Musings: Bangkok Eats Part II

And now the much, much, delayed part 2! To sum things up for those who may be confused, I had a trip to Bangkok back in May and I used that trip to try and stuff my face with as much good, local eats as possible. I especially wanted to avoid eating all the usual Thai dishes commonly found in Thai restaurants and to delve deeper into the wide scope of Thai cuisine. Just like Koreans don't eat bulgogi and bibimbap everyday, I wanted to get a better feel of what the good folks over there liked to eat on a more regular basis.

The first half summary of my eats was already a stuffing yet delicious time and it only got better from there!

I stayed mostly between Ekkamai and Thonglor during this recent trip and I thoroughly enjoyed those areas. I especially liked the Thonglor area with its elements of hip, trendy, and local feel that you can't really get in the more tourist-central areas such as Siam.

For lunch one day, Noo took me to her favorite noodle place in Thonglor- Saew. This unassuming joint, close by Thonglor BTS, apparently means in Thai something you say that causes someone to simultaneously feel good and embarrassed. I can't say I was embarrassed by anything at Saew but I definitely felt great from the food there!

It's a joint already beloved by locals especially for its fresh, homemade, and absolutely delicious fish cakes. Served on its own or in some delicious soup, Saew's fish cakes are so popular, they often close shop by late afternoon because they sell out.

I began by simply sampling the prized fish cakes on their own. A bowl full of the sliced warm cakes come with a simple garnish on top and a side of that delicious, spicy, addictive green seafood dip they always seem to serve in Thai cuisine.

On first look alone you could tell this fishcake was a loving work of handcrafted beauty. The soft, white fishcakes were dotted with minced herbs which still retained their color, form, and flavor. Taking a bite I was mesmerized by the soft texture, with just enough bite, and the gentle flavors of the fish. There was no fishy taste to it- just pure, fresh, fish meat- while the bits of herbs speckled inside brought a nice fragrant dimension to the taste.

And that seafood dip though... I'm convinced if perhaps marketed right, the Thai green seafood sauce could be the next Sriracha. This ish always takes some great seafood dishes to new heights. Seriously, I could have eaten two bowls of the fish cake with the dipping sauce here and have left a happy man.

What's interesting about the noodle dishes at Saew is that you can order your bowl in a wide variety of noodles (thin, thick, egg noodles, etc) and also choose whether you want it dry, with broth, or somewhere in between (kruk-krik). The list of additional toppings is quite extensive too.

I got a small noodle with dried tomyam while Noo went with dried white noodles with pork ball and fish cakes.

More of those delish homemade fish cakes are included with some other varieties as well as a pork meatball. Some may wonder how exciting a bowl of fish cake noodles can be but these noodles were anything but boring. Slightly sweet, tart, and savory from the tomyam, you also got an intriguing range of textures from the crunchy sprouts to the springy noodles which were cooked to perfection.

And the best part is is that the dishes here are all ridiculously cheap. Each of the fish bowls were 50 baht, the fish cake order was 60, and most of the popular juices and drinks are 15-20. Ridiculous. How can they sell it so cheap?

To be honest, I'm not a big fish cake person in general. Uh-mook (어묵) as it's called in Korea, is commonly sold on the streets and in marts here which I eat and sometimes use to make a side dish but I've never had a big affinity for them until recently. There's been two moments of fish cake epiphany I've had in my life. Once was at a friend's whose family in Busan had specially delivered real, high quality fish cake. Even without knowing that background information, I couldn't get enough of the fish cakes that day consistently remarking how fantastic the uh mook tasted.

The second time I've had a fish cake epiphany was at Saew. Is it possible to have a semi-spiritual awakening through something like fish cakes? The answer is yes. Let Saew enlighten you.

1093 Sukhumvit 57

If you're in one of the many malls around Bangkok and looking for a quick snack bite, go for the satay skewers. Chicken, pork, or whatever suits your fancy, point it out and they'll grill it right up for you. You can even choose to get white or black rice. So moist, so flavorful. Sigh. I could eat like 20 of these.

My friends and I hit up Octave Rooftop Lounge and Bar at the Bangkok Sukhumvit Marriott one night to throw a surprise birthday party for a friend. The bar has a gorgeous 360 degree panoramic view of the city and I couldn't help but snap a bunch of pictures of the surrounding scene.

Cocktails are pricey but reasonable for a sky bar and though I don't have any pictures of the drinks we had, they were all fantastic and unique. Definitely recommend this place if you're in the Thonglor area!

