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eG Foodblog: Peter Green - Bringing Bangkok back home


Peter Green
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Trading Places – A Tale of Two Cities…….would you believe one city and a village….would you believe one city and a kitchen?.......

Welcome to my week. For some reason I’ve volunteered to do this. I’m sure it sounded like a good idea at the time.

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I’m starting this sitting in Suvarnabhumi Airport, wating for our 3:45 flight to start boarding. I’ve wrapped up in the lounge, having checked mail, had a Chilean Cono Sur ("connoisseur", Yoonhi points out to me) Chardonnay, and indulged in a ham sandwich smothered in butter.

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Is the modern Chardonnay the standard bearer of quality? If we consider quality to be defined as repeatability and standardization? This goes back to Signor Bellini’s discussion of Chardonnays back at the WGF (was that a week ago?).

And how does that relate to food? Do we want everything standardized and repeatable? Ist that just an invitation to have all the joy taken out of our dining. Myself, I rebel against such strictures. Of course, that may have more to do with my inability to follow instructions the same way twice……

I’m getting ahead of myself. Or at least my stomach and nose are.

This will be a somewhat schizophrenic blog. I’ll provide material on what we’re up to in the kitchen, especially as we’re just back from the Gourmet Fest in Bangkok. However, I get a distinct feeling that there’s more interest in the last week of eating in Bangkok with my spouse – Yoonhi - in tow. As I’m still in that state of bliss that Krungthep induces upon me, We’ll do both.

By way of introduction (you expected structure from me?), I’m a 1960’s product of the Canadian government; the results of our country’s aid to St. Lucia, a small Caribbean island. My parents were there doing a project for Canada Agriculture, and I’m what the St. Lucians got out of it.

They still won’t give me a passport.

Anyways, don’t ask me anything about St. Lucia. I left when I was a few months old. All I know is that the banana boat called every few weeks, and children were killed by falling coconuts (I must’ve lived through that).

If I was to call anyplace home, it would probably be Kitsilano, a neighborhood in Vancouver. I grew up a few blocks from where Lumiere is located now. I might have more memories about the soft ice cream cones dipped in chocolate at the Dairy Queen, though, than Lumiere and Feenies……(Modern Burger is pretty close, too).

I left Canada over 22 years ago, and haven’t been back much. Houston, then Egypt, a very brief stint in Calgary that made me understand why I wasn’t staying in Canada (Yoonhi’s eyelashes froze shut on her), and then the Middle East for the last 22 years or so.

We’re going to concentrate this week on the food of my great love, Indochina, and Thailand in particular.

At first I had no interest in Thailand. Garish orange roofs, it all struck me as too much like a big Denny’s concession. But all the other expats in Egypt (our posting then) were going to Thailand and coming back to bend my wife’s ear.

“Couldn’t we go to Korea or Japan or China or Italy or….” I’d protested. But Yoonhi has that steely perseverance that can get downright scary at times. Finally I gave in, and we were off for one month in The Land of Smiles.

My attitude lasted only up to the point of my first bite of real Thai cuisine.

I was head over heals in love.

Let’s drop back into the normal time stream (or what passes for such around here). I’m tidily packaged into my economy class seat. I’m still cheap about flights if I have to pay for them myself. We’ve just had our in-flight Gulf Air meal, and, much as it pains me to say it, it wasn’t bad.

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Both of us started with the mild spiced noodle salad with cucumber and tomato, then I had the red curry beef with traditional biryani rice and vergetable casserole, and Yoonhi had the penne past with steamed carrots, pumpkin in cheese veloute, served with pan seared chicken and tomato sauce.

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Top that off with “white bread slices” which are straight from a Thai bakery. Only dessert was inediblem with a rather dismal pineapple crumble cake (it should crumble, not wallow in juice).

I had tried the Blanc de Blanc earlier, but it was horrible, especially warm, so I’ve switched over to Carlsberg. It’s not cold either, but it’s bearable.

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I wonder who does their catering on the Thai side?

Once landed, cleared through customs, and in the taxi, the rest was a piece of cake. We arrived home hungry again, and found Serena’s babysitter had steamed up some brocolli, breaded and fried some chicken breast

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and had some Filipina lumpia on the go.

