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djyee100

Thailand North to South

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For four weeks in November and December, I and others traveled in Thailand with my Thai cooking teacher, Kasma Loha-Unchit. We did lots of sightseeing and shopping, but with a bunch of foodies and a cooking teacher on board, the trip was very food-oriented, as you might guess. When I told a friend about my upcoming trip, she said, "Oink!" Oink, indeed.

Before you ask, we landed at Bangkok airport days before the takeover, and departed Bangkok a month later when the crisis was over. When the brouhaha was at its worst, we were away from Bangkok, way up north near the Burmese border. Things were calm there. Our main concern was to avoid wearing bright yellow clothes like the pro-democracy demonstrators, since we were in the red shirt provinces favoring the former prime minister.

Please Note: None of these photos are mine. The photos were taken by Lillian and Amber, two members of our group, and reprinted here with their permission. Thanks, Lillian and Amber!

Our first full day in Bangkok, and a visit to the market in the morning.

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A street stall selling two kinds of panfried chive cakes, one puffy and round, the other denser and square.

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Sightseeing at the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.

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The next morning, a trip outside Bangkok to the Damnoen Saduak floating market in Rajburi.

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Plenty of people watching opportunities

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We ate our spicy noodle lunch at a dockside restaurant that was half on the water. One cook prepped the food on the dock, the other cooked in a boat tied up alongside.

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The next day we headed north from Bangkok to the historical ruins of Ayuthaya.

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A shrine to Buddha and his first five disciples.

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The next day, the historical site of Sukhothai.

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The site contains many shrines and statues of Buddha, but this giant one stirred my imagination.

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Inside the shrine, behind the Buddha, is a hidden stairway that one can climb to the head of the Buddha. A long ago king, using the stairway, spoke from the lips of the Buddha and exhorted his men to march off to war. (As someone noted, this was a profound perversion of the Buddhist philosophy.)

A member of our group demonstrates that this is a really big Buddha.

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Our group included foodies and former students of Kasma's, and this gardener at Sukhothai attracted our attention. The gardener was clearing off some thick weedy plants growing around the perimeter of the reflecting pond.

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And those weeds were yummy water spinach! Maybe for the gardener's lunch?

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The next day we visited the market. Some vendors at the Sukhothai market--

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A display of garlic and shallots for sale--

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And a beautiful stand of chiles. I bought a kilo of chiles to take home (the chiles in the second row, far left), and packed them with my luggage. After a few days my clothes began to smell of chiles.

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But if you like chiles, this is not such a bad thing. :wink:

Shopping and sightseeing take energy. Time for a snack of fried sweet potato balls.

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Our group tried out many other snacks in the market also, in the interest of cross-cultural food research.

The next day, back in our vans, we drove up the hills of the Mae Sa valley, to visit a Hmong village where Kasma has friends.

The view going up the hills.

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A roadside resident greets us.

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The Hmong village--

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And a convivial group trying out the local liquor.

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More to come...

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Wow, fabulous memories of time spent in Hmong villages are flooding back! Thanks for this. Was that rice whisky in the cup? That really packs a punch.

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I see in the centre of this photo there are some lotus seed pods for sale. Did you get a chance to cook with these, and how did you prepare them? They're usually a snack or part of a dessert in Vietnam, and I can see they're being sold with fruit in this picture, which leads me to believe they must be the same in Thailand.

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I love this stuff! No meal in Vietnam is complete without it, stir-fried with garlic and a bit of oyster sauce. Did you have a chance to try it, and if so, how was it served?

When I told a friend about my upcoming trip, she said, "Oink!" Oink, indeed.

Yes but think of the walking you must have done. That would have worked off at least half of it, right?

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Thanks for the teaser :) I'm looking forward to the next installment, especially what you cooked during this epic journey.....

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Wow, fabulous memories of time spent in Hmong villages are flooding back! Thanks for this. Was that rice whisky in the cup? That really packs a punch.

Nakji, I don't know what kind of liquor that very happy group imbibed in the Hmong village. But let me put it this way: they seemed very happy.

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I see in the centre of this photo there are some lotus seed pods for sale. Did you get a chance to cook with these, and how did you prepare them?

