It’s not a pretty sight to watch me eat. I make food and travel tv shows and I am told I inhale my food like a starving man. I am always feeling rushed and that someone will take my food away or there won’t be seconds. Often it’s just a taste and we’re moving on. If lucky I might have some sense about what I missed should I return unhampered. The television army travels on its stomach. At least my camera commandos do. It’s hot or cold, the stuff is heavy. Every 5 or 10 or 15 hours or so we refuel. I’ve been lucky enough to see everyplace twice courtesy of viewers like you and I am grateful. All that travel made me very hungry and after the first few decades, somewhat more discriminating.
In college my friend Diggins introduced me to Thai food. He’d traveled alone there and conjured images of palaces, elephants, vast wet markets and never ending street food that fascinated. Cold beer at a reasonable price. In those early days at “Bangkok” on Mass Ave and “The Thai House” out on Commonwealth I developed a taste for super spicy roast duck curry, kaffir lime and lemongrass soups, country style pad thai, kee mao noodles, charcoal grilled satays , and fiery hot papaya salads.
A new Siamese Fairytale by the Green Fantam.
I’ve found out that Green Fanta soda goes especially well with the Thai moonshine, Lao Khao. Not the red or the yellow. The Green Fanta. In Thai that unnaturally bright chartreuse tonic is called Nahm Quiew. It seems like fizzy robitussin cough syrup to me but the Thais know it as “cream soda”. Go figure, and…now I’m hooked. Wicked hard to find in my neck of the woods I’ve discovered one Khmer market that has it every other blue moon. But here’s a work around; Honey Bee Thai cream soda concentrate and your good seltzer et voila. Ice + Thai vodka and I’m dipping my toe in Thailand. Join me?
N.T.S.; Walk a mile in another’s shoes, put on their apron for a day. Learn a little local speak. At least enough to be polite, say hello, thanks, inquire where the toilet is and to decipher a menu.
(note: For entertainment and by your leave I’ve taken the liberty to manipulate this experience, rearranging and compressing, some poetic license, thievery and out right lies).
Chan hiu laeo/I am already hungry.
So just whose on board for this food trip? I’ve decided to give the Runaway crew Thai nicknames. All Thai people go by some short name. Pong, Ao, Lek, Bird, Tom, Tan, Apple etc. I’m doling the monikers out like barbeque names. Alter egos. Dopplegangers. A.K.A.s
Chef Michael Ginor; soldier, wall street player, author, Chef and Foie Gras King gets the name Sen Yai. It means “big noodle”, like “big cheese”…an important person. “Not a subtle guy” he is on a far flung flavor quest. We will follow him with lenses and microphones only to where “real people eat”. It’s a rule. Really.
Begin forwarded message from the Runaway Chef: Will anyone believe a Jewish guy called big noodle?
JC.com: I thought we were known for being pretty smart.
Johnny O on audio and music. Johnny is Khun " Waan Yen". It means "sweet cool" (a type of Thai dessert), an easy going person. He’s packing all the sound gear and a guitar.
Begin forwarded message from Johnny O:
That sounds great Joel, just assure me "Waan Yen" does’nt mean "Lilly white fragile flower" or "rotting durian stench". Other than that its fine. Otherwise I'd prefer my porn name, Fuzzy Hayes.
Nikki on second camera gets Pak Boong. The much loved pak boong, water convolvulus or water spinach (yummy deep fried) is known as “morning glory” in English. She is bright and cheery and our youngest Runaway with a great eye.
Begin forwarded message from Nikki:
I know curiosity killed the cat, but google translator isn't so great at translating from Thai. Please tell me that, "Khun Boong" doesn't mean, "cow booger?" :)
Diggins. Really can’t improve on that. He’s Khun Diggins/Mr. Diggins. Diggins and I went to college together and long ago he came to Thailand and got me interested in the culture that I find magnetic.
Khun “Apple” from the Tourism Authority has it all under control. “Big Apple” weighs about 87lbs., originally from Chiang Mai now of Nutley, New Jersey.
Khun “Tom” our erstwhile monk phenomenal fixer from last year in Bangkok and Khun Tan our hip hop driver make it all work.
I am the Director, Producer, bottle washer and whipping boy. They call me Khun Jo. Be careful what you wish, sometimes the glamour is masking long days, frayed nerves, a whole lot of dirt, rain and serendipitous delight.
Mai Pen Rai
If you've been in Jamaica you've heard the phrase "no problem". Anywhere under a sombrero and we've been told "tal vez mañana". (Maybe tomorrow). RunChef crew I lend you the multi purpose Thai word Mai Pen Rai – pronounced “My pin rye”. We will hear it many times before we get out of Thailand, often when something goes wrong or someone loses their cool. This simple phrase sums up life in Thailand and the attitude there in general. This famous attitude is what allowed them to keep their cool and get back on their feet after the devastating losses of the 2004 Tsunami and more recently, the political unrest that has affected daily life.
There are lots of different opinions on the direct translation, but it literally means “no worries” or “its nothing“.
You will enjoy your trip exponentially more if you adopt this local attitude as well. The next time they loose your ticket, your bus breaks down, or you step in a pile of water buffalo poo – don’t freak out like you would at home, just smile and say “mai pen rai“.
This approach came in handy mai pen right away on Emirates Air. Our business class upgrade didn’t work out so off we went in steerage. It was packed. A bus in the air. Anyway, I had a drink, suffered the meal then took an ambien and a valium. So I had a good time, went hungry, then fell fast asleep relaxed. The Chef lifted my head out of the aisle so the beverage trolley didn’t knock it off. Apparently I was chatting away then sort of fell over, but I can’t confirm this.
Same Same…but different
For the Runaway Crew it’s our collective 29th first trip to the kingdom of Thailand. At some level it makes us young again as we use all our senses to navigate and comprehend a high voltage shock of culture. The hot breath of Siam embraces you as soon as the Airbus vacuum is broken. Up that jet way is something so familiar and so foreign. An ancient never dominated society of complex social patterns side by side with a Blade Runner high tech future. Exciting and modern, spiritual, magical and above all delectable.