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At that point we went to sleep.

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And now it’s not quite 6 a.m. here. It’s Ramadan, so there’ll be no coffee in the office later, so I’ve got a pot of Pakxong beans perking me up right now (I still think I’ve got a couple of kg of those Lao beans squirreled away somewhere).

I’ll get this up, and then see if there’s still time for more before work (we start at 7:00 a.m.!)

Next: more

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Congratulations, Jensen!

We were worrried that if we were too obvious things’d blow too quick, so we were sort of obscure with the teasers. I figured that the wai’ing Ronny would give things away, but it’s too demonic a shot not to use.

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This one was taken from the verandah outside of the “Air Bar” of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on Thanon Henri Dunant (but most of the time you see it from the Ratchadamri Skytrain station). Beyond the fans and general Somerset Maughan feel, you should be able to spot the telltale Thai cooking stalls that dish out some great food. (More on this later)

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Roofie, don’t feel bad. This shot was from Tawarn Daeng, the Thai/German brauhaus/beerhall that’s now celebrating it’s 8th anniversary. They’re famous for their pork knuckle (too dark, I know) with mashed potatos you see in the back, but Yoonhi particularly liked the fried morning glory you see in the forefront. Me, I like the beer, a dark example of which is in the Tawarn Daeng mug on the side. I think they'd be thrilled beyond belief to hear that they were mistaken for Munchen!

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A little blurred, but this is Bangkok at night, shot from D’Sens, the Pourcel brotthers’ place atop the Dusit Thani. From here we’re looking up the Skytrain and across Lumpini Park.

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But it was the clown that did it. It’s always the clown. This particular one, at the corner of Silom and Rama IV, has been terrifying my children for years. Maybe I shouldn’t have let Scud watch “It” when he was four?

Okay, that’s it for a few hours. I need to make some money to pay for my feeding habits.

Back soon.

peter

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Peter, I am so excited that it is you blogging this week! You have come to be one of my favorite contributers to egullet, and I loved your trip with the family, such humor and great information. I guess I know where I will be spending most of the comming week. Thank You!

Brenda

I whistfully mentioned how I missed sushi. Truly horrified, she told me "you city folk eat the strangest things!", and offered me a freshly fried chitterling!

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Oh, man! There's nothing like a brisk half hour walk home in 99 degree heat to get you in touch with your inner escargot.

Just don't pour salt on me.

Thanks everyone for the proactive support! This should be an interesting week, at least if I can get to the kitchen before I'm thwarted me as I have been tonight, with a standard spaghetti and meatball dish underway before I could get to the fresh ingredients I brought back. This won't happen tomorrow, I assure you.

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But, I refuse to let the activities of the help get in the way of my making a mess. I swore a solemn oath a week ago that I was going to make Szechuan pepper ice cream, and I’m a man known for his swearing.

Luckily, there’s enough of what I need to get things in hand. I checked Keller’s book for the ice cream proportions (The French Laundry Cookbook) and swapped out the cinnamon for Szechuan peppercorns, given them a bit of a rough-up in the mortar.

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Now I’ve taken the cream, milk, and peppers to a simmer

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and then removed it from the heat, covered, and let it cool.

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While that’s going on, I find out that someone’s already opend up the dried candied snow tamarinds that my friend brought back from the Four Seasons for us. Since China I’ve become partial to dried fruits, and these are good.

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Seeing as how we have to wait for the next bit, we might as well tour the kitchen.

Here’s the perfect marriage of East and West. A bread maker next to a rice cooker.

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Looking back from fridge number 2, you get something of an idea of what a mess the place is. Our accommodations here are okay, but I would kill for a bigger kitchen.

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I’m going to hold off on the fridge shots for just now, as, frankly, the freezer sections of our fridges terrify me. I can deal with the general purpose cold storage, but things get kind of scary with what we’ve squirreled away in the deeper sections.

Having said that, I’ll toss up a teaser of the main pantry. Everything we drag back, or figure we’ll need in depth goes in here (well, almost everything…there is that section in the closet…)

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And what’s needed at hand, along with some of the dry herbs and spices, goes into the small cupboard by the sink

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Since our Egypt days, we’ve taken to distilling our water with countertop units. The sludge we pull out scares me almost as much as our freezer section. And we’d seen a string of our friends suffer kidney stones from bottled waters (they used them for everything, even boiling vegetables, which goes beyond overkill).

