Monday, November 28, 2011

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

A salad is one of those dishes that is quite flexible, and usually just a matter of putting together whatever you have at hand, but a Vietnamese chicken salad is not a salad where I can just chuck together whatever salad ingredients I have in my fridge. Whenever I plan on making this salad, the first thing that I need is Vietnamese mint (rau răm) also known as laksa leaves. The problem is that Vietnamese Mint is not always readily available but I won’t have any other herb in this salad – not spearmint (which is the mint that most people would be familiar with) or coriander. I must have Vietnamese mint because the smell and flavour of it completes the Vietnamese chicken salad for me. It is eternally tied to the memories of how I make and eat it.

(In the city, Vietnamese mint can usually be found at the Lucky Supermarket on Brisbane street but on the weekend it was not available so I drove up to Mirrabooka to Hiep Hung Asian Grocery on Honeywell boulevard)

When I was young and went grocery shopping with my parents, I would help to pick out ingredients. Whenever I knew my mum going to make a Vietnamese chicken salad, I would run over to the fruit and vegetable section of the Asian supermarket and look for where all the fresh herbs were stored. Facing me would be rows and rows of green herbs. I didn’t know what their names were and could not tell a lot of them apart by sight, but I could identify what was what by smelling each one. I easily sniffed out the Vietnamese mint. I love the aroma of Vietnamese mint and the smell of it instantly makes me think of a Vietnamese chicken salad.

(Can you pick out which herb is Vietnamese mint?)

I have grown up eating Vietnamese food cooked by my parents. When I got older and started going out to eat with my friends, the weirdest thing for me was discovering that dishes that I knew and loved were being served to me differently. I have seen Vietnamese chicken salad appear in many forms but I am very wedded to the way my mum makes it. I find it hard to accept any other form as a Vietnamese chicken salad.

Not only does the salad require Vietnamese mint but the other secret to making it taste amazing is to lightly pickle the vegetables first.

So here's how I like my Vietnamese chicken salad and the way my mum taught me how to make it.


For the salad
•    500g of chicken (poached and shredded)
•    1/2 cabbage, finely shredded
•    1 carrot, thinly julienned into matchsticks
•    1 red onion, thinly sliced
•    white vinegar (for pickling the vegetables)
•    bunch of Vietnamese mint (rau răm), leaves picked off and sliced thinly
•    crushed roasted peanuts

(Vietnamese mint - rau răm)

For the dressing (nuoc cham)
•    2 tablespoons sugar
•    ½ cup water
•    ¼ cup rice vinegar
•    ¼ cup fish sauce
•    2 garlic cloves, crushed
•    1 red chilli, seeded and minced
•    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


Combine the cabbage, carrot and onion together in a large bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of white vinegar over the top of the vegetables and thoroughly mix together. Leave for 10-15 minutes to lightly pickle. Gently squeeze out the excess water from the vegetables and leave in a colander to drain. The vegetables are now lightly pickled, moist and would have shrunk in volume.

(Before pic - shredded cabbage, carrot and onion)
 (After pic - pickled vegetables)

Put the pickled vegetables into a large bowl and add in the chicken and Vietnamese mint, and thoroughly combine.

(Shredded chicken)
(thinly sliced Vietnamese mint)
(All mix together)

To make the dressing – put the sugar, water, rice vinegar and fish sauce in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring until the sugar melts. Turn off the heat just before it reaches boiling point. Set aside to cool. Then add in the garlic, chilli and fresh lime juice.

Alternatively, instead of adding in the garlic/chilli I add in some pickled ground chilli

Serve the salad with the nuoc cham dressing and crushed peanuts on top.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reflections on Eat Drink Blog 2011

A few weeks ago I attended the second Australian Food and Drink Bloggers Conference in Sydney with fellow Perth bloggers Kitchen Crusader and Gastromony. The conference provided a mix of seminars, workshops and panel sessions on everything that you ever wanted to learn and know about food blogging. The conference was the result of the success of Eat Drink Blog 2010 held in Melbourne. A team of Sydney bloggers - Simon (The Heart of Food), Jen (Jenius), Reemski (I Am Obsessed With Food) and Trina (The Gourmet Forager) came together at the beginning of this year to see if they could get the conference running for a second year. Judging by the success of Eat Drink Blog 2011, with the number of attendees doubling, more sponsors on board and it was a trending topic on twitter, it looks like Eat Drink Blog will become an annual event.

Here are my reflections on the conference.

