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Hongkong Noodle in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Michael Babcock, Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Hongkong Noodle is a noodle and dim sum shop found right in the middle of Chinatown’s Talat Kao (ตลาดเก่า) in Bangkok. As you stroll up the narrow market lane from Yaowarat Road, keep an eye to your left until you spy the Hongkong Noodle sign with the busy kitchen in the front and head on in for some great dim sum.

Dim Sum Baskets

A stack of dim sum containers

Talat Kao is found on a small alleyway called Trok Issaranuphap, which is sometimes signposted as Soi Issaranuphap or as Soi 16 (acording to Wikitravel). It intersects Yaowarat Road at Mangkorn Road, therabouts. It’s a colorful market with all kinds of foods – I previously blogged on it back in 2009 – Bangkok’s Chinatown Market. Another blog (Cranky Little Monster) called it the Leng Buay Lea market.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Dim Sum

Some of the dim sum

Hongkong Noodle is a chain found in 8 locations in Bangkok; at least a couple more are in Chinatown. Apparently this is the original shop (unconfirmed).

The Kitchen

The kitchen at Hongkong Noodle

Some Food

Some of the ingredients

Kasma takes some of her small-group tours to Thailand to this colorful market for a pre-breakfast walk and then for a dim sum meal at Hongkong Noodle. You walk through the kitchen & food prep area on your way to the rather small dining area: if you’re lucky there will be a table available right away.

Dining Room View

Dining room view

Dining Area

The dining area

The dining area is very lively; it can feel a bit cramped. If you sit facing the front, you can see past the bustling kitchen to the market lane, usually crowded with shoppers and activity. If I recall correctly, the signs are all in Thai. It’s not really a problem: you can point out the dim sum dishes that you want to eat and there are also pictures of the various noodle dishes that you can point to.

Dim Sum

Some of the dim sum

Noodle Soup

Roast Duck Noodle Soup

The dim sum was quite good: fresh and tasty. We also ordered a couple bowls of the Duck Noodle Soup for people to try and it was also good. I would definitely recommend this as a breakfast or lunch stop. Check out the slideshow below for some of the dim sum dishes. There’s also a second slideshow of some of the workers there (further down)


Slideshow of Food Dishes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Dim Sum 1
Shrimp Dumplings
Dim Sum 2
Shrimp & Chive Dumplings
Noodle Soup
Roast Duck
Stack of Dim Sum

A stuffed shrimp dim sum dish

Shrimp Dumplings - Har Gow

Another of of the dim sum dishes

Shrimp & Chive Dumplings

Roast Duck Noodle Soup at Hongkong Noodle

A plate of Roast Duck

A stack of dim sum in the traditional bamboo baskets

Dim Sum 1 thumbnail
Shrimp Dumplings thumbnail
Dim Sum 2 thumbnail
Shrimp & Chive Dumplings thumbnail
Noodle Soup thumbnail
Roast Duck thumbnail
Stack of Dim Sum thumbnail

Slideshow of Hongkong Noodle Workers

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Restaurant Staff
Stacking Dim Sum
Preparing Noodles
img-3657.jpg

Some of the staff at Hongkong Noodle

One of the servers prepares to serve some dim sum

A young man getting together a bowl of noodles.

Restaurant Staff thumbnail
Stacking Dim Sum thumbnail
Preparing Noodles thumbnail
img-3657.jpg thumbnail

Restaurant Sign

Sign for Hongkong Noodle


Written by Michael Babcock, December 2013

A Thai Truck Stop – Raan Nong Pun

Michael Babcock, Friday, November 1st, 2013

This blog takes a look at Raan Nong Pun – ร้านน้องเปิล – which is what I think of as a Thai Truck Stop. It is found about a one hour drive north of Ayuthaya on the road to Sukhothai along AH1 – Asian Highway 1. It really is a type of restaurant called (in Thai) ข้าวแกง (kao kaeng) – literally “Rice Curry.” It serves mostly pre-made dishes – think of it as Thai Fast Food – for travelers.

Nam Prik Kapi

Nam Prik Kapi

(Note: you can see all the photos as a slide show at the bottom of the page.)

Click images of pictures to see larger version.