These event took place between August 29 and September 17, 2010. Many animals were hurt during this production…but none were wasted.
Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly-prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and is known for being spicy. Balance, detail and variety count. Its a balance of the five taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter. To sort it out first think of the cuisine as Thai but know it’s really 4 regional traditions. Northern, Northeastern (Isaan), Central and Southern. Each area is influenced by its border neighbor; Burma, the Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the east and Malaysia to the south of Thailand. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to the palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE).
Ever wonder why Thai food is so popular often outnumbering other ethnic cuisines? It’s vibrant, harmonious, sometimes fiery, at times dangerous. An old flame. It is social, shared, enjoyed. The Khon Thai live to eat. It not just fuel. It’s sanook-fun! So we lovers of Aharn Thai or Thai Cuisine are on a mission to the no-farang (no foreigner) zones to seek out the high notes, the haute takes and the soulful inspirations; the real deal. We’re going all the way out for Thai. But where can this crew of food know-it-alls begin?
A hundred years ago? Before the Portuguese brought chilies, corn and tomatoes? 1000 years ago before the Chinese brought peppercorns or the Indians brought curry. Let’s set the way back machine for 2100BCE and join the reclusive, never before recorded Dr. Kanit Muntarbhorn, medical Doctor whose avocation is a life work in progress to reveal the gastrology of Asia. Food lover of 5 decades he possesses an unmatched collection of 70 of the oldest recorded recipes in Thai. Stowed away safely in 7 bank vaults the items include Patinnabutr Lae Jod Mai Het, a magazine-like book published in 1889 AD (2432 BE) as well as cremation volumes often loaded with the dearly departed’s favorite recipes. We meet for a little gastro-archeology 101 in the old Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, the once upon a time Venice of the East. Sacked by the Burmese in 1767, the new capital Bangkok was a blip downriver back in the day. Here the Royal Court and its many kitchens once flourished.
Cue the gratuitous elephants out front of the Ayutthaya historical park’s Wiharn-Pramongkolbaphit Temple. I found this a sort of Fellini meets PT Barnum moment of shameless juvenility and pure fun. Did I mention the Thais cherish fun.
Sanook = Fun. ขี้ฅลก
Way back they were water worlders. Plants, leaves, fish, galangal, lemongrass, rice. Later on, India, China, Portugal and Japan would come tramping thru and leaving off their recipes and ingredients. The Thais adopted the best of it and made it better.
Dr.Kanit, author of Gastronomy in Asia has some rules about the real deal in Thai Cuisine. “Here are some tips and facts that may help your decision-making on authentic Thai food versus non-authentic Thai food or fusion food (the kind that may cause confusion).
Learn about the most important herbs and spices used in traditional Thai cuisine such as lemongrass, Thai/greater galangal, Thai/Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, hot basil, sweet basil, shallots, cassia and pepper from books or the internet. Buy them fresh and then tear or cut them to experience their aromas which are usually related to essential oils.
Local herbs (samun prai) include lemongrass, Thai/greater galangal, Thai Krachai related to galangal, Thai/Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, hot basil, sweet basil and shallots.
Red Thai chilli (technically a fruit) is not red Cayenne chilli.
Locally produced Thai spices (pungent or aromatic seasonings) include cassia, pepper and powdered chillies.
Thais had to wait for the import of various foreign spices before coming up with
Thai Muslim Curry. (An analogy: "The English had to wait for imported Chinese ginger to create English Ginger Biscuits".)
The aroma of Thai hot basil (Bai Kaprow) is different to that of Thai sweet basil (Bai Horapa), and Italian basil is no substitute.
In most Thai recipes with onions, small red-purple shallots rather than the larger European shallots or onions are used.
Tomato-sized green aubergine cannot be substituted by purple eggplant.
Ginger is no substitute for Thai/greater galangal.
Thai fish sauce and tamarind water provide extra flavours for Thai fried noodles, i.e. Phad Thai.
Lemongrass and Thai/Kaffir lime leaves are more important than galangal in Tom Yum Koong (Hot and Spicy Prawn Soup).
Mai pen rai-ing it, Dr Kanit and our gang loiter in Ayutthaya town’s Chao Phrom market. FYI; deep fried catfish liver is spitty outy. Just sayin’. We linger in the fragrant market heat over a morning Leo, although we have a pending lunch date with expat, linguist, food blogger and photographer Austin Bush. This Oregonian came here in 1998 and has wander lusted ever since. His log is pure foodie fun and today he has brought the good Dr and all us Runaways to Jay Nit for the famous boat noodles of Ayutthaya. Jay Nit has been around for 40 years but only the last ten on dry land. We find it tucked alongside a Buddhist Wat on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Austin been quoted as saying that Ayutthaya is possibly one of the more underrated food cities in Thailand. Austin had blogged:
“Inside knowledge from a local led us to Jay Nit, a longstanding ‘restaurant’ on the man-made island that forms Ayuthaya’s old town. To get here you have to walk through Wat Ratayachai, a temple at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, until you reach what looks like a dilapidated wet market at the edge of the river. The place is frankly filthy, but filthy in that reassuring Southeast Asia way that often suggests good eats.
The noodle dishes at Jay Nit, which include yen ta fo, are done at two stations, although I didn’t really understand the division of labour (one pork station and one beef?).” “(Yen ta fo, for those of you who have been living under a rock, is a Chinese noodle dish that is probably the most popular of all noodle dishes in Thailand. One important ingredient in yen ta fo is a big fat cube of coagulated pork blood).” “Regardless, they’re doing something right. The broth of the pork version was satisfyingly thick, thanks to the addition of blood, but wasn’t actually as rich or as spicy as it appeared. But I was most impressed with the pork (illustrated at the top of this post), which was fatty and tender and served in thick slices not unlike a very good bowl of Japanese-style ramen. And unlike most other places in Ayuthaya, the servings here are rather generous (boat noodles are typically served in tiny bowls that sell for as little as 10 or 15 baht - possibly a legacy of the dish’s waterbound origins), making it a heartier version of the dish than most of its counterparts”.
Wat Ratayachai (Wat Jin), Ayuthaya
9am-2pm. Be there or be square.
