Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day Three : Getting Lost on the Way to Yaowarat or Bangkok's Chinatown

Our third day in Bangkok was hot and when I say hot, I don't just mean hot. I'm talking mind-numbing hot! I thought I had prepared myself for the sweltering heat of Bangkok, but boy oh boy,  I was wrong. I wore the thinnest and flimsiest short-sleeved shirt I had, a pair of shorts and extremely light slippers ( or thongs as my Australian friend calls them ) and I was drenched only after a few minutes out of the train station. 

By the way, that's Hua Lamphong Station, the main terminal connecting to the rest of Thailand. It's also where you we got off the MRT (subway) for our day in Yaowarat, the Chinatown of Bangkok. 

The station, built in 1916 in an Italian neo-renaissance style, is worth checking out even though you're really not going anywhere. You can even walk along the train platforms as they are no gates that block you from going inside. As there was a coup d'etat going on, there was quite a number of military personnel scattered around the station. 

As my friend and I navigated the confusing layout of the streets, it was obvious that I didn't remember exactly how to get to Chinatown. I've been there more than a few times and before arriving, felt so confident in my navigational skills that I didn't bring my trusty old guidebook with me. 

With every turn, we encountered sights I've never seen before. A street selling all things related to car parts was interesting to see and it reminded my friend of RPG games. I, on the other hand, was just drenching in sweat, feeling a bit bewildered. 

Still, I didn't want to worry my friend and kept the fact that we were utterly lost, a secret I didn't quite manage to keep for too long. As we entered another street, I started to babble about the cool colors of the buildings around us, pretending that this was all part of the tour. 

I even had my camera out, snapping away at random things, such as this charming post box that caught my attention. It was obvious we were touring a semi-residential area and I could see from my friend's face that he was getting suspicious. 

The thing about getting lost is that you could be lucky enough to stumble upon an unexpected surprise. Such was our luck today as we discovered this gorgeous temple in all its golden glory. Home to the largest golden Buddha in the world, Wat Traimit is a sight to behold.

As I discovered later, this is a major tourist attraction in the Yaowarat area and is nestled conveniently between Hua Lamphong Station and Chinatown. 

Made of approximately 83% gold, this 15 foot statue is certainly stunning to look at. To get to the Buddha, we were required to climb up more stairs that we wanted to, but we were here and that meant we had to go and take a peek inside. 

As we were both extremely hot and dehydrated from the heat and humidity, we decided to rest a bit and admire this beautiful temple. 

As our bodies started to cool down, we could finally appreciate all the beauty in front of us. Beautifullly-designed walls, marble-tiled floors and the high ceiling of the main temple hall made the Buddha seem even larger than it actually was. After we regained our energy and hydrated ourselves, we decided to continue our tour as it was nearing lunchtime. 

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 2 Bangkok : Pratunam Market, The Malls of Siam and Cupcake Love

My second day in Bangkok was all about shopping and eating. That's right. Bangkok is a shopper's paradise and a food haven, made especially enticing by extremely low prices. And although it's easy to find expensive brand name luxury items like Louis Vuitton or Gucci, I'm much more interested in looking for unique Thai handicrafts and no-brand clothing created for the local market.

On this particular day, we went to explore the Pratunam area of Bangkok, known for their markets that sell wholesale clothing for dirt-cheap prices. For most women, the Pratunam Market as well as the Platinum Mall are two places that are on their must-visit list. Clothing doesn't get any cheaper than this.

Unfortunately for us, we didn't find much of interest as most of the offerings were women-centric. Still it was nice to see this side of town, which was very local in flavor. No luxury brands here. Just really cheap clothing and shoes, accessories of all types, and well, just about anything you can think of.

I bought myself a bagful of dried tamarind fruits and two bags of dried mangoes. They were unbelievably cheap and I decided they would make great gifts.