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We also believe in pickling (Yoonhi is Korean) and we keep chilis, garlic, and other things in odd jars about the place.

Beyond the sink (which would be a great name for a comic book) there’s the crock pot, the popcorn thinging, and some of the knives.

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Okay, I just got the call to feed. I’ll be back with more later.

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Here’s the perfect marriage of East and West.  A bread maker next to a rice cooker.

gallery_28660_5178_57818.jpg

Wouldn't it be East and East? Both the bread machine and rice cooker were invented in Japan, and you know how much the Japanese love their bread. :smile:

Looking forward to the rest of your blog!

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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Can you still get Polaris bottled water?

Yup, Polaris is still out there, and is still the hotel-water-of-choice, based upon its availability at the Dusit. They had one or two bottles of their own brand out on the night tables, but there were always a couple of bottles of Polaris out there as well.

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Here’s the perfect marriage of East and West.  A bread maker next to a rice cooker.

Wouldn't it be East and East? Both the bread machine and rice cooker were invented in Japan, and you know how much the Japanese love their bread. :smile:

Looking forward to the rest of your blog!

East and Yeast? :biggrin:

(editted for a smiley)

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Okay, I won’t moan so much. There are worse things in the world than a bowl of simple spaghetti with some grated parmesan on top.

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With food in my tummy, I turned my attention back to the ice cream. Settled down a bit, I strained out the peppercorns, and then brought it back to a simmer, and added some sugar. Then I put my remaining sugar to the yolks, and took up the manly art of egg beating. (What can I do with those egg whites?)

Then I added some of the warm mix to the eggs to temper them, and then mixed it all together to thicken to the coat-the-back-of-the-wooden-spoon stage.

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All done, I strained again, and then popped it into the fridge. I know have a perfectly serviceable experiment for tomorrow’s dessert.

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Serena’s looking scared. She remembers the last time she got some Szechuan peppercorns in her diet.

Returning to the Thailand theme, here’s a shot of some of the fresh material we brought back.

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I stocked up on the pea aubergines, as they’ve become difficult to find here. And I couldn’t resist the colour on the red chilis, and the cunning allure of the little bird chilis (for “cunning allure” you can substitute “ease of hiding”).

The green peppercorns I’m torn over. Do I use them all up in an orgy of curries, or do I try pickling some of them (personally, I’m in favour of an orgy).

The fresh lily flowers are going in a salad, once I figure out which one. And the cowslip creeper (the bag of odd looking green things upper center) is getting eyed by Serena’s babysitter, who knows it from the Philippines.

Kaffir lime leaves. You can never have enough kaffir lime leaves.

And the mushrooms were a given. There are few things more attractive than nice mushrooms. Over here we’re limited to what we can get, so every time I’m somewhere with a ‘shroom culture I have to pick some up.

I really need to make a curry. I’m getting twitchy.

Dropping back into past history, let’s go back to that first trip to Thailand.

As I’d said, it was the food that hooked me. Not just the taste, but the look and the smell. I can still remember walking through the sois to get from the old Chiang Mai Guesthouse on the Ping to the Night Bazaar, and turning a corner to walk into a wall of frying garlic. Even now I can smell that (okay, they were mincing garlic this afternoon in the kitchen).

What I’m leading up to is that this was a doomed love. I knew I was going to have to leave; that the stars conspired to create this desparate situation of a love that could not last….

It was quite tragic. (“That’s pathetic”, says Yoonhi).

So, in a Shakespearean tradition that I’ve just made up, I bought a cookbook.

I had a cunning plan. I would leave this book in strategic locations around our flat in Maadi, in the suburbs of Cairo. I would leave the pages open to particularly appealing dishes, and thus Yoonhi would be drawn into my web and induced to cook Thai meals for me.

My cunning plan lasted all of a week, and then I broke down as I was trying to set up the Tom Kha Kai page. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I started cooking.

From then to now, I credit that moment, when my spirit was completely broken by the smiling picture of Khun Malulee Pinsuvana, as the beginning of my interest in cooking.

