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Füd Report from Thailand
By Magistrate Tavee

4/5/02

 

Magistrate Tavee here, reporting from Bangkok, Thailand, where I've been called for some official business. It's one month into summer here, and the benches are hot: Today is set to reach 96, with a heat index of 111 by 1 p.m. Not the kind of weather that makes me want to chow down, but there's so much füd in this great city that it's hard to resist taking a few recesses.

Questionable SauceI'm sure it would not benefit or surprise you to hear that Thai food in Thailand is fantastic. Yeah, some of the riverside joints redefine "dive," and by the looks of it, the shrimp have decent odds against any Maine lobster in a Mui Thai boxing match. Eating exotic is very good and very necessary, but just be as discerning as possible when it comes to your health. Some advice from The Court, should you be lucky enough to venture this way:
Bottled drinks only
• Avoid crushed ice (you don't know where it's been or who/what crushed it)
• Use your own judgment when it comes to the wide variety of tasty side sauces -- many untidy places make them with questionable vinegars, curries, and peppers. I'm not saying avoid them altogether, but just make sure you take a good look around before you smother it on your fried fish heads.
Bring some napkins wherever you go (for the occasional, accidental "spill")
And for the love of all things holy: Spoons, not forks, are designed to "spoon" up rice, get me?

That said, Bangkok has a variety of dining establishments catering specifically to worldly jurors, in the hopes of reaching those with a touch of homesickness. I thought it might be fun to try my luck at one of these joints, just to get a taste of what I've been missing.

First to approach:
Coco Pazzo (Siam Discovery Centre)

The Siam Discovery Centre is a shopping mall in the heart of Bangkok that caters to tourists and wealthy Thai folk with Western tastes. Evidently, focus groups have shown that people like to eat on the top floor of a shopping establishment. I don't get it. And I don't know how else to explain the food court in this mall, or any other in the world, maybe apart from Manifest Destiny. But I digress from the füd.

Coco Pazzo is an Italian restaurant. You can tell because the waiters wear red waistcoats, and there is a vaguely impressionistic painting of Piza on the wall. Other than that, the same chairs and tables as the neighboring restaurants. My uncle (a native) recommended this place to me. Said it was "very busy like New York restaurant." Sure enough, it was packed with Thai and "Fuh-rung" (foreigners) alike. On the menu are a fair number of standard Italian dishes, from your Bolognese, Caprese annesca, to spinach and squid-ink pastas, to pollo marsala and Milanese. Promising start.

In any new case, I try to keep my judging parameters as simple and consistent as possible. When going Italian, I always go for either the typical marinara or, in this case, an aglio olio. Typically, aglio olio is just pasta, olive oil, garlic, a touch of hot pepper and salt, not too wet and certainly not dry. I really don't know what I received here at Coco Pazzo, though I did recognize the Pepsi. The dish was a sort of clear-ish viscous-y soupy deal with Thai red and green chili peppers floating around the top. Salty and hot as hell, and not a hint of olive oil or garlic. Very distasteful to say the least. My brother got a chalky-looking squid ink pasta. I remember him saying it wasn't at all that bad, though later that night his feelings changed quite drastically. He now believes the sauce to be made with gunpowder.

Coco Pazzo. Sickness, not homesickness.

 

March 27, 2002

Lung SakAfter the Coco Pazzo fiasco, it was time to regroup, and the last time I'd ask my relatives to recommend anything other than Thai food. So I asked my knowledgeable uncle Lung Sak, known as something of a sage around these parts, and who had the manly confidence to wear a t-shirt on which my mom had inexplicably hand-painted a flower (see photo), to take me somewhere tasty. His pick: Chi Rote.

I write the name Chi Rote phonetically, as I have no idea how else to write it in English. A rough translation of the name yields a rather befuddling: "Winning" (Chi) "Fame" (Rote). A more precise translation would require me being completely fluent in Thai, or being related to better translators (mind you, Lung Sak named his architecture firm "Bird Air"). Anyway, this little hideaway and local favorite provided one of the single greatest meal experiences of my life.

When you head to Thailand, chances are very good that you'll end up eating fish and other fruits of the sea. Seafood is good, cheap, and readily available to Thai folk, though chicken and beef are becoming less big-ticket füd items throughout the country. For this meal, Lung Sak ordered the fish special. Maybe there's some name for it, but Chi Rote serves up whatever's fresh without need for no stinking menu.