Octave Rooftop Lounge & Bar 
2 Sukhumvit Road Soi 57 Bangkok, 10110

I met up with my other friend Kris for lunch one day and he took me to a neat restaurant called The White Flower. Despite its unassuming exterior, the inside is spacious and elegant. Interestingly, The White Flower is both a restaurant (of Thai and non-Thai dishes) and a bakery. It would seem such an overreach in menu would mean a suffering in the quality and taste of food but you'll see it almost always full at lunch and dinner by locals as a testament to its popularity. I hear their cakes are a popular choice for important events as well.

Kris ordered us a real feast kicking things off with pad pak boong- or stir fried morning glory. This humble dish may not attract as much attention as some of the other bolder dishes of Thai cuisine but it's become one of my favorite Thai dishes. I love the subtle garlic notes that combines with the fragrance of the morning glory and the subtly savory sauce. The version at White Flower was certainly more fanciful but every bit as delicious.

Pad pak boong (stir fried morning glory greens)

The shrimp with chili sauce had big pieces of shrimp which surprisingly had a lot of meat in them. The sauce was a bit sweet but perfectly fine with the shrimp meat.

Shrimp with chili sauce

The tom yum goong was loaded with ingredients albeit this too was just a tad bit sweet. I had no problem eating bowlfuls of it however. :)

Tom yum goong

The wing bean salad is an interesting salad. It's very bold in flavors from the tamarind, coconut milk, chili paste and such and generally seems to go very liberal on the fish sauce. It's a dish that'll knock you back on first taste which could potentially be a bit much for someone newer to the Thai cuisine scene. Even I was a bit taken aback at first bite but I got used to it as I continued eating. For one thing, eating it with the egg really does help mellow it down a bit and makes the dish much more enjoyable.

Yum tua poo (wing bean salad)

Though we didn't have room to try out the desserts, I'm hoping to on a future visit! Perhaps because of its bakery roots, some of the dishes were a bit sweet but overall the dishes were great and I definitely enjoyed the spacious setting. Be warned though- you'll have to take a taxi to get here as it's a ways off from any BTS or public transportation.

The White Flower Bakery and Restaurant
678/4-7 Bamrungmaung Rd., Watthepsirin, Pomprabsattrupai Bangkok 101000

I was also able to meet up with my good buddy Shaun after his work one day. We met up at Siam Center where I was taken to this nifty Thai fusion restaurant called Baan Ying Cafe & Meal. Baan Ying is a very no frills yet homely spot that's popular with the younger crowd. It has an extensive menu of most Thai favorites and often with a bit of a fusion twist. I can always count on Shaun to always have a good time with plenty of food and this day was no exception as the two of us had quite a feast.

Kicking things off was this most interesting looking dish. I wasn't quite sure what it was when it first arrived but I was told it was a big old noodle that had been stuffed and fried. Cutting inside, a potpourri of minced meat, shrimp, and veggies poked out. The most intriguing element of this dish was by far the texture. The slightly crisp exterior gave way to a soft and chewy noodle layer that was like a rice cake.

Stuffed fried noodles with minced pork, bean sprouts, shrimp and tofu

That was soon followed by a winged bean salad and fried rice. The winged bean salad is still strong as ever in flavor and it always momentarily knocks me back on first taste before I adjust to the taste. But again, love it with the eggs though!

Deliciously addictive was the fried calamari which lightly salted and with plenty of chili for kicks. Not at all rubbery or plain, this was a dish you found yourself continuing to reach for while an occasional bite of the chili provided some fiery heat. I couldn't help but think how Koreans would love this as an anjoo with some beer. Heh.

Fried calamari with chili and salt

True to being a fusion joint, an order of the fried dumplings stuffed with ham and cheese was brought to our table. I wish I had taken a picture of the inside but was too busy stuffing my face. It was almost like a hot pocket but crunchier from the fried spring roll wrapper. 

Deep fried ham and cheese spring rolls

The steamed egg was fluffy and also massive. I could have easily eaten this with rice alone and I would have had a perfectly fine supper as well. Delicious!

Baanying steam egg

Baanying Cafe & Meal
2/88, Sukhumvit Soi 19 Rd. | 5F, Terminal 21 Shopping Center, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

After our feast, we (literally) waddled over to Central World to continue catching up and after passing on desserts and coffee, decided to take it light with some tea at Twinings. I've only just begun to really appreciate tea in the last few years and Twinings had some excellent offerings. I think we got the chamomile which was light and snoozy- perfect for an evening choice. The servers were very knowledgeable and friendly.

Probably the only time I've met up with Shaun and we didn't have drinks... haha!

