Food Advice: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam
I love to eat (HA! That's why I'm here) and am visiting southeast asia for the first time in November. I like my food so spicy it could kill a small child, I have virtually an iron stomach (many years of traveling, eating street food all over the world) and will eat anything, but I don't want to eat things just becuase they are strange, I just want the best tasting things!
So here is our itinerary: Bangkok, Chang Mai, Luang Prabang, Hanoi. Then we have 12 hours in Seoul on the way home.
Where would you reccomend? I take all comers, so what ever you love, let me know where to find it.
And yes, I know I have like 6 months. But I can't wait!
Where should I go? What dishes should I not miss?
If you're looking for lava, the hottest thing I've ever eaten was a green papaya salad off the street in Bangkok.
You might have to tell your server/food preparer that you can handle the heat, though, because when we were there they would almost always assume we couldn't handle any spice. And if we said we could, they'd still go easy. I think they thought we were British.
In Chiang Mai there's actually a good Mexican place, believe it or not, if you happen to be craving it at the time, as we were. A guy from California runs the restaurant.
I got sick in Luang Prabang from eating at a "fill your plate for $1" place. The food had been sitting out for who-knows-how-long and I ended up out of commission for about a week. It's too bad because I didn't really get to try any food there after that.
You should follow and not deviate from some rules: No tap water, no ice, no slush drinks. Don't eat salad or raw fruits & veggies unless you peel them. Try to eat from food stalls that have a lot of business because - well - it's probably better food, and their ingredients will be most fresh. Use caution when approaching an all-you-can-eat buffet type place.
I don't know if you already know these tips, but no harm in putting it out there again. Also, a great travel source for Southeast Asia is travelfish.org .
I totally agree with Chote Chitr in Bangkok. It's a tiny spot in an alley (not even a soi) that can be hard to find, but provided us with one of our favorite adventures in Bankok as we asked natives to held direct us along the way.
Wete there in January and were thrilled with every dish they brought to us. There's a lot written about this tiny spot in Western publications, much of it available on the Internet, but they are apparently rigorous about fining the traditional and often hard-to-find ingredients.
Our mean included a very complex banana flower salad with prawns (so big they thought they were lobsters), a wok-fried bass, me krob and tom ym pla -- fish soup that was also complex and wonderful.
Another favorite of our in Bankok was a tiny noodle place called Raan Jay Fai, a tiny open air restaurant in a congested (even for Bangkok) industrial area. It opens late in the afternoon -- some say 3, some 4, some 6 pm. We had a "linner" there -- late lunch/early dinner. There is a woman who cooks along side the tables in what has to be nothing more than a concrete bucket with an electric blower keeping the flame high. She throws things into the wok that sits on top of it and created the most amazing noodle dishes ever. Her noodles are the stuff of dreams -- crisp, chewy and thin and perfectly complemented with beautiful seafood and vegetables and seasoning -- unlike anything I've had anywhere else. We shot some footage of her cooking. If only re-creating the meal was as simple. Ran Jay Fai is at 327 Maha Chai Road.
Eat the street food everywhere. In Laos be sure to get laab (ground meats, bit of tripe, chile, cilantro, mint, ground toasted uncooked rice, lime juice, fish sauce), khao niyeau (sticky rice). Eat with the platter of greens. Ask for lots of chile in the laab. The green papaya salad is a must as well. Eat at the night market in Chiang Mai.
There are lots of great restaurants in Hanoi.
re: Sam Fujisaka
I reside in Bangkok, and live off small stalls and carts.
Anyone familiar with my posts knows I'm not into institutionalized dining.
But, those little "platters of greens", and other fresh, uncooked veggies, from a source with marginal sanitation opportunities, are probably one's best chance for an intestinal hitch hiker.
I highly advocate shops, stalls and carts.
But, eating raw items, especially for someone with a sterile Western stomach, is really a toss of the dice.
re: Curt the Soi Hound
I know (by your posts) where you live and much appreciate your posts. I haven't eaten the "platter of greens" in Bangkok, and, like you, probably wouldn't. I've had such meals without problem over many years more in Savannakhet, Vientiane, Oudomxay, and Ubon Ratchathani. Because I work in agricultural research I get to see where and how the greens are produced. Very safe in most places. But you're certainly correct: So maybe my reply is only for "Iron Stomach" dagoose.
re: Sam Fujisaka
I'm thinking in terms of the water used to cleanse the vegetables.
Although the local bugs might not be that serious, and locals are used to them, they sure can screw with one's holiday plans.
We shop the local Bangkok wet markets for our produce.
We then take it home and clean it ourselves.
Originally from Orange County, California, we have many Vietnamese friends.
I was surprised by how many return home for a visit and commented on how many bouts of stomach distress they had.
One family's daughter, on her first visit to the homeland, even required a doctor visit!
There's one dining institution you musn't miss in Hanoi - Cha Ca La Vong, on 14 Cha Ca Street (BTW, the street's named after the restaurant, not the other way round - so there!)
It's a 100-year-old, grubby-looking restaurant, with a narrow staircase which you have to crawl up to get to the dining room upstairs. But it still packs in a crowd. Only serves ONE dish: snake-head fish (Ca Loc) fried in turmeric-rich oil, and served to you in the pan atop a mini-brazier. You chose from an array of side-dishes to add to the sizzling pan: fresh herbs, salad leaves, fish sauce (nuoc mam), toasted peanuts, etc. You eat it with a plain bowl of bun (rice noodles) which soaks up the yellow-colored grease. Doesn't sound too appealing? It's not - but you haven't really eaten in Hanoi until you've done Cha Ca La Vong.
BTW, the other dining hotspot in town, Bobby Chinn restaurant is horribly over-rated!
Three good, online guides to local dining are:
If you are familiar with the cuisines, trying them in their native countries will be a real treat!
You might try to contact the Import Foods guy for more Bangkok tips.
They're in Seattle.