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Travelogue: Valentine's Day in Thailand


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Part 8 – RuaknRolla

Tour time.

We started by boat. Khun Ti was our guide. I managed my bulk back into the shallow vessel, and then we set out to beat the land speed record again.

I like these boats. There’s no messing about with poles or sails. Just a big engine and you go fast.

We were down the Ruak to Sop Ruak (Sop is the confluence of one river with another), a smooth run. And then, at the end of Ruak, we hit the Maekhong, and the ride changed beat to that jostling, banging tune that’ll clear out kidney stones after ten minutes.

I’ve a fond spot in my heart for this big muddy river. I’d seen it first at this very spot (or within a few hundred meters) way back, and had dreamed of Laos across the water. Since then I’ve followed it almost everywhere I can (although I still haven’t been in the Delta in Vietnam….maybe a trip one of these days….). It moves with a steady grace only occasionally broken by the distress of falls (as at Don Khone) or rapids (upstream in Sip Sawng Panna). With the Chinese dams, however, we’ll have to see what will happen.

The other trip I should do at some point is get to Nong Kai for the Naga’s Fireballs. Every year balls of fire erupt from the river, the source of which is still a matter of some controversy - pockets of gas, the Lao having fun, or nagas lurking in the depths after a Mexican bean fest? - but it's not as much of a hot topic as it was when Mekong Full Moon Party (Sibha kham doan sib ed) was released back in 2002

Our last visit here was four years ago, and there were some new things to see.

We switched out of the boat and into a songthaew, the covered open backed pick up trucks that can move huge numbers of Thais about….or myself and two other people.

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One of the new things is the Hall of Opium. This has been developed under the auspices of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, (for the late Queen Mother who put a lot of her effort into improving the lives of the Hill Tribes in the North), and is quite the project. We weren’t allowed to film inside, but it does provide an excellent (if somewhat biased) view of the development of the drug trade. As much of the production work was done in the PRC, some facets of the modern trade’s development tend to be overlooked, and others rather one-sided (“Bad English. Bad!”). A good read on this topic can be found in the later chapters of Sterling Seagrave’s Lords of the Rim. (One of my Bangkok friends passed me a copy years back, and I must hunt it down in the mess I call a library here at home.)

But, editorial issues aside, it’s a beautifully put together museum, and very much worth the visit. I could have spent much longer here going over the details (how does your brain respond to opiates?) but we were on a clock.

More dear to my heart was a trip to the market.

The songthaew rattled and hummed down through Sop Ruak to the larger, older city of Chiang Saen – the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom, and sister city to Luang Prabang.

But that was then, this is now.

Now it was a riot of bright yellow flowers, bicycles, shops, and Chinese warehouses. Chiang Saen has become the major entrepot for trade with the PRC up the Maekhong, and there are boxes and boxes of fresh produce from Yunnan stacked upon the streets in front of Chinese businesses.

While it’s not the quiet dream it was 20 years ago, I do feel good seeing people’s lives improve, and there is a distinct air of prosperity about the town now.

But, back to the market. This was the highlight of the day for me. I’d taken a beating earlier, but now I’d earned my reward.

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Like most Asian markets, it spills noisily out of the dark confines of the official market, with limes, and cabbage, and capiscums, and onions, and such hazardous substances as chilis winking at you in the sunlight.

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Just inside the entryway I found what I was looking for. Ant eggs and larva. I’d thought of this as primarily an Isaan thing, but they had both the larger eggs and smaller ones on sale. These are what I’d been eating a few months back at Vientiane Kitchen.

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Now, can someone tell me if these eggs are muot daeng (red ant) or something else? As a Green, I’m always colour conscious.

This just kept getting better. After having realized in Vancouver that I’d never had honeycomb, I find two slabs of it just sitting here.

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Yoonhi wouldn’t let me buy it to bring home, no matter how many times I called her “honey”. (I consoled myself by watching The Bee Movie with Seinfeld, instead).

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Who needs Easter as an excuse to colour your eggs. Pickled chicken eggs, black on the inside.

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No comments on this photo from you lot out there.

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We did buy some more nehm, and I’ve loaded up on more of the mystery sausages. I’ll have to post about these after I’ve opened them up and eaten them. This nehm is nice in that it’s a much thicker sausage than the usual brands I buy in Bangkok.

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I also found the kapok “silk” that was used in the broth the other day, and grabbed some of it, along with more hung lay powder, and some of the local chili powders.

Khun Ti was having a great time. I gather that not a lot of the guests pull out their wallets this quickly to stock up on produce.

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Sauces and oils, vinegars and soy. The garlic up here in the North is smaller, but far superior in flaour to Central Thailand (in my opinion).

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There were the usual tables full of neon colour sweets in baggies.

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And this was something I didn’t think I’d find. Khai, or what I always used to refer to as river weed. This was available both in its harvested form, and in the dried and seasoned sheets I love so much.

I was surprised in that the literature indicated that this was native to a small number of tributaries of the Maekhong around Luang Prabang. So I’m not certain if it’s harvested down here, too, or if this was brought downriver (LP isn’t that far away).

I bought some. It’s light, and it’s not sticky like the honeycomb.

I also picked up another branch of sai khan, the spicy, peppery wood that’s used in or lam (Luang Prabang “stews”).

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And they had frogs. Frogs, like I say, that taste a lot more like chicken in some of these places than the chicken does.

This shot makes me think of the Wind in the Willows gone wrong, for some reason.