Twinings Tea Boutique
Rama I Road | 1st Floor, Atrium Zone, Central World, Bangkok, Thailand

Meeting up with Noo again another day, we decided to throw an impromptu home cooked meal for a few friends at Noo's pad. But in the lives of us busy bodied folks in 2014, we quickly learned it's not very convenient nor logical to anticipate people being able to come to a meal after notifying them just a few hours prior. It ended up being a huge feast for just Noo and I but one of my fondest memories still of this recent trip.

We began by hitting up Noo's local supermarket to buy supplies. Noo was to make a vermicelli noodle salad and Thai style omelette while I decided to give a go at making some dak bokkeum tang and haemool pajeon. I loved being able to cook together with such a good friend and Noo was patient and thorough in going over how to make her Thai dishes to teach me. After a few hours of shopping, prepping, and cooking, we were finally ready for our Korean-Thai feast!

The full spread

I couldn't believe how quickly and easily Noo whipped up her dishes. I love the simple but still flavorful dressing which coated well with the noodles, greens, and imitation crab meat. The addition of the imitation crab meat gives a nice creamy touch to the tart, sweet, and savory noodles.

Vermicelli noodle salad

Noo's Thai style omelette was also such a quick and easy dish. I hadn't thought to have tried adding fish sauce or soy sauce to eggs (instead of beating in salt to the eggs) before and since then I've redone this dish many times at home. The secret, she told me, was to get the pan smoking hot before you add the beaten eggs and soy sauce mixture!

Thai style omelette and haemul pajeon

Dak bokkeum tang

Thanks, chef Noo!

Of course, it was too much food for the two of us which meant lots of leftover for Noo. Nevertheless, it was such a great time sharing cooking tips, talks, and laughs. Heh. Lookin forward to round 2 in Seoul, Noo!

On another night, I was able to have some catch up time with my other Thai friends- Pop, Ying and Gym- over yet another Thai feast at Baan Khanitha at Fifty Three in the Thonglor area.

The Baan Khanitha restaurants (I believe there are four) have long been known for its great food and have won a number of recognition and awards as some of the best independent Thai restaurants around. Moreover, they have a commitment to fresh, organic ingredients which is fully reflected in the many masterfully done dishes they serve.

Our feast that night began with the complimentary miang kham. This light but flavorful appetizer is always a fun and invigorating way to kick off your palette and more so because I love eating food in wraps.

Wild betel leaves with assorted fillings (Meang kham)

Continuing on with the appetizers, I had my first taste of krathong thong which literally means, "golden cups" or "golden baskets". Nestled inside these little pastry cups is minced meat, seafood, and vegetables with the cups laid out on top of a bed of shredded purple cabbage and carrot decoration.

Fried pastry cups with minced meat and veggies (Krathong thong)

The pastry cup was warm and flaky and enveloped the sweet and savory filling. It was almost like a Thai version of an English pasty and I'm sure if they were served as hors d'oeuvres at some dinner party I'd have to use every bit of my will power not to stuff them in my mouth by the fistful.

What came next was, I believe, yum pak boong tod krob which are battered and deep fried morning glory pieces that come with a spicy sauce. I love the morning glory dishes in Thai cuisine anyways so it was fun to try it in a new way. And though I'm not the biggest fan of deep frying in general, the batter was expertly done to give the morning glory pieces a crispy shell that didn't retain the oil to make it a soggy mess. The spicy sauce had some heat to it but it was relatively tame. Still, I rather preferred the morning glory on its own without the sauce.

Battered morning glory with spicy sauce (Yum pak boong tod krob)

But even better than the deep fried morning glory, I really enjoyed the deep fried oyster mushrooms. Dressed with just a bit of salt and sesame seeds, these mushroom pieces came hot and perfect with the spicy sauce which was reminiscent of some Sriracha-y flavors. I expected the mushrooms inside the batter coating to be flimsy and even soggy but they had a lot of crunch to them while chewing brought out the mushroom fragrance. Sure, I felt a bit guilty knowing they were deep fried, but darned if they weren't so delicious.

Deep fried oyster mushrooms with chili and sesame sauce

The two deep fried dishes were somewhat balanced out with the vegetable platter served with crispy catfish, pork sauce and spicy egg yolk sauce. It was my second time eating these sort of vegetable platters which can be viewed somewhat as deconstructed Thai salads. I like these dishes because it gives you an opportunity to get to know some of the local vegetables as well as flavors (from the sauce/dressing). Some of the vegetables are crunchy, others are softer but pairing each vegetable with the Thai sauces gives you some time and effort to put more focus and thought into what flavors and textures you're experiencing.

The spicy sauce comes with a bit of egg yolk which helps sooth the fiery flavors while the pork sauce is richer than it looks but still delightful with whatever you accompany it with.