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Other cookbooks may have fancier, more drawn out methods and techniques, but Khun Malulee’s is what I began with, and what I still turn to quite regularly. What I always liked, and what was perfect for us in Egypt (the Land that Food Imports Forgot) was that she had written this as much for Thais living abroad as for farang. Each page is in Thai and English, and much of her effort went into detailing how to substitute for when you couldn’t get the authentic ingredients. Nowadays, with so much readily available, this isn’t as critical, but back in the 1980’s it made a big difference to our lives.

And the writing is so darn…well….gentle. In much the way that I enjoy reading Fergus Henderson’s writing, so to do I like the softness of this book.

Excuse me, I think I'll go read this again for awhile.

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Peter... Great to see you food blogging!

I've enjoyed your writing on your various travelogues so much in the past, I'm really looking forward to this week. Good luck!

And, yeah, that airline food looked pretty darn good compared to what I've seen lately, if I see anything at all.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Peter...  Great to see you food blogging!

I've enjoyed your writing on your various travelogues so much in the past, I'm really looking forward to this week.  Good luck!

And, yeah, that airline food looked pretty darn good compared to what I've seen lately, if I see anything at all.

Thanks, Erik.

I'm giving all credit to the catering on the Bangkok side. I should've taken pictures in the plane going over to give a comparison. I did get some shots from the lounge, though (I used these in the WGF thread, but I like to recycle).

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I think I described this as "a meatball of unknown origin" and "something in orange" colour, not citrus, that is. I have some particularly biological references for the sliminess of the molokhaya sauce on the warrm potato, but I'll leave that go for now.

Cheers,

peter

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Serena’s just mixed me up a vanilla milkshake for dessert. She feels that hand whipped is much better, as it conserves energy.

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She’s got way too much energy, if you ask me.

Let’s go back to Bangkok.

It was last Tuesday, and Yoonhi had just arrived to join me.

Flush from a fun overnight haul in cattle class, she figured the best thing she could do was stay awake. Sort of like in the film Crank, except for the parts that weren’t.

We were at the Dusit for a reason. I’ve long been a Sukhumvit sort of guy. I like the street; I like the mix of restaurants, shopping, and club life, particularly from Phrom Phong up through Thong Lor; I like(d) the now-shut Colliseum at Ekkamai; I liked the ghost at Phrakanong; and I like(d) (if it’s still there) White Lotus Books just past the Tesco at On Nut. Heck, just the fact that the road goes all the way to Cambodia is neat.

But, when you’re a creature of habit, you need to break out from time to time. To temper yourself.

I was in a rut.

I’d tried staying in the older part of town, down near Wat Po, last year, but found I missed all the things I’d just mentioned (except for the ghosts). Some good street food, but no real mix.

Kao Sarn holds little attraction for me, outside of a vague interest I have in the anthropology of world travellers (a completely different tribal grouping). Generally, the food there isn’t up to snuff (although Tha Phra Arthit, nearby, has some good options).

One area we hadn’t tried was Silom/Sathorn. Restaurants, street food, clubs, shopping. Could this lure me away from upper Sukhumvit? Only one way to find out. Hit the pavement.

Something you must understand about Asian women – they’re on a different clock from us. They need to be fed and watered often, and woe betide you if you let them get hungry. So, outside and around the corner from the Dusit I had already staked out some eateries.

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We’d found a khao man kai (Hainanese chicken rice) place, the chicken cooked in the reserved chicken stock from the boiled chickens. Across the street was a place with good looking stewed pork, but their must’ve been a feud between the two, as they wouldn’t let us share a common table. As Yoonhi thought it stupid for us to sit on either side of the lane, we just went with the chicken, as it was already ordered.

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There’s a certain mystique to chicken rice. People will fight over who has the best. Current pride of place generally goes to the Montien Hotel, but every Thai (especially every Sino-Thai) has their own preference.

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I queried Yoonhi for her opinion.

“Tastes like chicken and rice”.

Also in the environs was the standard fruit trolley with melons, mangoes, cantelope, bags of fermenting things, bananas, and the world’s best pineapples

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And next to it was something I’d long admired, but for some reason had never eaten. The little pancaky things (Okay! I’m looking for a little help here! What are they called?)

