Same Same But Different…
A phrase you sometimes hear in Thailand, usually when someone is trying to sell you something close to what you asked for, but not exactly the same.
After a few years away from the Land of Smiles, I am back, but finding lots of things different, but also some things have not changed…Like the best BBQ pork skewers (moo ping) I have ever found in Thailand were done by a lady with a push cart outside of Nana. I even picked my hotel to be in this area in order to see if she was still there, since the Bangkok crackdown on street food vendors had me worried she would be gone and out of business.
However, after my first day on the ground here running errands etc. I swung by the entrance to Nana on my way back to my hotel way down a nearby alley. I spotted her about 100 ft away, and she spotted me too from nearly the same distance. With a big smile on her face she recognized me immediately and waved. Gosh. It’s not like I was her best customer ever, although my waistline would refute that. Anyways, six freshly barbequed moo ping to go were soon in a bag in my hand to enjoy at my convenience.
This is the best moo ping vendor I have ever found in all of Thailand (and I have been around the country), right out in front of Nana Plaza, Bangkok.
The Churning of the Ocean of Noodle Soup
Scholars of Hindu mythology might recognize this name as a bastardization of a Hindu legend that explains the origin of amrita, the nectar of immortality. The depiction is called “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. Numerous depictions exist in India of course, but they are also scattered around S.E. Asia, such as the very famous mural that can be found at Ankor Wat in Cambodia, and in present day Thailand in the main airport of Suvarnabahumi there is a now a large sculpture depicting the legend – Thai style of course!
This is an Indian version.
Photo Credit: thesandiegomuseumofartcollection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In Thailand, literally an ocean of noodle soup is consumed on a daily basis. Its available in many forms, but one of my favorites is Kuay Teaw Moo Dang, Noodle Soup with Red BBQ Pork.
Shortly after I landed in Thailand I had to get myself a local sim card. Instead of the decent and convenient offerings available right at the airport, I elected to head down to MBK department store 4th floor where there is an ocean of mobile phone shops. I was after a sim card that would be useable for three months instead of the normal one to three week offerings at the airport. I found a decent deal, $40 for 4mb/sec speed, unlimited volume and good for my 3 month window of usage.
However, I was getting hungry so I headed up a floor to the food courts to find a light snack. Low and behold, the mists of shoppers parted and I spied a noodle soup outlet with red BBQ pork, but I had to buy some coupons first…
The deal is you buy say 100 baht worth of coupons in various denominations, then pay the vendors the coupons required. Any unused coupons you return to the coupon booth (that same day) for a full refund. It always mystified me as to why the coupons? It seems so unnecessarily redundant. The best reason would be to keep the vendors from having to handle filthy money and then preparing food etc. Works for me!
Anyways, I waltzed up to the booth and said “Kuay Teaw Moo Dang” in my best Thai pronunciation, and was immediately greeting with a stream of Thai that I didn’t have the skill or knowledge to understand, so it was back to pigeon English to complete the process.
Now the really wonderful thing about noodle soup is that what you get served is just the starting point… in front of each booth is normally a bunch of condiments that you can add to season the soup to your exact taste, and this place had more than the usual selection.. fish sauce, sugar, chilies in white vinegar, red spicy vinegar, something dark I didn’t quite recognize (probably soy sauce), and red chili powder. Your pick your poisons so to speak, dump it into the bowl, and then go to your table, mix it up (this is the churning part) and enjoy the nectar!
Note: Chopsticks are Chinese, and not normally used when eating Thai food (normal Thai utensils for eating are a spoon for your dominant hand and a fork in the other to push food onto your spoon). However noodle soup is the exception, you need chopsticks to grab those slippery noodles, and you get a spoon for the broth and smaller bits of pork, sprouts, and greens.
The Breakfast of Champions
No I am not talking about quaffing beer or other spirits at 8 am in the morning. Noting however that its very easy in some areas of Bangkok to find foreigners sitting on stools with a beer in hand at that time of the morning. Its actually a bit sad.
I am talking about eating Grapow Gai Kai Dow which consists of stir fry Holy basil with chicken, a half cup or so of rice on the side with a sunny side fried egg sitting on top of it, and some Nam Pla Phrik (fish sauce with chopped chillies) on the side for seasoning.
On of the best examples of this can be found at Took Lae Dee restaurants (Cheap and Good is the literal translation of the business name) – a chain which is quite famous in Thailand. Took Lae Dee restaurants are found inside the Foodland supermarket chain stores, and offer great value, albeit somewhat smaller portions. I would add Sa-àat to the restaurant name (meaning clean), as this dish is quite common in Thailand and can be found at many sidewalk street food setups. However the version at Took Lae Dee is prepared under restaurant conditions, and I have also found it to be a lot less greasy than many other places prepare.
One minor point, I call it the Breakfast of Champions due to the amount of spicy chilies they put in. The heat of the chilies generates endorphins in your brain giving you a natural high and a buzz strong enough to make you think you are able you to leap tall buildings. Depending on your level of spice tolerance though, it may also have you breaking the record for the 100 yard dash as you run for the toilet when the chili bomb hits your stomach!
Its absolutely delicious, but don’t blame me if you experience the bomb – you were warned!