Sunday, April 10, 2016

Meal #09: Thailand

Our first Thai meal takes us to Krua Apsorn on Samsen Road in Dusit, a small restaurant that boasts a chef who has cooked for royalty - specifically the late Queen Mother and late PrincesGalyani Vadhana. Krua Apson, which has several locations around Bangkok, is well-known among Thai foodies, and the original branch in Samsen is always full - I should know because my office is around the corner.

We were lucky enough to snag a table for 10 people on the last day before they closed for Songkran. Despite being a Saturday lunch, the restaurant was full and I was worried that they forgot my reservation because when we went into the restaurant there were no seats available. But no, that wasn't the case, they had another air-conditioned room at the rear building and there were a table with our name on it. Today's food explorers were Air, Sonya, YY, Dan, Minh, Jim, Kai and myself, coming from Thailand, Australia, Japan, US, Vietnam, Germany and Singapore.

Air described Krua Apsorn as Thai home cooking. The menu was relatively small, but everything we ordered was very, very good.

As this was a Thai meal, we ate Thai style - everyone had their own plate of rice along with a few signature courses that was shared between everybody.

The first signature dish was the yellow crab curry, featuring large chunks of crab stir fried with egg and onions in a mild curry sauce.

Prawn curry with lotus shoots - this was the spiciest of the dishes, but even then not tongue-numbingly spicy.

The second crab-heavy dish, stir-fry crab with yellow chilli was a favourite amongst ourselves. Notice the chunks of crab!

This is a rare dish not commonly found in most menus - a kind of Thai flower stir-fried with pork.

And lastly, a gigantic omelette filled with... you guessed it, more crab!

There were two more items that we ordered that I forgot to take pictures of. The first was the special of the day, shrimp cakes, and the second was the coconut ice cream, which was technically a sorbet rather than an ice cream. The sorbet was very good and very rich in flavour and home-made. Despite the crates of fresh coconut on premises, the restaurant didn't even serve coconut juice - it was all going towards the coconut sorbet.  

Between the eight of us the bill was slightly more than B300 a person, which is a really good price for the quality of food we had. Definitely give this one a try if you can - it's not near the BTS or MRT lines, but it's not outrageously difficult to get to either. The main branch is just next door to the National Library of Thailand (หอสมุดแห่งชาติ).

Rat fund: We collected B220 for the rat fund, bringing the current total to B1,770.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meal #08: USA

Some weeks ago, Tom from the American Bar & Grill invited us to have a meal at his restaurant in Sukhumvit 8. We hadn't had American yet, so we made our way down on steak night (Mondays) for half-off steaks.

Today's party was Anna, Jim, Joachim, Kim, Lynette, Parul, Bep, Baz and myself, representing Russia, USA, Namibia, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, India, Singapore, Netherlands and the UK.

If you have a hankering for steak, Mondays is steak night at the American Bar & Grill, and they have two kinds - a massive tenderloin (top) and ribeye (bottom) (Sides are extra). They have other themed days too - Wednesday is fish and chips, and Saturday is for ribs (which I want to try later at some stage).

The menu isn't very large, but there are a decent number of options for starters and mains. Some of us didn't have steak, and went for the other dishes instead. From top to bottom, the Philly Cheesesteak, meatloaf, and salmon. For starters we shared a caesar salad, chilli fries and onion rings (not pictured because they disappeared quickly). 

There was only one dessert, a slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. But I gotta say, it's really, really good. Tom, our host declared with great confidence that it is the best apple pie in all of Thailand. I am inclined to agree.

I forgot to take a photo of the front of the restaurant, but the American Bar & Grill is located off Sukhumvit 8, very close to Nana Station. Once you enter Suk 8, it's on the second Soi to the right, across from the Lolita Bar. There are dining areas at the bottom and second level. Many thanks to Tom, who invited us and set us up in the private room upstairs!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Meal #07: India and Myanmar

Today's was a great meetup made up of a combination of great people (old and new) and great food! Annapurna, on Thanon Pan, is an Indian restaurant serving great vegetarian and non-vegetarian food with a smaller Burmese side menu.