The seminars in the morning looked at the nuts and bolts of blogging - the law surrounding it, optimizing search results and writing. Food blogging is generally managed by common law and just plain common sense. In a nutshell – bloggers have the right to take photos in restaurants and copyright over their photos, and the written form of recipes can be protected but not the dish itself. 

Check out Dominic Villa’s blog for a summary of his talk on law for food bloggers.
What was really interesting for me under the legal matters covered was the issue of defamation and the fact that a restaurant review can be liable for defamation. All bloggers have a responsibility to be careful about what they say - this even extends to comments made by others on their blog, twitter and retweets. As raised by someone later on in the day during the ethics session, peoples’ livelihoods are at stake and a lot of hard work goes into the running of a restaurant, a bad review can potentially have a negative impact on business. Whilst it is fair game to provide an honest account of a dining experience, it can be expressed in a number of ways and any critiques should be articulated in a constructive way and with civility.

…so what about A. A. Gills someone tweeted? 
Surely if defamation law exists, Gill’s next gig would be to tell us how unpalatable prison food is. Gill’s is known for his satirical and critical restaurant reviews. Earlier this year, a chef in Glasbury attacked (pushed down the stairs!) one of his cooks after receiving criticism from Gill.

Reviews of restaurants are generally a statement of opinion which are difficult to prove true or false in court. But this does not mean that if a case was brought to court, it would not be a success (see cases of Blue Angel and Coco, and Stephen Estcourt's blog). To be on the safe side, bloggers should put a disclaimer on their website that clearly states that everything is their own opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. It is only matter a time when a blogger will be brought to court, the only thing stopping this is that no one really cares enough and like Metallica suing Napster, it’s just not a cool thing to do.

A cool thing to do is thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is all about improving the rank of a website in search results. There are many things that bloggers can do to increase hits to their site, such as using popular search keywords; editing content to make sure that headings, titles and images are correctly tagged; and changes to the html, although changes to the source code may be above the technical knowhow of a lot of bloggers. 

But the good thing is that there are many ways to skin a cat and there are lots of simple things bloggers can do like link love, basically, you want people to link to your blog and you should link back to other peoples blogs (attribution is important). More links will push your blog up the search engine result pages. 

Here’s a link to Michael Gall’s presentation on SEO and if you are a wine lover check out he’s site which provides an interactive winery map which you can learn about various wine regions in Australia and use it to plan wine tours.

Valerie Khoos’s talk on writing was a highlight. She provided seven really practical tips which you can access from the Eat Drink Blog website. When I look through my blog entries, I can see that they have really developed over time. I started blogging as a way to document my cooking endeavours, so a lot of my earlier entries are short and straightforward, sometimes with just a picture, ingredient list and method. I realized that the more I blogged and the more blogs I read, I found out why I enjoy reading blogs and that I wanted to be a better blogger, which meant that I needed to work on being a better writer. I think that with digital photography, anyone can take a decent photo nowadays, so there are many food blogs out there which are all image with no substance. What I enjoy about food blogs is a good story, some context, an entry that is thoughtful and well written. I find words much more engaging then pictures. Writing is one area of my blog that I want to work on and Valerie’s presentation was really helpful. I know that her tips will always be in the back of my mind whenever I write for my blog now. 

I found the food photography and food styling workshops especially helpful as I just bought a DSLR camera with the intention of taking my food photography to the next level. As I will be putting more effort into my writing now, I also want some better photos to go with my posts. Often, you can never fully capture what you see with your eyes on camera. I think the worst is scenery photos. When you go traveling, your photos of the amazing mountains, forests, rivers etc are always a minuscule representation of the real thing. I also find photos of people misleading, I always think that people look better in real life. But food however, I think that it’s an area where it is possible to really capture the essence of the subject – why else do we call it food porn and I have all these cookbooks that I never cook from but I own because the photography is amazing and it makes me drool. Quentin Jones, photographer for Sydney Morning Herald was very open in providing all the secrets to his food photography. It was interesting to see how composition and the angle that the object is shot at can make a big difference to the resulting photo and I learnt about the importance of the post-processing, where there are little things that you can do to make it look like you are a better photographer than what you really are.  Peter Georgakopoulos, blogger of Souvlaki for the Soul showed us that photography should be fun and we need to find our own style. Peter has a great write up of his workshop on his blog.

The conference winded down in the afternoon with some panel sessions that provided a lot of food for thought. 

