February 18, 2017

Bangkok 2017 day 1: sweet tom yum

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After ending my self-imposed exile from Thailand last year, I'm back in Bangkok for a few more days to explore the dining scene.  This time Hello Kitty and I are meeting up with friends from all over the world, and we started by meeting a friend for lunch right after we landed.

My friend has spent a significant amount of time over the last few months eating around Asia, and actually has just finished organizing a tour of Thai restaurants in Bangkok.  When he suggested that we meet at Pe Aor (ร้านพี่อ้อ), I didn't hesitate to say "Yes" - despite not being a great fan of the classic Thai dish of tom yum goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง).

We arrived straight from the airport with our big luggage in tow, apologizing to my friend for being late due to a traffic accident along the way.  No sooner had we sat down than we were handed a couple of menus.  One was clearly for locals, with multiple pages, pictures, and descriptions in Thai.  The other was a one-pager, with only large pictures of the various tom yum goong options and the prices.  No descriptions.  I guess this was for the tourists.

Our friend has been here before, and since this was a snack before he headed off to a real lunch, chose a "regular" bowl priced at THB 60.  I looked at the menu and decided to splurge on a "luxe" version that cost THB 700 - making it the most expensive bowl of tom yum goong I have ever had.

So what justified the large price multiple?  Well, instead of the regular shrimps, you get three giant river prawns, large mussels, and inexplicably, a fairly big chunk of salmon.  There's also a squid stuffed with minced pork.  One has a choice of noodles, and Hello Kitty chose glass vermicelli.

These couple of small crabs stuffed with minced pork and yolk were pretty decent.

We also found it interesting that they served boiled egg with soft yolk.

This was definitely a pretty unique experience.  First of all, it was unlike any tom yum goong I've ever had.  I've never been a fan of either very spicy or acidic food, and tom yum goong hits both these problems.  The soup base here was very mild in terms of acidity, and not very spicy at all.  In fact, it tasted pretty sweet.  It's apparently made with Carnation condensed milk for the creamy texture.  This was by no means the classical version, although I myself liked this better for the reasons I outlined earlier.

The problem, though, was that the river prawns weren't very fresh.  The flesh had started to turn a little mushy, so that was disappointing when you consider we were paying more than 10x for a bowl with "premium" ingredients.  Imagine what would have happened had we paid over THB 1,000 for a bowl with a spiny rock lobster and finding the lobster not fresh...

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