Our visit to Bangkok was primarily to eat: at street stalls, markets and high end restaurants. One of the joys of being in Bangkok is that there seems to be someone cooking something at even turn. Down the little alleys and side streets, along the tiny canal walkways, at the many markets and along the main streets. And then there are all the food malls with their more up-market offerings – essentially the same but also more expansive and encompassing a greater range of international food. These food malls seem to the place of choice for locals – clean, exotic and, importantly, air-conditioned. We steared clear of these – they’re jut too busy – but we did find ourselves one day sitting at an oyster bar at the very up-scale Paragon food court, enjoying a glass of champagne with a section of very fine oysters from around the world. This was a bit of treat for us in lieu of my birthday non-dinner. It felt very much like sitting at the oyster bar at David Jones in Sydney – a nice little interlude whilst shopping. The interesting thing at this place was the clientele, not just the well-to-do tourists eating lobster from Maine but also a group of young boys (they looked like students) who were were tucking into a range of dishes accompanied by glasses of coke. We chatted a while with a nice Japanese couple – he had been living in Bangkok for 8 years and was showing his friend around. He was stumped about the white wine selection and was about to agree to an Australian wine when I strongly suggested he choose something else (it was a very poor Australian wine at a very high price and there was a much better American Chardonnay and French Chablis on the menu). He tasted the wine and was very grateful and hence the conversation began.
I tend to favour the little food places (to call them cafes is a bit of a stretch) that serve a limited range of dishes, with plastic chairs and formica topped tables, the kitchen right there in front of you, lots of noise, steam and generally no English. It’s a matter of pointing. One of them around the corner from where were were staying became our local breakfast haunt – pork noodle soup and an iced coffee. We then found a great little stall in a nearby side street that had a small selection of traditional Thai food. We had no idea what they were but pointed to them and had them with rice. They were excellent. Then there was another stall that served a very fragrant spicy soup, usually full of offal (especially pork kidney) but I think the owner sized us up and just put in a small sample and gave us more duck. We were grateful.
We tried to sample all we could but could only eat so much (more’s the pity). It was great fun going to markets and not knowing what/how to eat and having the locals help. At Or Tor Kor market (q fresh food and wholesale market where my of the restauranteurs go) we wandered the aisles marvelling at all the produce – so much beautifully fresh fish and seafood, the range of exotic fruits (which stall holders kindly allowed us to sample) and all the varied and many curry pastes and bases. It was a bit like being in heaven for me and I discovered an exotic fruit that has become my favourite (although I’ve only seen it in Bangkok). It’s called Bouea burmanica – Marian plum -and is the colour of an apricot and the shape of a tamarillo (and about the same size) with bright green leaves similar to an orange. The stall holders peel the skin away and deftly remove the inside stone stone so that you’re left with a whole peeled and stoned fruit. And it tastes like a cross between a mango and a mangosteen – two of my favourite fruits. Mangosteens used to be what I considered the king of fruits but they’ve just been knocked off their perch by these wondrous fruits. They’re sublime. I am now (in Laos) constantly on the lookout for them.