Simone Marnie (ABC Sydney) provided his thoughts on the evolution of food culture in relation to food bloggers. There is an ongoing battle between the old and new media, so it was refreshing to hear someone talk honestly about how food bloggers fit into the scheme of things, and show an appreciation for the work that bloggers do. Simon told us that he often uses blogs to find out about places to eat rather than the traditional forms of food review media like the Good Food Guide. Food blogs provide a different perspective on things and is generally more of a review in nature rather than a critique, in this sense, blogs provide a description of a dining experience that allows readers to draw their own conclusions on whether or not they want to go.

I think that most people start a blog as a hobby, to share an interest with a community of like-minded people and have no intention of it being anything more but Jennifer Lam (Jenius), Jules Clancy (The Stone Soup) and Michael Shafran (Gosstronomy) showed us how they managed to monetise and turn blogging into a profession. There was a lot of entrepreneurship with Jules setting up virtual cooking classes and Jennifer creating guided culinary tours. Blogging can also provide a platform to showcase your wares which can lead to other opportunities as Michael revealed to us that he has scored his dream of landing a book deal. It was interesting to see how varied the blogs were and how each has gained success in different ways with a lot of hard work. 

The issue of ethics in food blogging is always a big sticking point, especially nowadays with the increase in the use of blogs by companies as a promotional tool. This calls into question the objectiveness of blogs. Is money and ethics mutually exclusive? That in order to maintain integrity as a blogger, you shouldn’t be making money otherwise your position is compromised? That once a blogger starts accepting incentives/freebies to write blog posts, they are selling out? The conclusion that I got from Tammi (Tammi Tasting Terroir) and Zoe’s (Progressive Dinner Party) session was that everyone has a different idea of how they want things to be, and what is acceptable behaviour for one blogger may be different for another blogger. The ethics of blogging can be summed up as follows – ‘the ethics of your blog are an extension of yourself – your values, image and brand’. So if you do choose to accept freebies, it should be in line with who you are and what you are about. If you are up front about whatever you do and declare any conflicts of interests, people will judge accordingly and decide whether or not to continue reading. 

Would I personally accept a freebie? Well I would judge it on a case by case basis, and if I did, it would be something that would be in line with my ideals.

Throughout the discussions, the word ‘brand’ was tossed around a lot in reference to blogging - food bloggers should be developing their brand, promoting their brand and be consistent with their brand. The reality is that if you are serious about food blogging, you have to have an identity and something that makes you distinct from other bloggers to attract more readers. In a sense, you are trying to create a brand for yourself. A brand that readers trust, know what to expect and keep coming back to.

Eat Drink Blog 2011 was a fantastic experience, it has made me think a lot about blogging in general and reevaluate why I blog and where I want to go with it. Meeting a whole bunch of food nerds was also great :)

Please note that I didn’t take many photos while I was at the conference as I was too engrossed in all the discussions and I was also too busy tweeting. Please go to the Eat Drink Blog website for links to other blog write ups on the conference and photos from the conference.

Here are some pics that I tweeted.

 (Lamb Master Class with Noni Dyer)

(Slow roasted beef tenderloin and wagyu flat iron steak - Dinner at Kingsleys

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ayutthaya. Eating Street Food.

While we were in Bangkok people warned us against going to Ayutthaya because it was flooding. We had already booked our accommodation so we rang the hotel the day before we had scheduled to go and checked on the situation. We were reassured that everything was ok so we took the train to Ayutthaya from Bangkok. We stayed in Ayutthaya for 3 nights, 2.5 days.

Ayutthaya is an island at the intersection of the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak, and Lopburi rivers. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand and about an hour outside Bangkok. We were interested in Ayutthaya to visit its UNESCO world heritage listed temples and ruins, and we thought that it would be a nice respite after the craziness that is Bangkok.

When we arrived in Ayutthaya, we experienced our first tuk tuk ride from the train station to the hotel. The tuk tuks in Ayutthaya are larger than the ones in Bangkok and appear to be the transport of choice (we saw very few taxis around).

We ran out of time to visit a floating market while we were in Bangkok so the first thing that we wanted to do in Ayutthaya was check out a floating market. Floating markets are something that you want to see early in the morning, preferably before 9am. When we got into Ayutthaya it was after one in the afternoon and we were told that the only floating market available to us was the Klong Sa Bua Floating Market ‘nicknamed Disneyland’ aka it was made for tourists. We decided to check it out anyway. It was a fluffed up, family friendly affair but nonetheless we had a nice time walking around and taking a ride on the boat around the area. Then we enjoyed a delicious bowl of noodles from a boat vendor selling food.