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This was another local flower collected in the woods. I didn’t have my notebook handy, and without writing out the Thai my transliteration would’ve been useless anyways, I suspect. Can anyone identify this and its use?

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Here we go. More hazardous materials. Lemon grass, galanga, and they’ll probably find a reason to put kaffir lime leaf on the list soon enough.

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And this shot makes me wish I had a kitchen to work with up here.

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We saw one of the fish make a break for it. It had managed to leap clear of its basin and had hopped about two meters away under the stools before the fishmonger could catch it and put it back. I’d’ve been tempted to set it free just for trying, but I’m a softy. (I'd still eat it, though)

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And pork. Well, pork is just plain good. What can I say? I had to nose about a bit, but I found it.

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The deli section was the usual tempting selection of curries and stews, yams and pickles. Standing there admiring them, one older lady came by and offered me some fresh khao niao. I balled up bit and she walked off chuckling.

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And soon enough we were coming back into the daylight, with just a few sacks of stuff more than when we entered.

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And now we switched from songthaew to tuktuk, our driver a firm fan of AedCarabao’s Carabao Daeng energy drink.

I suppose I should try a bottle of the stuff some time, but I’ve avoided M150, Carabao Daeng, and little bottles with old people’s faces on them for so long, I don’t really feel like breaking with tradition just yet.

Now we were off to see the older part of the town – the oft visited Wat Chedi Luang. Again, a site I’ve visited many times before, and never tire of. I think we even recognized the dogs barking at us.

As I said, I like the prosperous feel of Chiang Saen these last few years. And part of that prosperity has bled over into the maintenance of the old temples. There are more monks, and the structures are being looked after now.

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Red bricks, moss, jungle, the bo tree propped up with coloured poles, and that late afternoon golden light always give me a very sabaii feeling in this part of the country.

And then, I found what I’d been looking for.

When I travel, I try to obsess on some object which I know will be difficult to find. Then, when confronted with the typical vendor bothering me to buy something, I’ll ask for the object of my desire, and, most times, they’ll back off, admitting they don’t have that.

Of course, for the rare time when they do have it, then you’d really better want it.

The old lady by the temple had it.

A mit mor.

She was in a panic she’d lose me, and she raced from stall to stall, and locked case to locked case to find the little thing. But she finally did find it, and I bought it (after some haggling, of course.

The mit mor is a knife used in exorcisms by the mor phi. It’s often like this, a small, ceremonial blade inscribed with Pali. (For a traditional view, take a look at P, or for a much more manly MTV mit mor, check out the film Garuda ).

You never know, it could come in handy.

Khun Ti was even more amused.

We sped back to the market and transferred to song thaew, and from there back to the boat landing.

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This was working into a near perfect day. Drugs, markets, temples, Beer Lao dam, sacks of fun groceries, a happy wife, and a new knife.

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There was just one thing missing.

Next: cocktails!

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Part 9 – Twelth Night (Actually, it was February 12)

I’m on shakey ground with that one, I know.

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Returned to the camp we again took advantage of the Burma bar, entering through the candle-lit hall to the verandah overlooking the Ruak.

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It was a quieter night. There were only ourselves and a very fun party of four in the Camp, several parties having left that morning. While this is not great for business, it does allow the staff to relax a bit.

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I began wih my new favourite, the lemon grass martini. It’s not so much the lemon grass (that’s more of a smell) but rather the fresh lime and those chili flakes mixed in with the salt on the rim.

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Yoonhi had a pina colada – rum Malibu, pineapple juice, and coconut milk (not water). The fresh juices make the difference to these cocktails.

I was in such a cheerful spirit that I forgot to take stills of the snacks – yam som o (pomelo salad), which came in a waffle cup. This was a brilliant idea, as the fried dough worked really well with the other elements in the yam.

There was also a fresh noodle spring roll (bo pia – not fried), vermicelli noodles intertwined with fresh herbs, touched with a sweet tamarind syrup.

And a bit of fish cake with a pickle.

These are the right sort of canapés for me.

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Next for Yoonhi was Bamboo Leaves. She was being wise, and this was non-alcoholic, a collection of fruit juices – grapefruit, pineapple, mango, and cream soda.

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I was researching beer. They had Myanmar at the bar, and I felt it my duty to give this a try.

Honestly, it’s not bad. It’s just that it’s not great, and pales in the shadow of Beer Lao (yes, I’m partisan, I know). This one comes across as lighter, and without the malt overtones. It is 5% by vol, and a lager, but it comes over as slightly insubstantial. It’s the sort of thing you drink when water is too expensive.

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We talked with the other guests of travels in Vietnam, from where they’d just come. It sounds awfully tempting , and they’re good talkers. There’s one place in Hanoi with “the best spring rolls”, and does enough business that they have valet parking for the motor skooters.

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We broke our conversation for a moment to approach the bar. I decided for a pina colada, as Yoonhi’s had been very good.

They also had a very good attitude regarding the current situation. Some would look at a trip like this, and bail, but they’d come to the realization that, as this vacation had been paid for some months back, before the collapse, if they’d cancelled, they would have just lost that money in the markets. This way, there’re good memories to show for it.

Things were quiet enough that Michel had the time to join us, and we could learn more about the camp. He’d opened the camp, and then had gone elsewhere for two and a half years, before returning. Perhaps the big realization for him had been the maintenance demands of the camp. It’s a continuous battle, as the jungle fights to reclaim its own.

With gardening and security all in, there are around 115 people working here to keep things running, and it certainly felt like at least that many as we observed the staff adjusting and manicuring the grounds whenever we looked.