A thirty minute away whirlwind van ride made possible by Khun Tan, our hip hop Thai driver leads us to Krayasart which is the ancient rice krispy treat of Thailand (*w/peanuts). This government sponsored royal project at Amphur Saena in the Saena district helps the local economy whose former dependence on exotic wood logging or opium cultivation has exhaled with the wind. Another good opportunity for blogging and snapping and Austin lends a few pointers about something we don’t know everything about…yet. Foodblogography.
Krayasart which means food for the Sart Rite is prepared from rice, bean, sesame and sugar cooked into a sticky paste to be offered to the monks on Sart Day. Thai people believe that if they did not offer Krayasart to monks, their dead relatives would have nothing to eat and thus they would be condemned as having no gratitude towards their benefactors.
First night in Ayutthaya. Big rain all night. The advance team ate with our Thai hosts along the river with a view o’ruins @ Baan Suan Rim Nam
1. Grilled River Prawn 2. Kangleang Baansuan 3. Lemon Grass Salad (Yum Takrai) 4. Banana Blossom Salad 5. Herbal Fish 6. "Dok Sano" Thai Sour Spicy Soup 7. Fried Fish Cake 8. Young Tamarind Leaf Spicy Soup 9. Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Kao Haw Bai Bua) 10. Meiang Kam (sliced coconut with betel leaf) 11. Garden Chili Paste 12. Grilled River Prawn served with Thai Sweet Sauce
Hoy Thong/Soda. Bia Chang.
Dinner Ayutthaya night 2 at Baan Watharachai, tel: 035 321 333 The restaurant is located on the river behind beautiful Wat Kasatrathirat.
-grilled snakehead fish, -tom khlong plaa salit bai makhaam on, - yam thua phlu-yam plaa duk foo- phat phak boong fai daeng:
Chef Michael (Sen Yai), celebrated his birthday under a safron cloud at Buddhist Wat Phananchoeng at Ayutthaya, Thailand; a Siamese kumbaya (o lord) moment. Bolts of orange fabric on silver trays are thrown up from the ground to men standing a story about on the lap of a très large très beautiful golden Buddha. Like something out of the Ed Sullivan Show the trays are flung first and caught perfectly. The bolts of cloth follw and are dreassed over the three story high image. Then the ote half of the transparent cloud is thrown out over the crowd which gathers tightly (watch your wallet close) and spread the love under a very tangerine roof. I’m moved. No one rolled video on this. Left to sound and moving memory and Khun Diggins:
Lunch at Saithong restaurant was a worm hole to an ancient Thai kitchen where we first agreed that we are not big fresh water fish lovers. Chef Michael says, “things taste like where they live.” With that Chef bashed voracious land crawling snake head wonders into the next life. The muddy water snake head fish, stuffed with herbs, liberally salted and grilled is popular Ayutthayan fair.
1. Salted & Grilled Snakehead Fish 2. Steamed Sea Bass In Lime Juice 3. Fried Cha-Om Leaf Sour & Spicy Soup 4. Young Coconut Sliced & Seafood Ho-Mhok 5. Three Flavored Blue Fish 6. Roasted Pork Rib with Pineapple 7. Shrimp Tom Yum 8. Cooked Meatballs 9. Flavored Samlee Fish
River Prawn catch at Bang Pa-in Spa way up River was a surprise. They catch em on a
line with a piece of chicken heart and these colossal blue armed critters, big as my
forearm, are grilled and served with perfect condiments of naam plaa, chili, lime
and peanuts. The dinner at Bang Pa-in was a birthday feast that was just perfect.
Delicately fried flower blossoms, giant river prawn w/roe, salads, fruits, leaves and lotus
seeds from the property. A classic perfect hostess with a fine touch in the well staffed
kitchen, epic monsoon rain, fluorescent ambiance and chain lightning. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPh...)
Back in Ayutthaya it’s however the roti sai mai or candy floss in a crepe that really shines. With Islamic influences it is typically sold by Muslim vendors, their countless colorful stands ring the main roads. Thai desserts, big here, kick started when the Portuguese first came to Ayutthaya, introduced the use of eggs. sugar and coconut products infecting the Thai sweet tooth. Most popular is in fact roti sai mai, and consists of spun sugar (sai mai-’silk threads’) rolled up in a thin pancake (roti). The hot spun palm sugar is worked with two large pins looping it over and over until exponential threads of candy floss, later colored tartish hues, is A.) bagged for take away with a pile of delicate crepes or B.) stuffed and devoured on the spot. We chose B. The snack is considered a local specialty of Ayutthaya, though many Thais find it a nostalgic snack. Perhaps because, Roti Saimai can normally be found around school areas, and kids like us love it.
Later on it’s off to the Bang Lan night market where the monsoon rains have shrunk the crowds of ever hungry Thais. A few die hards linger and some of the offering is the stuff of eating dangerously. Pass the bile. Some beers, night rain, Cowboy music. Complain. Only moto taxis at night. We are a fleet. Some farang just zipped by and shot me a bird.
Rain on the roof at Iudia Guest House was like an Ayutthayan lullaby. Along the Chao Phraya, the Iudia has a pool with a view; the ancient ruins. That night monsoon rain and heat lightning played across a southeast asian skyline and the outline of old Siam. Luxurious personal service, Thai breakfast and Spaghetti Bolognese on demand. Luscious sweet golden seeded pomegranates and longans are adorning my desk. Edible beauty. (nts: come back here on vacation and stay a week) Hong Thong has supplanted the Mekong at this point. I’m toting a Mekong ice bucket I schnored off the distillery during a factory tour. http://www.iudia.com/index.html
From Ayutthaya, the Thai ancient capital in ruins the Runaway crew moseys down to Bangkok, Krung Thep, The City of Angels.
We’re basing our dysfunction TV family at the intimate and ultimate Metropolitan Hotel ensconced way off the bustle of South Sathorn Road. Regal Khun Alarda and manger James Low have seen to everything. We are in hotel heaven. Here also (and wicked conveniently) is the location of Chef David Thompson’s newest restaurant Nahm.
