Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And How Would Mrs. Like Her Cobra Today - food adventures in Bangkok

Fried Papaya Salad

Not a full week has passed since I left Thailand after a 5 week stay and I'm craving Kanom Jeen Nam Yaa (noodles in fish curry sauce) or better yet, Khao Pad Moo Bai Ga-Prow (pork fried rice with bails leaf) - I am not however craving cobra!

To be fair to Thai cuisine, I only saw cobra featured on menus in two places I ate but it was enough to make me suspicious. The thought of the aforementioned reptile surfacing in a green curry sauce alongside "licked frog" gives me the willies.

I loved 99 percent of every dish presented - the colors, flavors, combinations of textures were superb. Crisp and soft, sweet and hot, bursts of something unidentifiable but definitely delicious kept me guessing at every meal. The simple fried Morning Glory (or "moaning golly" as we saw it written one place) pictured here had a depth of flavor I'm determined to replicate with chard or baby brocolli. I flipped over the fingernail sized eggplants (ma-khue puang) that added a piquancy to fish dishes; the sprigs of fresh green peppercorns that gave a bite to poached chicken breast. I learned to appreciate the difference between the ginger root we use here in the US and the galangal root (kha) with it's close to ginger but something "I just can't place" flavor. Eating was an adventure, a feast for eyes and body.

The local Safeway is pretty tame when compared with the grocery store I frequented at the Emporium in Bangkok. The produce section was dazzling - displays of vegetables like works of art - mushrooms like I've never seen before; varieties of citrus and melons that don't make it to these shores and vegetables that were Aladdin's treasures to me - I longed for a kitchen.

Don't get me started on the mounds of fresh fruit overflowing from street vendor stalls - pineapple bursting with a fresh-from-the-field flavor and juice that I let drip all over a white linen skirt; mini bananas so sweet that my reaction was "where have you been all my life"; dragon fruit with horned skins looking prehistoric; papaya - green and firm used grated into thin spaghetti like strings tangled on a plate as nest for giant fresh river prawns. Oh and the fresh fruit blended juices - I'm hard pressed to decide between watermelon/lime or lemongrass/mint as a favorite.
The Emporium Food Court was a cafeteria on steroids. Every cuisine you can think of represented behind glossy white counters - I went there to buy take-out for lunch or dinner and always came away with too much food. What to choose - salapao - soft as a feather steamed buns with savory barbecue pork fillings or sweet custards; satay - chicken, beef, pork all with a nutty, coconut laced, chili dotted sauce for dipping and finger-licking; or how about a box of tempura crusted prawns, crabs or white snapper fillets? For the faint-hearted there was always a quiche or smoked salmon salad. Soup on your mind - from cream of mushroom to intoxicating Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup), all there for you to take back to hotel, apartment or park for an alfresco meal. Packaging for the to-go foods didn't disappoint either - garnish, often an intricately carved vegetable or an orchid bloom, tucked into the raffia that held the box closed.

The street stalls were an whole other option and one, enticing as they were, I didn't succumb to other than for the occasional fruit. One street dish that fascinated me was quail eggs fried in something that resembled an ebelskiver pan so that they came from the pan an oval ball - saw them popped on top of what looked like fried rice. Another stall on my morning coffee walk route specialized in barbecued goose bills! Nothing is wasted so menus featuring chicken sinew, crispy snake bones, and the mysterious "licked frog" attracted my attention but not my taste buds.

I had two negative food experiences in all. On Koh Samet island at a beach front restaurant I ordered fresh crab papaya salad. Oh my! Fresh - what was I thinking - everything is fresh. Luscious mound of tangled papaya shreds studded with tiny red jewels of hot Thai peppers arrived followed by a lidded plate. Lid was whipped off to reveal two live crabs - quick as a flash sharp knives slice the crabs into quarters and they were plonked, still waving little claws, on top of my salad. Needless to say I apologized for my error and re-ordered something definitely dead and cooked prior to arrival. The other followed similar use of the term fresh involving prawns - these I swear were doing laps in the orchid decorated bowl of soup! I'm told they were dead - just not cooked - beautiful presentation but ...
As for the cobra dish - we went one evening to a street cafe - garden seating, basic place. The menu was overwritten with English translations - that cobra came skinned, un-skinned, fried, barbecued, whole, in chunks - anyway you want it! It was the same place that offered "licked frog".

Enjoyed many meals at the hotel where I had a studio apartment - The President Park Hotel (95 Sukhumvit Soi 24, Sukhumvit, Bangkok ) and I cannot speak more highly of the modest cost of meals ($3-6 entrees), impeccable service, delightful staff and pretty surrounds. My all time favorite there was the chef's version of a Pomelo Salad with Fresh river Prawns. (They were cooked!)

Maxine loves rice but on occasion would bring her own boxed meal with her!

Perhaps the best meal of all was at Cabbages and Condoms (www.cabbagesandcondoms.co.th. 10 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Bangkok) a restaurant on a mission - I'll write more about it later.
Meanwhile will try to reproduce a couple of favorite dishes and write up the recipes to share.


  1. really loved reading your blog,i hope onde day,sometome soon i will have that oppurtunity as well.love travelling and love being a mom

  2. Thank you Annie - why don't you start by joining our Blogging Community at http://c4women.ning.com/



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