Report from Thailand
Tavee here, reporting from Bangkok, Thailand, where I've been called
for some official business. It's one month into summer here, and
benches are hot: Today is set to reach 96, with a heat index of 111
by 1 p.m. Not the kind of weather that makes me want to chow down,
there's so much füd in this great city that it's hard to resist
taking a few recesses.
sure it would not benefit or surprise you to hear that Thai food in
Thailand is fantastic. Yeah, some of the riverside joints redefine "dive,"
and by the looks of it, the shrimp have decent odds against any Maine
lobster in a Mui Thai boxing match. Eating exotic is very good and very
necessary, but just be as discerning as possible when it comes to your
health. Some advice from The Court, should you be lucky enough to venture
crushed ice (you don't know where it's been or who/what crushed it)
your own judgment when it comes to the wide variety of tasty side sauces
-- many untidy places make them with questionable vinegars, curries,
and peppers. I'm not saying avoid them altogether, but just make sure
you take a good look around before you smother it on your fried fish
some napkins wherever you go (for the occasional, accidental "spill")
for the love of all things holy: Spoons, not forks, are designed to
"spoon" up rice, get me?
said, Bangkok has a variety of dining establishments catering specifically
to worldly jurors, in the hopes of reaching those with a touch of homesickness.
I thought it might be fun to try my luck at one of these joints, just
to get a taste of what I've been missing.
Coco Pazzo (Siam Discovery Centre)
Siam Discovery Centre is a shopping mall in the heart of Bangkok that
caters to tourists and wealthy Thai folk with Western tastes. Evidently,
focus groups have shown that people like to eat on the top floor of
a shopping establishment. I don't get it. And I don't know how else
to explain the food court in this mall, or any other in the world, maybe
apart from Manifest Destiny. But I digress from the füd.
Pazzo is an Italian restaurant. You can tell because the waiters wear
red waistcoats, and there is a vaguely impressionistic painting of Piza
on the wall. Other than that, the same chairs and tables as the neighboring
restaurants. My uncle (a native) recommended this place to me. Said
it was "very busy like New York restaurant." Sure enough,
it was packed with Thai and "Fuh-rung" (foreigners) alike.
On the menu are a fair number of standard Italian dishes, from your
Bolognese, Caprese annesca, to spinach and squid-ink pastas, to pollo
marsala and Milanese. Promising start.
any new case, I try to keep my judging parameters as simple and consistent
as possible. When going Italian, I always go for either the typical
marinara or, in this case, an aglio olio. Typically, aglio olio is just
pasta, olive oil, garlic, a touch of hot pepper and salt, not too wet
and certainly not dry. I really don't know what I received here at Coco
Pazzo, though I did recognize the Pepsi. The dish was a sort of clear-ish
viscous-y soupy deal with Thai red and green chili peppers floating
around the top. Salty and hot as hell, and not a hint of olive oil or
garlic. Very distasteful to say the least. My brother got a chalky-looking
squid ink pasta. I remember him saying it wasn't at all that bad, though
later that night his feelings changed quite drastically. He now believes
the sauce to be made with gunpowder.
Pazzo. Sickness, not homesickness.
the Coco Pazzo fiasco, it was time to regroup, and the last time I'd
ask my relatives to recommend anything other than Thai food. So I asked
my knowledgeable uncle Lung Sak, known as something of a sage around
these parts, and who had the manly confidence to wear a t-shirt on which
my mom had inexplicably hand-painted a flower (see photo), to take me
somewhere tasty. His pick: Chi Rote.
the name Chi Rote phonetically, as I have no idea how else to write
it in English. A rough translation of the name yields a rather befuddling:
"Winning" (Chi) "Fame" (Rote). A more precise translation
would require me being completely fluent in Thai, or being related to
better translators (mind you, Lung Sak named his architecture firm "Bird
Air"). Anyway, this little hideaway and local favorite provided
one of the single greatest meal experiences of my life.
you head to Thailand, chances are very good that you'll end up eating
fish and other fruits of the sea. Seafood is good, cheap, and readily
available to Thai folk, though chicken and beef are becoming less big-ticket
füd items throughout the country. For this meal, Lung Sak ordered
the fish special. Maybe there's some name for it, but Chi Rote serves
up whatever's fresh without need for no stinking menu.
more things to note about Thai restaurants: A lot of places don't follow
the appetizer/entrée routine. For example, Chi Rote just serves
füd when it's ready and the portions are all equally small/large,
depending on how you look at it. Also, you'll find most local places
don't spend much time garnishing you'll just get füd on
a plate and some rice in a large aluminium-ish container on the side.