The Australian’s successful Thai ventures down under and his Michelin starred Nahm in London make him a preeminent authority on Thai food. His book Aharn Thai is the international go to on the cuisine. But will the Thais take to it? We dine at Nahm with Chef Ian Kittichai and his wife Sarah Chang, old friends and culinary conceptualists in Bangkok, Mumbai and New York. A Royal family member, Khunying Narisa Chakrabongse presides over a round table. Tom Parker Bowles, author of The Year of Eating Dangerously (and son of Prince Charles’s Camilla) is in attendance with luminaries from the British press where Chef David is a darling. Two of Andy Ricker’s Chefs from Portland, Oregon’s lauded “Pok Pok” with NYC restaurateur and innovative pastry artist Pichet Ong share a 2 top. Legendary Bangkok Post erstwhile food critic Bob Halliday (pen name Ung-aang Talay” (Sea Toad) and “Plalai Faifa” (Electric Eel) is in attendance but out of my view. Quoted in the NYT the Toad said, “When someone comes along and presents himself as the spokesman of Thai cuisine it’s like Osama bin Laden going to the Vatican and saying he is the high authority on Catholicism,” I’d heard the Falstaffian farang, in country for 30 years, got his stomach stapled and was a shadow of himself. Perhaps that’s how he got by me. An encounter with Lonely Planet’s Joe Cummings ratifies this real deal Thai Menu. All agree the experience is sublime. Authentic, soulful, skillful and of quality. The attitude and presentation give and get respect. But the habits of Thais who “live to eat” often hold the best experiences close to the heart. Their mother, their domestic, their street vendor, their use of condiments is the way. (*ironic; Thai has no articles) Oh they will come to bring guests, particularly Farang (foreigners), for bragging rights and hi-so “been there done that”. Our expat friend Austin Bush blogged: “And speaking of Thompson, the Bangkok branch of his Thai restaurant nahm is now officially open for business. I ate there for the third time last night and yet again, was thoroughly blown away. Standout dishes included the deliciously tart and spicy cured ‘hiromasa’ kingfish salad with chillies, lime and mint; the rich and very spicy smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken liver, cockles and black pepper; a slightly bitter and rather spicy red curry of grilled salted beef with chili leaves; and a deliciously decadent and rich durian and sticky rice. If you’re in Bangkok and are interested in Thai food, it’s a must visit.”
I myself ate here thrice myself in 10 Krung Thep nights. It was all sensation and totally engaging. I felt hungry, welcome, satiated and appreciated. What will the Thai’s say, strings attached? We’ll see. After all, there is magic at work. It all began with an amuse of betel leaf stuffed pomelo, prawns, toasted coconut and peanuts, appointed with palm sugar and tamarind…and then…
(*read slowly with your eyes closed)
pomelo and grilled prawns with toasted coconut peanuts and palm sugar sauce served on betel leaves
smokey chiang mai relish with pork scratchings and quail eggs
southern grilled mussels with cucumber
lemongrass salad of prawns, squid and pork
crab and snake gourd soup with egg, pepper and coriander
yellow beans and crab meat dressed with ginger, kaffir lime and shallots served with crispy fish cakes.
spicy relish of prawns, santol and shrimp paste with braised mackeral, sweet pork and crispy cha-am
sour orange curry with red claw crayfish
smoked fish curry with prawns chicken liver and black pepper
stir fried pak warn
salak steeped in perfumed syrup with coconut dumplings
black sticky rice with longans and young coconut served with carmelised taro
custard apple and tapioca in coconut cream with glaceed pumpkin
durian and white sticky rice
Freshness, fire and flavor immerge, converge, embrace. Nose to tail eating with ancient civilized refinement and Thai practical elegance. Light, herbal, texturally complex and simply “aroi” - delicious. All the senses are in play. Spicy complicated curries, tart acids with citrus chiming across sweet burned palm sugar with bright herbal notes and a surprisingly welcome textural feel. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to go slowly. I listened. It was awesome and most assuredly a top ten lifetime dining memory. Hospitality of the finest kind and very dramatic silent personal theatre take place. The sour tang of tamarind, salt of naam plaa fish sauce, aromatics like kaffir lime, galangal, lemongrass play nicely together. Then green peppercorns and the hot spark of chili happens. Add applied fire, a boatload of skill and as ever condiments designed to make each mouthful the first. For me this was dreamy. Maybe that sounds nutty?
This great chaotic harmony springs from a bustling kitchen of talented Thai kitchen elves, forging food porn, seamless service, all amongst dining decor which smacks of Ayutthaya temple brick ruins. The Chef tells of a mural that will be the room’s showpiece. Outside a Buddhist blessing adorns the Nahm sign. Thompson himself wears a white string on his wrist as a part of that magic. It will stay there until it falls off. I have one on each of my wrists even as I type. These are ties to blessings, tithing, connection, and belief in the magic of everyday. (Plus spirits and ghosts, demons, politicians etc.). The great Thompson’s new book debuting in the US September 2010, Thai Street Food is a coffee table manifesto with luxurious photography, great stories and the unlocked recipes.
Chef David scribbled, “Some of the nicest street food in Bangkok. – I don’t think it can be called a restaurant, it’s just a shop front really with the kitchen at the back and a table filled with various raw ingredients and the plastic chairs and tables spilling along the pavement and onto the streets. I do know this one’s name, Raan Kao Dtom Plaeng Naam (actually it is called raan kao dtom jaesuay 02 223 9592). and it’s open 7 days a week form 5 pm until late. It’s a casual and easy place that is so typical of the Sino-Thai food of the street, various trays of dishes sitting on ice, squid, scallops, crunchy pork belly along with Chinese broccoli, garlic chives and snow pea shoots. There is no menu but none is expect. What you do is point to the ingredients you want to eat and they’ll tell you how they cook it – crunchy pork with Chinese broccoli, squid with snow peas, bean curd with Chinese sausage. I always order the smoked duck. I know of no other place in Bangkok that serves this very local dish – it’s prepared in the nearby dtalart gao market – where it is salted and smoked over sugar cane to result in the most delicious mahogany coloured bird. I love it. You should also try the minced pork with Thai olives, the little mussels fried with chillies and coriander”.