Vegetable With Crispy Catfish, Pork Sauce & Spicy Egg Yolk Sauce

Next came the roasted duck curry with grapes. After eating a lot of chicken and pork, it was a lovely break to try out some duck, not to mention it had been years since I last remember having a nice duck curry. For all the bolder flavors of the curry and the roasted duck, the sweet edge from the bits of fruit gave a nice finish. It was a creamy and lovely curry though the duck pieces were just a tad on the drier side.

Roasted duck curry with grapes (Gaeng phed ped yang a-ngun)

Last, but certainly not least, came a beautifully golden sea bass. Filleted and prepped expertly, the delicious aroma wafted in the air as soon as it was set down. Beneath the crispy, perfectly fried exterior was the flaky flavorful meat which was seasoned simply so to let the full flavors of the fresh fish shine. What a beautiful (and delicious) piece of work!

Deep fried sea bass

All in all, a fantastic and memorable meal. You could certainly tell the ingredients were fresh and the dishes really shined further so because of it. The atmosphere was wonderful too. A great place to go out for local food with a bit of flare.

Baan Khanitha at Fifty Three
31 Sukhumvit 53, Sukhumvit Road. Klongtan Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110

Even after the wonderful meal, we still had much to talk and catch up on so we carried things on to Boyy Cafe for drinks and dessert. The cafe itself is located right below the flagship store for BoYY which is one of Thailand's pioneer in the fashion accessory field. The cafe has a very chill and laid back vibe with wooden tables atop the beautiful tile floor (which were imported from Italy no less). The trendy folks that frequent it gives it a cool edge that trendsetters will love.

I don't remember the names of the drinks and dessert but definitely no letdowns with any of what we ordered. The ice cream was rich, espresso shots were masterfully drawn, and cocktails made full use of local fruit (though I wouldn't have minded the drinks being a bit stronger).

Gym, Ying, and Pop- my chic and trendy friends

Still, it was a great way to wind down the night with some very special folks!

BoYY Café
Grass, Thonglor Soi 10 Bangkok, Thailand

One of my top reasons for going to Bangkok was also to hang out and spend time with one of my close friend, Pop, who lived in Seoul for some 4+ years before making the move back to Bangkok last year. Pop graciously let me crash at his place for most of my time in Bangkok this time but unfortunately with Pop's busy work schedule, it wasn't always easy to get some 1 on 1 time with Pop.

On one Saturday, I was lucky to go and run some errands with Pop himself in Ekkamai, near his pad, and we stopped to get some lunch at a place called Sabaijai Keb Tawan. This joint is located nearby some of the area's hip clubs and joints (though some of these establishments are a bit on the dodgy side) but the restaurant itself is already well known for being unpretentious with cheap, local food making it a top draw for the area's foreigners and locals alike. The food isn't fancy- more like popular street food- but a few steps up while the base of the dishes roots here are from the Northeast Isan region of Thailand which borders Cambodia and Laos.

Kicking things off for us was the moo yang Thai pork neck. The pork neck slices are marinated and grilled and served with a sweet-spicy sauce on the side. The meat was juicy enough but the sauce really helped take it to another level.

Grilled pork neck (Moo yang Thai)

Arguably the most popular and famous dish here is the kai yang or grilled chicken. Chickens are halved, flattened, and marinated before being perfectly cooked over a low heat for a long time to create a crispy skin and moist meat inside. It's also well known for hailing from the Isan region near the Thai border as I mentioned.

We made a half order which looked a bit small initially but the chicken pieces nestled a lot more meat than they appeared. The tart and pungent sauce was my preferred sauce for the chicken meat over the sweet chili sauce while the crispy fried shallots were a nice touch.

Grilled chicken (kai yang)

As much of a meat lover Pop is, I'm glad he made an order for some som tam (I was still not getting tired of som tam even by this time). It was a bit on the sweeter side but they really used some fresh and young papaya.

The joint itself is some 600 meters from the Ekkamai BTS so it may not be easy to get to without a car or taxi in the heat but if you're in the area and looking to try some Isan dishes, Sabaijai keb tawan is the place to go!

Sabaijai Keb Tawan
Ekamai 65 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 63 Sukhumvit Road, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 1., Bangkok 10110

I had the chance to meet up with my buddy Shaun again and this time have a reunion with dear P'Ammie whom I hadn't seen since a crazy group trip to Pattaya some 2 years ago. I had mentioned that I was interested in trying some good Vietnamese food (since it's so difficult to come by in Seoul) and Shaun, ever the foodie, took me to one of his favorite spots in Bangkok called Saigon Recipe.