Ayutthaya has two night markets. The smaller Hua Ro Night Market on U-Thong road and the bigger Bang Lan Night Market at the end of Bang Len road which is more livelier and the one that most the locals go to. Wondering around the night markets in Ayutthaya was amazing, the night markets here are all about the food, it was the first time that I felt like I was at a real street food market. It was bustling with activity, with the most food stalls I have ever seen in one place, it felt like everyone in Ayutthaya was at these markets buying dinner.  Apparently it’s cheaper for Thais to eat out than cook at home and it was evident as all the food was provided in take away form, most were already portioned into take away containers or little bags ready to go. So on our first night in Ayutthaya, we ate like the locals did and bought street food from the night markets back to our hotel room.

 (Stalls at the Bang Lan Night Market. I didn't take that many photos as I thought I would be back the next night...but I didn't come back...)
(fried coconut poffertjes-like treats)

We got dinner at the Bang Lan Night Market. I bought some grilled pork skewers, sticky rice and these coconut poffertjes-like treats. Nicola had an egg and vegetable omelette, and sticky rice mango. We also both had a bottle of fresh guava juice.

(My street food dinner costing a total of 45 baht ~ $1.50 AUS)

That night I had trouble sleeping, I was tossing and turning a lot, and my whole body was feeling not quite right but I didn’t know why. Later in the night, I was woken up by the sound of Nicola vomiting. I got up to see how she was and then I got that feeling, and the next moment my head was down the toilet….shit, it hit me that we both had food poisoning.

What caused the food poisoning?...well we suspected that it might have been the guava juice that we had which could have possibly been mixed with some local water. You are not supposed to drink the local water anywhere in South East Asia. Nicola’s food poisoning was worse than mine so we suspected that maybe the eggs in her omelette might not have been fresh…

In the morning, I thought that I was feeling better so I decided to go out and buy us some fruit and yogurt. Yogurt has active cultures and probiotics which are good for an upset stomach. I managed to make it down two flights of stairs before feeling faint and had to be helped back up to my room by the hotel staff and I vomited again. The combination of being sick and stepping out into the heat and humidity was not a good idea. We decided that it would be best if we just stayed in bed, in our air-conditioned room for the rest of the day, watching way too much MTV. Thankfully the hotel we were staying at really looked after us, giving us charcoal pills (a pill that we were told would get rid of the poison in our bodies) and an endless supply of electrolytes. They even brought us some toast with jam and fresh fruit up to our room. After a day in bed I was feeling a lot better and in the evening I went out and got us some dinner. I went to the hotel next door which had a restaurant and bought some vegetable soup and steamed rice.
(Simple and hearty food - perfect for recovering from food poisoning)

After a night of rest we had pretty much recovered from the food poisoning and we got out to do some sight seeing the next day. While we had been recovering from food poisoning, a lot more rain had fallen and when we traveled out on a tuk tuk to see some wats, we passed a lot of areas around the city that were beginning to become submerged in water. Our tuk tuk driver told us that his house had been flooded and even though he kept up a positive spirit and smiles as he drove and guided us around, I could see the sadness in his eyes and I couldn’t imagine what it must really feel like to go on day after day like this when you have lost your home.  

(View of flooded streets from tuk tuk)

That night we also went on night tour of the some of Ayutthaya’s wats, seeing the wats at night is pretty cool because floodlights illuminate all the temples but be aware of the stray dogs around the place which seem to congregate together in packs around the wats and howl. We were not alone, at every stop there would always be a mini-van unloading a group of Japanese tourists to see the night sights.

Our time in Ayutthaya was brief, we went to the Disneyland of floating markets and saw a few wats, but most our time was spent in bed recovering from food poisoning.

When I got my shots six weeks before my holiday at the travel doctor, there was a big poster on the wall stating that 40-60% of travelers experience some form of food poisoning while traveling. I was quite sure at the time that I would not become a statistic but then I guess I couldn’t really say that I had experienced eating street food unless I got food poisoning…right?

Everyone warns you about eating street food but you can get food poisoning anywhere and I’ve heard more stories of food poisoning from hotel food and restaurants by friends who have traveled around South East Asia.

So here are some of my tips on how you can reduce the risk of street food poisoning.
  • Be careful in what you choose. I always bought street food that I had seen been cooked, not stuff that looked like it had been sitting out for a while. I generally went for all the deep fried/grilled options as I felt that all the heat would kill anything that could kill me. 
  • Be a bit wary of freshly squeezed juice. There are always vendors around offering freshly squeezed juices but the fruit may not have been washed properly or the juice may be mixed with some local water.
  • There is a lack of refrigeration and stalls generally use ice to keep their meats/seafood cold. Best to stay away from stalls where it looks like self made ice is been used instead of factory made ice. You can usually tell if factory made ice is being used as it has holes, is cylinder in shape, like the bags of ice you can buy from the petrol station/stores in Australia. Factory made ice is generally safe.
  • Beware of eggs. What most people don’t realize is that egg quality deteriorates as much in a day at room temperature as in four days under refrigeration and salmonella bacteria multiply much faster at room temperature. I had known this for a while as I read it in Harold McGees book On Food and Cooking. Nicola had worse food poisoning than me and she had an egg omelette and I didn’t, we suspected that the culprit was the eggs.

