Spicy Seafood and Chicken with Cashews, Bangkok ‘Flavorful’ Restaurant, Thailand
How do you choose where to eat in Bangkok, a place where it sometimes feels as if there are more food sellers than anything else? To wit, shopping centers have multiple levels with restaurants, and sometimes across from those restaurants there’s a warren of food vendors with snacks. Streets are teeming with a range of stir-fry, stews, cut fruit, and grilled mysteries, and supermarkets are as diversely stocked as the city’s nightclubs and tuk-tuks.
With so many choices in the Thai capital, I finally gave up on rolling the dice, and searched recommendations for eating out.
I’ve long been a fan of mackerel and bibimbap, so to discover a marriage of the two in an ostensibly random Japanese city was a delicious coincidence.
Availing of the the Hokuriku Area Pass, a 4-day Japan Railways train ticket that covered many hotspots in Ishikawa, Toyama, and Fukui prefectures, I took a day trip from Kanazawa to Obama, a port city in Fukui.
Historically, this region was called Wakasa (若狭), which held a prime location on Wakasa Bay. For hundreds of years, it supplied Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan, with abundant seafood. Together with Awaji province (present-day Hyogo prefecture) and Shima province (today’s Mie prefecture), Wakasa was one of Kyoto’s miketsukuni, basically the food pantry.
With such a prominent local delicacy — actually, due to overfishing, Japan has been importing mackerel for decades — I found out that one of Obama’s most famous dishes was called 鯖ンバ, or sabanba.
OK, so it’s not such a well-known meal — never mind that the one restaurant serving it, Yamato-an, is best known for tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlets — and let’s not forget that the dish is a fusion of Japanese foodandKorean food. (link in Japanese) The manager at the time was fond of bibimbap, the Korean comfort food of mixed rice, vegetables, and an egg, so the epiphany came to add mackerel to it.
In Japan, sabanba falls under the category of B級グルメ, or B-grade gourmet. That is, it’s a dish with inexpensive ingredients and mass appeal. Regardless of that appellation, sabanba is still a fun, tasty, and variegated meal that spotlights one locally historic ingredient.
The first recorded instance of wasabi in Japan dates back to the year 981, during the Heian period of Japanese history. Someone wading through the Japanese Alps had thought its leaves looked like those of the mallow plant (in Japanese, 葵/あおい/aoi), consequently wasabi was first written as 山葵, or “mountain mallow.”
Then, during the Muromachi period (roughly 1392-1573), pairing wasabi with sashimi became a thing. Typing that out, I feel somewhat stupid, but in my defense, A) it’s written on the sign below, and 2) I reckon it’s one of the most famous duos in any cuisine today.
I know, you’re not here to become an ethnobotanist. You want peak wasabi, right?~~~
As my friend and I were traveling between Kanazawa and Matsumoto (although we went by rail via Itoigawa), I was searching for points of interest along the way. Since neither of us had ever visited a wasabi farm, the Daio Wasabi Farm(English reference page) in Hotaka, Nagano prefecture stood out among the list of recommendations. At around 30 minutes walk from JR Hotaka station, it was a pleasant — and sometimes delicious — diversion from the norm.
You might be asking, “did you even try fresh wasabi?” But of course. We even bought a steel grater (おろし金/oroshigane) for it (traditionally, wasabi graters were made of sharkskin). Immediately thereafter, we thought, what a pointless idea … on what/at which point would we even grate the darn thing?
Then, I figured, let’s just take it to a random restaurant and see what happens:
A simple explanation to the kind waitress at Kitamon soba restaurant in Matsumoto let us sample the true flavor and texture of nama wasabi, or fresh wasabi. Basically, it’s NOTHING like the neon green stuff you’ve been eating.
Yes, getting carried away is a popular theme throughout the country, so there’s no better place to start than one of my coolest day trips in recent memory, the Daio Wasabi Farm (大王わさび農場), located in Hotaka, Nagano prefecture. I will do more of a detailed post on this place at a later time, but for now, take everything that you believe to be the true flavor of wasabi, and hurl it out the window.
And if someone offers you wasabeer, ehem, wasabi beer, staunchly reject it.
Ah, so we’ve already located the gimmick … right? Time will tell.
