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Din Tai Fung Bangkok – A Disappointment

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Last February we visited the restaurant Din Tai Fung in Bangkok with great expectations for their Shanghai Dumplings – Xiao Long Bao. Apparently, the Din Tai Fung in Taipei is considered one of the top restaurants in the world and it is known for their Xiao Long Bao, and we adore good Xiao Long Bao. Unfortunately, the restaurant in Bangkok did not live up to our expectations.

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

A Xiao Long Bao

One Xiao Long Bao

(Click images to see larger version.)

Longtime readers of this blog know of our love of Xiao Long Bao. At one point, in 2011, we thought we’d found a great source for them at the then-named Shanghai Happiness Restaurant in the popular MBK (Mahboonkrong) Center. (See Shanghai Dumplings in Bangok.) Unfortunately, when we re-visited this restaurant last year (December 2012), we found the name had changed (to Shanghai Xiao Long Bao) and the Shanghai Dumplings were no longer very good. So we were quite excited to try out Din Tai Fung. [We will revisit this Shanghai Xiao Long Bao later this year – perhaps they just had an off-day.]

Entry Sign

Entry sign

Making Xiao Long Bao

Making Xiao Long Bao

Din Tai Fung is known for “its famous signature xiao long bao.” As you walk in, you are able to watch 3 or 4 of the workers making the Xiao Long Bao in front of you: the dumplings came out looking absolutely gorgeous. In their literature they talk about how a good xiao long bao should have at least 18 folds. When ours came to the table, I actually counted over 20 folds and they looked absolutely stunning.

Din Tai Fung Restaurant

Din Tai Fung Restaurant in Bangkok

Seating Area

Seating area

This particular branch is located in the upscale shopping center Central World in the Ratchaprasong Shopping District. It’s a pretty classy looking restaurant, modern and clean. They raise your expectations very high: a sign as you walk in informs you that “The arrival of Din Tai Fung in Thailand creates new standards in the local dining scene.” This is under the heading: “Ushering in an era of esteemed Taiwanese culinary heritage.”

Condiments

Condiment tray

Place Setting

Place setting

It’s an attractive, modern setting. The place settings were pleasing and each table came with soy sauce, chilli oil, vinegar and pickled ginger. The ginger was our first taste of their food: it was the most bland ginger I’ve ever tasted with almost no ginger flavor whatsoever. I wondered: how on earth do you make ginger so tasteless!

At first glance, we were disappointed by the menu: although there were quite a number of noodle dishes, the rest of the menu didn’t provide many choices. We ordered 5 items.

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

First, the Xiao Long Bao. We ordered  6 for 145 baht (there’s also 10 for 195). The dumplings were absolutely gorgeous on the outside. I counted over 20 folds in each of the dumplings – they looked spectacular. With great anticipation I dipped a dumpling in the sauce with “pickled” ginger, popped it into my mouth and bit down. The dough was excellent: not too thick, not too thin, just right for retaining a good quantity of the juice that squirted enticingly into the mouth when I bit down. Unfortunately, that’s where the positives stopped. The juice itself was bland. The filling itself was even blander. All that work and beauty, undermined by a filling and broth that had virtually no flavor. What a disappointment.

Spinach Tossed with Sesame

Spinach Tossed with Sesame

Another item we ordered was a salad, Spinach Tossed with Sesame. The dressing was pretty ho-hum, nothing spectacular at all; it desperately needed some salt. The overriding impression from the dish had to do with the toughness of the spinach, which I found mystifying. I sometimes cook up the leftover spinach from making Miang Kam in class at home and it always comes out easy to eat: it’s really very easy to cook up spinach so that it’s tender. If my spinach came out as tough as it was in this salad, I’d be embarrassed to serve it; in fact, I wouldn’t serve it.

Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger

Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger

Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry

Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry

The next item was Century Eggs with Slivered Ginger. The best part about this dish was the quality of the lovely Century Eggs: they were obviously of very high quality – translucent and delicious. Unfortunately, it was served with incredibly bland ginger: it would have been better served plain.