I have long had a soft spot for this kind of restaurant. In 1992, on my first trip to Thailand, I went to a 10-day meditation retreat at Suan Mokh monastery near Surat Thani in southern Thailand. I was there for nearly 14 days. The food there was nutritious, healthy, bland vegetarian fare: they basically recycled 3 or 4 dishes over and over and it began to be fairly monotonous. I was picked up by Kasma and one of her small-group trips to Thailand on their way to Krabi and we stopped at a place in Chaiya quite similar to Raan Nong Pun. It was one of my most memorable meals ever. The dish we see to the left is from Raan Nong Pun and you’ll probably find it at any Thai fast food center or market: Pan-fried Mackerel and Assorted Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping Sauce (Nam Prik Kapi, also called Nam Prik Pla Too). This dish is what I think of as “hard-core Thai food.” The dipping sauce has a strong flavor that is unlike anything I’ve ever had in western cuisine; it may be an acquired taste but is absolutely delicious once acquired.

Restaurant Sign

Sign for Raan Nong Pun

Sign for Raan Nong Pun

Look for this sign

The name for this restaurant probably should be Raan Nong Appun – ร้านน้องแอปเปิล – แอปเปิล, (which I transliterate as Appun – there is no ending “l” sound in Thai) means Apple. It has been shortened in the name to the second syllable – เปิล (pun). Presumably anyone who reads Thai understands what is meant. For those who do not, there is, as we see here, the sign with a very large apple to clue us in. If you are driving from Sukhothai, you can enter the parking lot directly from the highway; coming from Ayuthaya, you will have to make a u-turn and come back around. The picture on the right shows the view as approaching from Ayuthaya. The restaurant is found in the Inburi district in Singburi province, about 90 kilometers from the center of Ayuthaya.

Food Line

Food line

Food Servers

Food servers

These Thai fast-food “truck stops” are all pretty much alike. The closest analogy we have in the U.S. is a cafeteria. There’s a line going past anywhere from 30 to 40 different dishes staffed by (almost always) women in neat, often uniformed, clothing. You go through the line and you can either order 2 or 3 dishes over rice or, as Kasma does on her trips, order plates of each food to eat family style. Westerners going through the line may recognize some of the dishes and then there may be many more that look familiar but we can’t quite name. Doesn’t really matter. Just point to a couple of the dishes that look extra appetizing. You usually pay 30 or 40 baht for two dishes over rice.

Thai Fast Food

Some of the many foods

Restaurant Seating

A seating area

There are always many, many trays of delicious looking food (as above left). As you go through the line, you simply choose whatever looks good to you. (Or you come with Kasma, who will select her favorites.) The seating area is pretty basic – tables, chairs, stations where you can get silverware. There are also other vendors where you can get drinks: water, soft drinks, coffee or (Thai) tea.

In addition to the restaurant and food service there’s also a store that sells many different kinds of Thai kanom (snacks) and also a full array of nam prik – chilli pastes and dipping sauces. This particular stop is known for their own brand of kanom piak – a pastry with a sweet filling in a pastry shell. Kasma always hopes to purchase several boxes, both to feed to her tour members and also as gifts for her Thai friends; unfortunately, they often sell out before we arrive and none of the other brands taste very good.

A Few Dishes Kasma Orders

I always come here with Kasma, who does all of the ordering; basically, I just eat what is put in front of me. It is always very tasty and surprisingly fresh for food that has been sitting for awhile. I will just include the photos below with a few words about the dishes. Food is cafeteria-style so dishes come and go: you may not see all of the dishes shown here.

Fried Fish

Fried fish dish

Fish Dish

Fish in red curry

To the left above is perhaps my favorite dish here: fish is salted, partially dried in the sun and then fried in chunks. Two things make it special: the type of fish (I can’t tell you what it is) and the fact that it is fried to perfection. This is a dish that can sometimes be hard to order because it disappears quite quickly once they put it on display. On the plus side, it is usually quite freshly cooked when you can get it. On the right is another fish dish: a fish in red curry sauce, perhaps what is called pad ped – stir-fried (pad) spicy-hot (ped).

Vegetable Dish

Vegetables and mung-bean noodles

Thai Curried Fish

Thai curried fish

To the left above is a vegetable dish, served with woon sen (mung bean) noodles. On the right is Haw Moek – (Red) Curried Fish Mousse – which is usually on offer at kao kaeng shops and in Thai markets.

Bitter Melon Soup

Bitter Melon Soup

Acacia Leaf Curry

Cassia Leaf Curry

On the left above is another staple at this type of restaurant, a real favorite: Bitter Melon and Pork Rib Soup (Mara Tom Pak Dong See Krohng Moo). It’s one of my favorite because I adore bitter melon. On the right is a Cassia Leaf Curry dish.


