Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bangkok interlude

Once again I write to stimulate and whip your appetite into a Thai frenzy...The city is a sensory overload. An assault on your nose, your ears, your eyes. Life come at you from all directions. And then I step into the calm of Sala Rattanakosin and I am transported to another world. Our glass fronted window looks out onto the scurrying river denizens. Ferry boats, klongs, river taxis, gaudily lit cruise boats, tugs make their way across our view. On the opposite bank Wat Arun mesmerizes us.

As the sun sets, the temple lights up in a colorful display. We are loathe to leave the brightly lit drama that unfolds outside our window but the rooftop bar plays it's siren song .... And what a song!! Bangkok by moonlight. A 360 view of gleaming gold temple roofs, a gurgling river and neon lights of distant highrises. A cool breeze and a caipiroska makes lounging on low slung divans memorable!!!! We take in the unforgettable atmosphere and then slowly make our way down for a riverside dinner! 

Fried fish cakes come with a complex dipping sauce. I try to taste fish sauce, peanuts, chile and then is time to enjoy , not analyze. So I dive into a soft shell crab tempura sitting on a mound of mango and peanut salad!!!! I break off a piece of crab, fork some mango slivers and sauce, put the fork into my mouth...a mouth-numbing burst of flavor!!! I take another and another. I cannot stop. Glenn offers me his khao soi... I take a desultory spoonful.#%!!!..I abandon my crab for his khao soi!!! it is so different from the one I make. Which one should I eat??? In which order should I finish the meal?? My mind says quit thinking and follow your taste buds.. So I do and soon all is gone!  We compliment Chef Tony and are flooded with tales of his trials and tribulations!!! It's déjà vu!!! Samir comes to mind!!!

The next night we venture to Maya for a multi-course tapas-style Thai dinner. Our hotel hasn't heard about it. They seem quite dubious. But Nancy Chandler, a trusted source on all things Bangkok, recommends it and we persevere. The restaurant is riverside and overlooks the cruise pier. River cruise dinners are very popular from the boats we see. My drink, Siam Surprise comes with a red chile almost as tall as the glass it comes in! The beautifully clad staff are loquacious, treating us to funny stories of life in Bangkok. And then the food parade starts. The first course is a prawn dip with rice crackers. The consistency is lumpy, not very attractive until you dip a piece of cracker and let the spices talk in in your mouth. Unusual and interesting.

Next comes a solitary fish cake, crusty,puffy and piping hot. It sits in a pool of tamarind sauce. Alongside is a mouth-pleasing cucumber case filled with onion and cucumber slivers with chilies and cilantro. Needless to say it is polished off. The crispy fish cake is light and crunchy, not a hint of the oil it has been fried in!

A little respite between courses... We are treated to Thai dancing! Quite enchanting. The  traditionally clad males make for good eye candy!!! 

The next course is pan fried shrimp on sautéed  eggplant. On one side is a boiled egg on eggplant. The entire dish sits in spicy green sauce. And the entire dish sets my mouth on fire!!!!! 

A martini glass is filled with shrimp in mildly spicy sauce and a mint and green onion slaw. It's goes down without the need for water!

A welcome break occurs with more animated folk dances. The music is lovely.

A large portion of mouth blistering beef salad is placed in front of me. I can smell the chiles. I quaver. The  flavor is mighty strong but I must forge ahead. Yes it is spicy, salty, sour and chewy. I savor and suffer!!!!

Thankfully I see a palate cleanser coming my way. A spoonful of icy orange ice cools my over spiced mouth adequately.

More dancing after which I eat a roasted prawn that sits on a bed of glass noodles. The noodles are sauced with tamarind and soy. Unusual and slurpily soft.

A steaming bowl of easily identifiable Tom kha or coconut chicken soup redolent with kaffir lime and lemongrass is tongue-pleasing! It's is also a soup I make in my kitchen. I'm pleased to note that my version is almost as good as this one.

A square of lightly fried fish sits atop a sweet and sour sauce. I am not so enamored. I think they might have taken a Chinese diversion???!!!

Penang style beef comes with a coating of cream. A New Age version maybe?? Some kind of fusion technique? The slice of toasted bread throws me off. Not very palatable.

A pyramid of pineapple Thai fried rice with chicken is quite unappetizing too. A dinner that started so promisingly, now slides down a slippery slope. 

Butthen dessert surprises. Fresh palm seed fruit or what I call tadgolas, are slivered along with fresh jackfruit. A sweet and light ending to a lovely meal. 

The dancing picks up to a frenetic pace. I am pulled in to cavort along with them. Glenn records my ridiculous maneuvers and I collapse laughing into my chair!! The genuine warmth makes up for the uninteresting last courses and leaves me happy, sated, like we have dinner at an old friend's house.

The next day calls for a long boat ride and a longer lunch. Thai beer, a cold salad of shrimp, squid, mussels and fish, tossed in lemongrass, kaffir leaves, peppers and a spicy, tangy dressing for me.

Spring rolls with spicy beef for Glenn. The spring rolls come with a delicately poured sauce, mayo with a topping of chile oil...a beautiful presentation.

We share a deconstructed sticky rice with mango... The perfect ending.

This multicultural city has the usual tourist traps. It's is noisy, odorous, crowded and full of con artists perpetuating scams. The gigantic shopping malls, a frenzied Chatuchak Market, the sleazy streets detract from some of its charm. Then again when you find hidden gems like the Temple of the Black Buddha and Loha Prasat, where 360 views of the Old City are mapped out on the four terrace corners. You wander into temples and gardens where you are far from the madding crowd. The food is incredible, most people are the will burn!!! But you will eat well...bargain like hell and enjoy the panorama that Bangkok is!