THE YUMMY FILES: THAILAND

by Carmel on January 19, 2014 · 20 comments

Welcome to The Yummy Files. We love a good meal. Whether it’s home cooked or out on the town, we want to share our favorite dishes and beverages while on the road. Come explore the food that has earned our highest praise, or what Shawn would just call yummy.

yummyscale

Our very scientific yummy scale

The day we decided to abandon the Philippines for Thailand, I looked at Shawn and said, “well, at least we know the food will be good.” He gave me that look that only he can give me that says, please don’t get your hopes up so high. In his mind, it was a bad idea to have any expectations, even if it was just about the food. But this one, I was sure about.

Portland has its share of Thai restaurants – they are almost as ubiquitous as our coffee shops. There seems to be one on every corner and everyone has their favorite. There’s everything from the usual family-run Thai place in every neighborhood to the nationally-famous Pok Pok. We’re familiar with Thai food. That didn’t stop me from having the highest expectations and excitement for our first stop in Thailand.

I started this post focusing solely on Bangkok since the differences between southern and northern Thai food can vary greatly but, to be honest, I got lazy. We were pleasantly surprised to see our southern favorites still available in the north and discover a few new gems during our extended stay in Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai. As a side note, I am going to cheat a little and add food finds from our second trip to Bangkok and Kanchanaburi in mid-December. I also omitted the food we had in Pai since I already covered it in the Pai Fishing post and we never ate at a restaurant outside the fishing park.

Soup

Is there anything better than a hot bowl of really good soup on a cold day? Well, we didn’t have very many cold days in our 5 weeks in Thailand, but that didn’t stop us from indulging in the variety of soups more than a few times a week. Sweating is supposed to help keep you cool, right?

YF_Thaisoups

I’m not sure we ever had the same soup twice during our entire stay

Appetizers, of sorts

We have a running joke about spring rolls (fresh or fried). About half of the time we order them, we actually get them. It’s probably for the best since they are so incredibly fattening, but now we know not to expect them.

YF_springrolls

A rare spring roll sighting!

While in Chiang Mai, we took a river boat dinner cruise. It was a cheap fare when purchasing dinner and we took the opportunity to try out the Chiang Mai specialty nam phrik ong, made with minced pork and tomato. It was also one of the few dishes we had time to decide on as we got approximately two minutes to peruse the menu before they insisted we order – the boat was leaving soon and the kitchen had little time to get the food out. Not sure why they didn’t advise us to board sooner since we had been sitting in the bar for about 20 minutes.

I liked the idea of this dish – it’s a dip to be eaten with blanched vegetables. It was good, but I think we would have liked it more if we had tried it somewhere else. The food on the cruise was…underwhelming.

YF_dip

Definitely the best part of our meal

Lastly, I love a good chicken wing, Buffalo style or other, but we were more or less testing things out in Thailand to see if anyone does fish sauce wings like the ones we’ve had at Pok Pok. If they do, we haven’t found them yet. The photo on the left is from a favorite outdoor place in Sukhumvit – they are super crisp and juicy, served with sweet chili sauce. The wings on the right were from the river boat cruise we took in Chiang Mai and were awful. They were supposed to be smoked. In reality they just had no flavor.

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Left: perfectly crisp wings for cheap; right: well, they sure look pretty

Meat-on-a-stick

You can get pretty much any type of meat on a stick in Thailand. I’m not a fan of corn dogs (yes, how very un-American of me), but stick a few pork or fish meatballs on a stick and I’m in. We highly recommend the northern Thai sausage sai oua, which has many of the same spices that you would find in a penang curry, like lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves (pictured below in lower right-hand corner).

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YF_meatman

Aw yeah…

Stir-fries

Can I tell you how nice it was to arrive in a country that offers such a variety of vegetables? I love vegetables. My siblings used to think there was something wrong with me as a child because I love vegetables so much. Sometimes we ordered stir-fries with meat as a main, sometimes just as a side. Our favorite, for sure, was stir-fried morning glory. How do we not have this in the U.S.?? Or have I just been missing it on menus? It is still one of our favorite dishes.