But no matter how cautious I had been in eating street food, I still fell victim to it. The locals eat like this all the time and don’t get sick so the real problem wasn’t the street food per se but the fact that I had been brought up in a sterile society, I did no have built up inside me certain anti-bodies and a resistance to harmful bacteria.

The second rule of traveling in South East Asia is  - “Eat like the locals do”

Eating street food is an essential experience when you are traveling as food is an important part of your cultural experiences of a country. It will also be some of the tastiest (and cheapest) food you ever will eat! I ate street food on numerous occasions throughout South East Asia and I only got unlucky once. Life is about taking risks, and the risks started long before I put the food in my mouth - it started when I wondered onto a street where I couldn’t communicate with the locals as I didn't speak their language, when most of my conversations started with me pointing to something and asking “what’s that?” and then “how much?”, when I saw food cooked and prepared on premises that are not as ideally clean as I would like them to be, when I knew that all the meat had probably been bought from the wet market where I had seen with my own eyes the conditions the meat was sold – on tables, uncovered, not refrigerated. I guess the good thing is that the meat would be fresh everyday but in the heat and humidity, you wonder how long it takes for a piece of beef to go from raw to rare and maybe a slight medium rare….

Eating street food is kind of like going to see a big Hollywood blockbuster – you have to in a way ‘suspend your disbelief’ – to accept the situation for what it is, no matter how far removed it may be from your own reality back home, and not think too much about it.

Life is about taking risks, and eating street food was a risk I was willing to take to eat like the locals do.
(Meat sold at the markets, captured in Vietnam)

When people are traveling, how comfortable are you with eating street food? Has anyone had any bad experiences?

Stay tuned, my next travel blog stop will be about Luang Prabang...

Related post

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eating and Drinking around Bangkok

I have just come back from a four week South East Asia holiday where I traveled with my friend Nicola to Thailand (Bangkok and Ayutthaya), Laos (Luang Prabang) and then Nicola’s German friend Kat joined us for Vietnam (Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Danang). We were traveling in the rainy season and the rainfall this year has been particularly bad with a lot of flooding occurring, but we managed to miss most of the badly affected areas, sometimes by just a few days.

I had a fantastic time and ate a lot of amazing food but it’s nice to be back home. Over the next few weeks I will be blogging about the highlights of my travels.

First stop – Bangkok (4 nights, 4.5 days)

We caught the red eye flight from Perth to Bangkok, 9hrs20mins later with a brief stopover in Singapore we arrive at our destination. After going through customs and immigration/passport control we try to find a taxi to get to our hotel. On our way to the airport taxi stands, a well dressed man approached us and asked “Do you want a taxi?” In my half asleep dazed state I was drawn to him like a magnet thinking how nice it was that this man was offering me a taxi. Nicola tugs my arm and leads me away from the man. “What are you doing?”….then I realized that I had broken the first rule in Lonely Planet – if a smartly dressed man approaches you offering something, assume that he is a professional con artist and about to offer you a well-rehearsed scam. At this point it hit me that I was in Bangkok and I needed to be more alert. I should have known it, there were key signs that I should have picked up.

1.    Taxi drivers do not wear suits.
2.    There are signs everywhere in the airport that direct you to the taxi stands, I didn’t need someone to show me the way.
3.    How did he know I needed a taxi? It is unlikely that he could read my mind. Sure I looked like a tourist but maybe I was getting picked up or I just wanted to go to the toilet or something…

The first rule of traveling in South East Asia is  - “You call all the shots”

If I want a taxi I will get one myself, I will tell the taxi driver how much I’m willing to pay and I will tell the taxi driver exactly where I want to go. I call all the shots – no one needs to offer or tell me what I want.

We made our way down to the taxi stand and hailed a taxi. I got into the back seat and reached for my seat belt but I couldn’t find one. This was the second time within 5 minutes where I was hit with the reality that I was in Bangkok.

Goodbye Nanny State!

So my journey begins….