Thompson has been on service all night with tons of luminaries and hi-so-ites demanding his attention and a new kitchen just getting up to light speed. Tonight in the wet sodium vapour later-than-lateness, the Chef directs like a conducting maestro and waves and gestures and speaks a charming Australian Thai that has a lilt of it’s own. The King’s Thainglish? He lives in a nether world of Farang/Kon Thai-ness that suits him and intrigues me. Bangkok is straggling home. The bars are closed. Taxis are scarce. Vendors have pushed their carts to shelter. The victuals and company are unforgettable but now too late and lost on the crew and guides. They go but I linger. Judgement call. 0 dark 30.
Thompson has given to calling me “Tennessee”. I am from Massachusetts. I’ve been called worse. As a professional guest in kitchens great and small I have learned that when a Chef says ”jump” the correct response is “how high Chef?”. In this instance, on a very late night with a very early call at daylight this Chef has slurred “ Diem? Drink?” I ask how high.
On 14 Sep 2010, at 11:46 PM, David Thompson wrote: I pray you're in pain. I am.
On 15 Sep 2010, at 05:17, Joel wrote: Jep (Hurts)
On 15 Sep 2010, at 06:23 David Thompson wrote: Excellent !
But what are some of the elements of Thai Cuisine and how are they made. Cue:
Parade of Thai Industry
Sriracha Panich Factory: the original. Chilies+vinegar=napalm. Love it. This original “Rooster Sauce” from Si Racha, TH is a giant modern mechanism. We follow the process with marketing man Khun Tanawat Winyarat at Amphur Muang Samutprakharn and have an I Love Lucy moment when the camera knocks over the bottling line like spicy dominos. *Note: The original Sriracha Panich (panich means commerce) now markets the product under the name Sriraja Panich (with a “j”) since “Sriracha” was trademarked in the U.S. by Huy Fong (Vietnamese in California).
Squid Fish Sauce factory at Klong-Darn, Samutprakarn is an old school operation watching over anchovies & salt +18 months= the cognac of fish sauces. The awesome owner Khun Anun “Luck” Nithipitigan resembled the great Japanese actor Tushiro Mafune but with crazy Aharoni eyebrows. They produce Squid Brand (it contains no Squid) but also the very popular American seller, Tiparos. Been in my fridge for decades. (Not the same bottle of course).
Perhaps the best lunch of the trip followed. “Daeng!” See food. Oh that crab w/roe and Nahm Quiew. The venerable bare-chested proprietor and owner of competing brand “Lobster Fish Sauce” (no lobster) strode in and asked how many wives we each had. Clearly he can walk around in his own restaurant with no shirt and apparently has many wives. Luck’s daughter “A” wrote me this menu reminder:
“Well, the name of that lunch restaurant is Daeng (แดง) in Samuthsongkram. I am not sure how exactly its location is called, but you need to u-turn under the bridge over the Mae-Klong river, then its Soi is on your left. Umm…at that lunch we had Poo Pad Pong Ka-Ree (ปูผัดผงกระหรี่) curry crab, Tom Yum Kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง)hot and sour shrimp soup, Pad Pak Ruam Mit (ผัดผักรวมมิตร) stir fried mixed vegetable everything, Kung Oob Klau (กุ้งอบเกลือ) Oob, Pla Muk Pad Kra Team Tone (ปลาหมึกผัดกระเทียมโทน) Squid, then some Thai dessert and watermelon. I guess that is it. I hope it helps J.”
Mekong Distillery formulates cane and rice into fire water but not really whisky. Known for the increasing popular Chang Beer and Mekong “Whisky” which is actually a cane rice distillation with a curious flavor some find reminiscent of whisky. Particularly if you are in Southeast Asia and have no whisky. Its well guarded blending they could have showed us but then they’d have to kill us. Tanker trucks of Molasses in, giant vatting, blending, testing, tasting. They also make Hong Thong, Thailand’s best selling domestic liquor at about $3 a fifth. Ice soda and a 90/10 soda whisky pour and you my friend are on a slow rice barge up river. Or something.
CP Foods; global giant and super secret location visit with Ian to the agri-farm of the future. The giant is even bigger this year because Indonesia’s old method crop (exposed) have gotten a blight and we all know what BP did to the gulf of Mexico. Thai shrimp everyone? There’s Tom Yum Goong, Kaeng Goong, Goong Yang, Goong Khao, Goong Ka Pow, ….
A new day; The monsoon rain all night has cleared the air for 100 degrees 100% humidity.
Runaway is curious after Thompson’s take on Thai, just what is the authentic Royal Traditional fare? We gather four Chefs and plan a big deal meal for 30+ with the Thai press invited to the Chakrabongse Royal Villa.
Ian picks up Runaway at the Met and takes us to meet Suthat “TonY” Charnvises, a runner up from Asia’s biggest loser (perhaps source a bit of footage from NBC?)
Chefs Ian + Tony + Michael at Tae weht Market
Breakfast at Mong Konchai, Tony’s family’s original restaurant location: Chicken Rice Place, Duck and Pickle Lime Soup (the consommé was sublime)
Shoot market. Ian’s TV crew joins
DJitpochana original neighborhood
Double steamed duck pickled lime soup.
In the old Tae Weht market, tucked away between the blocks is a medieval kitchen with cauldrons bubbling the works for kao man gai, the omnipresent and elegantly flavorsome steamed chicken rice that is the comfort food of a place I’ve grown most comfortable in myself these 20 days. I’m not here for the chicken rice though. Ian’s close friend, business partner and runner up on Asia’s Biggest loser is still the biggest man in Thailand if in heart alone. This spot is the original site of his family’s uber popular chain, D’Jit Pochana. English accented and Terry Gilliam humorous Tony lays it all out over a bowl of the duck pickled lime ambrosia. “Yeah man, like 70 years ago my grandfather was a butcher in the old Tae Weht market, and my grandmother was selling hor mok (tasty fish and coconut concoctions steamed in banana leaf cups) from a basket. Today TonEE is a Sen Yai / Big Noodle (Big Cheese) in Bangkok’s restaurant and catering scene. We’d meet up with Tony again and again on the odyssey we’ve planned to Runaway to. It happens as I sit down to collect my notes, my thoughts, my wits, the first flavors I conjure back home are the great double steamed pickled lime soup. Back here in the B&W flavor world I’ll goose the duck to accentuate the strong clear consommé (cheat by buying a duck in Chinatown), the five spice and sweet soy duck, the pickled lime with an added fine dice of kaffir leaves. Way too much deep fried garlic and pickled cabbage with a breath of white pepper and I am coloring with crayons while copying a water color but minus the sound of the monsoon wet streets, a plastic stool beneath me and beverages al la 7/11, it works.