Yes, wasabi beer was one of a number of unusual offerings at the farm, tinted green, and flecked with grated wasabi. It had a little bite, but it didn’t help that the flavor of the beer itself was not so pleasant. Still, you go in with an open mind, and you leave for the first time with a simultaneous hangover and nasal decongestant.
Following that brush with Japan’s most famous rhizome, it was time to move on to more stable beer choices. Continuing with the theme of trying regional food, a three-night stay at the Tateshina Shinyu Onsen in Chino, Nagano prefecture both reintroduced me to the joys of sampling nihonshu (日本酒), or what we call in the west as sake, and introduced me to rhubarb beer.
Rhubarb, I hardly know ye. Outside of a pie, I may have only tried your sour root once. However, your flavor lends itself quite well to fill a stein.
Yatsugatake Rhubarb House produced this particular brand, using rhubarb grown at the foot of the Southern Yatsugatake mountain range (link in Japanese). Uncommonly known as the “lemon of the field,” rhubarb, being quite tart, is most commonly use in sauces, dressings, and jams. Though, since beer often has a sour note, I’d say rhubarb was a pretty good flavor profile for this unexpected pairing.
Moving along to the last of the three unusual beers, let’s hoof it to Kanazawa, the largest city in Ishikawa prefecture, on the Sea of Japan. Now, this ingredient is much more widely known, grown, eaten, and imbibed around the world, but usually it’s a glass of wine.
That’s right, I’m talking about grape beer.
In a quest to try the elusive — and expensive — Ruby Roman grape, I visited the Budou no Mori vineyard and restaurant in the Morimoto neighborhood of Kanazawa. Even though I failed in my search that time, I still had a delicious buffet of autumnal specialties, a grape parfait, and yes, even grape beer.
The description on the menu above reads that the grape beer is the pride of Budou no Mori (which means “grape forest”), and is a harmony of the sweetness and slight bitterness of grapes. I’d have to say that description was spot-on, and formed a tie with the rhubarb beer as my favorite of the three (not that wasabi beer ever had much of a chance). Come to think of it, it might as well have been a dessert beer, so I wonder which types of grapes were used.
It’s true. Of all the potential prefectures (roughly states/provinces) in Japan to be considered the “land of rice and sake,” Niigata often leads the pack. Of course, it helps that sake, the quintessential Japanese liquor enjoyed warm or chilled, is made from rice … indeed, according to one source, Niigata prefecture regularly vies with Hokkaido for the top spot in rice-paddy yield, and total area dedicated to rice-paddy cultivation.
Thus, with all of this hubbub about being one of the culinary centers of Japan, not just for rice and sake but for seafood, hot sauce(called Kanzuri; link in Japanese) and even B kyuu gurume, I decided to take a day trip from Kanazawa to Joetsu city Joetsu (上越市).
Hopping on the Hakutakashinkansen, or bullet train, in Kanazawa, I made it to Joetsu about 50 minutes later. After walking a couple of miles to Takada Castle to check out its lily ponds, and a stop at a secondhand shop to rummage through bygone electronics, my hunger pangs led me to a restaurant called Gunchan. (Note: I generally don’t care about restaurant reviews, because I’m the only one with my taste buds. This particular branch gets a low rating online, so I guess my delicious meal was an off day?)
CRAB MISO soup, seasonal fish sashimi and tempura, and a brisk glass of regional sake were just some of the highlights. Suffice it to say, I’d go back.
One of my favorite aspects of eating in Japan is the department store.
Hold up, what?
Whereas department stores may be terribly dull in most of the western hemisphere, places like El Corte Inglés in Spain, and KaDeWe in Berlin, and many, many choices in East and Southeast Asia’s biggest cities do more than just delight the average clothes shopper.
Japan is where my first memorable introduction to department store food halls occurred, at the Daiwa Korinbo in Kanazawa. While living there for the summer of 2000, I’d get corn bread — that is, buttery bread stuffed with corn kernels — at a place called Don Q., and an apple almost everyday, always in the basement section.
Years later, I realized that Japanese department stores sometimes had food festivals in their upper floor event halls; some focused on a specific prefecture (let’s say it’s like a state or province), whereas others covered the entire country.