Anyway, within a few minutes, I was brought a steaming dish that looked
to be a fried filet of some kind of fish topped with what amounted to
five chopped-up cloves of garlic. I later found this out to be sea bass,
and yes, about five cloves of garlic. I won't bother trying to tell
you about the fish melting in my mouth, how it was just the perfect
balance of garlic to spice, and how my breath is permanently irreparable.
I will tell you though that I will probably never be able to order fish
in the states again, and that's just fine with me.
and just for reference, between four people, each with an entrée
and beers and all, the meal cost 378 Thai Baht, or 9 U.S. dollars. Total.
Damn, Thai food is good in Thailand!
years ago, I passed an interesting looking burger palace named Santa's
Hamburgers. Dan, my traveling compadre during that trip, was first to
note their interesting tagline: "Great Tasting Gifts." It being hotter
than hell outside, I thought a little X-mas spirit meal might be a nice
change of pace.
was not a single tourist in the place. And looking at the menu, I could
see why. There were pork "disks," "American Fried Rice," "spicy salad,"
and other items that might sound a little testy for a place set up like
a fast food joint. True to form, I ordered a burger, fries and Coke,
straight up. To tell you the truth, the burger wasn't as terrible as
I had anticipated -- it was more like what you probably got in your
high-school cafeteria, except with a smaller bun and a better grade
of grayish industrial beef product.
fries were of the frozen, ridged variety, which, it seems from my experience
even in the states, were never even meant to be crispy. The place was
jam-packed with school kids, all still in uniform. None of whom was
eating a burger. Sitting alone with all of the happy little campers,
I realized I must have done a lot of bad things this year.
was lucky enough to hook up with a woman I'd grown up with in Michigan,
who later became Miss Thailand and now lives the high life in Bangkok
as a model/actress/whatever. Word of the Füd Court's presiding
bench talent had made its way to Thailand some several years ago, and
Pop, as she's called, had been waiting for the opportunity to influence
the bench with one of her favorite Western food haunts: Bharani. Lucky
I got there first.
is located near Soi Kowboi (pronounced "cowboy"), one of two major red-light
districts in Bangkok (the other being Patpong). It's been around forever,
and because of the influx of naughty Westerners into Soi Kowboi, Bharani
has cultivated quite an extensive menu suited to Fuhrungs' midnight
cravings. The place itself is filled with pictures of Thai royalty dating
back to Rama V, of "The King and I" fame. Oh, and never mention
"The King and I" to Thai people it's been banned by
the government. There are also some cool old knick-knacks: record players,
typewriters, and pots and pans older than me.
the menu is very extensive, including Shish Kebab, Beef Tenderloin,
and Chicken Pot Pie, Pop ordered two of her favorites for me: cured
ham, and a chicken taco pizza. OK, so I've never had either of these
things in the U.S., but whatever, what I ate was delicious. The ham
was lightly-cooked cured in lemon juice (and therefore clean), with
a lot of chili pepper. Didn't look amazing but I ate it anyway. Very
hot. The chicken taco pizza was even better: small triangles of dark
flour tortilla shell, with a shredded chicken base and lettuce, some
kind of cheese and a sliver of red pepper, arranged so as to resemble
a whole pie. How about that! Surprisingly not hot, and not quite Mexican.
The chicken itself is more mellow and close to sweet despite some sort
of sauce that looks like BBQ sauce. Very tasty!
After the meal, Pop took me to Bangkok's latest craze: Mound. Again,
a phonetic spelling, Mound is a dessert place that serves milk and bread.
That's pretty much it. Here's how it works: One cook fries thick slices
of bread (sort of like Challah) and hands them to another, who spreads
sugar and an enormous chunk o' butter on top, and then slices the bread
into six pieces. Then, depending on the order, the chef drops a variety
of sauces on top: chocolate, fruits, condensed milk and more. Mound
also serves an array of flavored milks on the side (strawberry, chocolate
and coffee). The place was packed to the gills with the hippest of Thai
youth, and Pop's presence didn't curb the frenzy any. I skulked away
with chocolate bread and strawberry milk in hand, while Pop was tackled
by adoring fans. And through the window, I admired the almost fluorescent
vat of butter and tried not to be very afraid. This sliced bread thing
is brand new here, so the hysteria is quite understandable, especially
after you've had some.
my earlier experiences, I knew there was no way to top this. And it
couldn't have come at a better time, as I had a 6 a.m. flight back to
New York the next morning.
See you in the states!