We gobble a pastry box of Kanom Bueng, sweet thai taco/crepes. Ian, Tony & Michael wander thru the old dark alleyways that make up Tae Weht. My post elevensees ample form reminds me of the totally equipped gym back at the Metropolitan. For now eat, shoot and be merry….. Tony wanders out ahead to the newer outdoor market. From his silhouette he hollers back…”stop eating”.
Meet at D' Jit Pochana restaurant to plan Royal Thai Dinner. D’JitPochana; think modern Thai Bar Mitzvah with buffet, Thai and western sections, food stations and green fanta. (Also Thai beer on tap). One could even have spaghetti Bolognese if one chose to. My 3 Chefs put there heads together, sketch, divvy up and we split to:
Hyde&Seek where the libations with imagination Flow. Ian & Sarah are awesome hosts and the crew takes a break from local fare for some inspired gastro pubbery. Notable baby back ribs with chili chocolate glaze came right off the tiny bones, pulled korabuta pork sliders, and cutting edge cocktails.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010 Shop, cook, dinner at Thai Viila
Now Traffic in Bangkok does nothing but suck. If you drive in it then you mai pen rai’n it. So first off Nikki runs away with Chef Ning Najpinit by boat to Pran Nok market at Pran Nok. I first learned about Professor Kobkaew and Phd. Food Culture Specialist Ning and their Khao Cooking School from who else? Blographer Austin Bush:
“Khao San Road is probably the unlikeliest place in Bangkok you’d expect to find an authentic Thai cooking school. But the people behind Khao Cooking School have heaps of experience and have put together an institution that feels both professional and homey, despite the incongruous location.
The school was founded 2 years ago by Kobkaew Najpinit (in the middle in the picture above), author of several cookbooks and a 35-year veteran of teaching Thai cooking. Her daughter Ning (on the left) speaks great English and does much of the teaching to non Thai-speaking students. A typical course at Khao spans three dishes over four hours and costs 1,500B. There are two sessions a day, each offering a different repertoire of dishes, so it’s possible to study a week and not repeat a single dish. Those interested in more obscure recipes can arrange private scholarship. Stop by and let us know how it was.”
Khao Cooking School
Located behind D&D Inn, Th Khao San
081 731 800
Here at Kobkaew & Ning’s Khao School we met young Chef in the making; Boonyapat Pariyasakui.
Diggins Every time we had a special meal, Boonypat seemed to be there, whether it was at D. Thompson's Nahm, the Thai Royal Place, or the amazing Khao Cooking school this fellow was there. I often asked, "is there anyone else who really cooks in BKK”? September 30 at 11:28am
Hathaichanok “Ning” Najpinijhun Richard....he is diamond! October 1 at 10:30am
Diggins I need to take some lessons from you and he! October 1 at 12:57pm
At the Royal Villa.
Another way to end run the BKK rush hours is the Rod fai Faa or sky train to Vongvien Yai market with old friend Ian Kittichai…
aka Chef Mue Thong aka Chef Pongtawat Ian Chalermkittichai, plus Ian’s TV Crew, who are awesome. I notice they give him periodic massages. Former Four seasons Exec, Ian rules restaurants in Bangkok, Mumbai and New York. The morning walk thru the old hood and the wet market itself are totally juxtaposed to our transport there by the land of tomorrow train. It occurs to me that Bangkok and Amazing Thailand are like Disney World but for grown ups. I’m amused. Old School, new paradigm. Same same ..but way dif.
Meet Khunying Narissa Chakrabongse (royal family member) at Thai Villas (Chakrabongse’s Villas). In close ascension to the top, Narissa appears as a British Aristocrat, with both Russian and English heritage. Kunying Narissa with the title Mom Rajawongse has written extensetively about the Royal Family and tours us around the river side Royal digs with a view of Wat Arun. When she is not in residence the amazing property is a boutique refuge of the rich and famous. Here’s our choice location for the old school cooking that's fit for a King. Thompson visits with Tom Parker Bowles (son of Camilla wife of Prince Charles). They say cheerio and take off in a long tail boat.
6:00 pm Dinner on Terrace perhaps 30 people
Food, folks, fun, a flourish. Khun Ping from TAT, Khun Pong from Trikaya Tours, many old friends have come. Deputy Governer of Marketing for Thai Tourism; Khun Juthaporn Rerngronasa, Khun Ping from TAT NYC, old friend Khun Kasemsak “Pong” Bhamornsatit. Magazines, TV News, Daily papers and internets haved showed up. Tomorrow we will be multi colored headlines in the Thai papers. “Runaway Chef comes to learn about Thai Cuisine and Encourage Tourism.” You better believe it. The Thai press loves Runaway. Ian, TonY, Kobkaew, Ning and Michael work in a space made for less. Especially since we’ve let in all the press and photographers. It has taken on the feel of a live event. Everyone is having fun. The night grows long, great success. Even Dr Kanit joins us. Applause for Runaway Chef and the BKK Crew. Just time to get on the internet. Upload some HD videos. Collect, charge, sleep perchance to:
Morning train to Khon Kaen
Diggins points out the rhythm of life is in every sonic detail in Thailand. The sputter of Tuk Tuk two strokes, the whoosh of the sky train, chopping, sizzling and pounding, the sing song of many voices talking at once and the clack of tracks. Segueing in I imagine the sound of the native Kaen or bamboo harmonica. It’s a kinda zydeco accordian sound that bridges cultural chasms. The smoking section is between the cars. I climb on top of the train to scout a shot. It’s about a million degrees up there, centigrade. No shot. Down inside no real AC. We are in the Airconditioned car. Train food. Mai pen on rye please. Bia Leo is what’s for breakfast and steamed rice with spicy ground protein, chilis and a fried egg. One of our crew meets a girl and asks to take her photo. They both smile. Clack, snap, clack etc. I think I notice she has the beginnings of a tattoo on one wrist or perhaps in that light a cheat sheet in Thai script. Or…a phone number. TonY will meet us there with Tan and Tom our van and luggage.