I don't recall any dishes in particular that contained the lotus seeds (note to others: lotus seeds are the 15 baht item in the picture, the little round balls embedded in what's left of the flower). When I was in China last year, we peeled and ate them as street snacks. They're like bland white melon, very refreshing in hot weather. At a restaurant in China, I ate lotus seed stuffed in soft steamed corn dumplings. Yes, corn. This was a modern Chinese recipe, no doubt.

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I love this stuff! No meal in Vietnam is complete without it, stir-fried with garlic and a bit of oyster sauce. Did you have a chance to try it, and if so, how was it served?

We ate water spinach as sauteed greens with garlic and lots of small red chiles. We also ate water spinach that was mixed up with batter and deep-fried in little cakes, then topped with a mixture of sauteed pork, shallots, and chiles. Both versions were delicious, and I'm salivating as I remember and write this.

(and also in reply to Piglit). We didn't do any cooking on the tour (sorry if the title gives that impression). But many dedicated cooks were in our group, and cooking was always on our minds!

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We continued onward, traveling north, to one of my favorite stops, a museum devoted to traditional textiles and natural dyes.

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This beautiful old Thai house was worth viewing on its own.

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Vats of berries for black dye.

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A demonstration of a small cotton gin removing the seeds from the bolls.

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Back on the road, and a stop to watch some farmers thresh rice by beating the bundles against the ground (each bundle weighs about 50 lbs). Then they blew away the chaff with giant fans.

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A stop at another hilltribe village. Kasma gave out photos she took of the village on her previous trip last year.

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A tea plantation run by former refugees from Yunnan province, China, and a tea tasting.

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By this time we had traveled far north, to within a quarter-mile of the Burmese border. Our group crossed a suspension bridge over the Pai River. A few jokers jumped up and down to see how much the bridge would sway. The coward with her hand on the fence is yours truly.

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Up early the next day, to catch the morning mist over this rice paddy.

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And one of my favorite sights from this trip, a Buddhist temple in the Burmese style, with the filigree trim, surrounded by rolling green hills.

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You have to keep up your strength for sightseeing, and roadside vendors abound. How about a snack?

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Our leader Kasma wore her Thai finery during the trip.

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A Lisu hilltribe village. Looks quaint, doesn't it? But hilltribe women have cellphones in their sewing baskets, and those huts may hide some good-sized satellite dishes.

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One of our group modelled a wedding headdress and vest. The vest decorations are heavy silver beads and buckles, and 1930s coins from French Indochina.

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A boatride on the underground river of the Tham Lod Caverns.

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After the boat ride, I and another member of our group--Amber, with the camera--hiked to the roof of the cavern. There we viewed wooden coffins shaped like boats, used by people 3,000 to 4,000 years ago to bury their dead in hidden alcoves high up in the cavern.

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On the road again, we headed south to Chiang Mai. Outside the city, we stopped at a restaurant for a great lunch.

Green papaya salad,

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Catfish larb,

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Grilled pork neck,

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And spicy pork innards soup.

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More to come...

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The next day in Chiang Mai, we walked from our hotel to a Muslim restaurant for breakfast. The adventurous among us sampled goat with yellow rice.

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Well fortified with Muslim food, we visited a historical Buddhist temple in old Chiang Mai.

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In Thailand, teenaged boys are expected to spend one or two years in the monkhood. As monks they are supposed to learn "gentleness" before they marry.

Below, a Temple resident who has attained nirvana.

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A visit to the Chiang Mai food market. A load of jackfruit arrives in style.

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A vendor of mango and sticky rice snacks.

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Tiny shrimp and assorted insects for your delectation.

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No insects for you? How about some kanom krok, grilled coconut macaroon cakes? Yum! Also on the snack tray, fried bananas and yam balls.

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While in Chiang Mai, we ate a hearty lunch at a restaurant known for its traditional Northeastern-style food.

A platter of Northeastern-style sausage,

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Fried frog skins,

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Hung-lay curry,

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And a salad with pineapple, dragonfruit (white fruit with black speckles), crunchy guava, apples, green beans, tomatoes, grapes, and peanuts, in a sweet and sour dressing. Sounds goofy, but this salad was a big hit with our group.

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The piece de resistance, fried bamboo worms.

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They don't taste like much. They're just crunchy.

For dessert, ruam mitt, crushed ice with grass jelly, pandan noodles, mock pomegranate seeds, and jackfruit.

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Besides the traditional dishes, there is, of course, the nontraditional side of the Thai food scene, such as...um...