I thought the most successful of the dishes was the Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry. The duck was very nicely cooked and the onion pastry was nice and crispy. Still, it was another bland dish that needed more flavor.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

We finished with the Mango Pudding. As you can see (to the left), it’s a lovely presentation. Again, the taste was nothing very special at all.

The cost for our 5 dishes was 565 baht; after 10% service charge and VAT it came to 665 baht for a light meal for two, about $22 at the exchange rate at that time. Certainly, you can find spectacular food in Thailand for less, but this was not outrageous for a restaurant in Central World. Still, it felt like way too much to pay for bland food.

Basically, everything that was served  was bland and could have been enhanced by a little salt. In Kasma’s cooking classes one of the central lessons learned is how salt can be used to enhance and bring out flavor without making a dish taste salty. For whatever reason, the chef here seemed to be salt-averse and this meant  flavor-averse. Without a modicum of salt, everything tasted bland. Even adding soy sauce couldn’t add flavor into the already cooked food – the dumpling filling itself or the duck. The overall impression was of bland food presented nicely.

If you are on a salt-free diet and don’t mind bland food, you might like this restaurant. If you like flavorful food that lights up your mouth with delight, you’ll want to give it a pass.

I normally don’t like to publish something so negative. However, when a restaurant in Bangkok, where you can find some truly great food, claims that their arrival “creates new standards in the local dining scene,”  they had better give you food that delights and impresses. This food did neither.

For me, the best part of the day was finding a Melt Me chocolate outlet on the same floor at Central World. The gelato we had there was the best food of the day. (See my blog: Melt Me Chocolate, Revisited.)

Melt Me Chocolate

Melt Me Chocolate at Central World


Yin Tai Fung
Rajdamri Road, Patumwan
CentralWorld Shopping Centre Level 7 No.4
Bangkok 10330, Thailand
(02) 646-1282

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Written By Michael Babcock, August 2013
All opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author only.

Melt Me Chocolate, Revisited

Michael Babcock, Friday, March 15th, 2013

Melt Me Chocolate in Bangkok makes some of my favorite chocolate anywhere. Although I don’t really associate Thailand with chocolate, I do always manage to find my way to Melt Me at least a couple times when I’m in Thailand to get the two items there that I enjoy the most.

Chocolate Squares

Hokkaido Dark Chocolate

Melt Me says that their chocolate is “Hokkaido Chocolate.” I’ve been unable to track down anything specific about such chocolate but a Japanese friend tells me that Hokkaido is known for its rich butter, milk and cream, so you would expect Hokkaido Chocolate to be rich and creamy. Melt Me chocolate is.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Perhaps my favorite item there is the “Hokkaido Dark.” It’s made with 70% chocolate. As I said in a previous blog: “The dark chocolate is rich, creamy and bittersweet, almost like a truffle in its consistency; it does, literally, melt in your mouth. It’s a luxurious confection: rich and tasty.” These are very rich; usually one is enough to satisfy me. Which is good! They cost 270 baht for a box of 15 – currently about $9.00 U.S., so about 60 cents each. You can also get 30 for 480 baht (about 53 cents, each).

Chocolate Treat

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts

They also make a Hokkaido Dark 80% (300 baht for 15). I have tried them and, although, they’re quite good, they are (of course) a bit less sweet and they also seemed a bit less creamy to me than the standard Hokkaido Dark. I prefer the Hokkaido dark.

We also love the the Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts; they’re crispy and delicious. We suspect they’ve been roasted crisp and possibly coated with a praline before they are covered over with the bittersweet chocolate. Macadamia nuts are very rich to begin with and with the chocolate these are very rich indeed: a few nuts usually suffice to satisfy. They are not inexpensive: 350 baht (about $12.00 U.S., at this time) for a not so large box. Thankfully, just a couple tastes are enough to satisfy. Like the Hokkaido Dark they are rich enough that I can’t eat that much at one time.

I previously blogged on Melt Me in a March 2011 blog, Great Chocolate; in Thailand! which highlighted the Melt Me Chocolate outlet at Paradise Park Mall. Unfortunately, this outlet is now closed down, so we have had to find other ways to get our Melt Me fix.