 (View from the taxi)

My first meal in Bangkok was a simple fried noodle dish at a street stall near our hotel. We were tried and hungry after a long flight so we pretty much settled on the first place that we saw. It was pretty tasty and I loved the noodles which had a more glutinous and chewy texture than what I have been was used to. It was great to see everything being cooked fresh out in the open.

On our first night in Bangkok we thought that it would be nice to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at Nahm Thai. Nahm is owned by David Thompson who is considered an authority on Thai cuisine. He’s a chef that I have a lot of respect for and I own his cookbooks. Eating at Nahm was on the top of my list of places to eat.

In the afternoon we caught a taxi to Siam Square which on the map looked like it was close to Nahm to check out the shops around there until it was dinnertime. It turned out to be a bit of a journey getting to Nahm from Siam Square. On the map Nahm didn’t look like it was that far from Siam Square but we found that maps can be deceiving, and what looks like it is within walking distance sometimes isn’t. After walking for a while against the heat, humidity and peak hour traffic we gave up and got a taxi. This ended up being a very smart decision when we saw how far the taxi had to drive to get to Nahm. If we had continued walking, by the time we got there, I’m sure that everyone in the restaurant would have been onto their desserts. 

(Nahm Thai is at the Metropolitan Bangkok Hotel on South Sathorn Road
Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120, Thailand)

Arriving at Nahm felt like one of those “I can’t believe that I am actually here moments”. Here I am in Bangkok, at a high class fine dining restaurant owned by ‘the’ David Thompson, one of my favourite chefs, at a five star hotel … wearing my traveling clothes and shoes. I had packed lightly for this trip, everything that I had for a four week holiday in South East Asia was in a small carry on luggage bag.  While it may surprise some people what little I had with me, I think that this is the best way to travel, it makes it such a breeze to travel to different cities. It also makes you realize how much crap you don’t need, especially when you are often exposed to the situations of those who are less fortunate and have practically nothing.

A great way to experience what Nahm has to offer is to go with the set banquet dinner which costs 1700 baht (~$53 AUS). It includes all the five canapés listed on the menu, a choice of one main dish from each of the five categories – salad, relish, curry, soup and stir fry, and dessert. Plus, we got a complimentary starter and petit fours.

I have eaten a lot of Thai food before but nothing like this. All the dishes were exceptional. For one of the dishes, Nicola commented that she had eaten this style of dish before when she lived in Melbourne but felt that the one she had then tasted nicer…nicer?... The flavours of all the dishes served at Nahm were strong and bold, the dishes were not just dressed up to please our taste buds but to confront them with what authentic Thai cuisine is meant to taste like. This was the real deal and it changed what I thought Thai food was supposed to be. I was experiencing different and new tastes. It was a rewarding eating experience. The staff at Nahm were also really lovely, each dish had a story that was explained to us in detail – where it was from, the ingredients used and its links to Thailand. Food wasn’t just food anymore, its existence was integral to the history and culture of a place.

There is a lot to do in Bangkok and many sights to see. We filled our second day there with some sight seeing including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings that has served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards. It is very lavish, with almost every building adorned with gold it is majestic to look at but also seems a bit excessive.

Please note that appropriate dress is required for entering the Grand Palace. A fun game to play while you are there is to spot the “rent a pants guy”. See that guy below on the left who is wearing baggy ridiculous looking pants, well they obviously don’t look like his pants of choice. He was probably wearing shorts and had to rent some long pants from the numerous street vendors waiting outside preying on the ignorance of foreignors.

Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok. It has Thailand's largest reclining Buddha image (46 meters long and 15 meters high) and the most number of Buddha images in Thailand, so if you are going to visit a wat in Bangkok make sure that it’s this one.

Before my trip I had spent some time researching places to eat and I got the most recommendations for places to eat in Bangkok thanks to a Gourmet Traveller article that Max sent to me. So after sight seeing we decided to try finding Chote Chitr. It took us two tries to hail a taxi. Bangkok is a big city, taxi drivers do not always know where you want it to take you. The first one didn’t understand where we were asking him to take us and we were successful the second time because I showed the driver a print out of directions from google maps (!) 

I had printed it for my own reference to see how far Chote Chitr was from where we were staying, but it turned out to be useful for the taxi driver as it helped him to place where we wanted to go. Well he managed to drop us off at Thanon Tanao which was the main road that the small street Soi Phraeng Phuthorn is off, which is where the restaurant is located. We walked along Thanon Tanao to find Soi Phraeng Phuthorn. The streets are not very well sign posted and after a few minutes we realized that we were in heading in the wrong direction. We turned around and eventually we found Chote Chitr. 