YF_stirfry

Bottom right-hand corner is our favorite – stir fried morning glory with garlic and chilies

Curries

I am not as familiar with Thai curries as I am with Indian curries. They are incredibly different – no disrespect to Indian curries, but I think I slightly favor Thai curries. Of course I can’t make that call officially until I’ve been to India. In my post about the cooking classes I took in Chiang Mai, I mentioned that I made my own penang curry paste – it quickly became my favorite of the Thai curries. However, when I tried it eating out after my class, I couldn’t help but say – mine was better. Probably because I could adjust it to my preferences and consistency, but honestly, it was just that damn good.

YF_curries

Top row: green curry with chicken, khao soi – northern yellow curry with egg noodles and chicken
Bottom row: left is the penang curry I got in Chiang Rai (yuck), right is my penang curry from cooking class

Noodles

You can’t talk about Thai food and forget to mention the noodles. My favorite is still the thick rice noodles, but any noodle you can get in Thailand is bound to be good, at minimum. I think the most inconsistent noodle we got was pad thai. It seems odd, being the national dish, that these noodles would be the hardest to master, but after making them, I can see why. They are finicky little noodles that leave little room for error. Cook them too long and they can become gummy. Not long enough, they are hard to chew. The worst offenses were the noodles that were swimming in grease. Most of the other noodles we ate were delicious and cooked perfectly. I was a little disappointed that my favorite noodle dish back home – pad kee mao (drunken noodles) – was so ridiculously hot that I couldn’t handle it. I like spicy food, but this was another level. I tried it twice and after both were so hot that my lips were numb for 20 minutes and my intestines (ahem) hated me for eating it, I decided I had to give up.

YF_noodles

Somehow this is the only good photo I have of the noodles we ate – guess we ate them too fast

Salads

Can I ever get sick of papaya salad? No, no I can’t. I have a slight obsession with fish sauce, so this is the perfect dish for me, combining fish sauce, lime juice and chilies as the main base. I could eat this almost every day and never get sick of it.

YF_papaya

Hello lover…

We also tried a dish similar to larb gai, although the meat was prepared a little differently than I’ve seen before. Both of these are on the spicy side, but it is well balanced and a little sweet, tart, and bitter from the lime juice and herbs.

YF_chickensalad

I don’t care what you say, this qualifies as a salad

Beverages

Did you know we like beer? I’m sure if you follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you might have noticed. I, obviously, say this with a wink because we’re from Portland, of course we love beer. We found a place called The Londoner in Bangkok when we first arrived and were happy to get an honest pint that wasn’t lager. It’s not quite the stuff we have back home in Beervana, but it provided a nice treat during both our stays in Bangkok. Our new friends at Where is your Toothbrush?, also from Portland, agreed that it was a good substitute to the usual Singha.

YF_beer

While in Chiang Mai, we heard of a place that sells bottled microbrews from the States. I had my hopes sky high for a Mirror Pond, or something from Deschutes, but unfortunately they didn’t have any. I may be shunned for saying this, but I don’t really like Rogue Brewery’s beers that much, so we opted to get a couple of Anderson Valley beers. I think Shawn’s face says it all.

YF_beer2

Beervana beer is art…we tend to agree

I normally don’t drink soda (pop, soft drink, coke, whatever), but have been drinking more of it while in Asia because sometimes bottled water gets old. When we arrived in Bangkok and I got a hold of this particular soda water, I was hooked. There are other brands, but Singha’s got the best.

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It wasn’t until our second trip to Thailand that we started drinking smoothies and fruit shakes. Given that they cost about $1 for a fresh fruit shake, I don’t know what took us so long. I think I’ve been gaining weight from all the extra sugar, so I’ve had to cut down on my consumption, but man, are they good.

YF_smoothie

I cheated a bit, this is from Laos

Roti

Speaking of addictions, Shawn has one of his own. I told him about roti before arriving in Thailand, but it took us until Chiang Mai to tried it. Now he’s a full-fledged addict. It’s about the thickness of a crepe, but made with a yeasted dough, stretched thin and fried. We chose to have ours filled with bananas and covered in Nutella and condensed milk.

YF_rotiman

Perhaps Shawn’s new best friend

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So what’s the verdict? Is there any question that Thailand gets Shawn’s highest honor?

Yesplease

MORE PLEASE!

 

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy January 19, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I can’t wait to go back and get a roti! They are so good for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner…and dessert. I want to eat everything in your pictures!