For lunch, we decided to eat in the incredible food court at the mega mall that is the Siam Paragon. The food  court with adjoining food emporium located on the ground floor, is an incredible place. As soon as I step into this food paradise, my feet get weak from the sheer variety of enticing temptations that are displayed beautifully one after another. I have to literally ignore all the cakes and sweets vendors in order to successfully get to the lunch offerings. Lucky for me, my friend kept pushing me from behind and reminded me to keep moving.

Although there was lots to choose from, I immediately went for my favorite food stall that offers a variety of traditional Thai dishes that can be eaten along with some rice.  I got myself a plate of whole grain rice for some extra fiber, along with a selection of two traditional Thai vegetarian selections. There were no names of the food displayed so I can't tell you what they were called, but they tasted so good I licked my plate clean!

One selection was a non-spicy ginger stir-fry which complimented the choice of spicy eggplants. The stir-fried slivers of ginger were cooked together with thinly-sliced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms in a light oyster sauce. The eggplants were smothered in a very spicy sauce. Alternating between the two dishes along with spoonfuls of rice made it easy to finish it despite the intense spiciness of the eggplant dish.

I also got a side order of crispy fried spring rolls. I love these so much I could eat two plates of these by myself. They are so much lighter than their Chinese counterparts as they are wrapped in rice paper rather than flour wrappers. Eaten with sprigs of fresh mint and a sweet sauce filled with sliced radish, carrots and peanuts, they are bite-sized morsels of pure delight.

After a couple of hours shopping and browsing at the huge mall, we decided to take a detour through the Central World, another mammoth department store located a few minutes from Siam Paragon. By a stroke of luck, we stumbled upon a beautiful cupcake shop that just called out to me. 

Resistance was futile so I immediately gave in to temptation and bought myself a box of just two. No more and no less. Believe me, it was extremely difficult not to buy more. But I knew I'd be coming back for more if these cupcakes were any good.

I usually judge a cupcakery by two flavors - Red Velvet and Chocolate, probably because they are two of my favorites and if they can't get those right, they've miserably failed in my book. So that's exactly what I got-a Red Velvet Cupcake and a Chocolate Brownie Cupcake, both looking so temptingly beautiful I just wanted to inhale them on the spot. I am happy to report that I succeeded in containing myself in a civilized manner. 

Once in the confines and safety of my hotel room, I immediately placed the attractive box of cupcakes on my desk. I contemplated about saving them for later, but that idea was scrapped within seconds. 

Chocolate Brownie Cupcake and Red Velvet Cupcake waiting to be devoured, savored and critiqued. 

There's nothing more satisfying than a piece of good Red Velvet Cake and it's even better when it comes in cupcake form. The Red Velvet Cupcake from Cupcake Love did not disappoint. I would even go as far as say they were probably the best Red Velvet Cupcakes I've ever eaten anywhere! 

The cake was moist and had a fantastic flavor with distinctive hints of cocoa. The cream cheese frosting was perfect in its sweetness and smoothness in texture. This one was definitely a winner. 

The Brownie Chocolate Cupcake on the other hand, was just OK. The cake was a bit on the dry side, possibly due to being in the display case for too long. It was a shame because it looked so good. The flavors were pretty good, but even with all the fancy things going on, this cupcake tasted surprisingly one-dimensional. The cake, the frosting and the brownies simply tasted too much alike. 

However I wasn't about to give up on this Bangkok cupcakery. I will definitely be going back to try some other flavors in a few days. I have my eye on you Lavender Cupcake! 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Som Tam and His Spicy Siblings-Lunch at MBK Bangkok

With every trip to Thailand, my love for the spicy papaya salad called Som Tam grows in intensity. It's hard to compare this complex dish to anything else because it's so multi-dimensional in flavor and texture. The mixture of salty and salty, sour and sweet, Som Tam is a refreshing salad that makes my mouth water with every single bite. 

After our tour of Jim Thompson's House, we walked over to the huge MBK shopping mall and immediately made our way to the massive food court. As my friend and I made our way past the selections, we honed in on one stall, letting you choose two items from an array of dishes. 

