters hawking steak and potatoes to Germans and Swedes.

Hua hin night market steak

Steak was a prominent marketing buzzword in Hua Hin. I guess they've determined that foreigners really want their beef, and not in a Thai salad.

Hua hin night market mini bar

Hua hin night market whiskey sour

There was no resisting the novelty of having a 100 Baht ($3) whiskey sour at one of the three-seat bar stands, though.

Hua hin night market cocktail menu

It took strength to ignore the pink lady on the menu. Surprisingly, no grasshopper. 

Hua hin night market nam prik stall

This nam prik stall was mobbed the night before. I pushed my way to the front to sample some chile pastes and ended up buying a sweet, fishy one. I later saw the woman running the operation and in the picture on top of the stall, on a billboard. I guess this a well known brand, at least locally.

Hua hin night market dried meat

We picked up some unusually expensive pork jerky (front and center). Fatty and unchewable at the same time.

Hua hin night market seafood

I stayed away from the seafood, as I was certain it came with a marked-up price.

Churooo love

Churros? Churrooo? It's all about love.

Hua hin night market curries

This was more my speed. Nothing makes me happier than rows of curries. Two stands compete for attention at the far end of the market where the crowds aren't.

Hua hin night market catfish & pork

Fried catfish with chile and basil and something porky with green beans. Regular Hua Hin cuisine was not timid with spice. The razor clam curry we ate at La Mer, some street som tam and this duo all surprised with their powerful burn. We ate refined Thai-esque fare at our hotel's luxurious Oceanside restaurant, right on the beach, our last night and wished we had came back to the market for more $2 curry.

Hua Hin Night Market * Petchkasem Rd., Hua Hin, Thailand

La Mer

As I begin to wrap up my dutiful What I Ate on Vacation Coverage (jeez, it’s almost May and I’ve been back since early March—I really do think I’ll wake up one day, realize I’m 50 years old, and freak) the strays start surfacing.

Khao takiab sea

I wouldn’t bother mentioning La Mer, the only restaurant at the top of Khao Takiab, a site known for its Buddhist temple, statues and wild roaming monkeys, because it screams tourist trap, literally. If driven up the windy road to the top of the rock, there’s no place else to eat within reasonable walking distance. We had half about 40 minutes to kill before being picked back up.

La mer restaurant

On the other hand, La Mer has the distinction of serving the hottest food we ate in Thailand. We had to remind ourselves that it was clearly geared toward Thai tourists, not New Yorkers. We got ice for our beer like the locals and tried to fit in.

La mer razor clams

This soupy tangle of razor clams, basil, chiles and krachai was powerful, peppery. The chewy mollusks delivered the kind of heat that creeps into your ears and won’t let up. Cold beer and a big bowl of rice, the best remedies.

La mer seafood papaya salad

This papaya salad with seafood, a dish I ate quite a few times in Thailand, was at least four times hotter than any we were served in Bangkok. Not unbearable, just very sharp and a nice complement to the crisp tart shredded fruit.

La mer patio

By the half-way point of our trip, sitting outside became more tolerable, though not preferable. It’s not like there was air conditioning inside anyway.

La mer exterior

La Mer * Khao Takiab, Hua Hin, Thailand

MOS Burger

MOS Burger is so civilized. Sane portions, sodas served in real glasses with coasters, food brought to your table, spotless. I didn’t feel guilty or dinner-wrecking by stopping in for a late afternoon combo.

Mos burger combo

I’m not terribly adventurous because the first and last time I tried MOS in Singapore, I ordered the same thing: the spicy cheeseburger. Strange, because it’s mayonnaisey and that’s not a condiment I normally tolerate. The burger is so foreign that I just have to suspend my prejudices and enjoy the small patty doused in mild chopped onion chile sauce, and bolstered by cheese, a fat tomato slice and yes, that mayonnaise.

Spicy mos cheeseburger

If I ever find myself near a MOS Burger again, I will try one of the rice burgers using pressed rice spheres for buns. Ebi or unagi?

