Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Travels through Asia pt 2: Thailand (A lil bit of Bangkok, some Koh Samet, and drool worthy Chiang Mai!)


First of all, I'd like to apologize for what seems like randomness in the food pictures. I will admit, with much guilt, that during this trip I ate 5-6 times a day. When you're eating that much the meals seem to jumble together ...  day turns into night.. night turns into... uh day and the food never stops. The posts are, to the best of my knowledge, what I ate in sequential order. There becomes more  normality of 3-4 meals a day when we leave Bangkok.. based purely on the fact that there aren't that many street vendors in the other countries... or in the case of Taiwan... our main meals were so vast that I could barely muster any extra food in my mouth.

First I leave you a quick shot with me and a "friendly" tiger at the Tiger Temple




Enough with the blabbering.. back to Bangkok and RIGHT back into street food.

I'd say you'd be pretty hard pressed to walk around Bangkok and not see street food. Whether it's a push cart with meat on a stick (in this case.. chicken, pork, bacon, chicken heart, intestines).


Freshly stir-fried Pad Thai. (Which by the way tends to be pretty poor in quality. I've tried multiple street cart Pad Thai and it's always been too plain. Never has that sweet and savory nature that you find at home.. or the sit down restaurants in Thailand)



Or most importantly, seafood on the street. The bane of all Chinese mothers out there. Especially ones who have sons like me... that are willing to eat seafood on a street corner.



Most of these places display all their seafood on ice along the sidewalk. After you choose your seafood they toss it right into the wok. If you see that ladies hand at the right of the picture... she's cooking there. How could I pass up a plate of nice exotic clams for $2USD? Fortunately for me I had zero stomach problems on this trip *whew*. 



Tons of fresh delicious Thai basil tossed into a magi/soy sauce mixture with these large brown shelled clams. I LOVE thai basil. It imparts this aroma that makes me want to just stick my nose in the plate and sniff all day.

After coasting a few days in Bangkok we set sail for the sunny beaches of Koh Samet, a national park/island off the eastern coast of Thailand. 3.5 hours by bus then 1 hour by boat. We stayed at a nice little beach side resort, Samed Villa, which had a bunch of stray dogs hanging around. I found that a very odd aspect of my stay there.... no other area had that many strays.. just the beach for this hotel. 


There were a lot of vendors (ala guys walking around with grills on their shoulders in baskets...) selling grilled chicken and papaya salad (which were both delicious). The place we ended up eating the most was Ploy Bar and Pub... a local seafood joint that laid out a bunch of mats and tables along the beach so you could sit on the sand.. and just enjoy your food.



This setup is pretty similar to the seafood vendors in Bangkok, just more tourist oriented. A bunch of seafood options but they also have seafood combo platters so you get to try a lil bit of everything. We did shellfish combos as well as a really nicely done whole fish.





The whole grilled fish was spot on. Roughly $8 USD (pricey I know.. tourist trap and all) it came with a really nice spicy sour sauce that went well with the thick fleshed fish. 

We also got the seafood platter one night.. which was a mollusks, squid, shrimp, and more fish!



The main reason we kept coming to this place.. was the live music and the fire shows they put on. A group of boys/men got together and performed along the beach for tips every night at 9pm. Some of the younger boys were also wait staff at the restaurant!

After taking this relaxing stay at the beach we hurried back to Bangkok. Unlike our first portion of Bangkok where we stayed in the "backpackers" district, I wanted to explore the modern side of Bangkok. 



From shabby worn down buildings, to high end shopping centers and super efficient subways! Once you hit downtown Bangkok the streets really come alive. Bright lights, whizzing cars and subways running all over the place. Most importantly.. McDonald's ice cream cone for 25 cents..



and a Whole Foods like supermarket with one of the BEST wine collections I've ever seen at a marketplace.  I was tempted to buy a 1970 Lynch Bages for $100USD but I had no clue how I'd transfer that back to America on the first leg of our trip.