As with all our meetups, I have a limit of ten people for every meal because it's hard to get a table and/or socialise with anything larger. In past meetups, we've always had one or two drop out at the last minute, so it was a pleasant surprise to have all 10 people show up today. We were: Lynette, Anna, Hiro, Vera, Chihiro, Josh, Sharon, Kim, Emily and myself hailing from the US, Japan, Russia, England, the Philippines and Singapore.

The staff at Annapura were real great too. I came in an hour early to ask for a table for 10. When I came back, there it was, waiting for us. The menu had lots of explanations, although the Burmese menu was more of a list. Still, that didn't deter us from ordering.

For starters, we had some samosas (potato filled curry puffs), and two exceptional dishes: the first was the lapeit thoke, or tea leaf salad. This Burmese dish featured fermented tea leaves, which was complemented by the crunch of the peanuts and dhal. Fresh garlic added a little kick to the dish. Some of us have had tea leaf salad in Myanmar before, and we found that Annapura's version to be superior.

The second exceptional starter was the Panipuri, consisting of an egg-shaped crispy dough ball, which you stuffed with a potato and chickpea mixture, and topped off with a spicy green sauce. A great combination of textures and flavours, but also it was fun having to assemble your own.

Everyone ordered their own mains, mostly curries with rice or bread - most were dispatched before I could take photos. For my order, I had a masala dosa.

We ordered a fair bit of starters and drinks, and after all that the bill only came up to B 220 per person. A really good price! The rat fund collection came up to THBB 90, bringing the total to THB 1550.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Meal #06: Heading to Hong Kong

Last week the Food Explorers went to Hong Kong, by way of Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant. From a small hole in the wall in Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan has grown to several restaurants around the world, and Bangkok has a branch right in Terminal 21.

Despite the Michelin star and the accompanying fame and popularity, Tim Ho Wan remains a fairly casual place. They don't take reservations, but service is brisk. For a party of ten, they asked us to wait until we had a full party in place. We didn't have to wait long though - perhaps 20 minutes - and they ushered us in with 6 people present.

Eventually we were nine - Y.Y. (Japan), Bep (Netherlands), Vera (Brazil), Lynette (Philippines), Joan (Netherlands), Josh (US), Kim (Australia), Maria (Russia) and myself (Singapore).

Being familiar with Dim Sum, the ordering was left to me and I ordered one or two Dim Sum's greatest hits. Tim Ho Wan's dim sum menu is pretty standard - in fact, I've seen larger menus with more variety - but they definitely have all the classics. Ordering is easy with no frills. Your placemat doubles as your menu. They give you a ticket at the start where you put the amount beside each dish you want and then you hand it the the waiter. The food comes rather quickly - a side effect of having the kitchen churning out dishes at breakneck speed.

One of the two signature dishes we ordered: the char siew bao, or barbecue pork bun. Char siew baos are usually steamed white buns (often marked with a red dot), but Tim Ho Wan's signature innovation is that these buns are baked, not steamed. The bread is crusty, soft, slightly sweet and complements the sweet savoury filling inside. The other dish, the pan fried radish cake had a rich umami flavour.

The other classic dim sum dishes include har gow (shrimp dumplings), siew mai (pork dumplings), chee chong fun (thick rice noodles filled with barbecue pork or shrimp - we ordered both).

Other dishes we ordered: the glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, shrimp dumplings with wasabi sauce, and braised chicken feet.

Chicken feet, or more poetically called Phoenix Claws, are a classic dim sum dish, and to me is the barometer for any dim sum restaurant. Tim Ho Wan's is competent, although not the best I've had.

Lunch for the nine of us, including drinks, cost us slightly over THB 400. Tim Ho Wan was one of the first places I had in mind when I started this group, and I'm glad we finally got to visit.

Rat fund: THB 260, bringing the total to THB 1,460.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Meal #05.1: Yemen, yet again

Because Yemen was such a rare cuisine, there was a lot of interest in trying it and so I did a second visit a week after. Armed with the firsthand experience from the previous visit, how did this second trip to Yemen fare?

This meal's food explorers: Marie, Josh, Lynette, Kim, Joan, Bep, Noel and Jim. Hailing from the US, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, the Netherlands and Singapore.