Melt Me Sign

Melt Me at Arena 10

Melt Me Counter

Counter at the Melt Me at Arena 10

We now go the main outlet at Arena 10 on Thong Lor (Sukhumvit 55) Soi 10. The picture above left shows the store from the outside; to the right is the main counter inside. The staff is very friendly there. See below for directions.

Sitting Area

Sitting Area at Melt Me Arena 10

The Arena 10 store is set up as a pleasant place to come to eat desserts. To the left is the sitting area, a pleasant place to be while you’re eating your treats. In addition to our favorite items, they have baked desserts (we’ve tried the chocolate cake and Kasma tried the cheese cake one time) and they also sell fresh brewed coffee. It would be a great place to come after a meal to sit and enjoy dessert and coffee. They also sell a number of truffles; these are on our list to try at some point. If I recall correctly, they are open until midnight most days and until 2 or 3:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. (I’d phone, first, if going late.)

Gelato

Gelato at Melt Me Chocolates

We also get the gelato here. It’s very rich and flavorful. My favorites are the dark chocolate, the hazlenut and the passion fruit sorbet. I also like the green tea gelato: it’s stronger in flavor than many green tea ice creams. Two different flavors in a cup cost 99 baht – over $3.00 U.S. at today’s prices; that’s not a much less than I pay at many places in the U.S.: by Thai standards, it’s a bit pricey. As an occasional treat, though, it’s well worth it to me.

This year we were at the upscale mall Central World to eat at a restaurant there and were pleased to discover a Melt Me outlet (directions below). It was a perfect place to get some gelato after our lunch.

There are a total of 8 Melt Me out branches at this time. I don’t know if all of them serve gelato.

How To Get There

Arena 10

Here’s the full address for the Arena 10 Melt Me:

Arena 10 Thong Lor 10,
225/11 Soi Thong Lor 10 (also given as 225/1 Soi 5, Sukhumvit 63 (Ekamai))z
Sukhumvit Rd., Khlong Tan Nuea,
Wattana, Bangkok 10110
Tel: 090-1975-600

Note. Thong Lor, also spelled Thong Lo, Thonglor or Thonglo (but really pronounced “tawng law”) is the name for Sukhumvit Soi 55. Thong Lo Soi 10 is also Ekamai (Suhkumvit Soi 63) Soi 5. (It’s complicated.)

External Sign

Sign outside Arena 10

Sign Detail

The Melt Me Sign

One option is to take a taxi. You can also take the Skytrain (BTS) to the “Thong Lo” station. From there it’s probably a 20 minute walk; it’s often very hot in Bangkok, though, so you could catch a taxi from there or a motorcycle taxi.

Here’s a Map to Melt Me, Thonglor

Central World

Second Melt Me

Melt Me at Central World

Here’s the address for the Central World Melt Me
Central World 7th Floor, Supermarket Entrance
999/9 Rama 1 Rd.
Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel: 090-1975-601

Here’s a Map to Central World

The easiest way is to take the BTS (skytrain) to the Chit Lom station; there’s a covered walkway to Central World.


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Written by Michael Babcock, March 2013

Donuts in Thailand, An Informal Survey

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 15th, 2013

This is a blog about donuts in Thailand. Over the years, I’ve observed donuts in a number of locations, from chain stores to open-air markets. This blog shows some of the donuts I’ve seen over the years.

Colorful Donuts

From a Bangkok open-air market

As I’ve observed before, there has been a proliferation of western carbohydrates in Thailand over the 21 years I’ve been coming here. (See my blog, in a new window, Western Carbs in Thailand.) Although Thai kanom (snacks) are relatively healthy (they nearly all contain a healthy ingredient such as coconut milk, squash, taro, etc.), some kanom wahn (sweet kanom) can be very sweet – some Thais do have a sweet tooth. (Also see my blog, in a new window, Thai Sweet Snacks.)

(Click images to see larger version.)