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With his hands in a prayer position and a slight bow, Ronald is giving the Thai greeting, or wai. When in Thailand, do as...

More to come. But no more Ronald, I promise.

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I'm really enjoying this diary. The post about the former refugees from Yunnan who operate a tea shop gave rise to the philosophical question of when one ceases to be a refugee, but that's a non-food question. I look forward to the rest of the reports!

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Great job! Your friends took wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing.

The dish I am most curious about is the fried frog skins.

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The post about the former refugees from Yunnan who operate a tea shop gave rise to the philosophical question of when one ceases to be a refugee...

Here's what a blog has to say about the Yunnan Chinese who came to north Thailand and stayed to plant tea: "The Chinese in this part of Thailand are the remnants of the KMT (Kuomintang) - Chiang Kai Sheik supporters who fled Yunnan province when Mao’s communists took over. They trekked through the highlands across Burma and landed up here in Thailand. The original plan was to stay here for some years, replenish and attack China in two waves - one from here and other from Taiwan. This plan never materialized. The Chinese have stayed back and made this place their home." http://preetamrai.com/weblog/archives/2008...d-mae-hong-son/

The dish I am most curious about is the fried frog skins.

My closest approximation of the taste--The fried frog skins taste like the grilled salmon skin at Japanese restaurants, with no soy sauce or other marinade on it. I thought the frog skins had a darker, earthier flavor compared to salmon skin. The texture of the fried frog skins was very crunchy, like pork cracklings.

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From Chiang Mai, we returned to Bangkok for a little sightseeing before proceeding to the south. The Royal Barge Museum in Bangkok--

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It's good to be king.

We traveled south by van from Bangkok, through an ever lusher landscape of coconut palms, palm oil palms, and rubber trees. We stopped at the market in Hua Hin, where the south's abundant seafood was on display.

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This is pomfret (below)

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and horseshoe crab...

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...and huge piles of dried shrimp and fish for sale.

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South of Hua Hin, we ate a wonderful seafood lunch at a beachfront restaurant. The view from the dining room, and a member of our group on the beach--

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The front yard of the restaurant was covered with drying racks of smelly squid. Ew! Was this supposed to be a good restaurant?

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But sundried, slightly fermented "sour" squid is one of the restaurant's signature dishes. And it was tasty.

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We ate seafood salad, too,

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Giant steamed prawns,

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Crabmeat salad topped with fried basil,

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And fried whole fish smothered in a sauce of garlic and peanuts.

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The next day, we were back in the vans for our final leg to the southern town of Krabi. Before reaching Krabi, we stopped for lunch at a Muslim restaurant that specializes in roti, thin grilled breads stuffed with different fillings like curry, bananas, eggs, condensed milk and sugar, or even chocolate.

These women can flip and stretch out a paperthin round of dough in seconds, before laying it on the grill.

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Kasma with the family that owns the roti restaurant.

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The next morning, an optional early wake-up call to visit and eat breakfast at a kanom jeen (fermented rice noodle) factory. The natural early risers and the hard-core foodies showed up.

Fermenting dough for the noodles (which attracts those teeny black flies).

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With a press, the dough is extruded into hot water, forming noodles.

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The finished noodles, rinsed and drained.

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We breakfasted at the restaurant adjoining the factory, and the menu was spicy fish curry with kanom jeen and southern (Thai) style fried chicken. The kanom jeen curry was served with many different condiments for you to play with.

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The fried chicken was cut up Asian style, meaning the whole chicken was hacked apart with a cleaver and you chewed on neck bones, the back, and (if this was your favorite chicken part), the pope's nose. The reddish tint comes from annatto in the batter.

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Spicy fish curry, fresh rice noodles, and fried chicken don't exactly make the kind of breakfast that Americans are used to. But our group managed somehow.

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Our group managed so well that we polished off two big platters of fried chicken, and wondered if we should order a third. But we restrained ourselves. We had the rest of a long day to eat through.

Then we spent the next part of the day burning off breakfast with a visit to a hot springs, a swim in a beautiful freshwater pond, and a nature hike in a forest preserve.

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After the forest preserve, we alighted from our vans in a small shopping mall, and made a beeline to this ice cream vendor.

