April 24, 2024

Scorching Bangkok day 1: offally Isaan

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I'm in Bangkok for a few days to hang out with two of my favorite chefs, where the priorities on my itinerary were - quelle horreur! - NOT restaurants serving Thai cuisine. After a second night where I didn't get enough sleep, I was pretty tired by the time I landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Thankfully getting through immigration was a breeze today, and per SOP I took the Airport Rail Link into town, then got myself a Grab car from Phaya Thai station.

Thanks to my flight being delayed, I arrived at the Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River a little later than anticipated. However, it was just a little after noon, and my room wasn't ready for check-in. I left my luggage with the hotel and headed off to lunch not too far away.

100 Mahaseth had been on my radar for a few years, but it never became a priority as other, newer spots kept popping up. Well, their Si Praya location isn't too far from the hotel, so I figured it would be a good place to grab lunch today. I don't think I've ever dined anywhere specializing in cuisine from Issan (อีสาน), as I was always under the impression that it is fairly spicy, so this would be an educational experience for me.

It didn't look like the "tasting menu" listed on their website was still available, or at least it wasn't offered for lunch. I found a few dishes I was interested in on the menu, checked with the staff on sizing, and placed my order.

Now that I'm in Bangkok, the drink I most wanted was orange juice (น้ำส้มคั้น) made with Thai tangerines (ส้มเขียวหวาน) that I love so, so much. Even though I was trying to get over the remnants of a nagging cough, I just had to gulp down a couple of glasses of this iced nectar.

At the start of the meal, the staff brought me a collection of salads and dips, which included two som tum (ส้มตำ) and three dipping sauces: jaew (แจ่ว) tamarind, jaew pla-ra (แจ่วปลาร้า), and Thai chimichurri.

Som tum Thai (ส้มตำไทย)

Som tum pu pla-ra (ส้มตำปูปลาร้า)

I looooooove pork rinds (แคปหมู), but today I didn't have a whole lotta room for them...

Fried pork belly (หมูสามชั้นทอดน้ำจิ้มพริกกะปิแมงดาคั่วผงลาบกับแจ่วพริกป่นใส่น้ำปลาร้า) - this came with two dipping sauces: the common nam jim jaew (น้ำจิ้มแจ่ว) with a little heat; as well as a boiled shrimp paste made with maeng da (แมงดา)... otherwise known as "giant water bug". The latter definitely had some strong flavors.

The pieces of pork belly were marinated with fish sauce and coriander root. They're deep-fried and fatty, so what's not to like?!

Pork intestines (ไส้หมูทอด) - the soy sauce flavors were pretty strong after braising, which masked some of the usual flavors that some find unpleasant. The intestines were then dehydrated before deep-frying to make them real crunchy. Sprinkled with deep-fried shallots, and served up with nam jim kai (น้ำจิ้มไก่). So, soooo happy.

Fermented rice stuffed chicken wings (ไส้กรอกอีสาน ปีกไก่ย่าง) - this was, apparently, a twist on the classic Isaan sausage (ไส้กรอกอีสาน). Served with a green dipping sauce that has plenty of acidity made with coriander and ginger, which tastes like Cantonese 薑蓉 often served with chicken.

Chicken wings are de-boned and hollowed out, then stuffed with glutinous rice and garlic. They are then dried for a few days so that the rice develops a sour taste from fermentation. Very interesting.

Dry aged tongue (ลิ้นดรายเอจ) - the beef tongue was hung to dry-age for two weeks, then grilled. Served with perilla seeds, pickled radish, and chamuang (ชะมวง) leaf.

I love that it came in thin slices. It was very tender and there was just enough springiness. Loved the smoky flavors, too.

Lod chong (ลอดช่อง) - this was, basically, the Thai version of chendol. Hidden within the "three types of meringue" - which didn't taste all that different to me - was the trio of palm sugar ice cream, pandan jelly "noodles", and coconut sorbet.

I was really full... as this was a lot of food for one person. I was pretty happy to have finally made it here, and it gave me a lesson of Isaan cuisine... and made me realize I'd been eating some of the most popular Isaan dishes for years without knowing they're from the region. With my appetite satisfied, it was time to roll back to the hotel and check-in...

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