It would appears that donuts are fairly popular. In January 2011 we happened to be visiting Siam Paragon shopping center. We saw a line of perhaps 50 or 60 Thais, out the door, and wondered what the fuss was about. Turns out they were all lined up for Krispy Kreme donuts; we saw people walking away with two large boxes of donuts. I didn’t have my camera but you can see a photo of the phenomena at Krispy Kreme Opens in Bangkok | everythinghapa (opens in new page). Thais were still lining up half a year after the stores official opening. Certainly, this reflects the inroads in Thailand of Western food chains, something discussed at Indigenization of Thai Restaurants Overseas: Part 1 – American Fast Food Chains in Thailand.

Selling Snacks

"Hawker" with "donut holes"

These days you can find lots of donuts in any shopping center. There are inevitably a chain or two – Mr. Donut and Dunkin’ Donuts are popular – but you can also find donuts in the ground-floor supermarkets (found in every mall) as well as in the many stores (usually a dozen or more) selling western-style baked goods. You’ll find them in open-air markets, from vendors on the street and even from hawkers carrying two baskets suspended by a bamboo pole. As with the first picture above (taken at a Bangkok outdoor market in 2008), the donuts are often brightly glazed.

The Thais also have some snacks that are very reminiscent of donut holes. In Oakland we have donut savant (link goes to their Facebook page in new window), which makes the best donut holes around.

Thai Snack

A Thai snack

Inside a Snack

Inside the Thai snack

Here are two pictures of a “Thai donut hole.” I bought this snack from the hawker shown in the picture to the above right in Sukhothai. They reminded me of donut savant so I gave them a try. They were somewhat sweet (deep-fried and glazed) and contain a mung-bean filling, shown to the left, that is barely sweet. They weren’t bad!

Another Hawker

Hawker with 3 snacks

Glazed Donuts

Glazed donuts

Here are two pictures from Ayuthaya back in 2004. These donuts were sold by the hawker in the left picture. There are highly glazed donuts in the front basket and more traditional snacks in the back basket: the backmost (white) snack is a traditional snack rolled in coconut shreds, and the middle snack is a type of fried dough.

Sukhothai Donuts

Sukhothai Donuts

Tops Donuts #1

Tops Donuts #1

Above to the left are more glazed donuts from the morning market in Sukhothai. To the right, are some colorfully decorated donuts from the bakery at Tops Supermarket at MBK center in Bangkok.

Western & Thai

Western & Thai together

Mae Hong Son Donuts

Mae Hong Son Donuts

These pictures are both from the market in Mae Hong Son. The leftmost picture again (as with the hawker above) shows western and Thai snacks sold by the same person. The left tray has very tightly rolled donuts in back next to powdered jelly donuts in the front. The right trays show coconut pancakes (kanom krok) sold in banana leaf baskets: truly the traditional is meeting the modern here! The picture to the right shows deep-fried donuts, some with sesame seeds.

Donuts in a Bag

Donuts in plastic bags

Plain Donuts

Plain donuts in Mae Hong Son

These are also from the market in Mae Hong Son and show small donuts sold pre-packaged in a plastic bag – 8 for 10 baht (about 35 cents at the time)! I tried these donuts – each one was about two bites: they tasted just like a plain cake donut back in the states. Not bad.

I should note that like Sukhothai, this market is frequented mainly by locals with just a few tourists; it is certainly the locals who are the target audience for these supposedly western sweets.

Tops Donuts #2

From Tops Market

Tops Donuts #3

Unglazed Tops donuts

Here are two more pictures of the donuts available at Tops Supermarket at the MBK center in Bangkok. My, they do like highly frostinged donuts! The ones to the right are less sweet.

Mr. Donut

Mr. Donut in a shopping center

Mr. Donut's Donuts

Mr. Donut's Donuts

There’s a Mr. Donut in nearly every mall in Bangkok. This picture is from the Imperial World in Samrong (Samut Prakhan) on the edge of Bangkok. There’s a Mr. Donut on the lower and the ground floors. I also see that there’s a big sign on the main floor announcing that “Dunkin’ Donuts is coming soon!”