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She made us "Thai sundaes" in plastic cups, layers of cooked sticky rice, palm seeds, coconut ice cream, and peanuts, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. This was one of my favorite street-vendor snacks in Thailand.

More to come...

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[...]The next day, we were back in the vans for our final leg to the southern town of Krabi. Before reaching Krabi, we stopped for lunch at a Muslim restaurant that specializes in roti, thin grilled breads stuffed with different fillings like curry, bananas, eggs, condensed milk and sugar, or even chocolate.

These women can flip and stretch out a paperthin round of dough in seconds, before laying it on the grill.

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I recognize what you got, except that where I used to live, it wasn't called roti. In Malaysia, these stuffed pancakes are in my experience called lempeng (pronounced lepeng in Terengganu/Kelantan), and typical fillings for them in the 1970s were banana (pisang), coconut (nyior), and jackfruit (nangka or cempedak - two very distinct varieties with different tastes). I've never had a savory lempeng, but a quick search pointed very quickly to one savory lempeng recipe from a Malaysian (with potato filling). In Kota Bharu, Kelantan, murtabak (though of Indian origin, I understand) seem to be considered a local specialty, and can be either sweet or savory. I've seen them described as crepes, but the first Google result for "murtabak recipe" defines them as "wrapped roti canai" with filling. Roti, as such, though, means "bread" in Malaysia (so that if you ask for "roti," you're likely to get a loaf of ordinary Western-style bread), and roti canai, when so called, is in my experience not stuffed with anything.

Did you get further south, to any of the Malay-majority provinces?


Edited by Pan (log)

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Bless your friends for sharing such beautiful, glowing pictures! They're quite amazing, and of course I love being able to see a place that I can only dream of. Thank you! :wub:

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Did you get further south, to any of the Malay-majority provinces?

We only went as far south as Krabi.

Most roti makers I observed took small balls of dough and skillfully tossed them into thin circles. But I also saw a few roti makers take a moist ball of dough, and rub it against a hot griddle to form a film on the griddle. Then they pulled the film off the griddle, and they had a crepe.

Here's another variation on roti filling for you. Roti stuffed with pink and green spun sugar, which we ate in Sukhothai.

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Here's another variation on roti filling for you. Roti stuffed with pink and green spun sugar, which we ate in Sukhothai.

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Roti sai mai! It's one of my favourite snacks! It's just like a harder, more caramelized version of a cotton candy sandwich. What could be better!

My other favourite is khanom bah bin which you pictured earlier (but labelled as khanom krok--khanom krok is a wetter batter and shaped more like a half-moon). I always look out for roti sai mai and khanom bah bin when I'm in BKK, but they're getting harder to find for me. :sad:

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I recognize what you got, except that where I used to live, it wasn't called roti. In Malaysia, these stuffed pancakes are in my experience called lempeng (pronounced lepeng in Terengganu/Kelantan), and typical fillings for them in the 1970s were banana (pisang), coconut (nyior), and jackfruit (nangka or cempedak - two very distinct varieties with different tastes). I've never had a savory lempeng, but a quick search pointed very quickly to one savory lempeng recipe from a Malaysian (with potato filling). In Kota Bharu, Kelantan, murtabak (though of Indian origin, I understand) seem to be considered a local specialty, and can be either sweet or savory. I've seen them described as crepes, but the first Google result for "murtabak recipe" defines them as "wrapped roti canai" with filling. Roti, as such, though, means "bread" in Malaysia (so that if you ask for "roti," you're likely to get a loaf of ordinary Western-style bread), and roti canai, when so called, is in my experience not stuffed with anything.

Did you get further south, to any of the Malay-majority provinces?

Pan,

You are absolutely right, though the mamak shops in Malaysia and Singapore have greatly diversified their product range. You can see roti canai-stle bread stuffed with various fillings, so popular choices include pisang (banana and honey), planta (local margarine with lots of sugar), sardin (tinned sardines with onions) and bom (condensed milk and planta margarine). You can also see regional deviations such as roti strawberi (insides spread with strawberry jam) in Cameron Highlands.