"saep" (แซบบ่) in the Isaan dialect implies a multitude of flavors
8 (bpairt) hours later Runaway pulls into Muang Pol station, the source of MUM
• Mum is the word for; fermented pork and rice sausage left to its own devices in high heat. Danger. Spitty outy.
• Sato; cloudy white rice beer. Like unfiltered sake. It would make awesome ice cream
• Kao Mak; the rice from the fermentation process. No waste.
• Nam Prik Plaa ra: A fermented fish paste that only a Thai mother could love. But this baby is the progenitor to fish sauce, the ubiquitous salty element of Thai kitchen magic. Intense but not impossible. Many Isaan people would ask us, “You eat Plaa ra”? “Chai kap, saep mahk” Ja sure. Very tasty.
• Dried Buffalo Skin. Pretty good really. How bout like bacon bits on Thai ceviche?
Group picture with the whole village. It’s another Royal project and we’re the first farang visitors they’ve see. We are funny. I have a big nose. They are proud and perfect.
Just a 90 minute van hurtle by driver Khun Tan who has met us with our ace guide and fixer Khun Tom. Tom and I worked together last season with a former TV Chef. He rocks and we are glad to be together again. I have years on him but the former Buddhist Monk calls me little brother. I oft act my shoe size. This month I will be 50 though my older brother Bill tells me that since life begins at 40 I’m just over 10.
Khon Kaen and the luxurious Pullman Raja Orchid ex-Sofitel. Nightmarket Dinner.
According to Lonely Planet’s Joe Cummings; “You know you're in Isaan when
-in the shop, thick layers of dust cover Coke and Fanta bottles, while Mekong and Beer Lao bottles are always new and shiny. -the 6-pm national anthem is the signal to close up shops, go home and sleep. -the first cry of the rooster is the signal to crowd the markets and blare morlam karaoke for the listening pleasure of the entire village. -you can drive on a four-lane road without seeing any cars; in fact, in a half hour you'll come across more cow-poop than cars! -at a restaurant, you ask for a glass of drink, they give you a bottle ("geo"). -the number of local women interested in marrying you is directly proportional to your age - but their age is inversely proportional to yours! -upon hearing you speak Thai, people assume you must be married to a local gal. -you see buffaloes and chicken roaming in-and-out of schoolyards. -you compliment your host for the colorful patterns of the tablecloth, and then you see him using the same thing as a loincloth! And towel! And blanket! and just about everything else you can think of. -the only thing removed from the chicken in the soup are the feathers.“
8:00 am Breakfast and shoot at New Aim Oat in Prachak Road home of the “The Khon Kaen grand slam. Tony presents the full Isaan breakfast including French/Vietnamese baguette based breakfast sandwiches and house made Chinese sausage / lap chong. Thai iced Tea (charred tea latte with condensed milk) and fresh tangerine juice with real bits of fruit. It’s Rosh Hashanah so we go to Temple at Wat Nong.
About an hour north is Suan Kwang and the locally popular Kai Yang Wanna. This is the most popular Kai Yang (grilled chicken spot). Lot’s of Thais thaiing on lunch. Once again it’s about the condiments. We TV intruders make friends and influence people. We learn how to spatchcock/butterfly a chicken on bamboos skewers. Flattened, s&p and charcoal grilled to apparent perfection and delight, the monsoon deluge crashing on the giant chicken outside the awning is ignored. Inside Wanna has it all going on. Kai Yang, Larb, roast pork neck, sticky rice and there was Nahm Quiem/Green Fanta. Khun kao jai kap?
In Isaan language Papaya Salad is called Tam Bak Hung. In Thai it’s Som Tam which means “sour-pounded”. @ Aran gin lao reuy, Michael and TonY make Som Tam at this famous SomTamery. The Chefs take strands of papaya mix with the various mise en place choices and pound them a bit in a narrow wooden mortar to blend the salad ingredients, extract the juices and break down the fiber. Then they sample about 7 kinds. “With duck eggs” comes last and it’s my favorite. The creamy yolks and fiery chili lime juices meld with the yielding green papaya shreds and the whole Thai kitchen sink including tomatoes, dried shrimp, garlic, brined crabs, shrimp paste, yardlong beans, plaa ra, hog plums, limes, chilies, sugar, peanuts, elbow grease and soul with individual little woven cylinders of sticky rice on the side to soak up every jubilant drop. I want it now. Or som tam soon.
Next morning TonY heads back to his catering empire in BKK . We record Morlam karaoke music (some acoustic “kaen” bamboo harmonica thing) (traditional and karaoke) for the listening pleasure of the entire village which turned out to be us and ten friends of the band. Traditional music for good live performance and sound recording. No doubt they rocked and the traditional acoustic was haunting and the electric zydeco roller derby disco was haunting in another way.
We press on to UdonThani and meet Professor Kobkaew who along with her sister has come to Isaan to make a visit to a special forest Wat Tham Klong Pane near Nong Bua Lamphu where a venerable Monk presides over the many faithful who make the schlep. First a crazy early lunch at Waan Dee which was perfect in all ways right down to the condiments. Chef Michael will spend the night at the forest monastery of Baan Taad (Wat Not) without ambien and in Spartan reflection. Had it not been for the karmic twist of countless roosters fighting and fornicating all night the Chef/aka Foie Gras King’s night might have been better. Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno at 96 is kinda the Pope in these parts and offerings including big trays of cash flow to his perpetual hour of power. Next morning (cockadoodle) when a cast of thousands turns out to make tamboon (a mitzvah) and bring alms of food and other necessities it becomes yet another Thai thanksgiving dinner (breakfast) that couldn’t be beat.