See also (all open in a new window):


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2013

Yentafo Kreung Songe, Noodle & Restaurant

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 1st, 2013

There is a type of noodle dish in Thailand called “yentafo” (เย็นตาโฟ) and, as it happens, there is also a restaurant chain named “Yentafo Kreung Songe” – เย็นตาโฟเครื่องทรง. I recently had lunch at one of these restaurants and had a very delicious and satisfying bowl of noodles.

Yentafo

Bowl of yentafo noodles, as served

This chain is owned by the same people who operate one of our “go-to” restaurants in Bangkok – A. Mallika, the subject of my recent blog A Mallika Restaurant in Bangkok. Apparently Mallika does food very, very well.

Yentafo (sometimes spelled as three words – yen ta fo) is a fish noodle soup colored with a red sauce which contains red fermented tofu. It may include fish dumplings, fish balls, sliced fish sausage, fried tofu, squid, white woodear mushrooms and phak boong (a popular Thai vegetable often called “morning glory”). It is sour and a bit sweet with a touch of salty. I like it spicy-hot.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Restaurant Sign

Seacon Square Restaurant

Restaurant

Restaurant interior

Yentafo Noodles

Yentafo, mixed, ready to eat

At Yentafo Kreung Songe, they use only flat noodles made from local rice flour; they say that these noodles shorten the cooking time so that their food can be served very quickly. Among the ingredients found in their Yentafo are sh balls, shrimp balls, white tofu meatballs, egg tofu meatballs, fish dumplings, fried fish sausage, crisp octopus, ear mushrooms, pork blood jelly and deep fried fish skin. I particularly like having the deep-fried fish skin, as it adds another dimension of texture. The pork blood also adds texture and, in addition, gives more substance to the broth.

According to their website, “A bowl of A. Mallika’s Yentafo contains more than 10 ingredients that really differentiate the Yentafo from others’ and hence the name ‘Krueng Song.'”  Kreung songe is a phrase that is a bit difficult to translate; essentially the name suggests that this yentafo is something different from other versions, something special.

Ice Cream

Custard Apple Ice Cream

There are three options for yentafo on the menu here. The first choice has no chilli pepper indicator next to it and roughly translated means “not spicy, for children.” Choice #2 has 2 chillies next to it and is “hot to pierce the heart.” Option #3 with a 3-chilli indicator is rated as “painful.” For my taste, and I like reasonably hot food, “hot until it pierces the heart” is plenty hot for me!

A great way to finish the meal is with a plate of custard apple ice cream, or young coconut sorbet. Whether you have just “pierced the heart” or experienced “pain,” it’s a good way to end the meal.

I very much enjoy the yentafo at this chain of restaurants. They serve a delicious bowl of noodles: I find that I need not make any adjustments from the ubiquitous Thai condiment set that accompanies nearly all noodles in Thailand. Kasma tells me that yentafo is usually served not spicy in most noodle shops, leaving the diner to make adjustments from the condiment set to his or her taste.

There are 17 branches of the chain located around Bangkok – here’s the list of Yentafo Kreung Songe locations. We had ours at the Seacon Square branch.

There are other items on the menu and given that the chain is owned by A. Mallika, they are probably excellent. I just go here for the yentafo and have not yet had the chance to try anything else.


Note: I recently had another bowl of yentafo at the restaurant, Samut Sakhon Yentafo, in Chiang Mai that proudly proclaimed that its yentafo  as  “aroi tee sud nai lohk” – the most delicious  in the world. I prefer the yentafo at Yentafo Kreung Songe. Below are the two bowls of noodles, side by side, for comparison. (Click to see a larger version)

Yentafo

Bowl of yentafo noodles, as served

Chian Mai Yentafo

Chiang Mai yentafo

To the left is the bowl from Yentafo Kreung Songe at Seacon Square in Bangkok. To the right is the bowl from Samut Sakhon Yentafo in Chiang Mai.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2013.