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The flour and egg shell is that perfect taste we all recognize from the fortune cookies of our youth, just thinner, more delicate. And then there’s the topping of coconut and shredded palm sugar (it looks like cheese at first to me), which gives a thick, coconut marshmellow feel in your mouth. I’d asked the lady for only two so I could test them, but she only sells them by the sack (for about 5 baht).

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Maybe I could get used to this part of town.

More tomorrow. It’s time for bed. I’m still four hours out of whack.

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Serena’s just mixed me up a vanilla milkshake for dessert.  She feels that hand whipped is much better, as it conserves energy.

gallery_28660_5178_33619.jpg

She’s got way too much energy, if you ask me.

Let’s go back to Bangkok.

It was last Tuesday, and Yoonhi had just arrived to join me. 

Flush from a fun overnight haul in cattle class, she figured the best thing she could do was stay awake.  Sort of like in the film Crank, except for the parts that weren’t.

We were at the Dusit for a reason.  I’ve long been a Sukhumvit sort of guy.  I like the street; I like the mix of restaurants, shopping, and club life, particularly from Phrom Phong up through Thong Lor; I like(d) the now-shut Colliseum at Ekkamai; I liked the ghost at Phrakanong; and I like(d) (if it’s still there) White Lotus Books just past the Tesco at On Nut.  Heck, just the fact that the road goes all the way to Cambodia is neat.

But, when  you’re a creature of habit, you need to break out from time to time.  To temper yourself. 

I was in a rut.

I’d tried staying in the older part of town, down near Wat Po, last year, but found I missed all the things I’d just mentioned (except for the ghosts).  Some good street food, but no real mix.

Kao Sarn holds little attraction for me, outside of a vague interest I have in the anthropology of world travellers (a completely different tribal grouping).  Generally, the food there isn’t up to snuff (although Tha Phra Arthit, nearby, has some good options).

One area we hadn’t tried was Silom/Sathorn.  Restaurants, street food, clubs, shopping.  Could this lure me away from upper Sukhumvit?  Only one way to find out.  Hit the pavement.

Something you must understand about Asian women – they’re on a different clock from us.  They need to be fed and watered often, and woe betide you if you let them get hungry.  So, outside and around the corner from the Dusit I had already staked out some eateries.

gallery_28660_5178_53724.jpg

We’d found a khao man kai (Hainanese chicken rice) place, the chicken cooked in the reserved chicken stock from the boiled chickens.  Across the street was a place with good looking stewed pork, but their must’ve been a feud between the two, as they wouldn’t let us share a common table. As Yoonhi thought it stupid for us to sit on either side of the lane, we just went with the chicken, as it was already ordered. 

gallery_28660_5178_105091.jpg

gallery_28660_5178_25732.jpg

There’s a certain mystique to chicken rice.  People will fight over who has the best.  Current pride of place generally goes to the Montien Hotel, but every Thai (especially every Sino-Thai) has their own preference.

gallery_28660_5178_43097.jpg

I queried Yoonhi for her opinion.

“Tastes like chicken and rice”. 

Also in the environs was the standard fruit trolley with melons, mangoes, cantelope, bags of fermenting things, bananas, and the world’s best pineapples

gallery_28660_5178_71997.jpg

And next to it was something I’d long admired, but for some reason had never eaten.  The little pancaky things (Okay!  I’m looking for a little help here!  What are they called?)

gallery_28660_5178_114923.jpg

The flour and egg shell is that perfect taste we all recognize from the fortune cookies of our youth, just thinner, more delicate.  And then there’s the topping of coconut and shredded palm sugar (it looks like cheese at first to me), which gives a thick, coconut marshmellow feel in your mouth.  I’d asked the lady for only two so I could test them, but she only sells them by the sack (for about 5 baht).

gallery_28660_5178_35802.jpg

Maybe I could get used to this part of town.

More tomorrow.  It’s time for bed.  I’m still four hours out of whack.

I think they are tong yod?? phonetically speaking :smile: it's been a while

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That cookbook was written by the wife of my dad's friend! I think she started to write it (or was thinking about writing it) when they were in AZ at grad school. Back then Thai ingredients were difficult to get, so my dad always said the book wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. We had a copy, but I don't think he ever used it.