 (Chote Chitr - 146 Soi Phraeng Phuton, Bangkok)

Chote Chitr has renowned recognition and its walls are plastered with acclaims from numerous reviews from around the world. I ordered the spicy eggplant as it was the dish that is often quoted in reviews and it did not disappoint. It was drenched in a sweet, sour and salty sauce that had a hit of smokiness. It had a balance of flavours unlike anything that I have ever had before, and with every mouthful I found something new to appreciate about it and I understood why people rave about this dish. I wanted to try a curry dish and settled on the yellow curry with deep fried pork. The flavour of the curry was really good but what really made it was the toasted coconut on the bottom which added texture and a layer of taste that took this dish to another level.

 (Spicy eggplant)
(Yellow Curry with deep fried pork and toasted coconut)
(Toasted coconut FTW!)

The menu is expansive with over 300 dishes to choose from and it was so cheap with three dishes and rice with 2 drinks totaling 540 baht ($17 AUS).

Khao San Road is the main backpacker district in Bangkok and I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate it because it feels like a McDonaldisation of an area of Bangkok for foreigners, you will find practically every fast food franchise known to man here. It also feels unsettling seeing so many foreigners congregating together in the same place acting as they would back in their own country, hanging out at bars that have been recreated to look like a Western bar complete with a shitty cover band playing all the hits, eating all the tourist friendly food (for Perthies – think Northbridge).

(Khan San road at night)

But there is stuff to love about Khao San road – there are a lot of cute little cafes around that would not look out of place in Japan which are great to grab a drink at and for some R&R after a long day out.

(Cute cafes that we found around Khan San road - their names and location escape me)

On Khao San road you can buy knock-off clothes, shoes, sunglasses, music CDs and DVDs etc. (always fun to have a little browse through) and of course you have to check out the dodgy little street stall that can make you that degree you have always wanted, certificates, drivers license, fake ID – you name it, they've got it. Khan San road is a great place to practice your haggling skills and be introduced to the phrase “same same but different” (which will forever haunt you for the rest of your trip). Visiting Khao San is a necessary part of your travel experiences in Bangkok, but just don’t stay there too long especially at night, after a while it all gets a bit too much.

(Joy Luck Club - 8 Phra Sumen Road, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok)

One night we ate at Joy Luck Club which we found while wondering around the Khan San area. We had walked for a while trying to find somewhere to eat, confronted with so much choice, how does one decide? Well it was easy when I saw the teddy bear in the window and the cure decorations inside. I was sold to the vibe of Joy Luck Club but had some reservations as I sat down that maybe this place was all image with no substance. My concerns were dismissed as I tucked into the pad thai that I had ordered which was done justice with a good balance of flavour. There was one woman running the whole joint and she was really friendly, plus Barry Manilow cranking over the sound waves the whole time we were there. What more could I ask for?
(My pad thai at Joy Luck Club)

A place that we really enjoyed visiting was the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre. Full of amazing contemporary artwork, an array of exhibitions and installations, we spent hours wondering around. 

There was an installation where the floor was just covered with an assortment of wool and threads, and like the kids that had come to the art centre after school, we played in it – rolling and falling over into it.

(This is me about to fall over....)

Located throughout various levels of the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre building are shops, cafes, galleries and design studios. On the 4th floor of the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre is IceDEA, a concept ice cream shop and food design store. 

(Football ice cream)
(Rice tea ice cream)

There are a number of interesting ice-cream concoctions on display and a variety of flavours to choose from including flavours that you wouldn't normally get like Global Warming and Wasabi. We both got the Tonkatus ice cream which was vanilla or matcha green tea ice cream coated with bread crumbs, then deep fried and topped with chocolate sauce. Fried ice cream trying to imitate a popular Japanese pork cutlet dish?! I was sold.

(Tonkatus with green tea ice cream)

A trip to Bangkok would not be complete without checking out a bar or two. On our second last night in Bangkok we checked out The Nest. Even though The Nest might not be the tallest rooftop bar in Bangkok we loved the vibe of it. It was unpretentious and had great food and cocktails, and the DJ played a whole bunch of classic hits from the 90s. Nostalgia overload we requested the DJ play some TLC and he played “Creep”. 

(The Nest Rooftop Bar at Le Fenix Hotel Bangkok - in Sukhumvit Soi 11)
  (I apologise for the fuzziness of these photos, I took them after a few cocktails)

The main bar that we wanted to check out in Bangkok was Bar 23 which we went to after The Nest as it was open late and off the same road. The Nest and Bar 23 are both off Sukhumvit road, The Nest is on Soi 11 and Bar 23 is on Soi 16. Nicola had googled “indie+bar+Bangkok” and it came up with Bar 23. It was just want we wanted - a cool little bar which played indie music. How cool is this bar? Well we requested some TLC and the DJ/owner Go just looked at us and said “we don’t play that kind of music here” and proceeds to play us some Beck instead. We had a great time at this bar and paid for it the day after. 