(Whole Paycheck.. eat your heart out!)

Shopping around one of the malls we saw large crowds of students rushing into two particular restaurants that were door to door with one another. What were they serving?



All you can eat Shabu Shabu and Sushi for $6USD! After deliberating and pacing back and forth in front of the restaurants.. we finally went in. It was conveyor belt Shabu Shabu! All the sushi and prepared food were in hot trays but the food for the Shabu Shabu came to you like it was on a sushi conveyor belt! You got to pick between Tom Yum soup or chicken broth.. and a large assortment of seasoning.



Sorry for this picture. I wish I had something closer, but I was yelled at when I was about to snap my first photo in the restaurant. All I got was a video of the belt moving food.. and the lady in front of us sorting it.

Safe to say, I was content.. and stuffed to the gills in meat and veggies for $6. Not exactly eating "thai traditional" food but I guess I was "thinking outside of the box!"

The next morning we left for Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand to explore the cities lush green jungles.  I've always wanted to try more Northern Thai food. The limited tastes I've had in San Diego and Lotus of Siam have piqued my interest. The flavors are bold and adventurous and not your typical Pad Thai, stir fried noodle. There is an emphasis on spiced soup noodles and preserved/grilled/fried meats.

Our hotel was centrally located in Chiang Mai downtown (I use this term loosely). We were literally a block away from the "famous" Chiang Mai Night Market. While the market is bustling at night time, it's pretty empty when the sun is up. Which... was unfortunate.. cause we landed in Chiang Mai at 11am and were STARVING.

After wandering around our hotel area... stumbling across McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Starbucks we wandered down an empty alley hoping to strike gold. After nearly turning back, we saw small wisps of smoke rising into the air. We take a look around and we saw this

A lady grilling chicken legs and big fatty pieces of pork. 



Priced at $1 USD for 3 pork pieces and 40 cents for one chicken leg we hopped on and chowed down. Of course this is not enough food for a growing boy... and I saw she didn't just have this grill.. but a larger cart with some pot and pans.

I pointed at the pot, she said "Very good! traditional!"
"Stop" I told her...
"You had me at traditional."
Scooping a big handful of bun into a bowl she opens the pot for pork filled goodness. 





Looks like Bun Bo Hue Eh? Kuay Tiew Moo Nam Tok. 
Spicy Pork Noodle soup, pig's blood, chunks of pork, sour cabbage, and shaved lettuce mixed in a steaming hot (and spicy) pork broth.  I was in HEAVEN. This is what I was looking for during my travels, super authentic food that I couldn't easily get in America. The spice was nice and hot, the depth of the soup was superb, and the use of the preserved veggies really pushed it all over the edge. Best part of it all? $1.50!

I needed all this food for the perilous trek we were taking later in the afternoon.



The next day we prepared for a day of watching Elephants roam the forest land at Elephant Nature Park.  Unlike most Elephant attractions, we didn't ride the elephant or watch it do shows.. we just watched them roam around a preserve. We got to explore where they stayed, we fed them, and bathed them in the river.



They had two very young elephants that were just born into the herd not too long ago! After watching  them for awhile, the reserve set out a giant buffet spread.



 I had an appetite that rivaled the elephants... (plate one of three)



Also had an intriguing dessert that I saw all over northern Thailand.



Coconut milk with chewy tapioca texture neon treats. Served over a bed of ice... cool and refreshing.. yummmy.

After we cooled off with a refreshing dessert, we cooled the elephants off in the river!




At night we headed into the Night market to feast. In the center of the Chiang Mai night market they had a series of food stands that are opened by restaurants located in the area.

I had to grab a bowl of Kao Soi Gai. Egg Noodle Curry with Chicken.