A Mallika Restaurant in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Saturday, December 1st, 2012

A. Mallika is one of our favorite Bangkok restaurants. The food in Thailand is, of course, one of the main attractions of the country. Kasma takes most of her small-group tours to Thailand to A. Mallika for one of their first in-country meals and the food is always spectacularly good.

Restaurant Garden

Outdoor seating at A. Mallika

Restaurant Interior

Inside A. Mallika

(Click images to see larger version.)

There are two options for seating at A. Mallika. There’s an outdoor seating area with a pond under a large tree with potted plants decorating the area. It’s an attractive area but we usually opt to sit inside because we typically are at A. Mallika for lunch and in the middle of the day it can be quite warm outside. There are a number of different rooms indoors, including the room above, which has many tables, as well as private (air-conditioned) rooms, which is where we often eat with Kasma’s tour groups. The restaurant can get very crowded, particularly on weekend nights, so reservations are a good idea.

The Food

The food at A. Mallika is really quite good, both in presentation and in taste. Here are some of the different dishes frequently ordered by Kasma.

Thai Salad

Miang Pla Too

One of the dishes Kasma always starts a group with is เมี่ยงปลาทู (Miang Pla Too): Tasty tidbits and a hot-and-sour mackerel salad are wrapped with lettuce leaves and eaten like เมี่ยงคำ (Miang Kum). It’s a fun appetizier, one that you assemble yourself by placing each of the individual ingredients into a leaf, wrapping them all up into a ball and then popping the whole thing into your mouth; the pleasure comes from the delightful explosion of flavors from all the various ingredients.

Kanom Krok

Kanom Krok

The second appetizer that Kasma orders is ขนมครก (Kanom Krok)Grilled Coconut-Rice Hot Cakes. Although these are usually made as a street food, many restaurants also have them on the menu. On Kasma’s trips to Thailand, we seldom miss an opportunity to sample some of these delightfully delicious snacks. Here they are made with green onions (scallions) giving a savory edge to the snack. Kanom Krok are typically made with two batters: the lower batter is mostly sweet and the top batter, less of which is added, is salty giving two contrasting flavors to tickle the palate.

Ostrich Dish

Basil Ostrich Dish

Pork Leg

Fried Pork Leg

Kasma always orders the dish in the upper left-hand picture – it’s Ostrich Stir-Fried with Holy Basil. Although it looks like beef, and tastes a bit like beef, it is definitely ostrich prepared ผัดกะเพรา (pad kaprao) – stir-fried with holy basil. It’s a spicy, flavorful dish. Wonderful.

It’s very hard to pass up ordering the dish on the right – Crispy-Fried Stewed Pork Leg. First a pork-leg, complete with skin on, is stewed to tenderness. It’s then deep-fried so that the outside is crispy and the fat just next to the skin is somewhat caramelized. It is very delicious.

Hot-and-Sour Soup

Hot-and-Sour Soup

Hot-and-Sour Soup 2

Individual serving of soup

Above we see a delicious a ต้มยำ (Tom Yum) – Hot-and-Sour Soup. Very spicy and full of delicious Thai herbs.

Seafood Salad

Cha-om & Seafood Salad

Oyster Sauce Vegetable

Oyster Sauce Vegetable

To the left above we see A delicious salad of deep-fried cha-om (a kind of edible tropical acacia), topped with a seafood and chopped pork sauce. It’s spicy, sour and somewhat sweet with the deep-fried green providing an interesting texture. Very delicious.

To the right we see one of our favorite vegetable dishes Stir-fried Vegetables with Oyster Sauce – ผักผัดน้ำมันหอย (Pad Pak Nam Mon Hoi), what I think of as The Universal Vegetable Recipe.

Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut Ice Cream

We definitely recommend that you leave space for the Coconut Ice Cream – ไอศครีมมะพร้าว (Ai Kreme Maprao) at the end of the meal. It’s more like a sorbet and is tasty and refreshing, a great way to end a meal. If you’re particularly hungry (hard to imagine after all that delicious food!), you can get a larger portion that comes served in a young coconut shell.