The camp occupies 250 acres. This was land that Heinecke had as part of the Anantara resort on the other side of the hill, and he’d been interested in doing something with it. Bill Bensley, the Bangkok based architect who’s been desiging some stunning resorts ( I have to get down to the Four Seasons at Koh Samui some day) was given a hand to work out the space. The result I’d been hiking around for the last two days.

I’m a city boy, I must admit, but I was really enjoying this place.

Michel was called away (the work never stops in the hotel business) and we absconded for the chill of the wine cellar. We were being lazy this evening, and used the 1960 Series 3 Defenders to take us back up to the main section of the camp.

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Every night they put out a selection of wine and cheese in the cellar, should anyone care to partake.

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Some blue, a chevre, a good hard piece of something I think was Dutch, a provolone, and another couple I couldn’t tie down

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There were a couple of nice reds – a 2003 Villa Astinori, and the other a Spaniard; El Prado, a tempranillo cabernet.

And then, it was time for dinner.

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I love Koh Samui. I think I prefer it to Phuket. The only problem I had with Koh Samui was coming back on a teeny tiny boat in a monsoon. Ai yah. It would have been fun had my aunt let me hang out on the deck though. Instead I was stuck in the inside getting seasick.

I would have loved seeing th som o in waffle cone. That sounds interesting. The bamboo leaves looks good I might have to try and recreate that one.

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"..... also your mention of razor clams. I assume they get them trucked in from the South China Sea? Are they very fresh-tasting when they get that far inland?

Thanks, Pan

I'd go with your assumption, as I haven't seen these before in the markets drawing from the Gulf of Siam or the Andaman Sea. But the Thai fishing fleets are moving farther and farther afield (haven't the Somalis grabbed a couple of Thai fishing boats?)

I have a question back. I've heard the term "bamboo clams" used. Are these the same thing?

Cheers,

:smile:

I have no idea.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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This was another local flower collected in the woods.  I didn’t have my notebook handy, and without writing out the Thai my transliteration would’ve been useless anyways, I suspect.  Can anyone identify this and its use?

Are you sure they are flowers? They look like fiddeheads of ostrich fern to me.

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This was another local flower collected in the woods.  I didn’t have my notebook handy, and without writing out the Thai my transliteration would’ve been useless anyways, I suspect.  Can anyone identify this and its use?

Are you sure they are flowers? They look like fiddeheads of ostrich fern to me.

I think you're right, Hiroyuki.

The word they used was "flower" but that has a lot of leeway over there. I've gone back to the pictures of the Lao fern salad, and did some zooming:

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The blanched version is on the left, in comparison to the dried material on the right, but they're definitely similar.

Thanks!

:smile:

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Part 10 – The Last Supper

From the wine cellar to the dining room. We could manage this without a Land Rover.

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It was just the six of us, and we settled in to our dinner and conversaion. Talk of travel and Thailand and Vietnam and Turkey and San Francisco.

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The opener was a small bit of salad. The other two couples had been here for four nights, and one of the fellows had spent time on a cooking class earlier in the day (why couldn’t I have done that instead of a spa?)

Rule 10 of romance: togetherness is good, even if it kills you

This was a Ceasar, and the dressing was quite good, based upon the guest’s recipe. Khun Damri (David) the chef had come out of Biscotti at the Four Seasons Bangkok, so he knew how to make a salad (The portion was just a little small, as we two had joined in).

There was, of course, more nam prik. I’d concluded that a Northern meal has to have nam prik somewhere on the table.

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And a beautiful bird was dropped down on us. A duck, following the coffee duck recipe of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.

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The duck is roasted first , and then a sauce of coffee, oyster sauce, sweet soy, chili, tomato, tamarind, sugar, and a bit of dark rum is topped over. The meat pulls away just right, and this bird was large enough to keep the six of us happy.

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There was a soup of pork, tangy with tamarind in the broth.

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More protein was present with sai eua, grilled chicken, and deep fried nehm. Deep fried fermented sausage is good for you. Trust me.

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There was lobster brought up from Phuket, fried with fresh green peppercorns and red bell pepper, giving it a ron phet (peppery) taste.

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These greens were described as melon leaf (crunch), and to the right is a Ruby Fish buried under vegetables.

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And som tam. You’ve got to have som tam. This was mildly painful, not over the top.

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And a curry, more from the Central Plains. This one at medium spice with eggplants and tender cuts of beef.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I was drinking an Kiwi Merlot Cab (Bobich from Hawkes Bay) with this, as it was the heavier of our choices. There was a Zin, but it wasn’t up to the task, and I thought the sauvignon blance and the chardonnay would be buried. (Although the chardonnay was a Stone Creek from Behringer).

I’d mentioned the washrooms before, and so I need to include at least one shot of the facilities.

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Okay, let’s make that two shots.

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The path to the loo wound down past an open fire pit that they had on the go, should that meet our desires.

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That’s a big part of this. The pampering. That feeling that, whatever you want, they’ll make it happen. There may be turmoil in the nation, red shirts on the street, and chaos in the markets, but for right now, everything is okay.

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I returned to a 3 way banana dessert, of which my photos are only of use for two of them. The missed part is a teacup of coconut (which our friend, A, had made earlier in the day). Banana cooked in coconut cream, with a bit of bpai dtoey (pandan leaf) put in for the boil, and then removed, imparting that odd smell you get from pandan.