It looks spicy but it's not at all. Really hearty curry flavor with the always scrumptious preserved veggies on top! And since one dish really isn't enough.. I passed by a stand displaying oodles of noodles! I saw one dish that kept being ordered and after hesitating.. I finally ordered



Pad Thai in an omelet!
 

Oh. my. goodness. This was easily the best Pad Thai I had on the trip. The lightly cooked egg on top just added to its greatness. The noodles were perfect al dente, the sauce was sweet and savory, the peanuts just added a nice nutty crunch to top it all off.

After walking around the marketplace to rests our bellies, I wandered across a giant sign that said ROTEE


Who can say no to fried bread covered in condensed milk?



You get your mix of banana/chocolate/egg/honey/corn/ or just milk. She makes them fresh right when you order them. On the second night we went to another place and they had already made the Rotee before you ordered... not nearly as flaky and crunchy. We rectified that mistake by going back to this lady.

We got a chocolate and banana.. which comes sliced up and ready to eat with a fork.



The Rotee is covered in condensed milk, chocolate, and stuffed with bananas.

We also ordered plain Rotee with just milk.. and you eat it like food on a stick.



The dough is so sweet and flavorful. It's flaky and moist and just brimming with warm tasty goodness. When we went to Malaysia we were hoping we'd find some more of this.. being a Islamic treat (from what we could tell) but to no success.

The next morning, we took the early bird flight for dirty dirty dirty dirty (emphasis on dirty) Phnom Penh



Monday, November 2, 2009

Travels through Asia pt 1: Thailand (bangkok!)

And................ we're back! My favorite dining companion and I spent a good month gallivanting across the Asia continent... eating and exploring for your pleasure. Our first stop on our journey was the lovely nation of Thailand. The homeland of Pad Thai, sticky rice with mango, and lady boys.

We initially stayed near Khao San Road.. the backpackers district. As you walk toward KSR a flurry of street markets pop out of nowhere. In the mornings you can find yourself some iced coffee and bagged curry and in the afternoon a plethora of fried food and desserts. The streets are packed, food stalls on one side and clothes on the other.. you gotta push and shove your way to the food destination.

Two things I could NOT get enough of were fresh papaya salad and iced coffee/tea. Everywhere you turn there are carts with people chopping papaya and grinding away at the fresh chili and peanuts.


They mix together the freshly chopped papaya with chili, fish sauce, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, peanuts, green onions, and a little bit of love (SHOUT OUT TO CARLA).


The papaya being so fresh is crisp and sweet and the peanuts really spark off all the flavors. I don't think I had a single bad papaya salad in Thailand.. always bursting with flavor and full of fresh ingredients.

And since browsing in the hot Thai weather makes you dehydrated.. what better to quench your thirst than some Thai iced coffee/tea? (so sue me, it doesn't quench your thirst)




There is usually a push cart with a few people manning some coffee filters and big jugs of tea. They have crushed ice and scoop a large spoonful right into the plastic bag. After the ice dispersal they drop in the tea/coffee... mix in the condensed milk... toss in a straw.. and wrap it all up! Tea in a bag!
If you feel as though you need a healthy alternative to quench your thirst, there is PLENTY of fruit on the streets of Bangkok. For 25 cents or less you can find yourself some nice dragon fruit... bananas... mango... pineapple.
BTW can someone tell me the appeal of dragon fruit? There is no flavor in that fruit. I don't get it.

 The next series of pictures are just of my wanderings and eating around Bangkok. We pretty much walked everywhere. And when you walk everywhere... you pass a lot of food vendors. 

On the way to the Golden Mount I saw a mini food cart food court. One thing that stood out to me was the noodle soup vendor. At 45 cents a bowl I'd be a fool not to try!



After using my great gasp of the Thai language... by pointing and nodding my head.. I got myself a bowl of seafood noodle soup.



A clear and light broth filled with fish paste balls (the brown one) and fish balls. The fish paste balls were a bit spongy and had the texture of gelatin. I quickly finished it off.. not the best bowl of noodles I've ever had.. but certainly adequate for an 11am snack.