Getting There

I can only give the address in Thai:

ร้านอาหารน้องเปิ้ล – Nong Pun Restaurant
736 ถนนสายเอเชีย
อินทร์บุรี อินทร์บุรี สิงห์บุรี 16110
036582391, 036582390
Open: 06:00 – 23:00
Google Map, Ayuthaya to Raan Nong Pun


See also:


Slideshow – Some Dishes at Nong Pun Restaurant

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Nam Prik Kapi
Sign for Raan Nong Pun
Restaurant Sign
Food Servers
Food Line
Thai Fast Food
Restaurant Seating
Fried Fish
Fish Dish
Vegetable Dish
Thai Curried Fish
Bitter Melon Soup
Acacia Leaf Curry

Pan-fried Mackerel and Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping Sauce (Nahm Prik Kapi)

Look for this sign on the highway from Ayuthaya to Suhkothai

Close up of the sign for Raan Nong Pun

Food servers at Raan Nong Pun

People in the food line at Raan Nong Pun

Just a few of the many food choices at Raan Nong Pun

The seating area at Raan Nong Pun

Fish, salted, partially sun-dried and then fried

A fish cooked in red curry, possibly a pad ped

Vegetables cooked together with mung-bean noodles

Fish Curry Mousse (Haw Moek)

Bitter Melon and Pork Rib Soup (Mara Tom Pak Dong See Krohng Moo)

Acacia Leaf and Grilled Fish Curry (Kaeng Kee Lek)

Nam Prik Kapi thumbnail
Sign for Raan Nong Pun thumbnail
Restaurant Sign thumbnail
Food Servers thumbnail
Food Line thumbnail
Thai Fast Food thumbnail
Restaurant Seating thumbnail
Fried Fish thumbnail
Fish Dish thumbnail
Vegetable Dish thumbnail
Thai Curried Fish thumbnail
Bitter Melon Soup thumbnail
Acacia Leaf Curry thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, November 2013

Gingko Nuts

Kasma Loha-unchit, Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

My Mother and Gingko Nuts

Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. I spent the morning cracking and peeling gingko nuts – a nourishing, medicinal food that mother absolutely loved. During the last several years of her life, she was frail and unable to walk or stand for very long. So every time I went home from across the ocean to visit her, I would bring a big bag of gingko nuts and we would spend precious hours together sitting by the dining table after breakfast cracking and peeling them.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Cracking Gingko Nuts

Cracking gingko nuts

Using a stone pestle, I would gently tap the ridge of the pistachio-sized nuts to crack them and mother would peel off the shell and as much of the paper-thin membrane encasing the kernels as she could. The shelled kernels were then soaked in water to loosen the parts of the membrane that tightly hugged the soft, edible flesh. After the nuts were all cleaned, they were boiled in water sweetened with a little bit of raw sugar or wild honey and that would become her late afternoon snack or a light dessert after a light evening meal. Simply prepared, the nuts retained their delicious flavor and delightful, soft-but-chewy texture. There would be plenty left for many more servings over the course of my visit. Mother always looked forward to her bowl of gingko nuts – they gave her tremendous satisfaction and comfort, while at the same time, nourish her in the evening of her years.

Gingko Nuts

Gingko nut close-up

Cracking and peeling gingko nuts took time, but what better way to spend countless, precious hours with my elderly mother that I would always treasure. We talked and laughed and told stories, but most of the time, we were just silent, cherishing every moment of just being with one another. This activity was the last food prep and cooking activity I shared with my mother, and whenever I crack and peel gingko nuts, I will always remember the many timeless mornings spent with her preparing one of nature’s great healing foods – as well as all the times in my life that I had spent with her preparing nourishing foods for the family and, in the process, learning from her the secrets of cooking, which I now share with my cooking students.

Like my mother, I love both the taste and the texture of fresh gingko nuts. When cooked right, they are soft and chewy, somewhat remiscent of sticky rice. Although the nut has a slightly bitter taste, to her and me and everyone else who loves gingko nuts, it is not unpleasant and is a reminder of its medicinal properties.