In the middle was a banana fritter skewered on a bit of chive, and to the left, a fried banana with coconut and mint.

And dessert, of course, called for Irish coffee.

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They brought the gear, whipped up some cream, and set about the ritual of the flame and the spoon.

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The result was a very nice finish to the meal.

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It just seemed wrong to let the fire go to waste, so we took our drinks down and sat near the flames for a bit.

Rule 11 of romance: pyromania and romance go together

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We made one last visit to the bar for a final cocktail (midori, vodka, pineapple juice, and a bit of lime).

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I worked over the Tuscan from the wine cellar, topped it up, and we retired to the tent.

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Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Part 11 – Cooking For the Camp

(What would George Herter make of this?)

Our third peaceful morning was interrupted by the trumpeting of elephants. The children were on their way for breakfast.

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I considered waking Yoonhi, but she hadn’t stirred, and so thought better of it.

Rule 12 of romance: let sleeping Koreans lie

I took advantage of the tub, and Yoonhi slowly came back to this world. By 9 we were ready for breakfast, and we made our way back to the dining room.

Our flight was not until 4, so it was to be a late check out for us. This was a morning of relaxation, of doing not much.

So, of course, I’d arranged something.

But, first, a meal.

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Smoothies to begin. I’d noticed this time that the bamboo tubes used for serving the smoothies were chilled at the base, and that the coffee cups and cream were, in turn, heated.

Yoonhi had the smoked salmon and bagel that I’d enjoyed the day before (not the “same one”, but the same order), and I spotted Lao pho on the menu.

While I’m not fond of juk, I think noodles in a good broth is an admirable way to start your day.

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Fish balls, herbs, been sprouts, rice stick, and a very soft broth.

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But much of the joy of pho (there’s a title for a Vietnamese cookbook) is in the fixings, and I was amused at the presentation. Beaten stainless, so clean you can see the reflection. I compare this with the pho (foe) experience elsewhere in the neighborhood, and I smile.

My arrangements were nothing too strenuous. While Yoonhi returned to the tent, I did a tour of the kitchen. I was curious to see how they were outfitted up here.

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I’d like a kitchen like this at home. Compared to, say Madison in Bangkok, where I had to suck it in to stay out of the way of the staff, this was a luxury of working space.

Khun Fanta was here with me, the sous chef, and Khun Ninet was busy at work on a fish. As I’d mentioned earlier, Khun Damri was from the Four Seasons in Bangkok. Khun Fanta was also from the Bangkok operation, and Khun Ninet was from the Four Seasons Chiang Mai (which continues to get great reviews for their food).

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Not present were the rest of the staff, but there are also K. Taweedech, K Pokhai, K. Sumet, K. Songwut and K. Kongkiat - in all an eight person team for the kitchen.

And remember, they’re cooking for a maximum of 30 guests.

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Well, that’s not exactly accurate. They’re also cooking for the camp, as this is a camp. So there’s another 100+ people that need to be cared for. (And I like the look of that curry).

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The Western gear is all good equipment. Nice big gas burners, single sheet counters and sinks, and plenty of drainage in the floors. Salamanders, toasters, mincers, and plenty of pots and knives.

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The Asian side is more fun. I love the blasters. These things always make me think of the back side of an F18, and I feel a lot more confident around these than I do the open flame pits of Chengdu.

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Yeah. If I was going to live in the wild, I’d want a kitchen like this.

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Given the wealth of coffees, I asked about their brand. They’re using Bon, which is a Thai-Swiss roasting venture. They get their Arabica from up here in the North, but the decaf is imported. (And Robusta is grown in the South).

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I peaked in on Khun Ninet as she worked the fish, a good piece of Pacific salmon.

I’m always careful around Thai women with knives.

And the office was the happy collection of notes and panicy white board scrawls of what is needed from the days shopping expedition (“Mahmuang mai mi”).

Outside, I spotted A with Khun Damri over amongst the plants.

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As you’d expect out here, they have their own garden, with plenty of herbs and greens.

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New basil was peeking up from under the straw. The temperatures here, up until a couple of weeks ago, were quite chill, down in the single digits centigrade.

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This one, the red bulbs, we weren’t certain of in terms of name (and I didn’t catch the Thai name). The white flesh of the fruit underneath is used in cooking, but this wasn’t ripe yet.

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More basil. And I could post more, but I’ve always been more interested in food when it arrives on a plate as to when it’s alive in the ground.

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But, let me get in this last shot of the camp vehicles, for my friends that are Rover fans (hands up everyone that watched Daktari as a kid!).

We took care of our extras, prepared our bags for pick up, and made our farewells.

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And I mustn't forget Corky, the owner’s wife’s bird. Corky keeps an eye on things for her when she's not around.

Like the protagonist in Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow, we moved backwards – from our feet back onto the boot back into the Discovery - and travelled back to Chiang Rai’s airport. Green fields, old temples, farmer’s at work in the fields, and a feeling like we’d been here for a long time.

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Part 12 - And You May Find Yourself In A Beautiful House

Yoonhi is eagerly awaiting the introduction of teleportation, not caring much for the time it takes to get places.

I sometimes think things change fast enough as is.

Chiang Rai

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Leaving the air conditioned serenity of the Discovery, with the music still in my ears (“dancing cheek to cheek”) we were ushered into Chiang Rai International Airport.

I queried my driver on this.

“Why do they call it ‘International’? Where do they fly to?”

“Bangkok!” and he laughed.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Chiang Rai International Airport. Your Gateway to Bangkok!

