Archive for the 'Scenes' Category

Scenes: Eating in Bangkok III

We started off our third full day in Bangkok much like the one before—The Astronomer and I went on a run, while Lush got some extra shut eye. We departed from our hostel around noon and headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Just a few steps from home base, I was wooed by a vendor with a wok frying up all sorts of good stuff. I had no clue what she was making, but it looked mighty tasty, so I pointed to an attractive plate she had just served up and asked for an identical one.

What arrived at our table was “larp moo” (30 baht), a dish of minced pork seasoned with herbs and lots of chilies. The Astronomer ate the majority of this dish because I am a wuss when it comes to spicy.

The man sitting across from us ordered the “cal pad peek” which came with a gorgeous fried egg on top (40 baht). I once again pointed and requested an identical plate. Thin slices of beef were stir-fried with white and green onions in soy sauce. The results were simple and good. The egg could’ve been runnier, but I have no idea how to say that in Thai.

Two skytrains later, we arrived at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Prior to exiting the station, The Astronomer purchased a maple waffle (15 baht). The waffle was freshly made and still warm from the iron. With crisped edges, moist innards and caramelized topping, it was the most delicious waffle we ate in Bangkok.

The Chatuchak Weekend Market is a huge affair. In fact, it took us a couple of hours just to complete a loop around it. Lush was the first to succumb to the plethora of goodies on sale. She purchased a stick of cocktail wieners wrapped in wonton paper (10 baht).

Although they looked adorable, I passed on the Thai-style pigs in a blanket because there’s something about a collection of unknown meats that is unsettling. Lush and The Astronomer liked them well enough, but not as much as grilled meats on a stick.

After spending a good hour or so shuffling through racks of vintage clothes and contemplating America’s influence on global trends, we were all ready to eat. The Astronomer ordered up a shallow bowl of curry with fish balls served over vermicelli rice noodles (25 baht).

Shredded cabbage, cucumbers and herbs were available tableside for diners to garnish their noodles to taste. The coconut milk within the curry cut some of its intrinsic spiciness, but not enough for my sad excuse of a palette. I wonder if it is possible to train oneself to embrace spicy foods.

Lush purchased some Thai iced tea-flavored ice cream topped with condensed milk (15 baht). Although the texture was slightly icy, the flavor was definitely right on. My friend’s penchant for sweets is unparalleled.

Next, The Astronomer purchased a couple fried fish cakes (10 baht).

We’re not exactly sure what these things are made of, but they expand quite a bit when submerged in hot oil. Although the fish cakes looked impressive, they tasted like basic seafood forcemeat seasoned with fish sauce.

A collection of sushi, including a variety in the shape of Asia’s #1 sensation Hello Kitty, caught my eye.

I chose three pieces: tomago, seaweed and octopus (15 baht). The sweet egg, seaweed and octopus were not rolled within the rice like traditional sushi. Instead, they were placed atop a roll made of solid rice and seaweed like toppings. The rice was too densely packed, but I had no complaints about the tomago, seaweed and octopus.

While The Astronomer and I tasted various savories, Lush craved more sweets and procured a Thai milk shake (20 baht). The Astronomer hit the nail on the head when he said it tasted like artificial bubblegum flavoring. It was pretty, but not tasty.

After a brief shopping intermission, The Astronomer sampled a fried vegetable “samosa” (20 baht). He said it tasted like the type of Chinese eggroll that comes free with a combo meal. There was a lot of cabbage, and not much else.

Still not satisfied in the sweets department, Lush went for a stick of pandan-flavored ice cream (10 baht). It tasted similar to The Astronomer’s rainbow ice cream from the day before—sweet, cold, and not the least bit pandan-like.

Some of the best noodles we enjoyed in Bangkok were sold at the weekend market. The Astronomer’s soy sauce noodles with greens (10 baht) were texturally terrific and well-seasoned. I love wide noodles with all of my heart.

In the mood for something other than refined sugars, Lush picked up a portion of barbecued pork pieces (35 baht). The pork was prepared in the classic style of Chinese barbecue complete with a beautiful pink glaze. The meat was moist, not too fatty and just sweet enough.

As we left the market and headed back to the Sukhumvit area, I grabbed a mixed fruit waffle (18 baht) to munch on. The waffle wasn’t warm off the iron like the maple one from earlier, but still excellent. This chain needs to come to Vietnam pronto.

For dinner, we checked out the sixth floor food court at Mah Boon Khrong, better known as MBK.

Craving something fresh and healthy to counterbalance the caloric-fest from earlier, I settled on a crispy catfish salad (30 baht). The barely recognizable catfish was served over a bed of romaine lettuce and topped with salted peanuts, carrots and green papaya. The fish-sauce based dressing was so spicy that my eyes watered profusely. Albeit being too fiery, I still found the salad quite enjoyable and ate every last bit. Bangkok really does know how to deep-fry its fishes.

