Everyone on this new Northern Frontiers trip (Online Itinerary) has traveled with Kasma at least twice before. I look forward to seeing a few old friends and making several new ones. But first, since I’ve arrived in Bangkok a bit early, I need to successfully navigate between hotels and manage to feed myself once or twice more.
For this morning’s street food adventure, I stuck close to the hotel. Guaythiew Pick Gai Sai Nampheung is highlighted in “Thailand’s Best Street Food” for serving hand-rolled rice noodles called giem ee and apparently pronounced almost the same as “gimme”. With pointed ends and fat squishy middles, the noodles were quite a challenge to eat with chopsticks, but were a convenient size for spooning up. The broth was light and tasty, and the noodles were generously topped with a meaty chicken drummette (surprisingly salty), a slice of egg yolk, and various bits of fish cake. A wonderful way to start recovering from my overnight headache. On the way back to the hotel, I picked up a bottle of fresh squeezed tangerine juice; delicious.
As always, it took me a long time to pack, so I checked out just as the clock struck noon. With Bangkok’s stop-and-crawl traffic, my taxi driver couldn’t cover the 2.7km between the hotels very quickly. However, I needed a break from schlepping my bags, so I was happy to exercise patience and observe the world from my air conditioned cocoon. Luckily, a room was ready, so I was able to drop off my stuff and get on wi-fi to start uploading some photos.
Suddenly I learned by text message that because arrivals were running late at the airport, we would not be meeting for a multi-course lunch feast at the nearby Kua Kling Pak Sod, or anywhere else. I was on my own. Having anticipated Southern Thai fare, I thought I would go to Kua Kling on my own; they must have something sized for the single diner. However, a sign on the gate said they were closed January 6th-8th, so it was definitely not to be. The nearest spot in “the book” was Hoy Tod Chaolay, known for its pad thai noodles with fresh shrimp. Three large shrimp still in part of their shells were placed on a well-oiled griddle and drizzled with batter (I think to give some crunch to the dish). Once they were barely cooked through, they were served atop a thin omelet filled with pad thai noodles. One could criticize the shrimp for being oily, but the main problem with this dish was the noodles: they were too yielding and didn’t really require any chewing. The fact that my order was ready so quickly suggests the noodles may have been portioned from a large holding bin, which could explain the excessively soft texture. In truth, it wouldn’t surprise me if their regular customers like them that way.
With time for a few errands, I approached two men operating sewing machines just off the sidewalk to fix the hems on an old pair of Dockers. They didn’t have matching olive green thread so they used navy, which wasn’t the look I was going for, but for under $1 for instant service, I’m impressed. Since my feet were unhappy after hiking around town for two days, I couldn’t resist stopping in at Prangtip Massage — immediately adjacent to the improvised sewing shop — for a Thai-style reflexology foot massage. This involves the standard hands-on techniques of pressing and stretching, plus the use of a wooden dowel to activate pressure points. Occasionally, this is surprisingly painful, but the overall effect is very relaxing, and it’s not uncommon to hear heavy snoring from at least one of the seven chairs in the room. Finally, I had been craving a snack of bananas steamed in sticky rice and found some to bring back to my room.
Now, it’s time to chill in the air conditioning, eat a banana snack, catch up on the blog, and maybe catch a few winks before dinner.
Twelve travelers met up with Kasma and her husband Michael, and our two drivers, in the hotel lobby. I know one woman from my second Southern trip, and another woman from cooking classes and a different trip (we will sort it out, I’m sure). But fortunately there are many new people to bore with old stories, I mean, to get to know. If only I was good at remembering names!
For dinner, our vans fought the traffic to the new location of My Choice restaurant, further down Sukhumvit Soi 36. Due to the development boom, they were under pressure to sell their more convenient plot, likely for what will be yet another condo hi-rise. As a result, they could afford to reimagine the restaurant and construct a modern new building. The dining room is dramatically tall and surrounded by floor to high-ceiling glass, which made for some odd acoustics. But more importantly, since we were here for our favorites dishes, the kitchen is as good as ever, even if it did seem that some of the dishes were not as breathtakingly hot as in past years.
I’ve been thinking during my street food binge that I have not been getting enough vegetables, and I feel I was able to catch up tonight. As always, we had two salads, one starring long green eggplants that are grilled in their skins and then peeled to yield tender, slightly smoky, mildly sweet flesh, and one based on thinly sliced winged beans, a long flattish bean with a double edge on each side so that each slice resembles an X (or an X-Wing fighter, if you have Star Wars on the brain). The eggplant salad features raw shallots and the classic sour-sweet-salty-spicy style of dressing, for that taste you’ve enjoyed in numerous Thai restaurant salads (except probably less sweet than back home). The winged beans are topped with coconut cream and deep fried shallots, for a rich, crunchy, and decidedly sweeter flavor balance. Vegetables made up the bulk of the Southern-style dry curry: Thai eggplants, green beans, sadtaw beans, baby corn, (perhaps) bamboo shoots, and chicken were stir-fried with a serious dark red curry paste. And leafy rainforest greens topped a mild dish of braised or roasted duck.
The rich curries were light on vegetables (a small cucumber salad served on the side hardly counts). Beef with panang curry was very good, but fatty beef tongue in rich massaman curry, served with squares of crisy fried roti dough, took the crown for most decadent dish. (Avoid the mistake I made of thinking a round, garbanzo bean-sized Thai cardomom pod was a peanut. Surprise!) The last dish to arrive was mixed seafood in what I think was a tangy dressing, but by then I was saving room for the delicious house-made coconut ice cream featuring plump, slightly gelatinous lemon basil seeds.
Before dessert was served, a young man came to the table and introduced himself to Kasma. He had read her book and was studying Thai cooking in Bangkok, and had come to My Choice several times on her recommendation. What a coincidence — or maybe there are many people here who recognize Kasma and just aren’t so bold. Since Sam has roots in the Bay Area, perhaps he will be a future student in one of Kasma’s classes? The food can be great in Bangkok, but the climate and air quality (if not the traffic) are so much better back home.
We ourselves will depart Bangkok for points North, with clearer skies and quieter streets, tomorrow morning. Not at the crack of dawn, as on other trips with 7AM stops outside of town, but after a more leisurely breakfast. I’m sure I will still be “that guy” who’s packing down to the last second.