The same day we had ourselves a late lunch. We figured we'd try a "restaurant" around the area so we wandered around till we saw a place. Most of the restaurants in Bangkok have the cooking done at the front of the restaurant. You're able to see what they are making and if it's appealing to you. 




I ordered a delicious soda right off the bat. Soda in Asia or.. anywhere other than the U.S. doesn't use High Fructose corn syrup so it doesn't leave that grimy aftertaste in your mouth. Drinking out of a potentially very unsanitary tin cup... my mother.. she would not approve.



When we first walked in Kathy wanted to know if they could make her some noodle dish.
Her conversation with the owner
K: Can you make me a stir fried noodle?
O: ?
K: Chicken? noodle?
O: ok



The result was a pretty tasty chow fun with stir fried chicken. Most of the noodle dishes we had in Bangkok had a heavy handed dose of MAGI sauce.. but this was just about right. I enjoyed it.

I ordered the CORNSTARCH SEAFOOD NOODLE (j/k on the cornstarch)



Even though the flavors were nice.. and the shrimp had a really interesting thick meaty texture.. the amount of cornstarch they used in the sauce was overwhelming. MORE NOODLE LESS CORNSTARCH! that goes for all thai noodles ... whether it's in LA/San Diego/BANGKOK!

While walking down one of the markets I smelled really sweet roasted bananas. I saw a lady grilling a bunch of items wrapped in bamboo leaves. I usually associate bamboo leaves with sticky rice... so I put one order in. 3 of these for 50 cents. 


Once I opened it up.. SURPRISE! sticky rice with sweet banana. O-m-goodness it was good. The banana was extra tender and sweet and the sticky rice had a crisp char on the outside.

One night, we decided to take the river ferry to the Chinatown section of Bangkok we were greeted by bright florescent lights and packed streets. Plenty of food stalls all over the place.. reminded me of Taiwan!

Here we have the "pick your own meat" selection. Point and they stir fry it together.




But I ended up settling for something that looked FAR more appetizing to me. Pork shank, pork intestines simmering in its own juices... chopped up and served with spinach and rice. *DROOOOOOOOOOOOOL*


.


A paltry $1 gets you rice, veggies, pork, sour veggies.



I am drooling as you read this. No matter what time you're reading this... I am drooling over this dish. The meat was soooooooo tender and the sauce was so rich in reduced pork fat flavor. I was | | that close to getting a second order... but I was being judged for being too much of a fatty =(.

The next day we went to the Floating Market. The appeal of the Floating Market to me... are the people who float around in boats and make noodle soup for you. Just a guy with a bunch of pots.. tossing together a tasty bowl of pork noodle soup.



The soup is full of star anise, five spice, and white pepper giving it a really hearty earthy flavor.



The noodles were not your typical noodles, almost like rice noodles but with a rubbery texture. I enjoyed it greatly... so much so... once again tempted to get another bowl.. but shot down.

But while I was NOM-ing on the soup noodles, Kathy went and got our first Sticky Rice and Mango!



Super ripe and soft mango with a little pouch of creamy coconut milk. A+!


BTW.. there is no cheap sticky rice and mango in Thailand. If there was.. they were hiding from me. I literally searched the four corners of this city for one that would cost me less than $1USD but to no avail. This badboy cost us almost $1.60 USD. RIDICULOUS! I did not budget for Mango Sticky rice being that pricey!

What I wasn't stopped from doing.. was eating 3 bowls of coconut ice cream in young coconut shell.


The ice cream was nice and sweet.. and most importantly milky cold in the hot heat. To add to that the coconut itself was scrumptious. Meaty and sweet.. I actually liked it more than the already tasty ice cream!

A final picture of the floating market... was a sleeping pup. I'm going to follow this pup.. and go to sleep as well. Be back later with more in Bangkok as well as the rest of Thailand!