Mos burger coaster

Bangkok mos burger

MOS Burger * CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand

Aw Taw Kaw Market

Upscale is the adjective frequently used to describe Aw Taw Kaw, the wet market across the street from Chatuchak. The stalls are orderly and clean, the prices are elevated, but it’s not exactly like Aw Taw Kaw would be mistaken for the food hall at CentralWorld And your typical American grocery shopper? I think they’d have a hard time calling any store without air conditioning upscale.

Aw taw kaw food court

It is a great place for ogling produce, meat and prepared foods, even if you can sample a few things. I headed to the food court first. Unless you’ve spent some time in Thailand (a few weeks doesn’t count for me) or can read Thai, it’s not always obvious what each stand is selling just based on the observable ingredients on display. 

Aw taw kaw curries

You can see what others order or go the easy route and find a vendor with many sturdy pots out in the open.

Aw kaw taw catfish & pork

A generous helping of rice is spooned onto a plate and you’re given two choices to top it. I pointed at what appeared to be a dry, catfish curry with chile and basil and a soupier curry with fatty strips of pork and what I think was krachai, a rhizome that showed up everywhere in Thailand but is more elusive here unless you like it pickled in a jar. This was some of our favorite food in Bangkok. Curry on rice, simple. I guess we’re easy to please.

Aw taw kaw satay

I don’t think satay is ever very exciting even when it’s good. James tended to pick up a few skewers everywhere we went.

Aw taw kaw rabbit

A father and daughter next to us were playing with a rabbit on their table that I assumed to be a pet (you can buy them at Chatuchak) and not intended for a soup pot. I thought he was cute, at one point he jumped off the table and tried hopping away, but I gathered that animals on dining tables aren’t universally loved. A nearby woman wouldn’t stop glowering. In NYC people act like they don’t care about anomalies, in Asia no one has qualms about delivering an overt look of disapproval.

Aw taw kaw colorful rice

You may or may not know that I am obsessed with food in unusual colors (I don’t want to say unnatural because I suspect these hues weren’t from synthetic dye) so green, periwinkle and maroon rice completely wowed me. I wish I could’ve tasted the difference among all five styles but there is only so much eating one can do. Besides, I wasn’t sure how they were intended to be eaten.

Aw taw kaw things in bags

Taut plastic bags filled with unknown liquids.

Aw taw kaw dried fish

Dried fish and shrimp.

Aw taw kaw pork

So much pork. We did get some slices and chile dip to go.

Aw taw kaw som tam kits

Som tam kits. Maybe this is what is meant by upscale. Actually, now that I’m looking at this photo again, I’m not sure why I thought this was fixings for a papaya salad. There’s nothing papaya-ish about the mysterious brown squiggles on the upper right side of each package.

Aw taw kaw seafood

Grilled seafood.

Aw taw kaw thai marzipan

Thai marzipan, bean paste not ground almonds.

Aw taw kaw pork shanks

Pork shanks standing upright.

Aw taw kaw staff eating pizza

What does the staff eat on their break? Pizza from The Pizza Company.

Aw taw kaw melons

Giant melons.

Aw taw kaw curry pastes

Curry pastes packed into dense mounds much like mole in Mexico. We bought a few small packets but haven’t used them yet.

Chatuchak coconut ice cream

Something as simple as ordering coconut ice cream could end up being complicated. There were numerous tubs of white ice cream, each a different flavor from what I gathered were different varieties of coconut. I’ve never had a choice about what kind of coconut I’d like to eat. And then you are allowed to pick three toppings from an array of glass jars, maybe 15. This is tab tim grob, a.k.a. red rubies, a.k.a. water chestnuts coated in scarlet tapioca starch, candied slivers of pumpkin and something that they call sea coconut in Malaysia. I have no idea what it’s called in Thai…ok, now I do: look dtao, palm seed.

Aw taw kaw cat trying to stay cool

A convenience store on the perimeter had pay toilets and a cat trying to cool off. A lot of the cats in Thailand seemed as hot and beat up as I was.

Aw Taw Kaw Market * Phaholyothin Rd., Bangkok, Thailand