I just don’t know how that would work as a slogan.

As you can see, inside was, well, challenging. The stalls were fairly tightly crammed, while the big corporate groups squatted like ogres, taking up space and preying upon passersby.

I saw more of the honeycomb here, but again Yoonhi held me back. I did remember to buy some ginko nuts, and I looked longingly at the sausages, but I was told we had enough.

We made it through security to the Spartan camp of the departure lounge, and prepared for the next leg.

If Yoonhi had her way, she’d snap her fingers (or wriggle her nose) and we’d be somewhere else.

Bangkok

It’s good to be recognized…maybe.

We slinked out of our cheap taxi from the airport, bungy straps holding our suitcases in the trunk (ever since they introduced the LNG tanks back there, there’s less trunk-space than a Mercedes SLR), but were spotted right away. Rainer, the new GM (and Regional VP), greeted me warmly, and had us swept away to our room for a more comfortable check-in.

The economy is hurting, and the Four Seasons is weathering the storm as best they can, relying upon the support of their local clients while foreign travel slowly comes back. So they were very appreciative that I’d flown back for Valentine’s.

I wish I’d had more time to chat with Rainer, as he, like Patrick earlier, is a very easy person to talk with, but we had a dinner to be at.

Traffic had been rough on the expressway, and we were in some doubt that we would make it to our meal in time. As we were meeting others, this was a concern.

At the hotel, our attendant had asked if she could arrange a car to take us there. I looked at her and said,

“It’s a Friday night in Bangkok. I think maybe the BTS?”

“I think the BTS is better, yes. I would take the BTS.”

(and you have to imagine the appropriate smiles with this)

Consensus is good.

Rule 13 of romance: be cheerful, but don’t smile too much at other young ladies

(this rule goes hand in glove with the bit about knives in rule 12)

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We looked longingly at what may be the biggest and most comfortable bed we’ve ever had, and then set out into the night.

Deja bu

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Kinnaree again. Roll your eyes if you will, but I like this place. It’s a beautiful house, the ambience is good, and the food is very well prepared.

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And they have cocktails.

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Cocktails with straws.

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Over the top works well as a descriptive phrase here.

We sort of felt like hummingbirds, sitting back in our chairs and lightly sipping from a distance.

We had a small crowd. FlyingRat (Ellen) was out for the evening, but her husband was suffering at home, victim to a one of those flus that picks people at random in aircraft and then takes possession of their lungs.

And M & E were out, with their young son, S, just back from travel abroad, too.

This is the making of a great meal, with everyone back with stories from their travels.

Timing wasn’t too bad. We arrived just at 7:30, between Ellen and M, and so nobody was kept waiting for too long. Just enough time to start wading through the menu.

Our drinks, already on the table, were the Kinnaree Secret, a blend of gin, dry vermouth, guava, pomelo, and grenadine.

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Light of Kinnaree was light rum, vodka, Malibu, midori, pineapple, lemon, and syrup.

Red Kinnaree was gin, peach schnapps, lychee, strawberry liquor, blackberry liquor, and lemon.

I like the touch of a whole banana on the edge. If you’re going all out, forget the lime wedges, and cherries. Go for the Carmen Miranda fruit basket look.

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For a starter, as we tried to find order out of chaos in our selection, we had a perfectly little spring roll, brushed with sweet tamarind sauce.

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Yam som o was a requirement. This is probably my favourite version in town right now (although the addition of the waffle basket at the Tented Camp was a brilliant move). I’ve noticed, though, that nobody seems to be going to the trouble they used to in the old days to separate every single bead of the pomelo, making do with small chunks

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We had this last time I was here, I believe. Beef wrapped around pineapple. Young S eschewed the pineapple (rather than chewing it) and unwrapped the meat and ate that alone. It’s like our kids. I think the young years are best described as “carnivorous”.

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Fat Horse I ordered just for the name. steamed shrimps resting on black mushroom and taro root. A touch of mint, and a bit of chili.

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Moo yai takrai – pork on lemon grass. Like a meat lollypop, with the scent of lemon grass and the pleasure of pork. A touch of chili sauce on the side just to pick it up.

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River prawns in a chu chi curry, with white mouse ear fungus fighting back the orange tide. This is a particularly good gravy that cries out for rice.

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And behind that is Kinnaree’s “pork chop” a glistening, soft cut of meat that almost melts

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We’d talked before of pandan leaves. Here they were wrapped about more prawns, and then grilled, the aroma rising off of them. This was served with sesame in soy.

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And duck. I had to have more duck. This was Kinnaree’s version of coffee duck. Drier than the Four Seasons, treated as a marinade and coating for the roast, rather than a separate sauce. Again, the mouse ears adorn only one side of the plate, takeing after Vincent Van Gogh.

I can still taste this.

gallery_22892_6479_2381.jpgA crab farci – sweetheart crab. A good dish for Valentine’s Eve. This is an extremely simple thing to make, but always tastes so good. To do it, you have someone else take all of the meat out of the crab, first. ☺

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Fish 2 Oceans sounded interesting, and was. They steamed one part of the grouper and served it with a spicey lime dressing, and then deep fried the other portion, and doled it out with a sweet and spicy topping and baby tomatoes.

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And we had more duck, and more chu chi. This time together, with lychees added in for more sweetness.

S had done well with us, taking part in the conversation, and eating those items that suited him. So, when he wanted to skip ahead a bit to dessert, there was no reason not to agree.

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He’d asked the waiter if he could have a cherry, and the waiter obliged.

