Sunday, March 1, 2009

Asia Adventure Part 2: Bangkok

I was so relieved when Shivaun finally said that she would come to Bangkok with us. Thailand had been on my list of countries to visit for years, but when it came down to it, I was a little nervous about wandering around a place so far removed from our own culture. Then again, it's not an adventure if you don't break out of your comfort zone, so Rob and I explored on our own, visiting temples and Buddhas and markets. The culture shock was less severe than I expected.

I'd heard it before and it is definitely true: the Thais love to eat. More specifically, they love to eat meat. Everywhere you turn, meat is hanging from hooks in street carts, grilled on a barbeque, strung onto sticks. The smell mixes with exhaust from heavily trafficked streets and hangs in the air. I was warned not to try the street food, and while I had every intention of ignoring that advice, the smell -- and sometimes, the sight -- of the raw, unmasked meat was a bit much for me.

Lucky for us, Shivaun's family was visiting Bangkok at the same time as us, and boy do they know how to party. Every night we were spoiled by huge catered dinners, sometimes poolside, sometimes with live Indian music, with tray after tray of amazing Indian food -- rice, stewed meats, vegetables, skewers, etc. We would usually eat way too much to make up for our long days of unfed exploring. We were happy in this rhythm until one night when the GM of the hotel approached us and said that while he was glad to see us every night, we really needed to get out and try some real Thai food. We asked for a recommendation and without thinking he says "Ban Chiang!" At this point his wife jumps up and says yes, you must visit Ban Chiang. Ask the front desk for directions. We're pretty receptive to suggestions (and we can take a hint), so the next day at lunch we headed out, map in hand, to check it out.

Ban Chiang is like a leafy oasis. The restaurant has the feel of an old colonial house, very wooden and charming. They had a beautiful outdoor seating area, but we opted for the air conditioned house.

The menu was huge and we almost didn't know where to start. And then we decided, what better way to gauge a real Thai restaurant than by getting our Sripraphai usuals? So even we ordered the crispy pork with Chinese kale, the roasted duck salad and -- to add a control group to our study -- ginger chicken. I also ordered a Thai iced tea because I got a kick out of just asking for an "iced tea" to get it. You can't do that unless you're in Thailand!

Aside from the chicken, which was a little boring, everything was amazing. The iced tea was very memorable, as it had a good hint of coffee flavor. While the crispy pork didn't have the satisfying crunch that we all know and love at Sripraphai, the meat was much less fatty and a little less salty. The Chinese kale was seriously addicting and I didn't even think I liked the stuff. The duck in the duck salad dish was perfectly tender -- again, NOT fatty -- and came with chopped cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and basil.

We ordered the mango with sticky rice for dessert, not knowing that it would change our lives forever. I'm not being dramatic. The mango was the ripest, sweetest, most perfect fruit either of us ever had the pleasure of tasting. The sticky rice was a great accompanyment, adding a solid texture to the fruit that melted in your mouth. It was devine. We reported immediately back to Shivaun who smiled and said, "Yeah, mangoes are a lot better in Thailand than they are back home." Understatement of 2009.

More to come...

No comments: