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Peter Green

Travelogue: Back in the Big Mango

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June 26 – Market Forces

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And the crabs, while not blowing up party balloons, had a nice, evil ferment about them, too.  My mouth was watering at the thought of kejang in Korea, that softly rotting crab meat, slathered in sauce.

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And these were…..sardines?  Or mackerel?  I'm horrible with fish.  I know what shark looks like.  Whatever, the meat looked excellent, black and falling apart in the soy and spices.

MMMMMMMmmmmm my favorite som tam is the one with the little salty black crabs on the right. Yum yum yum. *drool* Eat some spicy som tam and every once in awhile you get a nice crunchy salt burst. *sigh*

The fish look like pla tuu of nam prik pla tuu fame. That is something I can do here but every time I fry the fish someone swears I've just killed all the animals in a five mile radius. :hmmm: Pla tuu is small spanish makerel :unsure: . I think you can tell by the blue line at the bottom. Then again I could be wrong. It's been known to happen. :raz:

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Peter,

Every one of your travelogues is an education.

Thank you! :wub:


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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June 26 – Rossano’s

I’d spent the afternoon lingering over my laptop, a good sake, and the sausages and buns.

There are worse way to spend a day in Bangkok. (But that just may be the Rat in me.)

Dinner was a very pleasant, and very relaxing change of pace. A quiet Italian meal with a couple I haven’t seen for some time – Christopher Moore and his wife, Khun Od.

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We’d arranged to meet at Rossano’s, which is still relatively new but has developed a strong following in the neighborhood. In part it’s the reputation of the owner, Gennari Rossano, whose L’Opera was a Bangkok staple for decades, closing down only about three years ago. At that time Gennari planned to take a well-earned retirement and enjoy the fruits of his labours.

You know how that goes.

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Three years idle, and he was back in business with this spacious, airy, Tuscan motif’d restaurant.

Let me see if I’ve got some more adjectives around here.

Bangkok’s expat community is an interesting thing, at times like a fishbowl, glassed off and separate from the Thai world about it. I can study it for ages. Much is made of the seedier elements at the bottom of the tank, and there’s quite a bit of flash darting about as well in the higher parts, but there are some very good, very long-lived characters in there, and its hard for some of them, like Rossano, to be out of the mix for too long.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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I was early (and relatively dry, to boot!), so I relaxed with a martini – Gordon’s gin, dry – and considered the space.

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I can see how this would be a popular spot for the expatriates who make up much of the population in this part of town. The service is good, the décor is very upbeat, the room well spread out, and the choice of food and wine very good. The décor is Tuscan, but the chef (Pinna Achille) is from Sardinia (or rather, a small island near Sardinia), having come from his family’s restaurant there. The menu was well supported by seafood dishes, and it was a matter of some personal pain for me as I considered these in contrast to the meatier, Northern dishes.

My discomfort was allayed when Christopher and Od showed up, and we started catching up on what has happened where and when. It’s been a good three years since last we’d met, with a number of missed opportunities in the intervening time. The last time we’d seen each other was during the floods back in 2005, when Christopher had arrived in wading boots, and was the only one there with dry feet.

Christopher Moore has been writing out of Bangkok now for over two decades. For me, his books give that feel of detail, that sleight of hand of literature that can make you believe you’re somewhere else. He does very well at capturing the nuances of Bangkok. Maybe part of it is the “I’ve been there” syndrome (as when we catch a television programme filmed in Vancouver), that little thrill when you read of Bourbon Street and Doug, and know the material personally? But there are other bits that come through, filling in my knowledge of the city, and both Yoonhi and I rely on his books when we’re away. Think of it as a "fix".

We’d first met when I’d ordered some of his novels to be delivered to the Emporium when we were passing through. I was told the delivery was here, and when I arrived in the lobby, I found the man himself. That first meeting made for a very good conversation, cut short, unfortunately, by the minor necessity of having to get to the airport on our part (Yoonhi: “What were you doing down there for so long?”…..”Christopher Moore was here and you didn’t call me?”).

The other thing that makes it easy for us to kill long periods of time is our common background outside of Asia – Vancouver. (Hmm…I guess that is still technically outside of Asia). He’d taught law at UBC before heading West across the Pacific (his first book, His Lordship’s Arsenal, is set in Vancouver, as is Gambling On Magic).

But, let’s get back to the food. This is eGullet, after all, and I’m supposed to be discussing what we were eating.

Khun Od was feeling a bit under the weather, as she’d been conducting interviews for the last several days straight, work which I know can take a lot out of you, so she ordered just the salad. Okay, Caesar salad isn’t really Italian, but it’s something you have to have on a menu in Bangkok, and it does taste very good here, loaded with extra bits of seafood. Christopher started with an order of the clams, and I chose the cappelletti di stufato con punte di asparagi – ravioli of braised beef and vegetables, served with asparagus and truffles with sage.

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One of many things I like about Bangkok is that when they advertise truffles with a dish, they don’t mess about with oils or extracts or other tangentials. They get the truffle out and shave it. The sauce with this was very good, the cream carrying the truffles well, but the braised beef was more of a background flavour in the face of this stiff competition.

I like seeing my friends doing well, and the last few years have been good to the two of them. Now there were grounds for congratulations. While his work has done well in Europe and Asia (he’s won a number of crime fiction awards) Christopher has finally landed a North American publisher – Grove/Atlantic – who has four of his Calvino series available now. (According to Christopher, I get a nod for part of (The Risk of Infidelity Index) – namely the food obsession parts, dealing with a rather dubious Italian cooking class. There’s my 15 minutes of fame.)

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I’d ordered my main from the blackboard. An Australian rib eye with a Brunello reduction. This came with roasted potatoes and some very pleasant mushrooms, and was topped with crisped potato “chips”, which I wasn’t quite expecting. It took me back to the Mermaid on Road 9 in El Maadi.

The meat is cooked on a grill of volcanic rock that they’ve built here. It wasn’t a bad dish, but it was somewhat more than I was in a position to tackle at this time, having been snacking all afternoon since the market. Still, it went well with the glass of wine I had (a sangiovese-cab blend, I believe. I forgot to get the name).

Anyways, I was more interested in grilling Christopher and Khun Od than I was in grilling meat (a rare thing for me, I know….maybe medium rare). Obviously, we had some discussion over the current situation, and over the forthcoming projects that Khun Od is working on (I’ll stay quiet on those, as I’ve not taken permission to disclose, darn it, and I want to get this post up). I believe we ended up at some point with discussions of the relationship of the Koreans to the yakuza.

As I said, I look forward to these conversations.

Our table was cleared and then the cake arrived. I’d forgotten to mention that it was Khun Od’s birthday. Rossano’s brought out a pretty little cake, and I indulged in some dessert for a change (once the flames were extinguished).

As far as meals went, everything was serviceable. As I said, I can see how this would be a comfortable spot, within easy reach of this quadrant of the heavily populated Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection. The food was competently handled, and the service and atmosphere was excellent. It was not an “over-the-top” sort of meal. For that I would go with Giusto on the other side of Asoke, down soi 23. But if I was living in this area, I would probably be coming in here on a semi-regular basis.

But, this meal was about the company, not about the food. The Moores and I walked out to Asoke, and we parted at the underground. I debated heading to RCA to check out some of the clubs there, but the weight of the last few days was beginning to pull at me, and I was in a very relaxed mood, so I opted for an early evening.

Plus, that bottle of sake was calling to me.

Next – A Day of Fowl Weather

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I have never heard of Christopher Moore that writes crime novels set in BKK. Cool. On order at amazon.com now. I love reading novels set in Thailand but usually I can tell the author never set foot on Thai soil. I remember throwing a book into the trash (unusual as I have that Asian cultural thing about books and learning) because a book set in 1800s used Thailand as the name of the country. [siam is the old name of the country for those who don't know. :)] If you are going to use some exotic far off country does it really hurt to do a BIT of research. Anyway, sounds like you and I need to talk books as we have similar taste in more ways then one. :) Thanks Peter.

*you may now return to the regular programming now*

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Peter?  :unsure:

I'll be back in a little bit. We're just getting set to ship the family back to Canada for August, and I do, on occasion, put the family first.

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Peter?   :unsure:

I'll be back in a little bit. We're just getting set to ship the family back to Canada for August, and I do, on occasion, put the family first.

Take your time--I was just worried that you got lost in one of those markets :biggrin:

"Lost"? Moi? I have an innate sense of location.

Which continent am I on again now?........

:biggrin:

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June 27 – Bangkok the Temptress

My time was growing short. Luckily, as my travels start to wind down, it’s fairly predictable that time will start to clear, with the exception of the last day, which will be a whirlwind. This, a Friday, had me booked for dinner, but that was all.

Thus I found myself at loose ends for the day…at least the lit portion.

And when I find myself with nothing to do, it’s time to start making plans.

Accomplishing those plans is another matter.

My first objective was to make it to the underground. That might not sound like much, but Bangkok is known as The Great Waster of Time (along with a million other sobriquets), and is unparalleled in placing distraction in the path of the unwary.

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Heading out of the apartment I cast a long, lingering look upon the sausage stand at the corner. The greasy femernted pong of sai krok hung in the humidity like old underwear on the backyard clothesline. But, as appetizing as that was, I needed to focus.

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Across the street I was momentarily distracted by the siren call of catfish roasting over an open grill, the charring smell of bottom feeders trying to pull me across soi 19.

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I was saved by the intervention of that hallowed saint, Hello Kitty. Confronted by the weighty question of “which airline transports their flight crew in a Sanrio bus?”, I was able to avert the draw of the food vendors, and quickly get myself to the MRT entrance at Asoke.

My aim was to make it to Fortune City. I’d been told that this had become a good place for art house Asian movies, as well as a source of various and sundry bits of software and hardware. Panthip Plaza used to be the place for this, but over the last few years it’s just gotten to be such a hassle to hike down there from the BTS station.

Mind you, there’s a really good Hong Kong style ba mee place just across the street from Panthip……..

I shook myself out of a daze, finding that I was on the platform heading North (or at least “up” on the map). The underground, which I’ve only just started using these last couple of trips, would drop me right at Fortune City.

We’d actually been here before. Thai Air had put us up a the hotel here as an overnight en route to Bali a few years back. At that time, without public transit in place, it was more than a little dead. Now the place was jammed with shops, and there was a steady stream of people heading into the complex.

My well laid plans got me as far as the mall. From that point, it was a rather aimless bit of wandering, until, after a DVD or ten, I came across something that captured my attention more effectively than the food stalls out on the streets…..

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Witoon’s Cocktail and Wine School.

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What’s this doing here, you might ask? Well, Witoon Wonsawat has had the school open since Spring 2004. Khun Witoon himself had had a long and distinguished career consulting for a number of large firms (British Air, Air France, etc), but has gone to ground as a teacher, which, admittedly, has a lot of satisfaction to offer.

He draws financial support for the school from Pernod Ricard, who are the importers for Chivas Regal, among other tipples. With their backing, he’s running a 180 hour course in “the fine art of cocktail blending, but also beverage management, public relations, related legal issues and basic accounting and marketing with the aim of producing highly skilled bartenders with a well-rounded knowledge of the industry.”

The really cool part is that the school is free. Pernod Ricard is footing the bill, and will even help find work for the bartenders. At least, that was the info I have from an old 2004 Post article.

The only down-side (for me) is that they won’t take candidates over 25.

The aim is to get more competent people out there in the bartending industry. It’s good for business, and, financially, it’s good for the students.

I like his philosophy. Here’s his quote from the original Bangkok Post piece in December 2004:

"Beverage offers them a big opportunity to earn more money for the simple reason that while a big meal leaves you full and you have to stop, you can sit and order drinks all night," he said.

I’ll drink to that.

Next – Quack! (Part 1)

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Oh? So the family is heading back to the great white expanse? Er.. ok well not so white and not so expanse in Vancouver but ya get the drift. What's Scud and Serena (and by extension you I'm sure) watching anime-wise? Has Serena seen Vampire Knight? That's my latest fav amongst the shoujo anime out. I still need to sit down and consume Bleach. It just scares me at the 180 episodes and counting thing.

Put me in with the crowd that thought ya got lost... 'cept figured it was in the desert. Or I thought maybe the loss of no longer getting the food of Bkk had put you in a major funk. Good to know you are being a responsible family man instead.

Quack? OOooooo duck, duck, goose? My favorite noodle dish is bamee bped second is bamee thom yum. Do you see a trend? Please tell me you are getting some bamee bped! Please????!!!!! :laugh:

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June 27 – Bangkok the Temptress

gallery_22892_4853_3096.jpg

Witoon’s Cocktail and Wine School.

gallery_22892_4853_35344.jpg

What’s this doing here, you might ask?  Well, Witoon Wonsawat has had the school open since Spring 2004.  Khun Witoon himself had had a long and distinguished career consulting for a number of large firms (British Air, Air France, etc), but has gone to ground as a teacher, which, admittedly, has a lot of satisfaction to offer.

He draws financial support for the school from Pernod Ricard, who are the importers for Chivas Regal, among other tipples.  With their backing, he’s running a 180 hour course in “the fine art of cocktail blending, but also beverage management, public relations, related legal issues and basic accounting and marketing with the aim of producing highly skilled bartenders with a well-rounded knowledge of the industry.” 

The really cool part is that the school is free.  Pernod Ricard is footing the bill, and will even help find work for the bartenders.  At least, that was the info I have from an old 2004 Post article.

The only down-side (for me) is that they won’t take candidates over 25.

The aim is to get more competent people out there in the bartending industry.  It’s good for business, and, financially, it’s good for the students.

I like his philosophy.  Here’s his quote from the original Bangkok Post piece in December 2004:

"Beverage offers them a big opportunity to earn more money for the simple reason that while a big meal leaves you full and you have to stop, you can sit and order drinks all night," he said.

I’ll drink to that.

Next – Quack! (Part 1)

What do you mean, "down side"? Enroll Scud in the Summer session, and get him to train you! :raz:


"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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June 27 – Duck the First

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A little ways back in this thread, Rona had made it known that Yong Lee needed to be on my list. I’d tried the once on the 25th, only to have them closed for the afternoon. How can an open air place like this be closed?

But that wasn’t an issue today. I’d called up a couple of my friends and arranged to meet here for an early lunch.

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Rona’d mentioned earlier how Yong Lee has long had a certain local esteem for their duck, both in soup and served in gravy. Me, I’ll take it any which way, but I wasn’t in the mood for soup.

And I see no reason to be concerned about hygiene issues. The work stations are clean, the tiles wiped down, and the rats take off their shoes before they go upstairs. The bottles of sriracha, oyster sauce, oil, and sweet soy are all tidily lined up on a shelf about four inches higher than the old lady doing the cooking, and there’s a talisman of jasmine to keep away any stray salmonella.

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I mean, seriously, if there was a concern about food safety, would the motodops eat here?

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Yeah, I know that duck in soup is a big thing. But, as Scud points out in his new AMV (well, okay, he stole the track from Budweiser, but it’s more fun with Sanji, the chef from One Piece, and Kimura from Azu Manga Daioh) “…if there’s gravy, well then, everything’s going to be okay”.

I like this, as the strength in the duck comes through better in this instance. In soup, I lose a lot of the gaminess of the bird.

Plus, I start sweating buckets when I eat soup in outside venues. But that’s just me.

They’d topped this with cucumber leaves, and there was something soft and mucky in the middle under the bird meat. Ithink they might’ve been noodles at some pre-congealed point in their life. Like I inferred, this had a good strong flavour, with that backdrop of Bisto-esque gravy that I can lather on just about anything if I get the chance.

That reminds me, you can buy “curry chip flavour” bisto here in Foodland. I should grab a jar one of these trips.

Duck’s a great success story in Thailand. Rice paddy snails – the ones that don’t get eaten by Onigiri and I – were a serious problem. Then they found that a flock of ducks will keep them well under control, and provide a certain amount of natural fertilizer. Since then, raising ducks has been a reasonable business. At best, you can rent them out for pest control, at worst you cover their feed costs. This results in duck being a heck of a lot more reasonable to eat on a regular basis than ina lot of other places.

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I’d actually eaten here 20 years ago. At the time, we’d not had the duck, but had gone for something less memorable, as I can’t remember it. It’s a setting that makes me think more of Chiang Mai than modern Bangkok, occupying a corner position, open on two sides so there is some airflow. Maybe that’s it. It’s that “20 years ago effect”. The place really hasn’t changed much, but the street outside certainly has.

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And there was enough on the menu to keep me occupied. I Ordered the cockles, stone-hard shells but solid bits of chewiness in there to complement the chili sauces neatly laid out for us. Some good bits of mushroom in there, too, finished with a hit of oyster sauce in the wok.

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This is Thai Chinese, so we had to have noodles. We ordered a plate, and it came with prawns, squid, spring onion, eggs, bamboo, onions, mushrooms….all greasily fried and quite good as long as it was hot.

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They had cow tongue, too, which I jumped at. This was done in a thickened gravy with bell peppers, chilis, more mushrooms, and onions. Tongue is a wonderful bit of meat, and they did a good job of it here.

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One of the chefs at the WGF said “the Thai are the masters of frying”…..okay, maybe the Japanese will contest that claim, but it’d be a tight contest. I volunteer to sit on the judging panel!

These prawns were big, and sweet and juicy sealed within the hardened casing of the batter. It had that tell-tale cornstarch bang to the shell. Fun to bite through the crispness, after having dredged one side through the chili and nampla sauce.

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Have a cucumber right after to take away some of the sting, and then dive in for more.

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I was enjoying this day. Nothing had happened, and I’d accomplished just about squat. I was savouring my first beer of the day, catching up on a year’s conversation, wondering what the specs were for construction around here, and being happy that it wasn’t anywhere near as hot as it could be.

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Opas Watcharintrawudth, the septagenarian who’s holding down the fort here, had done the serving. (And he still moves pretty quick) I’ve heard of him before, and today he was in fairly good humour, covering the tables, supervising his staff of ladies, and keeping the place moving. But I wonder how much longer this place’ll still be here? Real estate is getting pretty pricey on this stretch of Sukhumvit, and you think someone would be putting up a new hotel or a mall here.

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Of course, there are still plenty of derelicts (“distressed structures” is the appropriate wording”) still hanging about from the ’97 Crisis, so there’s more than enough space to choose from, I suppose.

But it is only a matter of time before all of this is swept away by five star hotels and new shopping malls. A few more parks would be nice (but not if they’re the result of Sukhumvit Square re-enactments). Enjoy the moment, say I.

So, that was lunch. A good duck. At a fair price. The question is, how would it compare with dinner?

Next – Quack! Part 2

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June 27 – Duck The Second

I’d thought the tuxedo run to the Four Seasons had been a bit moist, but that was a mere bagatelle when compared to getting to the Oriental.

I did have a plan. I always have a plan. It may not be a very good plan…..

I’d make it to Saphan Taksin on the BTS, and from there just grab a cab over to the Oriental. That way my besuited self would only be out of air conditioning for about five minutes.

I could do five minutes.

Off the BTS, the first problem was the gusting wind. When it cranks up like this, it generally means that there’s a downpour on the way.

It also means you’re not going to find an empty taxi.

I tried. I really did. But the flow wasn’t moving, the cabs were full, and when I did find one, they didn’t want to do the short haul up Charoen Krung to the Oriental. My alternate Plan B, the River Express, lay a long walk back behind me.

The tie was loose, the jacket was over my sleeve, and the shoes …well…we’ll see if they’ll shine back up when I get home.

I fell back on Plan C.

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I walked.

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I arrived at the famed hotel in reasonably good time, but in a rather distressed condition. This resulted in a rather hurried set of introductions in the lobby, after which I fled to the men’s room.

Thank heavens for those cloth towelettes the good hotels are using. I would’ve defoliated most of my body if I’d had to make do with paper towels. As a useful skill from this trip, I’m getting pretty good at doing sponge baths. There’s hope for me when I turn 70 and Scud locks me away in a home.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the lobby of the Oriental, perhaps more than a dozen years. I keep intending to get back down here for lunch at Le Normandie or Lord Jim’s, or to catch some jazz at the Bamboo Bar, but the location has always put me off.

But it is a very pretty hotel.

Call it the Grande Dame of Bangkok if you will. The hotel recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, having started life in 1876. Much of the fanfare revolves around the early, more modest years, when Conrad visited (albeit in his seafaring days), and Maugham (okay, he did contract malaria) stopped over during his tour of Siam (I must find his book of the tour A Gentleman in the Parlour). Since then it’s been the place to stay for the rich and famous (of which I’m neither), and there’s a long string of literary names that are associated with the hotel now.

Heck, beyond the writers that have stayed and passed on their names to a number of the suites, the hotel itself is the main character (in a manner) of recent novels, such as At The Bamboo Bar, by Morgan McFinn (I’m still on my Bangkok authors shtick).

I just wish it was easier to get to.

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Oh, I hadn’t mentioned the food. We were dining at La Normandie, atop the Oriental. In residence was the young (34 years) chef Stephane Haissant,. With him was canardiere Eric Lefevre, who has spent almost that long specializing in duck, and their team from La Tour D’Argent of Paris.

La Tour D’Argent, said to be part of the inspiration for Ratatouille, had fallen on hard times these past years, sinking from three to one star in the Red Book, with Claude Terrail, who ran the restaurant for 60 years, passing away in 2006. Now his son, Andre, has taken over, at 27 years old about the same age as Claude when he began. After the fall from grace, they shut down last year for three months to renovate. I’ll leave the reviews on that to our Parisian brethren.

Back to the food. The menu tonight, of course, was duck.

I’d fallen into this by the good graces of my friends. When I’d emailed to confirm my arrival (and availability for meals) I immediately had a response, asking if I wanted to catch La Tour d’Argent. They were in town as part of Le Fete Francais, a one month series of art shows, dance (with a strong representation from expatriate Lao who’ve grown up in France), film, and food. The food had been ongoing at locations like Bouchons (which I quite enjoy, even if the location is a bit disconcerting) and Beaulieu (at which Herve does an excellent job). Reservations had just opened, and tables were going quickly.

Timing is everything.

I jumped at the opportunity, of course.

Let me take an aside here, for some that may be gritting their teeth at my callous disregard of Thai cuisine.. I’m an expat. I was born an expat. I live (if you call it that) in a place with not much of anything, and I look upon my time in Bangkok not only as an opportunity to enjoy what is – in the opinion of many (and myself) – one of this planet’s great cuisines, in its most pristine state, but also as a chance to gorge from the cornucopia of other treats that spill out from this thing we call Bangkok. Chefs in residence, and an ever increasing string of chefs that are lured here to the City of Angels (or the Village of Olives) to cook for are continually putting forward menus that I just can pass up us (I’m still in anguish that I missed Keller).

There, I’ve got that out of the way.

Where were we?

Yes, the duck.

My friends (new and old) alighted from the elevator and we were guided to our table, near to the sterling duck press, a station of some activity already – the white aproned canardier whisking obsessively in front of the tortuous silver mass of the press.

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Seated in the soft orange tones, we admired the view of the Chao Phraya outside. The bridges were alight, and the cruise boats, barges, and River Express ferries swarmed the water like fireflies . There’d be some long tails out there, too, but outside of a warning flashlight or a lit cigarette they’d be powering up and down the river like phantoms, relying upon the sobriety of the other pilots to not run them over.

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The menus arrived, and then tragedy struck. I was pressed into choosing the wines. I hate choosing wines. Especially when everyone else at the table knows a lot more than I do about grape juice. I tried to let us off fairly lightly, going with a Sauterne to open – a Chateau Filhot deuxieme cru classe from 1995 - and then a Burgundy - a Gevrey-Chambertin Pierre Olivier from 2001. I figured we could match the Sauterne with the foie gras, and then push it back for dessert, later.

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But, I’m getting ahead of myself (but not by much).

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We opened with an amuse bouche, a thing of orange jelly like quality, with a bit of toasted brioche propped up along it. I wish I could better describe it, but it slipped in and out almost unnoticed while we traded cookbook titles and ISBN numbers.

Our first course was The three emperors foie gras with Sauternes jelly, Porto jelly and lukewarm brioche. I could give you the French names, but this is easier for me to make sense of in English. The dish took its name from its first serving in 1867, when the Tsar and crown prince of Russia had a meal with the Emperor of Prussia. Perhaps they discussed how it was that a department store north of the United States was confederating as a country?

This was goose foie gras. An interesting change to the flavour, as I’ve grown so used to duck over the years. The only time I’d taken goose liver had been in Cairo a few years back, and that was an unfortunate trauma I would’ve been better minded to have avoided. As was, this was a very good pate, with all the richness you’d expect. Bits of black truffle were in the pate, and there was crystalline salt about to give me my chloride kick.

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What surprised me were the jellies. Growing up in the 60s, and having done New Orleans in the 80s and 90s, I’m not used to jellies being this…..good. (There, I’ve got most of the population of Louisiana upset with me now). The Sauterne jelly was very, very good, but was helped by what we were drinking. The Porto was excellent all on its own, and makes me think I should try doing these once I’ve the necessaries. If my mother had served me bowls of this when I was younger, who knows were my life might’ve taken me? (The Betty Ford Clinic, perhaps?)

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Next came the Baked pike dumplings with Mornay sauce “Andre Terrail”. Yes, I do admit it sounds a lot better to call them “ Quenelles de brochet ‘Andre Terrail’”. Andre Terrail was the owner of La Tour D’Argent from 1912 to 1947, which some would say were its glory years. The pike is line caught, and dumplings are made of the mousse of fish and chopped mushrooms. They’re covered in the sauce, and then gratinated with the Parmesan. They come across nicely spongey, with that little bit of crackle in the gratinee atop. Heavy sauces topped with cheese. You gotta love it.

We’d moved over to the Burgundy, and found it to have its characteristic lighter body, but with a very forceful and peppery taste, a good match for the duck to come, if somewhat beaten down by the Mornay sauce.

And now we come to grips with the bird itself.

Caneton “Tour d’Argent”, pressed duck. This is the signature dish of the restaurant. Ducks from the Challans region near the West Coast of France are given a pleasant life of fresh sea breezes and free ranges. This idyllic life lasts eight weeks, and then they are strangled to preserve the blood in their bodies. During cooking the bodies are dismembered, and the breasts and legs taken one after the other (the legs, of course, roast longer). The remainder is then pressed to extract the juices, blood, and marrow. This wet collection of essences is then reduced with red wine, cognac, and butter to provide us with a very interesting sauce.

The ducks, since 1890, have been numbered, and certificates issued with them. The great King Chulalongkorn dined at La Tour D’Argent during his tour of Europe in 1907, enjoying duck number 28348 on September 26th of that year. Queen Sirikit, in April 1992, had duck number 772301. Since then they’ve passed the million mark.

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I’d forgotten to ask Eric when he was at our table about our numbers. My friend of long acquaintance at the table with me had dined at La Tour in Paris, and had a certificate in the high numbers. Our certificates here indicated that we were dining much lower in the numbers. I suspect that they are tracking the number of ducks served on this nine day stint, of which this was the last day. The birds were brought with them, so not only is it a good marketing ploy, but also an effective bit of accounting.

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As for the effect, the duck breast was quite tender, and carrying enough gaminess to satisfy me. There was a strong iron tang to the sauce, which only makes sense when you consider the blood contained. Actually, the original name of the dish was canard au sang .

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The breasts were served with a blown out, airy thing, reminiscent of an ethereal Yorkshire pudding. I failed to take the name, and I don’t have enough exposure to French cuisine to identify it properly.

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The breast was followed by the leg; Grilled duck legs with celery and mushroom salad, or salade Roger. I appreciated this more than the heaviness of the breast, but I’m a leg man, myself (but I married a Korean?). The meat on this was luxurious, full of flavour and just plain pleasant to eat.

And then there was cheese. Selection of frsh and matured French farmhouse cheese “Edouard Ceneri”.

As I’d mentioned at brunch, I miss good cheese. I particularly miss the full fat unpasteurized cheeses of the Continent. And when a selection like this comes by, I’m in heaven. A congealed mammary fluid version of heaven, but heaven all the same.

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“Sir, which would you like?”

“Give me everything that’s like myself.”

“Sir?”

“Oh, sorry…. give me a serving of everything fat and smelly.”

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The cheese allowed us time to converse, and share stories of food and travels. The young fellow at the table with us, accompanied by his wife, had those movie star looks that captivated our serving staff. But he was also well versed in wine and food, and shared my interests in Japanese cuisines (okay, he knew what he was talking about. With me, I said “interest” not “knowledge”), and we discussed the attractions of Maru and some of the other of Bangkok’s Japanese offerings.

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Dessert was the only item I wasn’t happy with. Salad of seasonal fruits with champagne jelly and acidulated rosemary coulis. The champagne jelly was excellent, nicely accented by the rosemary, and gave a very good first impression. But the “seasonal fruit” was persimmon, and I found this too tart to make for a good experience.

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Of course, dessert isn’t over until the petit fours sing, and we finished with Mocha and Petits fours and pralines from “La Tour d’Argent”.

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I wish I could decorate coffee properly

Actually, we really finished with several minutes of group pictures, but that was fun. We’d had a very nice meal, and the company was excellent. It’s hard not to be overcome by the graciousness of the people here, and there passion for food always gives me common ground upon which to stand.

Last to leave, we thanked the staff and collected our menus and bits and pieces. The young couple afforded me a lift back to my apartment, and the opportunity to discuss more about dining and wining. It was a matter of some happiness that, after discussing the restaurants of Chiang Mai we found our favourite was common to the two of us, The Good View. And some of my Japanese haunts were also his.

Happy and fed, it was back to the room and bed. A good day, with good meals and no other aim than that.

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Next – The Last Day (somebody do a drum roll, please)

For those interested, here’s a step-by-step on the pressing of a duck.

I found another posting for the TdA's Normandie gig, with much better pictures than mine, but a slightly different menu. It looks to be lunch, as the light is much better. Check this link to ohsirin The author – “Oh Sirin” also has a book out (in Thai) on Hong Kong restaurants.

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And fresh young galanga.

Peter, a question from earlier in the topic. Isn't the bottom pile galanaga and and the top ginger? That's what someone explained to me in Chiang Mai. I think.

Yes. that's "wild" ginger on top. It sure doesn't look like the ginger I get in the commissary here, I know.

(edit) = either that or it's krachai and I'm completely out to lunch.


Edited by Peter Green (log)

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There. The family's been nestled onto a flight that will end with them spilling out into Vancouver, and I have the time to get back to writing.

I'll jump just a bit out of sequence, and then we'll get this trip wrapped up (before I start another).

:smile:

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June 27 – Lunch In The Sky

Having spent more than my allotted share of the morning with Tim and Khun Pete at the shoot (which I’ll post separately, once Tim gets back to me) I had to race across the street to Central World to try and make my appointment for lunch.

Usually Bangkok isn’t a place where you rush, at least not if you want to stay hydrated. But I was eating with Paul and Nick, and Paul was on a fairly busy schedule this day, taking up some of the organizational reins of the Bangkok Film Festival in September (happily coinciding with the WGF! ☺ )

Originally we were planning on eating on Asoke, but my schedule didn’t look like I’d be able to manage that from Rachaphrasong. Luckily, my friends are quite accommodating, so we’d switched to this part of town. The skytrain helps, of course.

Our restaurant was Ginger, in the Centara Grand. We’ve been through the debate before of hotel restaurants, normally being leery of them. There’s always that nagging doubt that they’re too conservative, and won’t really go out on a limb with something different. The counter to that, though, is that the hotels have a direct line on work permits, bringing in chefs that would normally have to be more circuitous in taking up professional careers in these parts. And, really, would anyone harbour these doubts if they were in Europe?

So, in Bangkok and many other places in Asia, I’m a little more open minded. (I reserve judgement on North America. I don’t eat there enough).

I’m also very sensitive to coincidence, as some of you are aware, and tend to follow that scent when it comes up. Ginger had just been comin In this case, at Jok’s, my friend M had been saying very good things about eating here. Later that same evening we shared a table with the executive chef for the Centara Group, Michel Breliere, and I found that their chef at Ginger, Kenji Shindo, had interests similar to Seiji Yamamoto, looking at Spanish influences to adjust his native Japanese creations.

Who am I to argue with Fate? (Fate usually wins)

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I had about a minute to spare as I took the elevator up, taunted by the advertising. “Pan-Asian” always has such sinister 1930’s Japan overtones when I hear it, but in this case I put such concerns aside.

The Centara Grand isn’t just a hotel, it’s a convention hotel, and it’s still not really established. That means that there’s going to be a Dawn of the Dead sort of feel about the place if there’s no event happening at the moment. It’s a beautiful venue, with tall ceilings and wide open vistas, all of which goes with that “dining in the sky” (24th floor) sort of feel. But for that very reason you could feel somewhat intimidated if you found yourself sitting here alone. Luckily, I wouldn’t be doing that.

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Paul would be, though,…..but only for a few minutes. He’d preceded me by only five minutes or so. And on my tail was Nick, who wa also joining us.

Oddly, I opted for a dry lunch. Paul had business in the afternoon, and Nick wasn’t quite in the mood. But I did look over their sake selection, and was suitably impressed. A nice collection of jyunmaishus, tarus, namazake, and evening the sparkling sake that Kitagawa san had mentioned back in the Fushimi visit of March.

The menu does look really good. It was lunch, and we were on the run, so we decided to go with a number of small plates rather than the mains, but looking at the selection I was tempted. There was a steamed snowfish with a cherry cream sauce that sounded excellent, as well as plenty of foie gras, Japanese pork, abalone, and even a dish of chicken oyster (the soft bits along the spine) with cockscomb.

The first to arrive at the table was a poo nim, a soft shell crab with the house’s version of sriracha sauce. Hot, fresh out of the fry, and we could happily chomp through.

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I like crab like this. All the finger-distressing issues go away, and I just move through the entire beast like a lawnmower.

Like Rona says “Fried is good”.

Next, I had to have some foie gras.

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Beurrecks of truffled foie gras with a yuzu miso BBQ sauce. Fried pastry stuffed with goose liver, with that deep earthy smell of truffles. Glass-shard crispy on the outside, and then that soft, fat tone of foie.

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Braised duck with vegetables and a kareshi mustard sauce. At this point I remembered that Paul was allergic to fowl. While that meant there was more for Nick and I, I did feel bad about the direction my ordering had gone.

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Curry scented sword fish tataki, with a wasabi mayonnaise, however, made up for this a bit. The fish came across very well, with just a hint of yellow “curry” in the mayo.

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Laab moo thod was excellent, the pork a little pink inside but very crisp on the skin, and nicely spiced up (with the extra chili up there for me). The spice was good, but could have been a bit more brutal for my tastes.

But this is hardly a brutal setting, so it’s more me that’s out of place.

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And a masaman beef ossobucco curry. Beautifully soft meat, with that thick, rich southern curry in with that sheen of extracted fat.

We also ordered the slow cooked pork belly with baby ching chiang cabbage and mizore sauce, but that somehow snuck by my camera with getting shot.

I read up a bit more on the chef after the fact. Kenji’s published history is a little thin, but in 2006 he was in Taipei at the Show Restaurant at the Splendor Hotel (I’ve been hearing a lot of good things the last few years about Taipei. I really should get back.) The menu there was, in many ways, very similar to this, working with new Japanese cuisine, Thai and Lao recipes, as well as Chinese and European. At the age of 18 he was working for the Hotel New Otani, where he stayed for eight years, and then fell under the sway of Philippe Jego of Spain, and from that point he started to have a lot of fun. The rest of his story I’m going to have to draw out of him at a later date.

Again, not a bad meal. I’d like to come back here in the evening when the place is hopping. It’s a good size, and a lot of the details look really good: like the big aquarium at the bar, the teppanyaki station. And the view makes a good backdrop. It’ll be interesting to see what they make of their rooftop venue, slated to open in a few more months.

Anyways, we were on a clock. Paul had to leave first, and I wanted to get back over to Tim’s and see what had happened. Nick and I traded horror stories out through the mall, and then headed our separate ways.

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Peter,

The husband and I ended up trying Kinnaree last week. Hot damn! Thanks for the recommendation!

We also have a car now (and a Garmin nuvi), so if I end up feeling sufficiently masochistic, I may try to find my way back down to Jok's some night. :wacko:

Can't wait until you're back so we can dive headfirst into the culinary underbelly!

- Ellen

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Peter,

The husband and I ended up trying Kinnaree last week.  Hot damn!  Thanks for the recommendation! 