We’d ordered way too much food, and dessert seemed like a non-event for us, but M has an insatiable appetite, and insists that a meal isn’t a meal without dessert.

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Given this ultimatum, we had durian ice cream with green pandan sticky rice, topped with a dollop of coconut cream.

It was very good, but I had some serious questions now about getting into my tuxedo.

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And the presence of a selection of fruit and fried chocolate filled things along with more ice cream wasn’t helping.

Still, the two desserts were shared out amongst us, and we did an honorable bit of work on them.

We asked for some straws to take home with us, and I navigated my tummy out of the restaurant.

Outside, the weather was near-perfect for Bangkok. Mid-20s, clear(ish), and there was that heavy odour in the air that I always miss.

But no birdsong.

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Ahem!.....

Yoonhi has some comments, having spotted the obvious (which always eludes me).

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The cocktail is meant to be a Kinnaree. The banana is the body, the maraschino cherry the head, and the orange the dress, the final greenery out the end the tail.

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And I'd just plain missed that the yam som o was served in its own shell. Doh!

We now return to my frantic attempt to post before Rona

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Part 13 – The Dawn of a New Valentine

I woke to the thrum of the BTS. A horn – muted – honked somewhere. There was the Klingon chatter of a truck-borne loudspeaker system.

Yoonhi slept soundly somewhere in the north forty acres of the bed. I could hear her, even if I couldn’t see her.

I let her sleep (we’re back to rule #12), and I read my paper, drank my coffee, and enjoyed another bath.

When I build my own home, I’m having a bath put in big enough for to stretch out like in these tubs. Big enough for two, and with a tray for books and drinks. Perhaps I’ll bring one from Japan, that will speak out when the water is ready, and remind me not to fill to high.

But, I’m dreaming again.

For the moment, this was a good tub.

Yoonhi stirred when it was the right time for her. It’s always a fight between the need for sleep and the need for food.

Food having won out, and it being too late for breakfast, we headed out.

Nothing much on the street met her fancy, so I took us over to Sukhumvit.

If nothing else, there was some shopping to be done, and Japanese to be had. I had a thirst upon me for sake.

Tsu & Nami

In a cruel strike of bad luck, the Marriott’s new Japanese restaurant opened with much fanfare just before the tidal wave of Christmas, 2004. It was a good name at the wrong time.

Since then, they’ve fought their way back up, and have earned a reputation as a very good (albeit expensive) Japanese restaurant.

I’d never been, but with my teeruk’s appetite moving to a dangerous stage, I felt it was a safe choice.

And besides, there’s the sake thing.

Unfortunately, we arrived at 11:15 to find that they open for lunch at 11:30. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, appetite and hunger are divided by a knife edge with my wife, and Valentine’s Day is not about suffering.

We stopped in at Asia Books, nearby in the basement of the Landmark. This would not be too far, and we could accomplish one of my few required tasks.

Or so I thought.

I was looking for Christopher Moore’s latest book Paying Back Jack. The young lady at the counter knew it well, and also knew it was sold out. But, with the grace of the Thai, she started phoning the other Asia Books outlets to try and find me one.

I started checking my watch, and glancing nervously at Yoonhi.. Rule #1 was coming into play again.

Ten minutes, and twenty phone calls later, the cashier was sorry to tell me that it was completely sold out.

But she could order it for me!

I smiled, and in a breath thanked her, but I was leaving town. A wai, and then I swept Yoonhi up and spirited her away to lunch.

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Tsu and Nami. Tsu is the traditional, while Nami is modern teppan yaki. What Yoonhi wanted was sushi and sashimi, so it would be Tsu for us.

One of the things that drew me here is that they do sake tastings about once a month (and there’s a sake dinner coming up with the Chaine that I’m missing, darn it). Their sake menu is respectable, about 8 pages. Okay, some of that is used on explanations, and Gekkeikan and Hakatsuru own a lot of the space, but there’s still a very wide selection to draw from.

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I start with a simple Ozeki Silver from Hyogo. It’s not fancy, but Hyogo has good water, and good rice. This’ll be the thing to put the taste back in my mouth.

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We order the lunch special – the sushi and sashimi bento. Even the most expensive places in Bangkok offer very good value for their lunch. This bento set was the most expensive, but was still only 580 baht (okay, I’ll make up for that with sake).

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The bento comes with a chawanmushi and soba on the side. The chawanmushi (steamed egg) reveals a pink rind of oden, gingko nut, dried shrimp, and shitake in its depths.

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The restaurant itself is very slick looking, very modern. And Yoonhi is struck by the sense of space. There’s no crowding of tables here, with long stretches of space open for the staff to move through.

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And Yoonhi also points out that here, in Bangkok, the uniformed women doing the window cleaning and general tending are dressed well enough to attend most formal cocktail parties in the West.

I oblige her and spend some time staring at the waitresses.

Where did that sake go?

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For a second bottle, I ordered a hon nama. Unfortunately, I was spending so much time looking at the waitresses (as directed) that I forgot to write down the details of the brand and location, and my kanji isn’t up to the task. (Hiroyuki, step in anytime, please!)

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I liked this sake more, I will say, with a fuller flavour, more mid tone.

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And I shouldn’t forget our miso. The Thais provide a spoon for it, but I’m in the habit of drinking from the bowl.

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The bento has tempura – prawns, taro, and carrots, and we eat these first, while they’re hot and crispy.

Then I turn to the croquette, with its sweet sauce, and after that the salmon.