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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

And soon you will!! Squee!!

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Jimmy Dau January 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I can’t wait to eat all of those soups!!!!!
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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

And I repeat…And soon you will!! Squee!!

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Lindsay @ Where Is Your Toothbrush? January 20, 2014 at 6:54 pm

So much deliciousness packed into one blog post! Now that we’re in Malaysia, I especially miss papaya salad, coconut milk shakes, and of, course, SINGHA SODA WATER!!!!! There is no adequate substitution here! Oh the sweet, sweet, big beautiful bubbles. Sigh…
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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:18 pm

There really isn’t. I loved the La Croix brand of soda water back in the States and probably still will when we get back, but there’s something about a really cold, bubbly soda water with lime when it’s so wickedly hot and humid outside that just makes everything better.

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Ana January 20, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Made me hungry looking at the photo and the descriptions of the foods you are tasting. YUMMY is right!!

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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:18 pm

We can recreate some of these dishes when I get home. :)

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Maddie January 21, 2014 at 8:55 am

I still maintain that if I had to eat one nation’s food for the rest of my life it would be Thai. I’m really missing being able to get such fresh and healthy ingredients on the street, it’s just not something that we really do in the UK. Drunken noodles were my absolute favourite but then I do like really spicy food, I could also really murder a banana and chocolate roti right about now! Delicious photos as usual :-) P.S I’ve asked for a blender for my birthday so I can make lime shakes!
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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:21 pm

We never really got sick of the food and that’s saying a lot given how long we were there. The few times we ate Western food it wasn’t because we were tired of Thai food, it just filled a weird craving one of us was having.

I wish I could explain how hot the drunken noodles I had were because I feel like people must think I’m a wuss or that I don’t like spice. The first time we ordered them, we were literally wading through the peppers to find some noodles that weren’t covered in bits of chili and seeds. It was intense. Shawn gave up almost immediately. And I have no photographic evidence.

Nice! I had a coconut lime shake yesterday. It was damn good.

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Kellie January 21, 2014 at 11:30 am

Oh I so hungry now! I love Thai food, its delicious. All those pictures have really made me miss it :-(. When I first went to Thailand I think I was on a banana and Nutella roti a day, it wasn’t good for my waistline, but they were soooo good.
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Carmel January 21, 2014 at 6:22 pm

YOU’RE IN MEXICO! Probably the only other cuisine I could eat every day and never tire of.

Oh nutella roti…I am determined to figure out how to make them when we get home.

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Karen January 22, 2014 at 6:03 am

Your pictures were a descriptive finale to your writings. Almost everything sounded and looked yummy. A very devoted photographer you are, complimented by your ever descriptive writing. Would love to try some of these dishes now.

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Carmel February 28, 2014 at 12:08 am

We will definitely try some when we visit this summer!

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) January 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Oh, this brought back so many good memories! I had always enjoyed eating Thai food before we left on our trip, but I never really appreciated just how much I loved it until we actually got there and got to eat it EVERY DAY. I get tired of foods pretty quickly, so like you, it says a lot that save for 1 week in Pai, out of about 11 weeks total in the country we never really craved anything other than the local food. There aren’t very many other countries we’ve visited where the food hasn’t gotten a little bit monotonous after a while, so it’s little wonder Thailand is one of our top food destinations so far.

I was really worried about the spice aspect of things because I used to be a real spice wuss… the first time we visited Thailand, I found the green curries and papaya salads often a hair too spicy for me, but on our last trip, I was able to eat all the things without breaking a sweat. I guess I’ll have to try these drunken noodles at some point and see how I fare (it will probably be a disaster…).
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Carmel February 28, 2014 at 12:08 am

You have a tongue of steel now!

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NZ Muse February 12, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Fried > soft spring rolls, every time!

The best drinks in Thailand were definitely all the fruity ones (watermelon being my fave). Water does get old, my husband subsisted mostly on those enormous slushies from 7-11! If only sugarcane was as big in Thailand as it is in Malaysia/Vietnam.
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Carmel February 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Yes! I never tried the sugarcane drink in Vietnam. I probably should have, but the idea of just a sugary drink sounded unappealing to me. Guess I’ll have to go back! ;)

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