Hearty meals

Food trail: It begins in the oldest district of Bangkok. In and around ‘Village of Love’ in Thailand, visit some of the most iconic eateries.

Meal at  Yum Rod Sab

Kin khao reu yang?” It’s a common greeting in Thailand. No ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ in the land of smiles. They meet you with a more important question, “Have you eaten today?”

Eating is on my agenda on this specific morning in Bangkok when I take an early-morning water taxi to Saphan Taksin, a pier to the east of Chao Phraya river, from where I begin my food walk in Bang Rak, the oldest district of Bangkok, which translates to ‘village of love’.

Unlike the laidback touristy vibe of Khao San, Bang Rak is busier with people rushing to work, groups of kids walking towards school and streets lined with ‘mom ‘n’ pop’ shops.

Multi-cultural meal

Our walk starts on Charoen Krung Road, the first paved road in Bangkok, built at the behest of the Europeans who wanted a place to ride their horse-driven chariots. Soaking in the history of the street, we stop for our first meal of the day at Charoen Wieng Pochana, a 70-year-old restaurant serving Thai food. The large cabinet outside the restaurant tells us that the speciality here is roast duck, a clear influence of the large Chinese community here. Our initiation into Thai food beyond the pad Thais and Thai curries begins with khao na bpet — sliced roasted duck served on a bed or rice, and pad kra pao moo krob — pork belly stir-fried with holy basil, garlic and chillies.

While the Chinese introduced the Thais to deep-frying, it was Indian-Muslims who added the heavy spices to their food. At a Muslim restaurant on Charoen Krung Road, which is being run by the third-generation owner, we try the beef Massaman and Penang curries that borrow their richness from the Indian curries while keeping the Thai principles of cooking (using sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavours in a dish) intact. The matabah — flat bread filled with beef and onions — is one of the most interesting dishes to try here, and to round it up there’s gulab jamun — a clear-cut Indian import.

The perfect noodle soup

While tom yum might take all the limelight for being ‘the’ Thai soup, the local favourite is clearly the yen ta fo soup. Being the office hub of the city, Bang Rak has quite a few shops serving a quick and inexpensive bowl of noodle soup. The right way to order yen ta fo is to pick the noodles first.

Most shops will give you an option between sen mee (thin rice noodles), sen lek (medium-sized rice noodles used in pad Thai), sen yai (rice noodles about one-inch thick, and also the perfect pick for yen ta fo), bah-mee (yellow egg noodles), and wun sen (glass noodles made with mung beans).

Next, pick your base which is made of fish sauce, chillies, vinegar, and pepper, depending on how spicy you want your soup to be. Then come the various assortments — chunks of pork, fish balls, water morning glory, fried tofu, squid — and the fermented soybean paste that gives the soup its famous pink colour and mildly sweet flavour.

From northeast

After slurping down a bowl of yen ta fo, we take a quick pit stop at Boonsap, a Thai sweet shop, and stock up on tong yord — round drops made with egg yolk, sugar, rice flour and jasmine water. For our next stop, we take a ferry across the Chao Phraya river to sample the food of Isan, the northeast region of Thailand famous for som tam (raw papaya salad). At Yum Rod Sab, a small family-run restaurant, we tried the tangy salad, fried chicken topped with deep-fried lemon grass, and nam tok moo — grilled pork dressed in chillies and shallots.

The pork, when sliced for this dish, still has blood flowing through it and hence it gets its name; nam tok moon means waterfall pork. As we finish our meal here, it’s almost time for the restaurant staff to eat and we get a peek at the home-style meal of rice cooked with shrimp paste, grilled pork, sausage, omelette, shrimps, raw mango, long beans, raw onions and dry red chilli. The ideal way to eat it is pour some broth over, mix it all together and dig in.

Panlee Bakery, the oldest bakery in this area, is our last stop. The bakery is famous for it fresh breads/buns with various fillings. We try the speciality here, a bright green filling of pandanus custard made with pandan leaves. To wash it all down, there’s Thai iced tea.

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