Giving Thanks Thai Style in Bangkok (by Carmen)
Arriving from Delhi, Bangkok was a breath of fresh air. Our smooth, air-conditioned taxi glided through the streets. It was a stark contrast to the bumpy airport ride in the bare bones taxi in Delhi. On the streets there were actual crosswalks to safely cross, vehicles often stopped for pedestrians, and there was comparatively no honking! It felt relatively quiet and welcoming – especially when we were received with a warm smile by our close friend, Nalat. As we hugged our hellos a lone firework was set off nearby – an auspicious start to our reunion. She ushered us in and fed us coconut pies made by her grandmother’s bakery, which she had just visited in northern Thailand.
The next day was thanksgiving. Our late night the previous evening meant we got a late start to the day but that’s ok because we had a single, thanksgiving-appropriate goal: food. Lip-smacking, finger-licking, irresistibly good food.
Nalat is a Bangkok native that we met during college. Over the years we grew close over our mutual love of cooking and eventually started a bi-weekly dinner party with our friend Brenda. So to spend the the next week and a half with a fellow foodie that can navigate Thai menus and food blogs and that you love spending time with – that’s striking gold!
Our first adventure was a local market, well-lit, white-tiled and filled with produce and hawker stalls. First stop: crispy roast chicken with a sweet chili dipping sauce and tangy, crunchy papaya salad with crab. We complemented this with green coconut based curry over rice noodles and sator, a large bean, stir fried with dried shrimp over rice. The textures and bright flavors were exactly what we wanted in our first Thai meal.
We decided on a dessert of fruit. Nathan and I were happy to be reunited with the delicious fruit we encountered on our first trip to Asia in 2009. One of our favorites was mangosteen, which on the inside looks like garlic but tastes more like strawberry. We also sampled a few pieces of durian, which were smooth, creamy and much less pungent than other varieties we had tried.
The three of us walked around Bangkok a bit stopping at Mont for hot toast slathered with coconut spread. We eventually settled in a cafe for a few beers and lots of catch up talk. Soon enough it was time for dinner so we walked into a restaurant serving boat noodles. Boat noodles are so called because they were once sold by floating vendors. They refer to a simple dish of broth, noodles and a few pieces of meat or seafood. Bowls are rather small so you can have multiple or just have one as a snack. Nalat gave us a lesson on how to order with broth or dry (naam or haeng) and noodle width. I prefer sen yai (thick) while Nathan opts for sen lai (thin).
Our boat noodles were a mere snack for the main dinner – pad thai. This is the dish Thailand is known for. The place we ate was churning out plate after plate of the good stuff mixed with your choice of meat or seafood. You could even get your bundle of noodles wrapped in a thin layer of egg. The traditional Thai flavors – salty, sweet, sour, spicy – were respectively represented on the table with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and chili powder. We customized the balance of taste in our pad Thai and dug in. I like that at the end of the meal the waiter gave us a sticker that says something like “pad thai is flying yummy” alongside a winged plate of the noodles.
The next morning, Nalat and her mom greeted us with congee (rice porridge) and chicken rice. We relaxed while we waited for another close friend, Nalat’s boyfriend, Tim to join us. He arrived and there were more smiles and hugs. Despite his 19 hour trip, Tim was ready to jump right in to Bangkok so off we went to explore.
Yes we did more than just eat! Ok fine, first we had pork over rice and some excellent chicken satay. Then we went to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was a silk trader enamored with Thai culture and he built this elegant raised house mixing eastern and western styles. Even the gardens were peaceful and artfully arranged.
Afterwards, we explored a few buddhist wat (temples). The first, Wat Traimit, was known for having a solid gold Buddha that weighs 5.5 tonnes! Next we made our way to Wat Pho to see the famous reclining buddha. He definitely looked at peace lying there. My favorite part were his mother of pearl decorated feet.
Chinatown had its own busy character distinct from the other neighborhoods of Bangkok. Mandarin drifted out of the busy restaurants. Sharks fin was advertised in restaurant windows. We were here for duck noodles served up by a stand that had carved some space out from the busy central street. The duck noodles were indeed delicious with their rich broth washed down with some Chang beers.
The four of us squeezed in more culture the next day with a visit to the grand palace and its associated Wat Phra Kaew. It was laid out quite differently than a european palace – it was more of a jumble of different styles crammed in together. We learned about the royal family, how Thailand avoided colonization and how some of the buildings were inspired by royal visits to Versailles and Buckingham Palace. Then we got a chance to play dress up.
We followed up the palace with noodles served in pork broth with crispy bits of pork belly thrown in. Extra crunch was provided by fried wonton. I, for one, can never get enough noodles so I am in heaven. Especially when eaten on plastic stools in a narrow, dimly lit alleyway.
Our last day in Bangkok was market day. In the morning we went to the sprawling Chatachuk weekend market. It’s labyrinth of stalls has cool t shirts, jewelry, shoes, housewares and food all mixed up together. We enjoyed some Thai tea and coffee from one steamy corner. In another part of the market we ordered moo naam tok which was tangy and delicious.
The food didn’t stop there. With Nalat’s mom, we all made the 2 hour ride to Amphawa for the floating market along a canal. We sampled a variety of Thai snacks, my favorite being the deep fried garlic shrimp. In the evening, as a few fire flies were lighting up we boarded a boat and received an hour long foot massage as we floated along the canal to a lazy river. Pretty ideal for only $12.
Thailand is a wonderful place to spend thanksgiving weekend. I missed some of my American favorites with family but am happy to have shared the holiday with Nalat and Tim. I know I have much to be thankful for. Family to miss back home, friends to laugh with, a fiancée to hold hands with, and a world to explore.
-Turkey with cranberry sauce – roast chicken with chili vinegar dipping sauce
-Stuffing – egg stuffed with pad Thai
-Mashed potatoes and gravy – rice noodles with coconut curry
-Green beans – satol beans with dried shrimp
-Salad – papaya salad with crab
-Pumpkin pie – coconut toast