Gingko Nuts

Gingko nuts soaking in water

Technically speaking, gingko nuts are not really nuts but the seeds of the gingko tree (Gingko biloba, commonly known as the maidenhair tree). They bear no resemblance whatsover to other nuts in texture, flavor or nutrition. They taste more like some kind of legume or vegetable. Although many Asian markets in the Bay Area carry refrigerated, vacuum-sealed bags of peeled and cooked gingko nuts, these taste awful and should be avoided. Buy only the whole, unshelled gingko nuts from dried goods stores in Chinatown. They look a lot like pistachio nuts in size, color and form, but are pointy at one end. In fact, during her first trip to the United States some forty years ago, mother almost mistook pistachios for gingko nuts. She was very excited to see what she thought were cracked gingko nuts in a supermarket, until she took a closer look. Of course, she quickly learned to love pistachios as well.

Cooked Gingko Nuts

Cooked gingko nuts

I prefer to buy gingko nuts from bulk bins, rather than already bagged in net bags in some Asian grocery stores. That way I can see the individual nuts more clearly and select ones that are large and white and not broken, discolored, moldy or mildewy on the outside of the shell. When cracked and shelled, the kernels inside should be plump and cream-colored; after they’re cooked, they turn a lovely bright yellow color with a radiant sheen. It takes a little work to crack and peel gingko nuts, but it’s well worth the effort and, to those who like to cook and eat healthy foods, this prep work can be a therapeutic activity.

Gingko nuts were introduced into Thailand by the Chinese and all gingko nuts sold in the country are imported from China. Thailand is too hot and tropical a country to grow the temperate-climate gingko tree. The city of Bangkok, which had its beginnings as a Chinese trading post a few hundred years ago, is said to have the largest Chinese population of any city outside a Chinese country (i.e., China, Taiwan, Singapore). In the Old Market (Talad Kao) of Bangkok’s Chinatown, there are many stores selling gingko nuts, both whole unshelled and peeled and cooked. (See picture, below right.) They are also available in many of the city’s shopping centers and marketplaces which have stores or stalls that carry Chinese goods. Chinese restaurants around the city feature dishes made with gingko nuts, including stews, soups, stir-fries and desserts. Often, gingko nuts are cooked in a rice congee along with chestnuts, lotus seeds, red dates and medicinal roots, bark and herbs. They are not only delicious but very nutritious.

Gingko Nut Dessert

Gingko nut dessert - Oni Pae Guay

Gingko nuts have made their way into a few Thai sweet snacks and desserts, which are adapted from the Chinese. One such dessert, called Oni Pae Guay (using the same Chinese name of a common Chinese dessert), is often on the dessert menu of many large Thai restaurants. It takes the form of a creamy, smooth and sweet, mashed taro paste (but less sweet than the Chinese version), topped with slices of cooked Chinese red dates and a few gingko nuts, with the added Thai touch of a salty-sweet coconut cream sauce. Another sweet snack is a soupy pudding of job’s tears (another healing food native to most of East and Southeast Asia – a grain reminescent of barley and often called “pearl barley”), accented with gingko nuts and strips of slivered young coconut meat, cooked in young coconut juice flavored with pandan leaves (a medicinal herb in traditional Thai herbal medicine prevalently used to flavor and color many Thai desserts). This fusion Thai-Chinese dish is both a delicious and healthy snack/dessert. In tribute to my mother and her love of gingko nuts, I introduced this dessert just a little over a week ago in my new Advanced I evening cooking series to commemorate her passing a year ago this month.

Gingko Nuts

Gingko nuts in Bangkok's Chinatown

Gingko nuts are a medicinal food in much of the Orient. They are an excellent antioxidant, rich in vitamins, micronutrients and amino acis, and have become known for their anti-aging properties. Other benefits include improving circulation to the coronary artery and the brain, sharpening of the memory and aiding in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, gingko nuts have been used for thousands of years to strengthen the lung and kidney meridians. They are used as a “yang” kidney tonic to increase energy, reduce the frequency of night-time urination and incontinence, relieve bladder irritations, and reduce excess mucus in the urinary tract and excess vaginal discharge. A tea made from boiling the nuts is used to treat lung weakness and congestion, including coughing with an excess of phlegm, wheezing, and asthma. They are also used to treat hearing loss, dermatological disorders and psoriasis. I particularly like this passage in an article on Chinese healing herbs: “Long-term consumption helps nourish yin, maintain youth, fight aging, expand capillaries, improve metabolism, promote ruddy and healthy look, provide extra energy and grant longer and healthier lives.” But there is a caveat: don’t eat the kernels raw and don’t eat too many in one sitting (7 for children and 15 to 20 for adults) as they can have a toxic side effect for some people.