Last week, at a Hokkaido Food Festival — Hokkaido being Japan’s northernmost prefecture, known for its dairy, miso ramen, salmon, and melon, among many other edibles — I found an exotic (for me, anyhow) treat to sample:
Brown bear, known in Japanese as 羆 (ひぐま/higuma). Although brown bears were historically hunted by the indigenous Ainu culture, they also have greatly influenced Ainu life for generations, with both having shared the often frigid and remote terrain of Hokkaido. (link in Japanese)
It amuses me that one of the things I was most looking forward to having again in Vietnam was the coffee. I rarely drink the stuff outside of when trying to overcome jet lag, yet still have good memories of quotidian cups of cà phê (coffee, in Vietnamese) from having visited Hanoi and Ha Long Bay a few years ago.
Thus, in the world’s second-largest producer of coffee — after Brazil — it was difficult to narrow-down the first café to visit in Da Nang (or Danang), in central Vietnam. Indeed, coffee culture is very strong in this part of Southeast Asia, with numerous cafes trying to outcompete each other with comfortable chairs, small gardens, koi ponds, and plenty of outdoor seating.
In spite of the fierce competition, I went with a place called H Coffee, not far from the beach and boardwalk hugging the East Vietnam Sea.
How did I choose it? Simple … avocado coffee.
As some of you might know, I’m a big fan of avocados. Frequent travels to Mexico in the past few years might have help my case. However, I’ve never seen avocado and coffee combined in Mexico.
Hold up, that doesn’t look like avocado coffee. I see avocado ice cream (with condensed milk inside), and an espresso. It’s more like an avocado affogato; try to say that three times fast.
For those unfamiliar with an affogato, you take the espresso and slowly pour it over the ice cream. Done! In!
Was it delicious? Of course. Should I have ordered again the next day? If it weren’t for the flooded streets, I would have!
Might you be interested in an avocado coffee mash-up?
I’ve been in Bangkok, Thailand for about three weeks, writing and eating, eating and writing, and occasionally going for a dip in one of the rainy season puddles along Sukhumvit.
We’ve already learned that I’m a big fan of one particular Thai dessert; perhaps you would want to see a few more of the meals that I feel deserve a follow-up visit.
Somewhat obscured by a small shopping center and situated in a gated community between Phra Kanong and On Nut BTS stations, Lao Garden is easy to accidentally skip by.
After the waitress turned the fan on as a nice temporary respite from the humidity, I ordered a minced dried catfish salad, and a pork and friends laab. The catfish salad wasn’t anything like I had expected (I was hoping for chunks of fish with chilies liberally sloshed around), but the pork laab was on point; note: if you’re not a fan of offal (hence, pork and friends), you may want to ask the kitchen to lay off.
Portions for both were a bit small, but the quality was there in the pork laab, that’s for sure.
With a tacky name like Flavorful, I’m not sure why I tried this place. Close to the On Nut BTS, it just looks like your standard issue casual Bangkok Thai place.
Ever in the mood for spicy, I always pepper (awful pun) the order with “phet phet,” or “very spicy.” This time, I got mixed seafood, and chicken with cashews. It was spicy but not to the point that it overwhelmed anything, and there were no weird or mysteriously chewy bits anywhere.
(Sorry in advance for the photo for this place, I forgot to take a photo until after a couple of bites.)
Ooh, as a major seafood fan, this place was choice. Ruepoh, or Ruepoh Seafood, nowhere near the center of Bangkok, is close to Central Bang Na shopping center. Central Bang Na is a big bus hub, but it’s not near any other transportation. From Sukhumvit, you can take the 48 bus, and then walk to the restaurant. n.b. They’re now in a shipping container, but I understand that they’re moving to a larger location next year.
If credit cards were accepted here, I’d be in trouble. Nearly everything on the menu sounded good — crab this, lobster that, river prawn whatever — almost all joyfully accompanied by chilies, Thai herbs, and garlic.
I had the mixed seafood salad, and rock lobster stir-fry. They may have diluted the mixed seafood salad with fish balls, but I thoroughly enjoyed the just right shrimp, calamari, and fish. And the rock lobster? Bring on a thimble of melted butter, and then we’re really in business.
In fairness to readers of this brief review, I’m a bit picky about pizza, having grown up (and outward?) eating it … on the other hand, it’s also about appreciating where one is at the moment. Southeast Asia is not the first place you’d think of when someone quizzed you on world’s best places for a pizza, is it? Last I checked, Thai mozzarella hasn’t quite caught on.
