Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Bangkok Part 3/5: Slightly overhyped

This part of my Bangkok report is horrendously late, and will cover those places that had stellar reputations and (in some cases) very long queues. Perhaps those who raved about the food exaggerated too much, or perhaps the quality has deteriorated recently, but I just didn’t find them to be as impressive as the reviews suggested.

Not that they’re bad, mind you. Some of them are even worth a try… they’re just not as mind-blowing as I had expected.

Thip Samai
This hugely famous pad thai shop was packed to capacity and had a long line out front even on a week night.

The queue to get into Thip Samai.

The noodles are pretty nice, a little sweetish, with very delicately balanced flavours. Any addition of condiments – be it a squeeze of lime or chilli flakes – will change the flavour noticeably. They use good, fresh ingredients and got the cooking down to a production-line level of efficiency so we got our food fairly quickly in spite of the crowds. There was even a station manned by a couple of cooks who do nothing but fry up paper-thin crepes of egg and wrap the noodles in them.

While the food was good, it was not exactly mind-blowing. There just wasn’t enough wok hei and the flavours just aren’t very robust. Now, having had a taste of what most people agree is one of the best pad thais around, I can safely say that the pad thai is nowhere near as good as the Penang char koay teow I grew up on. Probably no stir-fried noodle dish ever will be. That’s something we can be proud of as Malaysians.

Looks kinda like char koay teow, but nowhere near as good.
We also ordered this egg-wrapped Pattaya-style pad thai.

Aside from the pad thai, they also have a coconut slush that’s apparently made according to a recipe given to the shop by the King’s mother, specifically to pair with their pad thai. It was pretty good, sweeter than normal coconut water and with a slight hint of caramel. There is a small problem with it that could just be down to my personal taste – there was this slightly unpleasant smell of coconut oil every time I swallow a mouthful of the stuff. I wouldn’t order it again because of this, but Lady Fartsalot didn’t have any issue. At any rate, since it’s only 25 Baht a cup, it’s certainly worth trying out at least once.

A kingly drink.

Another famous drink at Thip Samai is their orange juice – the only juice I know of that is charged at market rate, depending on the types of oranges they were able to buy that day. It certainly tastes good, with plenty of orange pulp and the flavour of natural oranges. However, I thought it was a little overpriced at 130 Baht for a big bottle containing about 1 liter of the stuff.

Most expensive orange juice I have ever had.
Prawn pad thai
Having finished our meal at Thip Samai, being the gluttons that we are, we immediately hopped next door to another pad thai shop that serves prawn pad thai. It was a little wetter than the pad thai at Thip Samai, with big, nicely cooked prawns and some ‘prawn oil’ or something, but other than that it was more or less the same pad thai dish. And actually, I thought it tasted more of crab than it did of prawn.

The prawn is the undisputed star of this dish.

Kaiton Pratunam chicken rice
On the day we went to this shop, they were not open at their usual time because the whole city was in mourning due to the death of a prominent religious figure. This meant we had to wait for many hours till they opened later in the day, and had to change our plans significantly.

When the shop finally opened, it was immediately packed with people and the workers were furiously chopping up some massive birds. It looked like we were in for a memorable chicken rice meal.

I am disappointed, however, to say that it had not been worth the wait. The rice was very fragrant and had a strong chicken flavour, but everything else was painfully ordinary. On top of the rice was a very small portion of chicken which tasted like the sort of run-of-the-mill steamed chicken you could find at most stalls in Malaysia. The condiments are slightly different: there was a sweetish chilli sauce, cili padi, ginger and some sweet soy sauce, but beyond that, it was just a regular old chicken rice meal.

Looks for all the world like a mediocre chicken rice meal at a not-very-good coffee shop in some sleepy backwater town. Tastes like it, too, unfortunately.

Thean Song duck
The roast duck was very tender and came in a very rich and thick dark sauce. There was also a nice vinegary condiment that worked well with it. I was just a little disappointed with this one because it didn’t have much duck flavour.

Lots of duck meat but not really a lot of duck flavour.

The soft steamed bread at the same shop was a little better. Nice and warm and fluffy, it came with a generous helping of kaya. This kaya had the deep, rich orange colour of a good egg yolk and was extremely smooth. It was drizzled with what appeared to be evaporated milk. The combo would make for a really lovely light breakfast.

I actually liked this a lot more than I did the duck, carnivore though I may be.
The entries in this post had so much hype that my expectations were built up higher than they were able to deliver. In the next Bangkok installment, we will have a look at a few interesting items that we just stumbled upon without any expectations whatsoever. Stay tuned!

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