We both order plates of rice with two choices of the spiciest stir-fried foods we'd ever eaten. My friend decided to go for the same, except with different choices to go with his mound of rice. Everything on our plates were overflowing with spiciness and despite the pain on my tongue, I was in culinary heaven. 

My friend, on the other had, was visibly having a difficult time handling the heat and with every bite of his food, a tear would streak down his cheek. To minimize the spiciness, he took a couple of sips of his Thai Iced Tea, which ended up being the biggest mistake because it only intensified the pain in his mouth! 

Just check out the specks of hot chili in the dishes above. Although my friend tried to pick them out, it was nearly impossible to avoid them. Even though he's not a huge fan of spicy foods, I'm immensely proud of his bravery for at least trying it. And as you'll see, he didn't give up throughout the entire trip. 

We went through an entire library of spicy foods during our week-long food frenzy in Bangkok. And while our stomachs didn't always agree with us, we enjoyed every single tantalizing bite. 

MBK is one of the most popular malls in the Siam area in Bangkok. The closest station to the MBK mall is National Stadium on the Sky Train ( BTS ). The mall is so huge, you can't miss it. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jim Thompson's House and my First Thai Meal in Bangkok

After the rather extravagant and not-so-particularly healthy breakfast of cake can tea, my friend and I went in search of some culture at Jim Thompson's House. Known for single-handedly turning the Thai silk industry into a hugely successful export business, Jim Thompson built himself a house. It was no ordinary house, but actually six traditional wooden houses recontructed into one grand residence.

Full of priceless artifacts, traditional Thai porcelain and beautiful lush gardens, tours are held throughout the day, giving you a glimpse into Thai culture and architecture as well as the man himself. Set in a small soi (street) in the midst of the chaotic city of Bangkok, the place is a refreshing way to spebd an hour or two in serene and peaceful surroundings. 

After enjoying the tranquility of Jim Thompson's House, I ventured off in search of lunch. I already knew what I wanted and I knew exactly where to go. I was craving Som Tum, which is probably something I could eat almost everyday. 

A good plate of Som Tum is what makes foodies swoon with delight. Fresh green papaya mixed together with a blend of fiery hot chili peppers, nutty peanuts, dried shrimp and lime, each bite carries with it the most intense and complex flavors-sweet, salty, spicy and sour. Now make no mistake as this salad is not for those who have a low tolerance for spicy foods. The Som Tum's spicy level is not for the faint-hearted. With a side order of sticky rice and perhaps some pieces of chicken, I need nothing else. 

For dessert, I went a bit crazy and got two! I ordered a refreshing bowl of red jelly bits and water chestnuts topped by a mound of shaved ice all swimming in sweet coconut milk. And since mangoes are in season I couldn't resist a plate of them. The iced dessert was refreshing while the mangoes were sweet and rich as a cake from Hediard.  I was stuffed and felt like a Thanksgiving turkey after the meal, but it was all worth it because I was beyond happy. 

Cake for Breakfast

On the first morning in Bangkok, I wake up to the sound of the beeping cars passing by along the highway I'm front of the hotel. I was assigned a room facing a busy street the noise wasn't unbearable and the room was more spacious than I expected. 

After a quick shower, I head out to enjoy a day of shopping, eating and a little bit of culture. But wait a minute. What do I see across the street from my hotel! I see a Dean and Deluca store-one of my favorite stores in New York City. 

Naturally I gravitate towards the store and am curious to see what kind of goodies are on offer. As I wandered around the spacious and stylishly decorated store, I immediately decide that I must have a certain cake that was calling me from the glass display, showing off a dozen or so temptingly decorated cakes. 

I zoom in on this one cake that looked like something out of a fairy tale- a place inhabited by rainbow unicorns and pink rabbits. I was mesmerized and resistance was futile. 

Along with a cup of hot green tea, this became my first breakfast in Bangkok and it was a fantastic way to start my holiday. 