Having had trouble trying to get service from the private room, we sat at a long table in the middle of the second floor. Service was easier to get this time. Our waiter, the same Arab man from the last time recognised me - "You back for Yemen food?", he asked with a smirk. We sure were!

Ordering this time was much simpler. Two serves of fatah (a bread salad) one with chicken and one with vegetables. Unlike the previous week, lamb was off the menu, so all the mains were chicken only. Having learnt from the last time that the mains were huge and enough for two, we ordered four different mains: mandy (rice with roasted chicken), matbi (rice with grilled chicken), zorbean (rice with chicken baked inside it) and mahagoat (roast chicken on rice, but differently spiced than the mandy).

The fatah chicken (top) and fatah veg (bottom).

All the mains were some variation of rice and chicken. I think this might have been the zorbean.

Besides the mains and fatahs, some tabbouleh, hummus and bread to round us off.

Second meal was definitely an easier time - knowing what not to order certainly helped. Some foods such as the saltah were beyond our reach and I'm wondering now if that's because they only serve it on certain days, like on the weekend or whenever the Yemeni community goes for a taste of home.

Rat fund: we collected THB 140, bringing the total to THB 1,200.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Meal #05: Yemen

Who's ever heard of Yemeni food? Apparently lots of people haven't. So much so that I had to schedule two meetups to meet the demand. The first party, the guinea pigs, met last night to check out the Yemeni fare at Al-Andalus on Soi 5. We were: Sharon and Kim (USA), Martin (Germany), Nana and Petz (Thailand), Stefania (Brazil), Ekin (Canada) and myself (Singapore).

Photo credit: Nana

Restaurant was pretty empty when we got there at 7pm (although it filled up by the time we left at 8.30), so they gave us a private room at the second floor, which was nice on one hand, but on the other hand it was hard to get service.

Ah, service. That was the hardest thing at Al-Andalus. The Arab man who served us wasn't quite fluent in English, eg, he didn't know what a starter was, but even worse, he didn't know his own menu. Well, he knew his regular menu, but he couldn't tell us what was in the Yemeni menu. Apparently only the Yemenis came in to order their own food so on one hand it was comforting to know that Yemeni's ate there, but it was frustrating to not be able to understand what we were ordering. So armed with that lack of knowledge, I randomly chose two starter-y looking dishes, the Fata vegetable and the Aseed (although the waiter pronounced it aseeda), accompanied by bread.

The Fata Veg was decent. Carrots, potatoes, cauliflower in a mild dry curry presentation, which was mixed in with bread which gave it a nice texture contrast (Kim said it was like dumplings).

Aseed... was a whole other thing. We were served a lump of grey... mass. It had the texture of mashed carbs, like potatoes, bread and bananas all into one but it was altogether tasteless. It was served with a broth, which provided all the flavour to it, but otherwise, none of us liked it. Despite that, it appears to be the real thing.

For the mains, most of us ordered some sort of variation of rice and meat. The most common amongst us - the waiter said it was the most commonly ordered Yemeni dish in general - was the Mandy, flavoured rice topped with a roasted lamb or chicken:

The variations are the Matbi, which is rice topped with a grilled chicken.
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And the Zorbean, which is rice with (in this case) cooked lamb inside. At this stage I'm thinking Yemeni food is some sort of rice with meat inside or on top.

I'll also have to say that the servings are huge! Most of us couldn't finish our mains, and we packed some for back home.

Despite the hiccups, there are some indications that this is real Yemeni food. Al-Andalus is primarily an Indian and Middle-Eastern restaurant, and the almost partitioned nature of the Yemeni menu suggests that it is meant to cater to the local Yemeni community. The dishes like Mandy and the Aseed check out with what little information there is about Yemeni cuisine out in the web. And lastly, I was always worried at the back of head that since the zorbean was like a briyani and mandy was like a tandoori that we were going to be served Indian briyani and tandoori passed off as Yemeni - this wasn't the case. The flavours were definitely different.

We're heading back to Al-Andalus again next week, because so many people wanted to try Yemeni food. Now I have a better sense of what to expect, next week's meal will be quite an adventure!

Rat fund update: This meal's collection was B220, bringing our total to B1,060.