Getting to A. Mallika

Restaurant Sign

A Mallika Sign

Map to A. Mallika

Map to A. Mallika

It’s not the easiest restaurant to get to. It’s a bit on the outskirts of town and it is easiest to get to if you are able to drive or be driven. You may want to print out the map to the above right from the map on the A. Mallika website. You can also check out the Google Map for A. Mallika.

ร้าน อ.มัลลิการ์
13/10 หมู่ 9 ถ.เกษตร-นวมินทร์
แขวงคลองกุ่ม เขตบึงกุ่ม กทม. 10230

A. Mallika
13/10 Moo 9, KasetNawamin Road,
Bueng Khlong Kum, Ked Beung Kum Bangkok, 10230

Ruen Mallika Royal Thai Cuisine

There is a sister restaurant run by the same people: Ruen Mallika Royal Thai Cuisine at 189 Soi Sukhumvit 20, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoey, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110. It’s a fancier place with excellent food and is a bit more accessible to central Bangkok. If you go there, we recommend you print out the map from their website – it can be a bit hard to find.


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Written by Michael Babcock, December 2012

Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Here are just a few of my favorite moments last year from Kasma Loha-unchit’s 19-day trip of Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. Kasma’s trips get you off-the-beaten track to places she has discovered over more than 25 years of leading trips. The hard part in writing this blog was picking only a few moments! Kasma’s 28-day Trip A visits most of these places as well.

Buying Mangoes

Kasma buys mangoes

This 19-day “Trip B” was one three small group trips to Thailand that Kasma offers every year. It starts in Bangkok, goes through the historical heartland of Thailand (Ayuthaya and Suhkothai) up to the North, to Mae Sa, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. Like all of her trips, there’s an emphasis on getting you “off-the-beaten-track,” on great Thai food and on seeing real Thai culture. I was lucky enough to go on the entire trip last year (I’m not always so lucky); although it was my 4th or 5th time there are so many varied and exciting things to do that it felt like the first time. Here are a some highlights. (Each of these deserves a blog of its own.)

(Click images to see larger version.)


Chive Cakes

Chive cakes

Breakfast at Thong Lo, First Day: (Note: Because of a change of hotel location this is no longer offered.)The very first breakfast of each of Kasma’s trip begins with a walk to Thong Lo (Sukhumvit Soi 55), where there is a lively street food scene. Kasma purchases various snacks (mangos & sticky rice, chive cakes, roast bananas) as she leads the group through the street food vendors and through an open air market. We then go to a noodle shop right on Sukhumvit Road between Soi 55 & Soi 57. In Thailand, most restaurants don’t mind if you bring in food from the outside as long as you are ordering from the restaurant as well so we bring in the food we picked up at the market to enjoy with our noodle breakfast.

Making Noodles

Making noodles

Noodles

Our noodle breakfast

The noodle shop simply says “Thong Lo Fish Dumpling Noodles:”

ก๋วยเตี๋ยว [kway teow – noodles]
ลูกชิ้นปลาเเชว [look chin chao – fish dumplings]
ทองหล่อ [Thong Lo – the name for Sukhumvit Soi 55]

The specialty of the shop is noodles made with a half dozen kinds of fish dumplings, a kind of fish cake. As with most noodle shops, you get to see the noodles assembled right in front of you as in the picture above left.


Making Bronzeware

Making bronzeware


Canals of Bangkok & Thonburi: On the second day of this trip, we took a ride around the canals of Bangkok and Thonburi. After a stop at the Royal Barge Museum, we headed onto the canals and within minutes it was hard to believe that Bangkok was just a short distance away. We saw life along the water and stopped at some temples along the way. One of the highlights was a visit to a bronze factory where they make bronze ware in the traditional manner: beautiful, hand-crafted bowls, plates and drinking cups.

The picture to the right can’t do justice to the feeling you get at the factory. It shows one of the workers holding a piece of bronze ware directly in the fire. It’s quite dark, except for the light from the fire, which casts off a daunting heat: you wonder how the workers can stand to be so close to the fire all day. Then there’s the sound: once the piece is pulled off the fire, the workers shape it with a hammer and there’s the dull klunk, klunk, klunk as the hammers from two workers hit the bronze over and over before it’s thrust back into the fire.


