Sunday, 20 November 2011

Eat Bangkok: Chinatown

So my rules when I travel are that I only eat local food (unless it is awful/consists of two dishes, though I'm not going to name and shame here).  My one exception to this is places that have large immigrant populations with great food of their own.  Imagine my joy then when I learnt that a full 15% of Thailand's population is Chinese and that Bangkok's Chinatown is one of the biggest anywhere in the world.  To quote Charlie Sheen; 'Winning!'

Chinatown is big and there is food everywhere, almost too much.  It's daunting.  But, handily there is one road with a series of excellent stores, close to the markets that acts as a good reference point.  Ask for  Plaeng Nam.  This is home to Burapa bird's nest soup restaraunt where you can buy your swallows nest in grades starting at £10 and rising rapidly.  This doesn't sound like that much, but considering a plate of pork and rice is about £1 it really, really is.  At the other end of the road (the last place on the right hand side) is a restaurant with a huge array of dishes displayed from the shop front, spilling onto the street.  Sit outside to people watch and have some of the beautifully soft, slow cooked pork.  It sits in a nice, quite thin, salt sweet sauce and soaks in the flavour.  The meat is extremely tender and beautifully flavoured, but even better is the letingly soft fat that permeates the dish.  Also good are the steamed fish with ginger and spring onion and the stir-fried greens.  Word of warning, the food will probably come lukewar unless they've just finished cooking the dish.  At the other end of the road is an excellent noodle stall, serving a vaiety of things, with especially good fried wide flat noodles with seafood or chicken and egg.  These come on a smoking skillet and if you leave them for a bit they will caramlaise and crisp to the bottom in a very tasty way.  I initially thought they were a bit bland despite the great textrue, but liberal application of the table condiments quickly put this to rights.

Another Chinatown speciallity are fried mussles in a sort of quite battery thick crispy pancake served with bean sprouts underneath.  Nice and crunchy, but with a soft eggy centre and lovely salty muscles it's a dish worth seeking out.  There is a particularly good one on the road opposite the market entrance that goes off the main road here (Th. Ch. Krung).  If you carry on a bit further you start to see a number of larger places (still on the street) serving up huge plates of steamed and grilled seafood, and waving plastic menus in your face.  These all seemed much of a muchness but served up great grilled prawns, though unsalted so they definitely needed the dipping sauce, and sadly the head juices were a bit bland.  Also good were gently warmed but still live clams that open to pour out quite a lot of blood and juice - this may not sound appetising but it was meant in a good way.  Everyone laughed at us as we failed to open them, but some help from our waitress helped resolve this and we were soon tucking in.

As a quick aside, at the back of Chinatown is the Indian/Pakistani area where there are good places both for South Asian food (a good nicely spiced Biriyani from Naz for instance) and South Thai Muslim food. 

I've only just scratched the surface of this part of town. It's an absolute foodie dream, there is a whole variety on every corner.  There is also delicious fresh pomegraite juice being made everywhere to wassh all this down with.  Several walks around here cannot be reccomended highly enough.

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