Now, whenever I peel gingko nuts, I will always remember my mother, who taught me how to cook, who taught me how food is medicine and the first line of defense against illnesses, and who introduced to me a host of exotic ingredients that I still use today and pass on to my cooking students. Her legacy lives on.


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit on October 9, 2013

Yok Yor Marina Restaurant in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Sunday, September 15th, 2013
Yok Yor Sign

Yok Yor Marina Restaurant sign

Yok Yor Marina Restaurant – ห้องอาหารยกยอมารีน่า – in Bangkok is one of the restaurants where Kasma takes her small-group tours to Thailand. It specializes in fresh seafood and we have always gotten an excellent, tasty meal there. Yok Yor Marina is situated right on the Chao Phraya river. As you sit and eat you can watch the boats go by on the river. Although it’s nothing fancy, the food is always tasty and good and there’s usually a very nice cooling breeze coming in off the river. There’s a second restaurant – Yok Yor Klongsan – nearby. (See below for address and link to a map.)

Be sure to click on the images (especially the food pictures) to see larger version. We also have a slide show of the food pictures at the bottom of the page.

Yok Yor Interior

Inside Yok Yor Marina

Yok Yor View

View from Yok Yor Marina

These two pictures show one of the tables at Yok Yor Marina where Kasma’s trip members are enjoying one of many feasts on the tour during her shorter 19-day trip to Central and Northern Thailand (Trip B) in January 2012. The interior is nothing fancy but comfortable. The other picture shows one of the many barges going past on the Chao Phraya river.

I’m going to mostly let the pictures of the dishes Kasma orders speak for themselves. In a typical meal here she would order 6 dishes and rice to be eaten family style.

Duck Curry

Roast Duck Curry

Garlic Pepper Squid

Garlic Pepper Squid

Kasma almost always orders the dish to the upper left – Roast Duck Curry. It’s a red curry with succulent duck as the meat. Quite nice. On the right we see Garlic-Peppered Squid with a dipping sauce. The squid is nicely cooked, meaning it’s tender and not too chewy. (It’s quite easy to overcook squid and turn it rubbery.)

Seafood Laab

Seafood Laab

Crab Dish

Crab Dish

Above left  we see a Seafood Laab (also transliterated as Larb), fresh, spicy (as a laab usually is) and crunchy from the toasted rice. Kasma always gets one of a couple of crab dishes here, such as the one to the upper right.

Steamed Fish

Steamed Fish

Crab in Yellow Curry

Crab in Yellow Curry

Yok Yor Marina does a very good Steamed Fish, upper left. To be good, the fish must be very, very fresh indeed: this one was. The above right Crab in Yellow Curry is quite good. Lots of liberated (from the shell) crab meat in a yellow curry sauce; succulent and tasty.

Fried Fish with Green Mango

Fried Fish with Green Mango

Sour Pork Ribs

Sour Pork Ribs

Kasma sometimes orders the Fried Fish with Green Mango that is above left. Another frequent item on the table for our groups is the Northern Sour Pork Ribs on right; the tasty, fermented meat is served with a variety of accoutrements (the shallots, greens, peanuts, garlic, often chillies), which are popped in the mouth with a piece of the rib. Yummy.


Slideshow – Some Dishes at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Duck Curry
Garlic Pepper Squid
Seafood Laab
Crab Dish
Steamed Fish
Crab in Yellow Curry
Fried Fish with Green Mango
Sour Pork Ribs

Duck Curry at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Garlic Pepper Squid at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Seafood Laab at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Crab dish at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Steamed Fish at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Crab in Yellow Curry at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Fried Fish with Green Mango at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Sour Pork Ribs at Yok Yor Marina Restaurant

Duck Curry thumbnail
Garlic Pepper Squid thumbnail
Seafood Laab thumbnail
Crab Dish thumbnail
Steamed Fish thumbnail
Crab in Yellow Curry thumbnail
Fried Fish with Green Mango thumbnail
Sour Pork Ribs thumbnail


Yok Yor Marina Restaurant
885 Somdet Chaophraya 17 Rd
Klong San Bangkok 10600
Tel. 02-863-0565-6, 02-863-1708
Service time : 11.00 – 24.00 hours
Website for Klongsan branch: www.yokyor.co.th


Written by Michael Babcock, September 2013

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

You may wish to visit:


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

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.