The Astronomer chose noodles with greens and pork served in thick gravy (35 baht) for his dinner. Similar to Vietnamese mi xao don, the dish’s crunchy noodles softened in the pool of sauce. The flavors in this dish were delicate and familiar, but the abundance of gravy was too much.

The Astronomer and I shared some pork rolls (30 baht) for our final dinner course. Thin sheets of rice paper wrapped around pieces of marinated pork and fresh romaine lettuce. It was a strong finish to our food court dinner.

Walking back to the hostel, we purchased two roti with sugar and condensed milk (5 baht) because a day without roti is a day without sunshine. Not nearly as big and fluffy as the one before, this one still hit the spot.

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Scenes: Eating in Bangkok II

The Astronomer and I started our second full day in Bangkok with another run around the man-made lake, while Lush indulged in a two-hour long, full-body massage. We headed out of the hostel around noon to explore the Royal Palace, Chinatown, and whatever else floated our boats along the way.

Sukhumvit Soi 11, the alley in which our hostel was located, is packed with food vendors practically all day and night. Even when we weren’t looking to eat, there was always a delight that temptingly caught our eyes.

While walking to the skytrain station, Lush picked up a bag of mussels sautéed with vegetables and chilies (20 baht). The seafood salad was sold pre-portioned and at room temperature. It was a bit too spicy for me, but Lush enjoyed it thoroughly because her palate is cut out for that kind of stuff, whereas mine just burns.

The Astronomer and I kicked off the day with a fried tamarind fish with rice (40 baht), which was sold next to the mussel salad vendor. The fish’s crispy skin absorbed the tamarind sauce like a sponge, while the white flaky flesh was moist and fresh. There was something about the fish’s residual oiliness mixed with the tangy tamarind that was so awesome!

Two skytrains and a water taxi ride later, we arrived in the vicinity of the Royal Palace. The water taxi dropped us off in an extensive outdoor food market. Even though we ate merely a half an hour ago, we were game for more.

Lush grabbed a rum raisin waffle that reminded The Astronomer and I of the wonderful Belgian waffles we used to eat at Bonte in Philadelphia. The crispy and flaky specimen was the first of many more Bangkok waffles to come

The Astronomer spotted a tub full of chicken drumsticks resembling his favorite Chinese-American dish, sesame chicken. He ordered a plate with rice and announced that they met his expectations–the sweet and sticky flavor was classic and unmistakable.

I had a Barry Schwartz moment as I perused the selections on hand at a rice and fixins stall.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I settled on the Thai braised pork belly with hardboiled eggs (25). The appearance of “Thai Pakow” bore an uncanny resemblance to thit kho, one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes. The pork pieces were smaller than the ones in thit kho, but just as tender. Although I wanted to love it, the dish’s overwhelming sweetness was too much for me. I guess syrupy meats just aren’t my thing.

While the Astronomer ate his chicken and I ate my sweet meat, Lush sipped down a cool glass of Matoom juice (10 baht). Matoom is Thai for bael fruit. It was sorta sweet, sorta sour, and 100% hydrating.

For dessert, Lush and I visited a man with forearms of steel.

He served us up mini-scoops of coconut ice cream topped with lychees, pineapple and corn nibblets (10 baht). Ever since my friend Britta told me about the corn ice cream she sampled while studying abroad in China, I’ve wanted to try the unorthodox combination. The verdict? Not bad at all. I’d buy a quart of cornbread-flavored ice cream with corn nibblet swirls any day.

From the outdoor market, we headed to the Royal Palace, where our eyeballs and skin were seared from the shiny buildings and relentless sun. The sites were beautiful but draining.

After we left the historic site, we meandered toward Chinatown. Not having stuffed our faces for at least three hours, we were ready to eat once again. Our first purchase of the evening was half a kilogram of Man Plums (60 baht). A cross between mangoes and apricots, these little plums were simultaneously sweet and tart. I do love trying new fruits!

Just a few steps away from the Man Plum dealer, we spotted a woman making several varieties of roti using eggs, bananas, sugar and condensed milk.

We opted for the basic roti made with an orange-colored “butter,” condensed milk and sugar (7 baht). The roti were served hot and crispy off the pan and wrapped in butcher paper to absorb the excess grease. The roti’s texture was a cross between naan and chapatti, while the sweet and creamy innards were nothing short of dreamy.

Even though I had a disappointing experience with grilled bananas the day before, I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I knew I was in for a treat when I saw a small crowd huddling around this vendor.

The hot-off-the-grill banana (5 baht) was firm but ripe and served with a caramelized palm sugar sauce that was salty and sweet. The combination was lovely.