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I recognize what you got, except that where I used to live, it wasn't called roti. In Malaysia, these stuffed pancakes are in my experience called lempeng (pronounced lepeng in Terengganu/Kelantan), and typical fillings for them in the 1970s were banana (pisang), coconut (nyior), and jackfruit (nangka or cempedak - two very distinct varieties with different tastes). I've never had a savory lempeng, but a quick search pointed very quickly to one savory lempeng recipe from a Malaysian (with potato filling). In Kota Bharu, Kelantan, murtabak (though of Indian origin, I understand) seem to be considered a local specialty, and can be either sweet or savory. I've seen them described as crepes, but the first Google result for "murtabak recipe" defines them as "wrapped roti canai" with filling. Roti, as such, though, means "bread" in Malaysia (so that if you ask for "roti," you're likely to get a loaf of ordinary Western-style bread), and roti canai, when so called, is in my experience not stuffed with anything.

Did you get further south, to any of the Malay-majority provinces?

Pan,

You are absolutely right, though the mamak shops in Malaysia and Singapore have greatly diversified their product range. You can see roti canai-stle bread stuffed with various fillings, so popular choices include pisang (banana and honey), planta (local margarine with lots of sugar), sardin (tinned sardines with onions) and bom (condensed milk and planta margarine). You can also see regional deviations such as roti strawberi (insides spread with strawberry jam) in Cameron Highlands.

Interesting. I knew about roti telur, of course, but I think of the extra eggs as not a stuffing but a coating. I saw signs for roti sardin many times on my last trip to Malaysia (2003), but I guess I never got around to eating any!

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[My other favourite is khanom bah bin which you pictured earlier (but labelled as khanom krok--khanom krok is a wetter batter and shaped more like a half-moon).  I always look out for roti sai mai and khanom bah bin when I'm in BKK, but they're getting harder to find for me. 

Thanks for the correction. I thought all griddled coconut cakes were called kanom krok, but a review of some class notes brought up kanom bah bin. I only recall that one vendor (in the picture) making kanom bah bin with the little pastry rings. Most of the time I saw vendors making the half-sphere (aebleskiver shaped) kanom krok.

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Back to our itinerary:

We traveled by long boat to the island in the Andeman Sea where we would be staying for a few days. The two boats carrying our group moved alongside. Clickclickclick.

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A stop for lunch at an island on the way.

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A morning walk on the island where we stayed.

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A beachcomber's collection of shells.

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We filled our days with swimming and snorkeling,

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and kayaking, too.

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Our trip was coming to a close. Back to Bangkok for one more swing through a food market.

Last chance to sample fresh "yellow pillow" durian,

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...and to ogle a display of fresh scallops,

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...and to snack on sticky rice sweets.

(Clockwise from left) White sticky rice with yam, sticky rice with butterfly pea flower (that turns the rice blue), and black sticky rice with coconut.

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At our farewell dinner we were treated to a performance of traditional Thai music and dance.

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The next day we flew back to winter and the Xmas holidays in the USA. Our group has been emailing each other, and we mention jet lag. But I will admit to dinner lag. For a month in Thailand I sat down at the dinner table in a restaurant, and six or more delicious dishes magically appeared for me to eat. And I never had to clean up afterwards, either. I keep waiting for that to happen at home. :wink:


Edited by djyee100 (log)

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That looks like an excellent trip! Thanks for sharing it.

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Great job! That was a beautiful island. You have succeeded in re-whetting my desire to travel to Thailand. Unfortunately, I think that it would be some time before I am able to do it and when I do it won't be as complete an experience as yours secondary to time. Thanks for sharing!

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Beautiful, beautiful shots. And a good 'logue to go with it.

And people wonder why I don't want to go anywhere other than Thailand (and Laos and Cambodia).

:biggrin:

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Sounds like a wonderful trip, thanks for documenting. I particularly enjoyed the abundant greens . . .

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. . . floating market . . .

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. . . chiles, of course . . .

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. . . rice paddy in the mist . . .

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. . . geometric fish . . .

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. . . and gorgeous scallops . . .

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. . . and of course I would love to have tried all of the food. Just curious -- did you try the horseshoe crabs?

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Just curious -- did you try the horseshoe crabs?

We ate various crab dishes in the south, but the crab was shelled so I couldn't tell what kind it was. We polished off the crab dishes pretty fast, too...not much time to ask questions before the food was gone. :biggrin:

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This year Kasma has divided the four-week trip into two 2+ week trips, a Northern & Central trip, and a Southern trip. See Trip B and Trip C on her website:

http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/trips.html

People have been asking for shorter trips, since it's easier to get away.

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