We also have a car now (and a Garmin nuvi), so if I end up feeling sufficiently masochistic, I may try to find my way back down to Jok's some night.  :wacko:

Can't wait until you're back so we can dive headfirst into the culinary underbelly!

- Ellen

Ellen,

We need to get back to Kinnaree in September/October, if possible. The only thing I didn't like about it was that I was eating there alone, and couldn't try as many things as I wanted to. I'd say it would be best with a crowd of about eight.

And, now, back to our irregularly misscheduled programming.

:biggrin:

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June 28 – The Butler Did It

I’d enjoyed my time with Tim and Pete at the market earlier, and so, when Tim let me know that they’d be doing some promo shooting on Saturday, I was more than happy to muscle some time around on my schedule.

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Tim’s new place – Butler’s – is in the bottom of the Gaysorn Plaza, one of the top end malls in Bangkok. That title is carved up between Gaysorn, Central World, The Emporium, and Paragon, and there’s an on going series of renovations at these places as they compete for the title of “who can sell the most handbags.

It’s opportunities like this that, for me, make for a good vacation. I find it exciting watching a professional go about his business, especially when it involves the creation of something new. Bringing order out of chaos appeals to the engineer in me.

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And Tim definitely had a creation to be drawn out of the ether.

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Tim’s written a bit of this here, and so you can follow some of the early joys. His schedule is frantic, with not months but weeks in which to complete the build, from the ground up, of a new venue. And he’s doing this in a new home, with systems that are, well, alien at times.

Okay, it can be like dropping in on Alien Vs Predator 3.

But he’s coping well, and does a good job of thinking on his feet, so things are coming along as per plan (with an occasional hiccup).

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There’d been solid progress (thankfully) in the last few days. When I’d rendezvoused (is that really a word?) here a couple of days ago, the site was an interesting waist high drape, a veil of white under which the construction crew was working stooped over to get the flooring and fixtures down. A look at this, and a quick time check regarding the party for 300 scheduled for the next week, and I would have been in a bit of a panic. It’s good to see composure under pressure.

But now, three days later, things were tightening up. The kitchen was functional, there were plates on hand, and there was material available.

When I arrived, Tim and Khun Pete were busy at work, getting the dishes together for the shoot going on two floors above in Senses. Tim was frying up sweetbreads and detailing them on the plate, while keeping in touch with the work being done on the food. This was moving at a slower pace than expected, but you hope that pays off in better quality pictures later on.

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I love sweetbreads. Tim had found these at Villa 33, which just confirms my admiration for that old ex-pat market.

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The plan for Butler’s is to offer light meals, with a focus on desserts. There’ll be the three course dessert meals, opening with a champagne glass of Thai tea granitee, condensed milk, and mango, then followed by a main, and closed with tea inspired chocolates and a flight of floral macaroons.

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There’ll be light dishes such as these, too. Sweetbreads and foie gras and ceviches.

It makes me want to get back in the kitchen.

Watching the plating was fun, as the arrangements were being done up on the fly (almost) with questions arising of the right dish, the daubing of the balsamic, and the amount of cover the greens might shed on the product.

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An item that took my attention right off was the pan seared foie gras club sandwich. This is exactly what a club sandwich needs, and I’ll be coming back for this.

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This one wasn’t for the shot, this one was for us.

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Tim has a very good pedigree, graduating from the CIA and having done a series of solid venues (like Aquavit), before working at Alto and L’Impero in New York, where his fiancée, Khun Pareena, was also working as a sous chef, the two of them circulating between the different restaurants in that group.

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Mangosteen was a good idea, providing some tangy sweetness to go with the full fat experience of the foie.

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Tim worked the baby tomatoes up with some vinaigrette to prep them for the sandwich as we chatted over things.

Khun Pareena stopped by briefly. In the new setup, she’s handling the front of the house, while Tim is in the kitchen. But here background is also excellent – a French Culinary Institute grad, and she’s worked her way through Per Se, Kraft Bar, Saam, and others before coming into orbit with Tim at Alto’s and L’Impero.

Everything in hand, we had a very cheerful looking foie gras club sandwich all ready for the shoot.

But it looked too good, so we ate it.

But getting a second one ready wasn’t a great hardship.

Tim and Pete played about with different presentations. You get kind of tired of white plates after a bit. The board seemed like a good idea, although the wood picks up every bit of oil that passes by.

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We had it ready, and then took the product up the lift.

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Then came more agonizing. Upstairs I found that it was Gregoire from BK Magazine who was doing the shooting, and he puts a lot of thought into what he does. The results are very good, so you don’t mind the waiting.

As I’d mentioned, I like watching people who do things well. There’s a great overlap in the obsessive positioning and primping of cooking and photography.

I do tend to fixate on compulsive obsessions, I must admit.

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At this point, I had my lunch appointment, but it was close, just over in Central World across the street. My margin of error had dropped from fifteen minutes to three, so I begged off and ran….okay, I walked in an urgent manner…across the overpass. I’ll cover that lunch separately.

Once lunch was done, I hurried back to see where things had gotten to.

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I returned in time for the sweets. I’d missed the river prawn ceviche, but I’dl live. Dessert started with (I believe, my notes are sketchy) a fried banana siding a chocolate mousse, with some cashew praline to crunch down upon.

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After this came the Thai tea I’d mentioned earlier. Thai tea is Tim’s favourite new flavour. With the mango this was pretty, but there was a lot of work to be done in scraping up the granitee.

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This was one big container of granitee. But Khun Pete was up to the task. While he worked, I bugged him about his background. It turns out he’s from a restaurant family, his father owning Zanzibar over on Sukhumvit soi 11, a place I’ve enjoyed before. Pete had started working in the kitchens when he was 15, taking time off to go to school in Oz, polishing up his Western cooking skills at the William Blue School in North Sydney.

With the dessert, Tim made the sensible choice to bring up partial builds, as the granitee would melt before the photos could be properly framed.

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This worked out fairly well, as Gregoire had enough material to frame everything, and then, with the temperature controlling the clock, he was able to execute the photos in fairly quick time.

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It was June 28, and there was a July 2 party to take care of. The restaurant was still a work in progress, but things seemed to be in capable hands. Now we just need to hear back from Tim as to how it’s gone.

Me? I had an appointment to keep, so I was out the door and en route back to the flat.