I’m not worried about the sushi and sashimi going cold.

The sashimi is good enough, the octopus carring that wet taste of the sea I love, but the sushi doesn’t do much for me. As with many things, there’s nothing wrong with it, but the rice isn’t up to it. Sushi needs good rice.

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We almost finish with the noodles, adding in the daikon and fixings, and slurping back the cold slipperiness..

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The true finish is with one of the sweetest melons I’ve ever enjoyed.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t expect too much of the lunch special, but I was more impressed with the décor than the food. This was a meal we had to have (given Yoonhi’s issues with hunger), but I think I’ll leave my future decisions on Japanese dining in Andre’s hands. Still, good value for the money (well, if you don’t drink a lot of sake, that is).

After lunch, it was a trip to the malls. We’d hoped to catch a movie (Bangkok’s theatres are ridiculously inexpensive, and very comfortable) but there wasn’t much we wanted to see (when is The Watchmen opening?). We contented ourselves with a tour of the food floor at Paragon, and a fashion stroll through Siam Centre.

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Back at Paragon, I checked out Kinokuniya Books, and found a copy of Christopher’s book. One more thing was off my (short) list. And I lucked out and found Haruki Murakami’s latest “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”.

This was turning out to be a good day.

Yoonhi had a good point, as we walked back up the interstation walkway towards Rachaprasong….

“You know, in Korea, when somethings the fashion, everyone is doing that. Here in Thailand, everything is individual. No two people will be dressed the same. Just look.”

Again, I grudgingly obliged her and spent some time staring at the women.

It’s a hard life, but I try to keep my wife happy.

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Back a the room, the hotel had sent up a small snack for the late afternoon.

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I love these little desserts, perhaps more for their detail and craft, but the flavour of bean has grown on me, and I know now what to expect when I bite in.

An exhausting day of not much. I like days like this.

Next – Valentine no kokoro (to bring things back to a Japanese tone of this post)

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Back a the room, the hotel had sent up a small snack for the late afternoon.

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I love these little desserts, perhaps more for their detail and craft, but the flavour of bean has grown on me, and I know now what to expect when I bite in.

An exhausting day of not much. I like days like this.

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Hehehehe Thai woman and knives. We love our knives and our men need a bit of... excitement in their lives.  Knives I wouldn't worry so much that's just teasing. Now if a Thai woman gets the cleaver out... RUN! Run fast and far.  :raz:

And make certain she isn't keeping ducks in the yard! :blink:

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Hehehehe Thai woman and knives. We love our knives and our men need a bit of... excitement in their lives.  Knives I wouldn't worry so much that's just teasing. Now if a Thai woman gets the cleaver out... RUN! Run fast and far.  :raz:

And make certain she isn't keeping ducks in the yard! :blink:

:laugh: Off topic. It always makes me laugh when people talk about a Thai girl and how sweet and submissive she is. We are generally sweet, kind, graceful, charming but I've rarely met a submissive one. What people don't realize is that Thai woman have excelled at ruling with a smile and gentle touch so what seems like submission so not. Beware though we learn our trade at the feet of our Dragon Lady Aunties and they are the true Machiavellian rulers. :raz:

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Outside, I spotted A with Khun Damri over amongst the plants.

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This vegetable garden is really cool! I wish I had such a garden!

The sake you mentioned is Sawanotsuru Honjozo.

That Japanese restaurant looks good, but the tempura... Were those pieces of tempura hot and crispy?? Soba? You mean udon, right? And the chawanmushi..., with no toppings like mitsuba (trefoil). I've never seen such chawanmushi served at a restaurant before...

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Back a the room, the hotel had sent up a small snack for  the late afternoon.

You've got four plates and four sets of cutlery! Did you have a foursome staying in that room (that bed was certainly big enough!), or did they provide separate sets for the fruits and sweets?

Sigh! I miss fancy schmancy hotel service. I tell ya, it's hard being poor!

I will save up my pennies (or yens) to stay at the Four Seasons next time. Or maybe save my pennies for a Four Seasons time share. They do that, don't they?

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You've got four plates and four sets of cutlery!  Did you have a foursome staying in that room (that bed was certainly big enough!), or did they provide separate sets for the fruits and sweets? 

Sigh!  I miss fancy schmancy hotel service.  I tell ya, it's hard being poor!

I will save up my pennies (or yens) to stay at the Four Seasons next time.  Or maybe save my pennies for a Four Seasons time share.  They do that, don't they?

Yoonhi says "Yes, they brought the first set of cutlery for the fruit, and the second for the sweets".

I should look into the Four Seasons time share. I'm spending enough time with them these last few years.

Maybe they could make me a mascot?! :smile:

(WGF10 in October?)

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Soba?  You mean udon, right?  And the chawanmushi..., with no toppings like mitsuba (trefoil).  I've never seen such chawanmushi served at a restaurant before...

You're right, Hiroyuki. I'm racing to finish this before Rona reigns triumphant again, and the fact that it was cold just focused me on soba.

As for the chawanmushi...Yoonhi pointed out to me that they were serving it with a Chinese spoon.

Still, it was all a nice change (but I'll go back to Shunbo next time).

Thanks! :smile:

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Cocktails with straws.

I thought that was a stripper pole! :laugh:

Ditto!!!! :laugh:

Hey, you two! I'm trying to run a high-brow, romanticy kind of thingy here! :angry:

(Actually, I know someone who had a go-go pole installed in his apartment :biggrin: )

I know someone who did that too.....I may or may not have tried it out :laugh:

I love the elephants!!! I want one!!!