 (Bar 23 on Sukhumvit Soi 16)

On our last day in Bangkok we were hangover from bar bouncing good times the night before. We decided to take it easy and made the trip to Chinatown to have a little wonder around. This was not such a good idea as Chinatown hurt our heads. It was the busiest part of Bangkok that we had encountered, it’s packed with shops and stalls set up on every available sidewalk space, a maze of streets and alleyways, crowds of people and a flurry of activity, it’s really insane. We only stayed for a little while as it was too chaotic for the state that we were in.

 (Chinatown = Chaos)

Before leaving Bangkok I wanted to check out another restaurant from the Gourmet Traveller article - Krua Apsorn. According to the article, the easiest way to get there was by a ferry - taking the Chao Phraya ferry to Thewet pier and then walking the 20 minutes or so to the restaurant. So that night I dragged our hungover arses to catch the ferry for the first time. You can catch the public (local) ferry or a tourist ferry (which is a little bit more fancy) is also available but the public ferry is the only way to go because I want to live like common people, I want to do whatever common people do. Catching the public ferry was an experience. We waited at the dock until we saw the ferry coming. There was no platform to the boat, a loud whistle signals its arrival, it pulls up close to the pier and we quickly hop on. The boat was quite packed and we tried to grab anything that we could hold onto, to stay put as the boat rocked on up the river. Everything happened so fast, it felt like we were being herded on like cattle. There was little time to think or even comprehend what was happening but a moment later we realized that we had caught the wrong ferry as we were heading in the opposite direction to where we wanted to be. We got off at the next stop and the right ferry was just about to dock so we ran through, quickly paid for our tickets and got on it. It was dark and raining, and we were trying not to get splashed on as the motor would drive water up the sides of the boat and the rain would come in through the sides. At the Thewet pier, we got off and walked huddled under my umbrella in the direction that we thought the restaurant was, we passed what would have been the colourful fish, flower and vegetable markets which were now closed. Along the way we stopped at a 7 Eleven to check that we were still going in the right direction, all the while I was hoping that Krua Apsorn was actually open. After what seemed like forever, we finally found it and it felt like a “hallelujah” moment. 

 (Krua Apsorn - 503/05 Samsen Road, Bangkok)

Mission accomplished, we settled in for our final dinner in Bangkok before we left for Ayutthaya the next day. On the back of the menu there were reviews from The Observer and the New York Times, I used these and the Gourmet Traveller article to select dishes to order. I ordered the fried crab meat and beans with yellow chillies, and we also ordered the fried vegetable dish, a house specialty made with a local flower vegetable, fried with minced pork and oyster sauce. All the dishes we ordered were as good as the reviews had said they were. 

After our mains we wanted to order some ice scream coconut sorbet but we were told the kitchen was closing and it was only 8pm. We were lucky that we got there in time to have dinner as it closes early.

I have to say a big thanks to my friend Nicola who let me drag her from one side of Bangkok to another, wondering around unfamiliar streets through heat, humidity and rain to find the restaurants that I wanted to eat at. This was the first holiday where I was on a foodie mission. We were surrounded by tons of places to eat in Bangkok but I was determined to seek out the best places to eat. I was like a child who would go screaming and kicking at the shops until mum bought the chocolate bar that I wanted. I would sit down and pretty much ignore most of the menu except for ‘those’ dishes that I had seen mentioned in reviews, ordering the dish that every foodie who goes there must order. I could feel the waiter rolling their eyes at me, I was like a fan seeing a band and only wanting to hear their hit songs. I felt like such a cliché foodie at times.

But not every meal was a chosen one, some were random, some just happened to be the closest. I’ve had some amazing meals and also some average ones. It’s good to mix it up, to have no expectations and get a surprise – good or bad. Otherwise there would be no fun in traveling! Travelling is more than just about eating and there is more to the experience of eating than just eating – it was an adventure along the way. Our journey to find the places that I wanted to eat at broke our Bangkok virginity – with our attempts to communicate directions to taxi drivers, catching the public ferry for the first time, straying away from the touristy areas, stumbling into unfamiliar territories… suffice to say - I believe I can make my way to any place in Bangkok now and I can say that I have eaten some of the best food that this city has to offer.