Canal Ride

A canal near the market

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: Despite the fact that it is heavily touristed, I still absolutely love going to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Although the pictures of floating vendors are a well-worn cliché, it’s exciting to see the lively, colorful boats laden with produce or carrying a kanom (Thai snack) vendor.

Here’s the caveat: don’t go with a scheduled tour. You must get there early, before the tour buses arrive. On Kasma’s trips we always leave Bangkok around 5:30 a.m. so that we see the sunrise on the eastern coast and arrive at Damnoen Saduak just as it is still getting light. We get to travel on the klong (canals) virtually by ourselves.

Boat Vendor

Vendor selling fried bananas

One of the best part of the floating market, as, indeed, with any market in Thailand, is the food. As we set out and return, Kasma invariably purchases snacks such as kanom krok, the delightful coconut pancakes, kanom paeng jee, a grilled coconut cake, and fried bananas (kluay tod, from the vendor you see to the right). We follow up our boat ride with a delicious bowl (or two!) of kway teow reua – “Boat Noodles.” (See my blog: Boat Noodles at Damnoen Saduak Market.)

Here are two more pictures of the market:


Sukhothai Reflection

Suhkothai vignette

Historical Sites of Sukhothai: Once out of Bangkok, we pass through the historical heartland of the country, through Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. My favorite time here is the morning walk through the historical ruins of Sukhothai.

We always get there right after breakfast when the light is just magical and wander around the ruins, which are all in one close area. There is a grace and beauty to the ruins there, reflected in the many ponds, often with water lilies adding a splash of color to the view. After the view from afar, we walk amongst the ruins where there are lovely details to be found on the walls: elephants, lions and graceful, walking Buddhas. You get a sense of what how beautiful Suhkothai must have been when it was flourishing in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Sukthothai Ruins

Sukhothai Ruins

Walking Buddhas

Walking Buddhas

To the left we see one of the ruins in the early morning light. The walking Buddhas, to the right, are found on one of the temple walls. I can never resist photographing them; they are so utterly graceful.


Suhkothai Market

Sausage vendor

Sukhothai Market: Ahhh. The market walks. Whenever possible, we visit the lively Thai morning markets. The Sukhothai Market is one of my favorites, in large part because of the friendliness of the vendors. Like most Thai markets, it’s colorful and lively with plenty of appetizing prepared food.

This market is also where Kasma purchases large quantities (several kilograms) of beautiful, dried red chillies to bring back for use in her Thai cooking classes. One of our Wednesday photos showed these Dried Red Chillies in Sukhothai.


Welcoming Ceremony

In a Hmong home

Hmong Village, Ceremony and Walk: What is the best part of Thailand? Without a doubt, the people. The only contact with the hill tribe in many other tours is often a village set up just for tourists. Kasma has been friends with people in one of the Hmong villages in the Mae Sa area (just north of Chiang Mai) since her first trip to Thailand in 1986. We visit a real village with a living culture, where most of the people are still farmers.

We are invited into Kasma’s friend’s home and given a welcoming ceremony by the village shaman. Protective strings are tied on each trip member’s wrist to be followed with a shot of Hmong moonshine to seal the deal. We then eat delicious chicken soup, made from gai bahn, which literally, “house chicken.” These are the very chickens we see running around the village: you want free range? These are free range.

Tying the String

Tying a protective string

Hmong Mother & Child

Hmong mother & child

To the left we see the Hmong shaman tying a string on a trip member’s wrist. To the right is one of the Hmong mothers with child that we saw on our visit. The people really are the best part about visiting Thailand.

Trip Members

Walking the village

Village View

View of the Hmong Village

After our ceremony and the chicken soup, we take a walk through the village. Within a short while we’re a bit out of town and see views of the village, such as this one to the right, and of the fields. The two young Hmong women in the leftmost picture are the daughters of the family where the welcoming ceremony was held; Kasma has known them since they were infants.


This blog continues in Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2.


Follow these links for more about the 19-day Trip B:


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2012