Nevertheless, I ordered the Chiang Mai pie: (from their online menu) “Chiang Mai: Mozzarella fior di latte, San Marzano tomatoes, sai oua sausage, eggplant funghetto & mint.” A lemongrass and kaffir lime pork sausage on a slice? Sure, whatever. And you know what, it worked. The sauce was a bit sweet, and the flavor of the fior di latte wasn’t entirely there, but holistically it worked. The strong lemongrass flavor of the sai oua sausage was quite good, especially when enjoyed in the same bite as the glutinous crust and dried red chili flakes.
I actually returned with a friend for another pie; that time, it had scamorza, pancetta, and black mint as the primary flavor profiles, with mozzarella (but no tomato sauce) to boot. Quite good, but I must try a burrata pie next time!
Hmm, something sticky was quite a suggestive post title for a Bangkok write-up; now you know why I went with it.
Another blink and you’ll miss it-type of place, even though it should have been obvious the first time I walked by, given the numerous mangos out front, sirens of the Thai dessert world. Stay on the southern side of Sukhumvit by Soi 18, and you’re golden.
One of those quintessential Thai sweets, khao niao mamuang, or mango sticky rice, is a must every time I’m in Thailand (the joke is on all of us non-Thai speakers, since it’s a tonal language. Have fun trying to pronounce it at a restaurant … I’ve failed many times). You’ve got the mango, so you pretend there’s some health benefit, but then the coconut milk and sticky rice remind you that you shouldn’t be eating it daily. Throw on some dried mung beans, and you’ve got a fun sweet, slightly salty, yet thoroughly Thai meal.
Have you tried any of the above five places in Bangkok? Or, maybe you’ve got a personal recommendation for your fellow readers?
Maybe it’s unusual to think that today’s post is about one of my favorite desserts in the world.
Sure, when I want something sweet, I mean really sweet, it will be from Türkiye. And if I want something pseudo-healthy, it will be an Indian mango lassi.
But when in Southeast Asia, I can’t get enough of those Frankenstein’s monster’s bowls of goop, slop, and ice.
Although I didn’t know the name for the dessert until doing a little reading about, I found out that the Thai name, รวมมิตร (ruam mit), means “get together + friends.” Makes sense, because you’ve got your fruit, tubers, roots, gelatin, syrup, beans, legumes, and weird colors you may never have expected to see in a dessert, all coming together for a saccharine dalliance. So, grab some friends, grab some ladles, order a family-style — I just made that up, but try to order something that contains a little of everything — and then walk it all off in the heat.
Craving that pad thai or green curry again? Why? Thai food is so common these days, you can find Thai cuisine — or even ready-made meals– all over the place.
But it’s good, too, right? It’s all subjective, of course … if you like it (as I certainly do), perhaps the mere mention of eating something from Thailand momentarily transports you to an exotic land, where mango sticky rice trucks are on every street corner, Thai iced tea flows out of apartment faucets, and butterfly pea’s coloring and binomial nomenclature never goes out of style.
And where food doesn’t expire.
Wow, now there’s an expiration date I can get behind. Not only will it outlast me by a loooong shot, but also most living things, most dead things, and even a French transportation strike, but not term limits in the U.S. Congress. You can’t win ’em all.
Jokes aside, let’s dissect the date of expiry on the Caffa Coffeemaker package.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way for my fellow U.S. folk– January 29th. That’s how the majority of the world does it, day, month, year. OK, I feel very sheepish now (At least we’re making slow progress on the metric system).
Now, the fun part, the year. Short answer? To calculate the “Western” aka Gregorian year, subtract543 from the Thai year.
For example, to comprehend the year in the above photo–
2566 – 543 = 2023.
Darn, I thought that lemon tea would’ve had a bit more staying power!
However, as I eluded to before, there are still some lunar calendar elements in the modern Thai calendar (and no matter which you own, no food — ok, maybe Spam — will last that long). Wan phra, “monk day” in Thai, are roughly four days per month where Thai Buddhists would visit temples to provide food for monks. These days are based on the four principal quarter phases — new moon, 1st quarter, full moon, 3rd/last quarter — of the moon.
And before you ask, yes, I do know that this is a food blog.
So … go get a moon pie or something.
You may now know how to understand Thai calendars, but let’s none of us forget to inspect the expiry dates no matter where in the world we are!