I have been so busy and preoccupied lately that I haven't really had any time to do the things I like to do. To start, I had to go to Bangkok for work.Where temperatures reached 35 C, hot smothering weather that dehydrates the body and saps all energies.
The Thais seem to deal with the inhospitable weather very well though.In fact, they have a dish that is specially prepared just for this kind of weather. Which I found when I wandered into the basement level of the latest high-end shopping mall that is Siam Paragon.
Khao Chae, literally translated as immersed rice, is traditionally served during summer. Polished jasmine rice is submerged in a subtly scented jasmine water and ice, and served alongside are intriguing savouries to excite the palate. It is very refreshing to eat, the best part of this dish, for me at least, is the combination of the cool clean rice with the soothing jasmine water.
The savouries are very interesting too. Featured here is the version served at the Oriental Shop at Siam Paragon.
1. is sweet pickled radish, 2 is addictively sweet yet mildly salty balls made with pressed salted egg yolks, 3 is a green pepper stuffed with meat and draped over with an omelet crepe- very substantial but I found that it takes away from the lightness of the meal. 4 is a candylike pork floss. 5 is another type of round condiment made with fermented shrimp paste, piquant, salty and yet sweet, rather intriguing and quite subtle actually. 6 is frittered sweet shallots, small and scrumptious. I couldn't finish even a third of what was on the plate, but picking on a piece here and there to try was quite diverting. One can either mix them in the porridge or nibble them alongside, I prefer the latter option as I didn't want to sully the pristine cool waters.
My friend slurp! was very enthusiastic about the kao chae at Thanying, but we were at the famous restaurant for dinner and they only serve it at lunchtime. Maybe next time...
Anyway, my little tea over, I found myself enthralled at the enormous food hall and its many wonderful eatings. This is the best food hall I have ever come across, Harrods, Selfridges, Taka just doesn't compare, the Siam Paragon Gourmet Market wins over them all. There is variety, loads of activities, and non-stop action including three guys pulling teh tarek while simultaneously spinning on their feet! I had dinner plans so I restrained myself from eating too much, but the little Kanom Krok was hard to resist. I bought some pumpkin and sweet corn versions and couldn't really stop at just one or two pieces. These little cakes are crisp on the outside but inside it is soft, runny and almost custardlike. I am definitely going to try making them soon.
The next day it was time for work, quite a lot of work actually. But like all civilised people, the Thais take their food seriously, at lunch everybody takes a break and order their favourite foods. S&P is a popular chain restaurant, I have often seen it in malls but never tried eating in one before, but well, here in the hospital we had little choice. Thankfully the food was mostly good and satisfying, and very reasonably priced. I enjoyed my rice with pig trotters cooked in a red curry, the pork tender and still sporting the charred roasted taste which also went well with the robustly aromatic and spicy curry sauce. The spring rolls that we shared came drenched in a curious brown sauce that was both tart and sweet, again, fresh and tasty. I even ordered khao chae, which came with fewer condiments than Oriental's; their version of pork floss which was fried with shallots till caramelised was my favourite.
After work, I took the skytrain to Siam and found myself at Siam Paragon again because it seemed to be better airconditioned than its neighbours. I spotted a restaurant that was part of the Greyhound group and decided to go in even though it was quite empty. It was a wise move. This little space, small but well proportioned and comfortable, is staffed by discreet and attentive staff. The menu is devoted to Thai-Italian cooking, and in keeping with the impeccable Greyhound standards, this pairing fuses rather than confuses, exemplified best in their som tam. Everyday green papaya salad, already a very good thing in itself, is made even better with the addition of sweet crunchy fruits guava, apples and pomeloes, bright carrot strips, perfectly crisp bacon bits and generous scattering of almond nibs and dried shrimps. Not too spicy but definitely had kick, the little chilli pieces have been smashed but not broken up so it was easy to pick out and not cause sudden pain. The dressing mingled beautifully with the juices of the fruits and vegetables, the just perfect tangy note of fruit and tart and sweet- I spooned up all the liquid that pooled at the bottom of the plate. Oh yeah, I can so gobble a plate right now.
The next two courses were fine, but not as stunning as the salad. Spaghetti with chicken liver ragout was a little too earthy and rustic for me, it was a good thing that it came with a deconstructed papaya salad but I could not finish more than a few spoonfuls before the richness overwhelmed me. Which was fine, as I then had room for steamed bananas and ice cream.
For lunch on the following day, we ate at S&P's again. The day ended really late and I didn't have the energy to explore further than the confines of my hotel. As I was having such good food luck so far, I took a chance at the hotel's Thai restaurant and was rewarded with yet another fine meal (lucky me huh?). The Spice Market may be overpriced compared to so many other Thai places in this crazy city but I have no complaints about the food they serve. When I saw catfish salad on the menu I knew it was what I wanted to eat, because at Thanying two nights before I tried their crispy catfish dish and loved it. I am not sure how the catfish is prepared, most likely it is minced and fried with loads of oil and seasonings, but it is amazingly good, and not likely to be available outside Thailand. This salad was fabulous too, the crispy catfish absorbed the mango salad and its sweet-sour aromatic dressing, just the thing to revive the senses after a hot day's work.
I had also ordered a phad thai to go with my salad but could not resist adding an order of these gorgeous cigar-like spring rolls. Again, my instincts were right. The phad thai was only OK, it came covered in a pretty omelet net and was not too sticky or wet or dry, but all in, a little dull and I had to neglect most of it in favour of the simple rolls fried to a beautiful crisp.
The good eating didn't stop there. At the airport, the Sawasdee shop was giving out samples of desserts to the delight of many travellers. I didn't buy any sweets but loaded up on quite a few boxes of cashewnuts roasted with Thai herbs as presents for people at home.