As soon as I polished off the hot banana, I purchased a Thai iced tea (13 baht) to wash it all down. Served with crushed ice and a straw in a plastic bag, the tea was creamy and sweet as can be. The tea may have been too sweet for some, but it was just right for me.

Still on the search for a killer plate of Pad Thai, we stopped for dinner at Thip Samai (3/3 Mahachar Road, Phone: 022216280), an eatery specializing in the famous Thai noodles. I arrived at our destination not the least bit hungry, but still in the mood to feast—that can’t be healthy.

We shared one order of the restaurant’s special Pad Thai, which came with giant prawns, cuttlefish and green mangoes (120 baht). Bean sprouts, peanuts, fish sauce, hearts of palm, and limes were served on the side for diners to garnish.

This was perhaps the best Pad Thai I ate in Bangkok, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what I’ve eaten in the states. I wonder if the Pad Thai that I fell in love with is actually an Americanized version…probably.

We also shared a plate of the traditional Pad Thai (25 baht). It was pretty much the same as the special featured above, minus the juicy shrimps, cuttlefish, and mangoes.

As a follow-up to our Pad Thai-fest, The Astronomer ordered a huge bowl of wontons (40 baht) from a vendor nearby. Lush and I both frowned upon eating Chinese food while in Thailand and didn’t partake. The meaty dumplings and savory broth filled up The Astronomer’s bottomless pit for the time being.

As we walked toward the metro station to jet home, we stumbled upon a ginormous nighttime market selling food, electronics and junk. The market spanned at least five city blocks and was frequented mostly by locals. Even though The Astronomer was already full, the squid on a stick (20 baht) looked too irresistible to pass up. The squid was cut up into rings and served in a plastic bag with a chili sauce. It’s texture was Phu Quoc-tender, but the sauce wasn’t up to par.

Liana purchased a pomegranate sweet (20 baht) that was served with crushed ice. Whereas Vietnamese che is sweet and refreshing, I found this Thai rendition quite tasteless.

The Astronomer’s final treat of the day was a rainbow ice cream (10 baht). The flavors advertised included chocolate, orange, pandan, strawberry, and coconut. The ice cream turned out to be cold and sweet, but the flavors were nothing more than food coloring.

We went to bed satisfyingly stuffed.

Scenes: Eating in Bangkok I

We arrived in Bangkok on a late Thursday night. After we settled into our tree house/hostel, we walked around the Sukhumvit area looking for midnight snacks.

The Astronomer and Lush shared short-ribs on a stick for 20 Thai baht (1 U.S. dollar = 31.6 Thai baht). It seems like I’m practically the only person on Earth who doesn’t get excited about meats on a stick. It was clear after this evening that they rank alongside ladyboys as the pride of Bangkok.

If there’s one thing that moves me, it’s carbohydrates. Even though it was completely unoriginal to order Pad Thai, I couldn’t help myself. The noodles were made to order by the gentleman above.

This is the first of many plates of Pad Thai to come (30 baht). Peanuts, chilies and fish sauce were served tableside for each diner to season their noodles to taste. The texture of the noodles were good, but the sauce was short on the tamarind and thus lacked the tangy oomph that I love so much about Pad Thai.

After our snacks, we headed back to the hostel to crash.

On our first full day in Bangkok, we headed to the mega-malls along Sukhumvit road. The shopping complexes in Bangkok put King of Prussia (Philadelphia, PA) and South Coast Plaza (Orange County, CA) to shame. I procured two sweet dresses. If this were a fashion blog, I’d totally share. Since it’s not, you’ll just have to settle for what I ate. On our walk to the mall, The Astronomer picked up a pineapple pastry (12 baht). The crust was buttery and flaky and the pineapple preserves were sweetened nicely.

We stumbled upon an outdoor market selling all sorts of food a few meters away from the pastry vendor. We picked up a box of “Chinese Pudding” (40 baht) to share. Our variety pack contained dumplings filled with jam bean and shrimp, bamboo shoots and shrimp, Chinese chives, and taro. The one filled with Chinese chives was bitter-city. The sauce was lacking a certain something, maybe MSG? We were happy to try a new dish, but weren’t crazy about this one. A+ for presentation.

As we circled the market, I spied a lady serving up sticky rice! If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a sucker for sticky rice.

We sat on a stoop just outside the market to dig into our box (25 baht). The rice was topped with shitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, a salted egg yolk, sweet taro paste, chicken and dried shrimp. Talk about everything and the kitchen sink! The combination of sweet and savory ingredients struck me as peculiar at first, but turned out to be decent.

Next, I picked up the most disappointing grilled banana ever (5 baht). It was starchy, dry and didn’t contain a trace of sweetness. I took one bite and gave the rest to a homeless woman. I should have picked up the grilled corn rounds instead.

