Saturday, December 5, 2009
Thailand. What can I say? The beaches were beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was phenomenal. And what's more, it was fundamentally different from anything I've ever tasted before. I think food nerds have a tendency to seek out the new and undiscovered, and Thailand had that in spades. Even familiar dishes like pad kee mow and som tam were revelations. And the regional foods satisfied cravings I didn't even know I possessed.
Three or four of the meals that we had in Bangkok surpassed anything I've had in the United States (and S.F. and L.A. are no slouches when it comes to Thai food). Even the worst restaurants that we ate at in Bangkok rivaled the best of what we can get over here. Down south, things took a bit of a dive in quality, but we still had a couple of outstanding meals. Overall, the thing that struck me most about eating in Thailand was the incredible balance between salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and spicy. During the truly great meals (and there were many) each bite of every dish was slightly different from the last. The balance of flavors was such that the taste of a dish constantly evolved, managing to stay fresh, new, and exciting. Thomas Keller has famously said that the first bite of a dish is the best, and that by the third bite, one's enjoyment is considerably diminished. But Thai dishes done right are like experiencing the first bite over and over again — heaven for those afflicted with food ADD, like me.
My sister gave me the best advice before our trip. Though we'd heard lots of negative things about Bangkok, she encouraged us to stay for at least a few days, because the food there is the best in Thailand. Not only did we love Bangkok (interesting ethnic neighborhoods, cool shopping districts, nightlife, and cultural sights), but she was completely right about the food. We actually rearranged our travel plans to get extra time in Bangkok at the end of our trip. I highly encourage anyone planning a trip to Thailand to not use Bangkok as a stopover, but as a destination in its own right.
Favorite things consumed would be the spicy wing bean salad at Ruen Mai in Krabi, the heavenly moist Issan bbq chicken at Khrua Rommai in Sukhumvit (Bangkok) and the incredible seafood pad kee mow at Raan Jay Fai (of NYT fame) near Chinatown (Bangkok). To ask for food Thai spicy, make sure to say "phet phet" when you order.