Thailand and Cambodia report July 2012
My wife and I recently returned from 17 days in Thailand and Cambodia. We spent about 6 days on Koh Phangan (and a night on Koh Samui on the way out), 4 or 5 days in Siem Reap (Cambodia), and then 5 days in Bangkok. I guess I will divide this post into three sections based on that.
You can also find a report with copious photos on my food blog:
KOH PHANGAN/KOH SAMUI
Most of the food we ate on the island was knocked together at one or another guesthouse on the beach we happened to be staying on (first Thon Sadet, and then Bottle Beach). However, it was still pretty great. On Thon Sadet we found that Mai Pen Rai had consistently good food, and so did Plaa's, where we stayed; the woman who ran Plaa's made us probably the best som tam we had all trip.
We'd heard about this restaurant here on Chowhound--don't remember exactly where. When we asked for walking directions, the desk person at our guesthouse (Bopha Angkor) seemed confused as to why we wanted to go there--he said that the area it's in is where "local" people go and perhaps too far and unpleasant for us? Of course, that had the opposite effect, and we walked there anyway--turns out it was barely ten minutes' walk from the guesthouse and a pretty delicious and inexpensive place to eat.
We had fish amok (curry baked in a young coconut), morning glories, and prahok kroeng (ground pork cooked in fish paste with tiny egggplants...so delicious).
This restaurant was super-crowded and actually asked us if we had reservations when we entered (!) which hadn't happened at all on the whole trip. All foreigners. The food was very good (though relatively expensive), however.
We had banana-blossom salad with chicken, prahok kh'tih (like a pork "dip"), fish amok, and Khmer crispy noodles.
We went to the Psaar Leu market on the way to a temple and saw a ton of food in its uncooked "wholesale" form (even bugs waiting to be fried)--it was very non-touristy, a much different experience than the Night Market area of Siem Reap. Later in the day, we stopped at the Roluos market on the way back from the temples, and I bought some fried mole crickets with lemongrass, chile, and keffir lime leaf to snack on later.
I've got to mention this--on our last night in Siem Reap we were just looking for something non-Khmer, after four days and four nights of Khmer stuff, so we popped in here. The breadsticks were chewy (the humidity!) and we figured it was going to be kind of a bust of a meal. But you know what? It was excellent. Good pizza, good pasta (I had bolognese), good wine, good Parmesan cheese, and at a good price--half of what another Western place, La Malraux, was charging up the street.
Soul Food Mahanakorn
This restaurant wouldn't be out of place in Brooklyn. It's supposedly a "small plates" restaurant, but we could not even finish half of the food we ordered, so those "small plates" are pretty big. Also quite delicious! We chatted with the owner briefly and he helped us get a cab--very nice guy. Definitely a place to return to the next time I'm in Bangkok.
We had yam som-o (kind of like som tam, but with pomelo shreds instead of green papaya), yam makrua yao (sour smoky eggplant, soft duck eggs, mint, coriander, bacon), southern Thai fried chicken with pickled watermelon rind, sticky tamarind ribs with caramelized pineapple chutney, and Isaan & Chiang Mai sausages with nam prik nuum.
Absolutely delicious "tasting menu" for almost 1700 baht (we ended up spending over 2000 each with tax, service, and drinks, so almost $130 for the two of us); though our most expensive meal, it was well worth it. The food was really interesting and some of it was incredibly spicy (in a good way), not dumbed down for the international crowd at all.
We had ya dong grachai dum and sour fruits (Thai rice whiskey, pandanus juice, etc.), yum gai baan rod jut (salad of Kanjanaburi chicken with egg), lon pla insee kem naem dok care (salted Spanish mackerel simmered in coconut cream with prawn + stuffed local flower and battered greens), goong talay pad nahm phrik gapi sai kratiem dong (stir-fried ocean prawn with 'Pattalung' style chili relish and pickled garlic, plus some very pungent sataw beans), gaeng khii lek nua yang naem pakkad dong yum (khii lek [cassioa] leaf & flower curry with slow-cooked "KU" beef plus a pickled mustard green salad), dtom khamin sai gai baan liang duay samoon prai (soup of red turmeric and herbal-fed Thai chicken), dtom jeud tang raan yud sai muu sub kub woonsen (clear soup of large cucumber stuffed with pork and vermicelli), and a host of other amuse-bouches, appetizers, and desserts.
Burapa (in Chinatown) for bird's-nest soup
A bunch of street food, my favorite being butterfly-pea dumplings from a woman in Chinatown
The MBK megamall in the Sukhumvit area seems like an unlikely place for a good meal, but they have this outstanding Thai-food food court that not like usual junky mall food courts. There are dozens of booths, each specializing in one or two Thai dishes, and the dish is cooked to order right in front of you, We had delicious pork leg, fried chicken, som tam with preserved crab, and battered fried mussels.
We went here for lunch and it was insanely good, maybe my favorite meal of the trip. We had crab fried with yellow chiles (and there were so many golfball-sized chunks of crab the dish would easily have cost $30 in the US), a crab omelette, some mysterious sauteed greens (not morning glory...maybe bitter melon greens?), and the hottest som tam of all time--so much so it was almost inedible, and clearly made that way because they took our request for "spicy please" as a challenge.
Boon Tong Kiat Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice
Needing a break from Thai food, we had some classic Hainanese steamed chicken. The red pork was also delicious, and I'd never had a Singaporean rojak before (kind of like a spicy/sour fruit salad with fried youtiao bread).
The Or Tor Kor market, a smaller food market across from the giant Chatuchak market, proved more interesting than the big market to us; we spent a few hours here, taking pix, buying nam prik and such to take home, and eating from the food stalls (mango with sticky rice, chicken satay, fried bananas, etc.).
The Khlong Toei market was also super-fun to walk around. We took a cooking class at Helping Hands and went through it in the morning as part of the class. We learned to make som tam, pat tahi, and tom yam. Good class!
On our last night we went to another mall restaurant--Nara. This one was nothing special--we just wanted to see a movie and it happened to be near the theatre. It was perfectly fine, but nothing standout. We had skinny spring rolls, lime fried chicken, and drunken noodles with prawns.
Check the food blog link for pictures + some more food stuff. Great trip for eating!
Another good option is KSM: The Touich Restaurant Bar. It looks like it has grown since we lasted visited a few years ago, but really nice food and a great experience. The resto is actually a house and we were transported in a old jeep by the owner. Things might have changed now.