After some shopping in Central World, we headed to their extensive food court to refuel. I learned from Austin at Real Thai that the food courts in Bangkok are a great way to familiarize oneself with the local fare because English translations are truly very helpful. I was much too full to partake, but luckily The Astronomer had some space left.

He ordered a green curry and red curry with rice (40 baht). The green curry (L) contained plenty of bamboo shoots that I liked, but was way too spicy for me. Mouth. Fire. The red one was milder and reminiscent of Indian curry.

On our walk home from the mall, I spotted one of my favorite Thai treats—Mango with Sticky Rice! Eee!

I’m not sure if its a supply and demand issue, but mangoes with sticky rice in Bangkok are pricey. At 40 baht, the price of this dessert is roughly equivalent to a street entree. The mangoes I had in Bangkok were unbelievably good—sweet, soft and luxurious. The perfectly ripened fruit really makes the whole dessert shine.

Our final snack of the afternoon were some Thai Tacos (2 baht). The exterior was a thin and crispy pancake that tasted like a fortune cookie. The insides consisted of marshmallow cream and shredded vegetable matter. Pumpkin? Squash? Googling “Thai Tacos” did not shed any light on the matter.

After shopping and gorging all day long, The Astronomer and I went on a run at a park in town. Circling the man-made lake was a real treat after months of choking on motorbike exhaust in Saigon. Afterwards, we pounded the pavement once more to eat eat eat. Lush and I picked up a bowl of lemongrass mushroom soup (40 baht) from the vendor above. She, along with the corn and chicken dealer (below), were stationed on Soi 11.

Brimming with a variety of fungi and vegetables, the aromatic hot soup was very pleasant. My favorite were the enoki mushrooms, straw mushrooms and zucchini slices.

Meanwhile, The Astronomer purchased some boiled corn on a cob (10 baht). It tasted just as we suspected—corn-like.

He also picked up a nice looking piece of fried chicken (12 baht). He said it was better than the Colonel’s original recipe. Now, that’s a compliment. South East Asia adores KFC.

Lush’s second course was made from eggs, condensed milk, tomatoes, onions and pork…

The Thai omelet (20 baht) was full of fluffy-eggy glory. This dish was very satisfying, especially with its huge serving of rice. Lush thought the vendor went a little too crazy with the chili sauce on top. Yep, it sure looks that way.

The Astronomer had a bowl of pork noodle soup with fish balls (25 baht) for his third course of the evening. He proclaimed the noodle soup good, but not nearly as tasty as the Vietnamese noodle soups he has enjoyed these past couple of months.

Our final bite of the day were Kaitenyaki, also known as Japanese waffles.

We purchased two waffles to share, one made with custard and the other with taro (4 baht). The batter tasted like a cross between Jiffy cornbread and frozen pancakes. The custard-filled one was our favorite.

Scenes: ‘Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey’ Taping

My fifteen minutes are ticking away…

Last Sunday, I met up with the crew from Rick Stein‘s Far Eastern Odyssey at Ben Thanh Market to tape a segment for their episode on Vietnam. I introduced Rick to bánh hỏi thịt nướng (steamed vermicelli rice noodle cakes with grilled pork) and bún chạo tôm (fresh vermicelli rice noodles with shrimp paste and sugarcane). Both were hits!

The most interesting aspect of the taping was seeing how these travel and food shows that I enjoy so much are made. There was no prep beforehand and we pretty much did everything on the fly, which was casual and not the least bit nerve wracking. However, if Rick or I said something noteworthy or funny, we had to repeat it a second and third time so that every angle was properly captured on film. Who would’ve thought?

This episode is one in a series of six about food in the “far east” and will air in 2009. Since it’s a BBC show, it will most likely not air in America. Fortunately, I will be receiving a DVD. Woot.

Scenes: The Art of Eating Bánh Tét

I was instructed by my aunt and great aunt to hang the Bánh Tét until I was ready to eat it to avoid spoilage.
We ate the bánh tét with dua mon (vegetables pickled in nuoc mam and sugar). Fresh bánh tét is like no other—subtle and satisfying. The silky pork fat melted on our tongues.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

Scenes: The Art of Making Bánh Tét

The Astronomer and I woke up super-duper early this morning to witness a very special tradition—the making of Bánh Tét. With the Lunar New Year days away, my grandma’s sister (Ba Sau) and her two daughters-in-law gathered for their annual ritual of making this holiday specialty.

For the full post click here:

http://gastronomyblog.com/2008/02/04/scenes-the-art-of-making-banh-tet/

Scenes: Costco

On the one hand, I adore Costco. And on the other, it grosses me out.

There’s a store called Metro in Saigon that’s supposed to be the Costco of Vietnam. I wonder if they have as many free samples. Maybe one of these days I’ll borrow someone’s membership card and check the place out.