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Part 14 (of course)- My Funny Valentine

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Honestly, I hadn’t planned for the 14th installment to be the highlight, but that’s how things happen in my world (sometimes).

Comfortable in our room, we slowly unwound ourselves and dressed for the evening.

And then the bell rang.

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The management had been kind enough to send up some champagne – a Laurent-Perrier.

I considered this, and thought about what state I wanted to begin our evening.

The champagne would be an excellent finish.

I’m probably a relic in this day and age, but I like dressing well from time to time. And one of the reasons that I enjoy Bangkok is that I can do this, and not feel out of place.

The invitation had clearly stated black and white, and so we were both meeting expectations.

On equal footing with the Tented Camp (and perhaps a step ahead) it had been the invitation for this party that had triggered the whole trip.

First, it is a good cause. In 2005 they inaugurated the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer, Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. This Valentine’s party was in support of the centre.

Second, rather than a cozy dinner tete-a-tete, this was intended to be a party, one to bring your friends to, and to dance.

Rule 14 of romance: be prepared to dance

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We were ushered through to the ballroom foyer. I do like the changes, and nights like this evening meant that I could even enjoy the new extension outside (which placed me closer to the bar).

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I’d looked over the silent auction items inside, and had noted what I was interested in, but I liked being outside better, shielded in this courtyard from the traffic noise, only the crickets keeping a background beat along to the rumble of conversation.

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There was a selection of sparkling wines to get us ready for the eveing, and I’d found some familiar faces to chat with. Some of the husbands had been dragged out here almost at gunpoint, but I understand that this is hardly the treat for them it is for us.

Once seated, Dr. Kris Chatamra, the founder of the Centre, spoke a few words, and was very well received. Talking with Rainer, he’s the main reason for this first Valentine’s Day party, having worked so hard to get the centre up and running.

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Our first dish was the tartar of scallops and langoustine with Aquitaine caviar. Not sevruga, certainly, but used in conjunction with a nice seafood dish like this, they’re easily on par with the Chinese produce we enjoyed in Shanghai.

(And, at the last WGF, Glen was bemoaning that this year caviar is almost out of reach even in Moscow, which used to be worth the visit just for the fish eggs)

This was a very good opening. The Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (ONA Anakena 2005) was alright, perhaps a bit astringent for this dish. I would have preferred a Kiwi. I think that would have really made this dish. (But, as was, it was very good).

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I had to take a picture of the butter. Any time I see anything that looks like Marge Simpson’s hair, it’s worth a picture.

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The next dish, a tian of crab topped with ikura and microgreens, sitting in a pool of capsicum gazpacho, is an almost perfect Valentine’s dish (short of a still-beating heart, but even I admit that’s going a bit far). The colour on the gazpacho was perfect, and the flavour was extremely clean, setting back the richness of the crab and the salt-pop of the salmon roe.

This was probably my most memorable part of the meal.

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I say probably as the combination of mirin, yuzu, and foie gra was brilliant. The entire table loved this dish. The cumquat compot had the taste of almost marmalade that was extremely fun to play with.

We’d moved from Chile to Australia,, with a 2007 Penfolds Private Release Chardonnay. I always like Penfolds, and this was a fine way to coast through the meal.

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The sea bass with truffle poached lobster was good, the sea bass being the better part. I just couldn’t smell truffles in the lobster. And the pear and parsnips puree was a beautiful match for the fish. The pear flavour was an excellent idea.

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We switched over to red at this point, another Penfolds Private Release Shiraz Cab from 2007. A good red to move to, with enough body for the next course.

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There were good intentions to this course. But, while I found the meat quite good, others felt that it wasn’t cooked through enough. The slow-cooking of the lamb had left it a bit too pully for some. While the wine tied it together a bit, I felt that this dish lacked unity, or purpose, the component parts of artichoke, aubergine, and the sauce not quite coming together.

But I quibble. I still ate it, and I was still happy.

Our entertainment arrived about this time. A pair of talented Latin dancers who had way more energy than I’ll ever have. You watch people do things like this, and you’re always tempted to say “I could do that”.

Well, at least when I’ve had a lot of wine.

Dessert arrived.

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This was a trio of cake, mascarpone semifreddo with a vanilla truffle foam, and a lemon basil sherbert. Fine enough, but not memorable.

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And the petit fours were nicely presented; heart shaped chocolate lollipops.

About this time, the dancing started. Rule #14 bore heavily upon me, but the floor was swarmed with elegant Thai that knew what they were doing.

There are few things more intimidating than people who know how to dance.

It was fun to watch, though. I always admire the ability of a good dancer to look like he/she is figure skating across the floor. Like Tai Chi at normal speed.

Finally, when the people who knew what they were doing had retired momentarily, I did dance.

Rule 14 is inviolable.

I have to learn how to dance, I know.

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The auction went well, raising funds for the Centre. While I didn’t take the items I had my eye on, M & E, who’d joined us tonight, won the lucky draw, and so I took my satisfaction from the happiness of my friends. They had tickets to Paris on Etihad (business) and three nights at the Four Seasons George V.

(Yoonhi did suggest to M that, if E is too busy, they could make a girls’ trip of it.)

We closed up before we were the last to leave, lifted the boas from the chairs, and topped up with the Penfolds.

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We found our way back to the room, somehow, and then realized that there was still unfinished business.

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And that was the end of the 14th.

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Edited by Peter Green (log)
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