I can't remember what those pancake things are called, either, but tong yod are the little egg-shaped things made of the same stuff as foy thong.

ETA: khanom buang?

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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OMG

can't believe one of my most favorite egulleters is finally posting :wub:

(I'm posting before I even read the entire thread....so I'll go do that now

eta:

I queried Yoonhi for her opinion.

“Tastes like chicken and rice”.

sounds like something I'd say. I have never had hai.....forget what it's called...chicken and rice, but whats so great about boiling chicken in broth with rice? is it the condiments? the simplicity? Isn't it singapore in origin?

Edited by SheenaGreena (log)
BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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Congratulations, Jensen!

Wheeeeee! I should go buy a lottery ticket!

sounds like something I'd say.  I have never had hai.....forget what it's called...chicken and rice, but whats so great about boiling chicken in broth with rice?  is it the condiments?  the simplicity?  Isn't it singapore in origin?

It's a great dish and doesn't taste like boiled chicken in broth with rice. Well, it does but there must be something else in there. The Spawn made history at a restaurant in Vancouver when she was 6 by eating the entire serving container of rice by herself (there were 10 of us at dinner that night so you can see why this would be a memorable occasion).

Peter Green, I am very much looking forward to this week. I'm not sure what I'm enjoying more so far...the food or your sense of humour! :laugh:

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Ah, another Ramadan dawn. There’ll be no decent coffee in the office, so I need to fumble about here and find another bag of beans.

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Fumbling about, I luck upon my last bag of Pakxong beans from the Laos trip. It’s a coffee I long for when I can’t find iit. This has a strongly roasted (but not burnt) flavour that inveigles the palate, sneaking around the edges after it’s had its way with your tongue and roof, just hanging on and not letting go.

Thailand’s coffee has improved incredibly, as well. But only in pockets. The coffee coming from Doi Tung in Northern Thailand (Chiang Rai) is a good, honest bean, with a full flavour that’ll satisfy me in the morning. I’m seeing more of it in Bangkok this trip, but just a couple of years ago we could only get it in Chiang Mai. Progress is a good thing. I remember when they would proudly make a cup of Nescafe for you when you ordered a cup. (“Well, that’s the expensive imported stuff”, says Yoonhi, “They’re giving you their best”).

Thai traditional coffee is another matter. Thick, thick instant coffee mixed up hot and strained through condensed milk. It’s a SouthEast Asian thing, not just Thai, as I remember this is how the Vietnamese I worked for as a child would prepare their coffee every evening. I tried it as a youth. It was…..sweet. Now that I’m older, I’d tried it again (last time in Laos) and it was…..sweet. I’m just a black coffee sort of guy.

Now that I think of it, it would make an interesting sauce for some desserts that need sweetness to set them off…..I’ve got Khun Pitak’s recipe here somewhere (from the Four Seasons’ cooking school in Chiang Mai), but that was for a more direct flavouring of a jus. Hmm….and Nobu’s soup that I did up a few weeks back would be really neat with coffee in the aromatics…..

That’s it, the kitchen is mine tonight (plus, I have to finish the ice cream making).

Cheers,

Peter

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Congratulations, Jensen!

Wheeeeee! I should go buy a lottery ticket!

:smile: In Thailand, any opportunity to buy a lottery ticket is a good thing!

Just remember, before you buy, consult.

One of the best places for a consult is out at Wat Mae Nak (it's actually the shrine of Mae Nak, the Wat attached has a different name). Get out at Phra Khanong on the BTS, and head North (I think...I should look at a map). Anyways, just tell a taxi drive Mae Nak and stretch your arm out 10 feet and he'll know.

Go on the nights just before the draw, after midnight (which sort of shoots the BTS idea, unless you go early and get a meal in the area). The place will be a swarm of people making offerings (toys for the child, dresses and other stuff for Mae Nak herself) and rubbing special bottles of oil on the burnt timbers of her house. If you get it right, the numbers for the lottery will appear in the wood. Write them down, and get a ticket.

I didn't take pictures at night (I do have some qualms about intruding on someone's space), but I should have some stills or else a video capture from the daytime shoots. I'll look around for those.

(Hopefully, I'm not going to far off topic here....I could talk about the eating habits of the phii kraseu.......)

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