Next - Spirit in Da House

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June 28th – Meet the Neighbors

In Bangkok, you’re never alone. There’s always a spirit about who needs to be looked after, provided with his own home (to keep him or her out of yours) and fed on a regular basis.

If anything, they should be provided for in a better manner than in this parallel world. Luckily, their requirements are in miniature, so it’s all quite manageable.

This is another facet of what I like about Bangkok. The city may seem like concrete, pollution, grit, and packed humanity, with not a spare bit of pavement to walk on, what with all the vendors and motor cycles, but if you look always space for the spirits.

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In front of Central World, the newest of the mega malls, you find that accommodation has been found for an appropriately grand shrine, with a reflecting pool and space for incense.

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And these sites are very actively used. It may not be much, perhaps only a brief, respectful wai, but these are always paid their due.

(It does make me a little nervous, when I’m driving with my Thai friends around Bangkok and they’ll suddenly let go of the steering wheel to wai a shrine as we pass).

In front of MBK there’s a fine new teak san phra phuum and an accompanying san jao tii,. The san phra phuum houses the guardian angel of the land, sitting on a single pillar representing Mount Mehru, while the san jao tii, grounded on pillars (normally four, but here there are six) houses the older spirits of the land. The san jao tii being a reflection of the older shamanistic beliefs.

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And, of course, there’s the famouse Erawan shrine.

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This is a san phra brahm, where people can come to bargain for their luck, and pay back for that deal when things come through – with garlands, birds, or dancers.

Of the larger shrines, my favourite is probably that of Mae Nak, at Wat Mahabut up at Phra Khanong. You can read the story of Mae Nak (or watch one of the several movie versions) separately. What I like here are how you find dresses offered up for her, a televsion with the soaps running, and plastic toys for her child. Plus, of course, food and drink. Of course, at night, before the lottery, is when it’s the most fun, but that’s another story.

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And I always have time for the smaller neighborhood san phra phum and san jao tii, with their collections of everyday things to keep their lives orderly and comfortable. This is all governed by common sense, and so a car or motorcycle is now more appropriate than an elephant for their transport.

In this spirit house, just outside of my local Robinson’s there’s a can of Fanta (with a straw, of course). For food, I’ll often see sticky rice, fruit, and almost always there’s a shot glass of lau khao, the Thai white spirit with which I’ve had some painful encounters. But you can also see cans beer, a cup of coffee, or any number of snacks.

The animist/shamanist parallels are very similar to Japanese Shinto and to the shamanist traditions of Korea, particularly chae seo, the offering of food and drink to the ancestors on set anniversaries (which you also get to eat, after).

There, I’ve made room in this travelogue for the phi. Now, let’s return to other spirits.

Next - More Spirits, but these are Japanese

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June 28 – The Beginning of the End

Andrew was running late. Actually, I’d been worried that he wouldn’t be able to make it, but then I found his text messages on my phone.

I’m not particularly good with cell phones. Maybe if they made one with a rotary dial?......

Unfortunately, when I confirmed that he was going to be able to make it, I’d already poured the last of that excellent sake I’d picked up at Fuji.

In fact, I’d finished the sake, and was working over the beer I’d stocked in the fridge.

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One item I’d picked up had caught my eye earlier in the week at Kinnaree – Federbrau. I thought at first it was a tennis thing, but then the feather cleared that up.

This wasn’t bad. A fuller beer, more central European in taste and head, with a pleasant flavour (I was never a Kloster fan). It’s brewed in line with the German Purity Law (the ones for beverages, that is). It was a pity that I was finding this on the last day. Thai Beverage, which is responsible for Beer Chang, Maekhong and many of my bad mornings (or afternoons, depending on when I get started), brought this onto the market to compete in the “premium beer” range. Given that the competition in the premium category is the local Heiniken, this shouldn’t be too hard (but if they had to compete with Beer Lao, that would be another matter).

I found the Nation and Post’s pieces on the introduction of Federbrau. It was only just released. The marketing VP for ThaiBev gave the usual sound bites, and, I quote “These customers see themselves as "confident, loving freedom, embracing challenges and constantly looking for something special to enhance their sophisticated lifestyles", said the company.” (The Nation, July 25, 2008).

Go ahead, enhance my sophisticated lifestyle.

Beer has its place (and a very large place it is, right where my waist used to be), but I was worried about not having anything appropriate to entertain with. Time was on my side for once. I ran downstairs, past the san phra phum (with a quick wai), into Robinson’s air conditioning, through the cosmetics section, and downstairs to the liquor store.

They had one sake for sale, in a pretty little blue bottle (and a few shochu, but I do have my sensible moments). I grabbed this, paid the bill, and retraced my steps to the room, where I ensconced the bottle in the fridge.

And I didn’t even break a sweat.

Andrew showed up a little later than planned, but about when he was expected, which worked out well with the drinks. One of the things I like about renting apartments over hotel rooms is that it’s a lot more comfortable entertaining.

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With the blue bottle I hadn’t been able to tell, but what I’d bought were a couple of bottles of Shirakawago nigori zake (“sasanigori” is what was on the label, which I could’ve read if I’d thought to when I bought it.

I’d’ve still bought it, of course.

This is similar to what I’d had in Kyoto at Okariba. Shirakawago is a small town up in the mountains of Gifu, with the famous Gassho style houses. I’ll have to leave it to Hiroyuki to fill in the details about the brewers themselves, as I don’t know much about the area beyond the World Heritage architecture.

Anyways, we were in Thailand, weren’t we?

Andrew showed up as planned, and we quickly worked our way through what we had in the room, catching up on the latest gossip and food news. Plus, as Andrew has moved up the ladder at work, we had grounds for celebrating.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

Next – When In Doubt, Use a Flamethrower

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This is a great blog. Your friends' place seems really cool and interesting and I want that foie gras sandwich! YUM!


-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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This is a great blog. Your friends' place seems really cool and interesting and I want that foie gras sandwich! YUM!

I can state for my part that that may very well be my favourite sandwich. Good bread with lots of grain, fresh greens, the dressed tomatoes, the mangosteens......everything all in, and you get that soft lump of happiness we call foie....okay, maybe that's the French, but it's ours now.

As in demonology, possession is nine tenths of the law.

:biggrin:

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