A couple more things to note about Thai restaurants: A lot of places don't follow the appetizer/entrée routine. For example, Chi Rote just serves füd when it's ready and the portions are all equally small/large, depending on how you look at it. Also, you'll find most local places don't spend much time garnishing – you'll just get füd on a plate and some rice in a large aluminium-ish container on the side. Anyway, within a few minutes, I was brought a steaming dish that looked to be a fried filet of some kind of fish topped with what amounted to five chopped-up cloves of garlic. I later found this out to be sea bass, and yes, about five cloves of garlic. I won't bother trying to tell you about the fish melting in my mouth, how it was just the perfect balance of garlic to spice, and how my breath is permanently irreparable. I will tell you though that I will probably never be able to order fish in the states again, and that's just fine with me.

Best Fish

Oh, and just for reference, between four people, each with an entrée and beers and all, the meal cost 378 Thai Baht, or 9 U.S. dollars. Total. Damn, Thai food is good in Thailand!

 

Saturday, March 30th

Santa's HamburgersTwo years ago, I passed an interesting looking burger palace named Santa's Hamburgers. Dan, my traveling compadre during that trip, was first to note their interesting tagline: "Great Tasting Gifts." It being hotter than hell outside, I thought a little X-mas spirit meal might be a nice change of pace.

There was not a single tourist in the place. And looking at the menu, I could see why. There were pork "disks," "American Fried Rice," "spicy salad," and other items that might sound a little testy for a place set up like a fast food joint. True to form, I ordered a burger, fries and Coke, straight up. To tell you the truth, the burger wasn't as terrible as I had anticipated -- it was more like what you probably got in your high-school cafeteria, except with a smaller bun and a better grade of grayish industrial beef product.

The fries were of the frozen, ridged variety, which, it seems from my experience even in the states, were never even meant to be crispy. The place was jam-packed with school kids, all still in uniform. None of whom was eating a burger. Sitting alone with all of the happy little campers, I realized I must have done a lot of bad things this year.

 

March 31

Bharani!I was lucky enough to hook up with a woman I'd grown up with in Michigan, who later became Miss Thailand and now lives the high life in Bangkok as a model/actress/whatever. Word of the Füd Court's presiding bench talent had made its way to Thailand some several years ago, and Pop, as she's called, had been waiting for the opportunity to influence the bench with one of her favorite Western food haunts: Bharani. Lucky I got there first.

Bharani is located near Soi Kowboi (pronounced "cowboy"), one of two major red-light districts in Bangkok (the other being Patpong). It's been around forever, and because of the influx of naughty Westerners into Soi Kowboi, Bharani has cultivated quite an extensive menu suited to Fuhrungs' midnight cravings. The place itself is filled with pictures of Thai royalty dating back to Rama V, of "The King and I" fame. Oh, and never mention "The King and I" to Thai people – it's been banned by the government. There are also some cool old knick-knacks: record players, typewriters, and pots and pans older than me.

Chicken Taco Pizza!While the menu is very extensive, including Shish Kebab, Beef Tenderloin, and Chicken Pot Pie, Pop ordered two of her favorites for me: cured ham, and a chicken taco pizza. OK, so I've never had either of these things in the U.S., but whatever, what I ate was delicious. The ham was lightly-cooked cured in lemon juice (and therefore clean), with a lot of chili pepper. Didn't look amazing but I ate it anyway. Very hot. The chicken taco pizza was even better: small triangles of dark flour tortilla shell, with a shredded chicken base and lettuce, some kind of cheese and a sliver of red pepper, arranged so as to resemble a whole pie. How about that! Surprisingly not hot, and not quite Mexican. The chicken itself is more mellow and close to sweet despite some sort of sauce that looks like BBQ sauce. Very tasty!

 

Mound! After the meal, Pop took me to Bangkok's latest craze: Mound. Again, a phonetic spelling, Mound is a dessert place that serves milk and bread. That's pretty much it. Here's how it works: One cook fries thick slices of bread (sort of like Challah) and hands them to another, who spreads sugar and an enormous chunk o' butter on top, and then slices the bread into six pieces. Then, depending on the order, the chef drops a variety of sauces on top: chocolate, fruits, condensed milk and more. Mound also serves an array of flavored milks on the side (strawberry, chocolate and coffee). The place was packed to the gills with the hippest of Thai youth, and Pop's presence didn't curb the frenzy any. I skulked away with chocolate bread and strawberry milk in hand, while Pop was tackled by adoring fans. And through the window, I admired the almost fluorescent vat of butter and tried not to be very afraid. This sliced bread thing is brand new here, so the hysteria is quite understandable, especially after you've had some.

Pop!Given my earlier experiences, I knew there was no way to top this. And it couldn't have come at a better time, as I had a 6 a.m. flight back to New York the next morning.

See you in the states!

Magistrate Tavee

 

Contact Magistrate Tavee at plangent1002@hotmail.com

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