Today I will devote myself to eating excellent Thai food around Bangkok. And it must also be an amazing value, so I’m continuing to work my way through “Thailand’s Best Street Food.” Diversions happen, but I will not go to bed hungry. (Not that I remember the last time that happened…)
The CityPoint Hotel
My eyes opened at midnight. Lights on, still in my clothes, no motivation to correct the situation. When I awoke at 2:30, I did change and brush my teeth. And then I noticed my phone was not on the charger. Which led to a thought: what’s going on with my email? Don’t look!! Too late, but fortunately, nothing required immediate attention. I finally stopped trying to sleep at 5:00 and dug out the kettle to brew some tea.
The CityPoint Hotel seems to have been designed with Western tourists in mind. Or at least a subset of Western tourists, because it is a 100% nonsmoking hotel, which was one of my main search filters. The kettle has a basic design: it brings water to a vigorous boil. Which was helpful because I was out of bottled water and working with local tap water. The hotel provides some Malaysian black tea, which seems no different than inexpensive black teas from India and Ceylon, but perhaps the slight chemical smell of the water (or the kettle?) detracted a bit from its aroma.
In the bathroom, remarkably, one finds not just full-sized bath towels, but also hand towels and washcloths. The full trifecta is quite rare in Thai-run hotels, where a bath towel often does triple duty, along with a terrycloth bathmat at the entrance of the bathroom to help keep the floor of the main room dry. The shower here offers both a fixed “rain” showerhead and hand-held showerhead to suit your preference, and there’s not too much delay in the water warming up. For such a reasonably priced hotel, this seems nearly miraculous. All was going well until I almost pulled the towel rack off the wall. At some point, one of the set screws have have fallen out and whoever found it failed to recognize its importance. Oh well, it was fixed by afternoon. Now, if only they could get rid of the occasional urine smell from the air conditioner…
To Eat, and to Eat Again, and Again
My first stop was again in Chinatown, a shorter walk from the MRT station. I wasn’t paying close attention and walked past my turn, so had to take an alley around. Here were a number of businesses handling metal formed into long bars and rods. One truck was making a delivery that went into the inventory of one shop, while another truck was taking its choice of items from another shop. All by hand. Very important to stay alert to avoid getting impaled. I’m here for the pig on a stick, and don’t want to prove the expression “you are what you eat”!
Chongki is a shophouse style restaurant where the entire “wall” to the sidewalk rolls up. I walked right past it because I expected a place that specializes in satays to be cooking in front. Turns out, they cook in the back and the real giveway was nine people huddled over three huge pots of marinated meat slices threading them onto thin bamboo skewers. One order has ten pieces so I got that plus a large slice of bread lightly toasted over the charcoal. I was a little concerned that the puddle of juices under the skewers was a bit rosy, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing. The meat had a subtle flavor on its own, but was meant to be enjoyed with their spicy and not-too-sweet peanut sauce, which was excellent. The cucumber salad was fresh and tasty, and the bread allowed me to finish all of the peanut sauce. They serve free nam cha (cold Chinese tea). You get the first glass over ice, and there is a pitcher on your table for refills.
I left Chongki quite full, so I thought I was wander around a bit before hitting the next spot. Nearby Wat Traimit is a tourist extravaganza and since I’ve seen it before, I thought I would head up the main drag to Chinatown. There didn’t seem to be much open, so I succumbed to suggestion to head over to the main temple area. Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the many scams where you have to do some kind of unwanted shopping to get to your destination so when this came up, I ditched my tuk tuk and headed to the nearest BTS Skytrain station to get down to the Chao Phraya river.
The Chao Phraya Express company runs two or three different ferry services, but mainly there’s one with narration for tourists, which costs more, and one without, which costs less. You can guess which one I took, and there was no shortage of other customers. The reason for taking the ferry was to get to a noodle joint specializing in Sukhothai-style noodles at the far end of Banglamphu, near the Phra Arthit dock. Of all the spots mentioned in the book, this was the one I most wanted to exist, to be open, and to be good. Although Google Maps steered me wrong yet again — crowd-sourced location information seems very weak here — I was able to find the shop and there was a seat available at a sidewalk table. Unfortunately, I think a smelly drain must be running below the gutter, as the air occasionally was rather unpleasant. Some other customers left and I took their table, and the problem was less noticeable there (fewer flies too, maybe for the same reason).
The proprietor fortunately speaks English and was able to help me order my noodles “dry style.” That is how I’ve had them before, and I didn’t need a hot broth at 1:00 in the afternoon. When I first eyed my bowl, I was slightly disappointed. We made this dish in Kasma’s class, and ours was much prettier. But appearances can be deceiving: the texture of these fresh thin rice noodles gave them an excellent chew, the pork was wonderfully tender, the balance of the sauce, while properly sweet, was just right, and the occasional pork rind twist provided a great crunchy contrast. The free nam cha here was served over crushed ice and I quickly was sucking at the ice because I caught a piece of some fiery chilli right in the wrong part of my throat. I don’t think anyone saw the flood of tears this caused, or at least no one said anything. The tissues I threw into my backpack this morning came in handy.
After recovering my composure, I wanted more but was nearly full, so I ordered a second bowl “to go” (or as they say in Thailand, probably as a result of British influence, for takeaway). In classic Thai fashion, this came not in a container, but as a small bundle held closed with a rubber band. I soon realized I had forgotten to ask for chopsticks. Fortunately, when I dropped the package on my desk at the hotel, I noticed two tiny teaspoons next to the fresh tea mugs. Those worked out perfectly, and the timing of the second helping was good as well.
For dinner, I thought I would try to have rice in three different forms: steamed, as noodles, and in porridge. Unfortunately, by the time I reached Chinatown, the duck porridge place was closed, so I was down to two. The crispy pork over rice at Nai Jui was reminiscent of the same dish at Cantonese restaurants in the Bay Area, except for the sauce. I am accustomed to a glop of hoisin sauce on the side, and here a hearty gravy was poured over the entire plate with optional sweet black soy sauce on the table. No complaints, but a little underwhelming.
For my noodle course, I was looking at a stand known for stuffed flat noodles. After watching them cook for many minutes, I didn’t see anything like that. They had an unusual steamed noodle with flecks of red in it, perhaps for new years, and they kept adding what looked like stewed organ meats on top. I decided to keep looking, and I found a couple that seemed to be freelancing on the sidewalk serving their own home-made stuffed noodles. However, upon tasting them, it was more like a rice paper wrapper around some radish and green onions flavored with dried shrimp. To be polite, I ate a bunch of it, but it was terrible.
To cleanse my palate, I paused to consider the dozens of popsicle flavors at KiinTim (the vowels are replaced with popsicles, so you could be excused for thinking it was KoonTom, which would be a pun on Khun Tom) (https://www.facebook.com/kiintim). The choices ranged from fragrant coconut to mung bean to durian. I settled on pumpkin and coconut. It definitely had chunks of Thai pumpkin (similar to kabocha squash), which I will count as a vegetable course, but it could have been creamier and perhaps a bit sweeter.
Tomorrow I will change hotels and meet up with our group around 2:00 or so for a family-style lunch of spicy Southern Thai specialties. This is about to get serious.