This was followed by elevensees a tad on the early side. A main drag joint open to the Udon Thani morning rush. The early crowd, Runaway crew and the twice worthy Professor Kobkaew. As fleets of loudspeaker billboard pickups parade we enjoy jook (rice porridge), khao tom (rice soup with ground pork), or rice noodle soup. Always the condiments (sugar, fish sauce, dried red pepper, and chilies in vinegar) ignite the bowl.
Runaway lead by nimble Khun Kobkaew explores the famous CELEBRITY restaurant in Udon. The Chefs meet the former Prime Minister and talk food. Bee larvae, fermented jungle honey, Kobkaew, kitchen scene. Awesome.
Bye bye to the Professor and long ride to Ban Wang Nahm Mok. Near here in 1966 some son of an American diplomat stumbled on a pottery shard in a road construction and uncovered a civilization predating the fertile crescent and China. Turns out they were metallurgical, animal husbands who also cultivated rice: 5,000 years ago! So this place has some bones, agreed?
The most common greeting in Thai is (gin khao laew rue yang?) which means “Have you eaten rice yet?” Rice is sacred in Southeast Asia, and the center of Thai life. Most people eat rice three times a day, and rice is used as offerings to monks, as well to the spirits. Rural villages have traditionally been organized around the production of rice, with communal labor working together to build and repair irrigation channels for the rice fields, and families working cooperatively to plant and harvest rice. Even now, as labor sharing has given way to paying wage laborers to work the fields, rice is a key part of Thai daily life and cultural identity. The Jasmine Rice or Khao Suay Mali, eaten in the Central Plains and south as well as a prized export and the Khao Nieow/Sticky (glutinous) rice which is the staple of Isaan diet.
Weaving, gathering water plants, riding a motorcycle, rice, rain, play Takaw (foot volley ball w/a wicker ball) with local kids. We learn the litany of rice. Plowing with water buffalo, planting the seedlings by hand in the flooded paddies, the threshing to follow. The blue pajama clad Isaan farmers happily holler work songs as they toil under a dramatic Thai sky in what passes for a monsoon sunset. Too much rain no good, Too little rain no good. The children playing in the puddles are oblivious. Slow down. Stop and smell the neuroses. Chef Michael is often mistaken for Bruce Willis here. Sort’ve the way Springsteen and Che are often confused in Siam. Here comes an Isaan hootnanny. Drums and whisky. Music and dance. Lots of cooking and eating and the tithing. A woven banana leaf representation of the constellations and a ball of string are wrapped from wrist to wrist by the village eldest. He encantates and you can just tell we’re gonna all be Facebook friends or the traditional equivalent there of.
Overnight at Budsabong Fine Resort which seemed to host only us in a California modern motel around a pretty groovy swimming pool. Something sort of Twilight Zone here though. I did learn that when Khon Thai drink they arrange themselves on the floor like Thai Kings of old. Very sensible as it is a shorter distance to the floor. The morning revealed the greatest collection of dead soldiers ever. Ibuprofen me thinks.
Sunday, September 12, 2010 Nong Khai
The mighty Mae Nam Kong just separates us from Laos. A skylab (motorcycle rickshaw painted up in tarty low rider ways) shuttles us to the morning market. The Nong Khai Food Blizzard is like a food show for regional producers. In a giant plastic Quonset hut it is well airconditioned. A state fair. John gets a weird guitar. I peruse the swords and knives. A quick visit to the Giant religious pantheon miniature golf and lunch on the river.
Standing at the Mekong River in Nong Khai, the farthest point of the journey I’m sifting to define some catharsis. Dr. Kanit, Austin Bush, Thompson, Ian, Tony, Ning, Kobkaew and every last Thai I met were so warm and proud. They shared everything and gave us farangs a pass on our new world audacity. The food porn was deep but the soul satisfying genuine planet respect and the joy of everyday were profound. The prideful hospitality of meals and the sociability of producing, crafting, conveying, sharing impressed. Everyone eats and we grow closer around the table. So here is my story and in the end I want more people to widen their cultural horizons, try new things and make the world a smaller more delicious place. Eat at Thai restaurants, cook Thai food at home, GO TO THAILAND. NOW. NOT SOMEDAY. It will feed your body and your spirit. Runaway with us; eat drink be merry…tomorrow we’ll diet. May your glass be half full so that you have room for more.
The Runaway Chef crew :
Chef Michael Ginor
Director Joel Coblenz
Sound Recordist/Music John O’Connor
Second Camera Nikki Bramley
DSLR Richard Buxenbaum
For T.A.T. Achiraya “Big Apple” Buddhani
Guide & Fixer Khun Tom
Driver and the artist recently known as Khun Tan
SOME ANIMALS WERE HURT DURING THE FILMING OF THIS PROGRAM.
(but none were wasted)
Dinner, a time when . . . one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.
- W. Somerset Maugham
If you’d like to Runaway in our footsteps:
The Metropolitan: South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok, 10120, Thailand
Iudia on the River
11-12 U-Tong Road, Moo 4, Pratuchai, Ayutthaya 13000 Thailand Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel : +66 (0) 8 6080 1888, +66 (0) 3532 3208
Krungsri River Hotel (9/4 only)
27/2 Moo 11 Rojana Road, Kamang, Ayutthaya 13000, Thailand
Pullman Raja Orchid
9/9 Prachasumran Road, Amphur Muang,
Khon Kaen, 40000, Thailand
Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani 277/1 Prajaksillapakhom Road, Muang , Udon Thani, 41000, Thailand Phone: +66 (0) 4234 3555
Budsabong Fine Resort Address. 222 - 222 / 2 Bann Donsawan, Donsawan-Wattad Rd | Tumbon Hadkum, Nong Khai 43000, Thailand +668 1471 4505 +668 1666 5111
Ban Suan Rim Nam / Bang Pa-in Spa
Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel
Hyde & Seek
Raan Kao Dtom Plaeng Naam
Khon Kaen: New Aim Oat
Suan Kuang: Kai Yang Wanna
Aran Gin Lao Reuy
Suan Ar-harn Khun Nid
Ban Wang Nahm Mok Homestay