The Dean and Deluca Store is located at BTS Chong Nongsi Station in Bangkok. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On my way to Bangkok

It's been awhile since I've been to Bangkok- 6 years to be exact. I used to go at least once a year either for work reasons or for holiday. it's been too long and although there is a coup d'état at the moment, friends in Bangkok have assured me that it's all OK and even safer than it was before the takeover.

As I boarded my Thai Airways flight, my mind flashed back to all the wonderful food I'd experienced on past trips and my mouth immediately began to water. I can hardly wait to sink my mouth into a bowl of sour and spicy tom yum soup. I long to savor the sweetness of their awesome and juicy mangoes that are in season right now. But for now I have to be content with my inflight meal on Thai Airways, which really isn't so bad.

In fact, the meal was was quite tasty. For my entree, I chose the Thai Chicken Masala which was a great prelude to my trip. The small appetizer that consisted of some delicious smoked chicken was also surprisingly tasty and for the first time, finished everything on my tray.

I usually dread inflight meals, but some airlines really do it better than others. Thailand here I come!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ramen Burger Experiment

If you live in America, I'm sure you've heard of the Ramen Burger. It's one of the hottest food inventions in recent years and people are raving this east-meets-west concoction. The funny thing is that it's unheard of in Japan. 

Strangely enough, it did appear a couple of times at food festivals, but it was never successful most likely because it just wasn't that good. The ramen bun was dry and had an uncomfortable texture that sometimes hurt the insides of your mouth while the burger itself was a burger patty made with lots of fillers, so it's no wonder it didn't catch on. 

However Keizo Shimamoto, famous noodle master took care in constructing the ramen burger to make sure it was perfect. According to fans of this new-wave burger, the ramen bun should be slightly crunchy but soft on the inside. The burger should be of high-quality cooked medium rare with a secret sauce that's both sweet and salty topping off the entire thing. 

Now this is something I only read about because I live all the way in Tokyo but this got me intrigued and I suddenly had an intense desire to try and recreate it at home. As you can see from my picture, it was not a pretty sight but in my defense, it was a spur-of-the-moment experiment and as with all true experiments, the first time's rarely a success. 

My ramen bun was all over the place, visually unappetizing and I made my burger patty too thick. When I tried picking it up with my bare hands, it all came undone like a beautiful hairdo on a really bad day. 

So I will continue this experiement another day and I promise you that it will be near perfect the next time. Until then, hope everyone has an awesome weekend! Happy eating!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Ultimate Tomato Salad at Alan Wong's

There are many awesome things to eat while on vacation in Hawaii and with every visit, I discover even more good stuff. From the traditional Hawaiian food to local staples such as the Loco Moco, there's a never-ending buffet line of choices for the finicky eater. 

When it comes to fine dining on the island of Oahu, Alan Wong's Restaurant definitely comes out on top of most people's must-visit list. Winner of numerous awards, this local favorite is known for fresh, innovative cuisine, fusing Asian and Western flavors with local ingredients. 

One of my favorite dishes is the one shown above and it's no ordinary tomato salad. Just look at that beauty! If you look closely, you'll see that the tomato is skinned and sliced. It lies in a shallow bath of a sauce infused with the flavors of li hing mui. It's a unique salad course that must be ordered on a first visit to the restaurant. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Day at Misaki Port

Last summer I went to a remote part of Japan, just a 2-hour journey from Tokyo. I'd been itching to experience something new and I wasn't in the best of moods so visiting a new place seemed like a good idea. Making my trip to Misaki Port on the Miura Peninsula was one of the best decisions I've ever made. 

 Misaki Port is famous for one thing and that's their fresh maguro catch. In fact, this place boasts one of the largest catch of maguro ( tuna ) in the country. Most restaurants in this area serve tuna in some form and they are absolutely delicious.

Tuna heads on display in front of a local restaurant specializing in grilled tuna head. 

Smoked and marinated in a soy-based sauce, these meaty pieces of tuna taste more like ribs. They were so good I bought a dozen fillets to take home with me. 

A bowl of fresh sliced tuna over steamed rice was the perfect lunch to tide me over until tea time.