Located in the trendy Sukhumvit Soi 49 area, the three-story Vietnamese restaurant has a vivid yet homely feel to it with its colorful lanterns, wooden tables and scattered plants all about.

Shaun made the orders for the shared plates based on his recommendations and, as usual, the dishes were all excellent.

Kicking things off was the cha gio chien (fried spring rolls). Fried perfectly to the point where it has a nice crispy exterior but still gives way to the softer inside and tasty fillings, it was especially enjoyed with the bits of fresh herbs and noodles and wrapped in the lettuce.

(Cha Gio Chien)

The colorful goi buoi tom arrived with the cha gio chien. Essentially a pomelo salad with shrimp and pork, it also has bits of shredded greens, carrots, peanuts, and such to make texture-filled salad. Interestingly, the salad is served with toasted shrimp crackers to eat with.

Goi buoi tom

It's a tad sweet, and the greens seemed a bit wilt-y- perhaps from being dressed a little too early on- but you can't deny it's flavorful and fun to eat!

I went with the majority of the group and made an order for what I think was the lemongrass juice. Aromatic and refreshing, I appreciated that it was unsweetened!

For my main, I had a hard, hard time deciding between the pho bo and the com tam sai gon. Since Shaunzie went with pho though, I decided to go with the latter and it proved a great choice!

The large plate comes with a simple salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, broken rice, charcoal grilled marinated pork, a steamed egg cake, and a soup side. Everything about this dish was great- the meat, marinated and grilled just right, the soft and lovely steamed egg (which I could have enjoyed as a main on its own), and even the soft broken rice

(Com tam sai gon)

The soup that came on the side was a canh ca chua voi trung, or egg and tomato soup, which was simple but lovely. Would love to recreate this on a wintry day.

I tried a bit of Shaun's pho and loved it as well. They go heavy handed on the greens and herbs which creates a really nice and flavorful soup. I didn't try the noodles or beef but since Shaun enjoys it as his favorite pho in Bangkok, I trust everything about it is nice too!

Such lovely folks :)

Saigon Recipe 
46/5 Piman 49, Soi Sukhumvit49 Khlongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok

After our Vietnamese dinner, we stopped nearby at a lounge bar where P'Ammi had some bottles in keeping from her epic birthday bash (always can expect some hilarious and amusing stories from her!) And after going through the bottles pretty quick (I blame Shaun but I have a feeling he'll blame me haha), we made a pit stop in the late hours to a spot called Bangers. A buzzing hot dogs joint, it's popular with the late night crowd, especially after drinks or clubbing. We went with the Mexicano and the Deli Dog with an order of shoe string fries.

The hot dogs were tasty albeit a bit small and pricey for their sizes. The shoestring fries are nothing special. Still, it's a perfect late-night after-drinks snack to gorge on and the dogs are legit with a nice snap to them!

159/10 Thonglor Soi Between 7 - 9 Bangkok, Thailand

I also attended a cooking class at the Silom Thai Cooking School which I previously wrote about.

Can't say enough good things about the place. Definitely check it out if you have time and you're interested! It's a great crash course and intro to Thai cooking... even if you're not an experienced cook!

Silom Thai Cooking School
68 Silom Soi 13 , Silom Road Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500 Thailand
(Domestic) 08-4-726-5669 or (Oversea) +668-4-726-5669

One of my more memorable first eats during this trip was a food that's been on my bucket list for years but I only got around to trying now and that's the notorious durian fruit. I came close to trying it during my travels in HK, Singapore, Taiwan, etc but the closest I ever go to trying it was a durian flavored ice cream in HK. While grocery shopping with my friend Pop, he picked up some cut up durian for me to try and I eagerly awaited going back to his place to try it out.

Surprisingly, perhaps because it had already been cut up and wrapped for selling, I didn't notice anything particularly offensive in the scent. .

In any case, apparently you're not supposed to eat durian after you've consumed alcohol. But Pop and I already had a few beers beforehand so Pop grew very worried on my behalf :( Nevertheless I ate some and found the taste... intriguing. There wasn't anything bad about it nor was my gag reflex kicking in or anything like that. However, to me it tasted oddly to me like a raw but sweet and mild-flavored onion. Pop explained to me that people usually have a preference for eating more ripened durian and less ripened which slightly alters the taste and texture. In the end, durian ended up just being a neutral fruit for me as in, I didn't find anything distasteful but nothing all that exciting for me either. It's the same sort of neutral feeling I have towards fruits like figs, papaya, and persimmon. I guess I still prefer my fruits with a tart and/or citrus-y edge to them. But I'm definitely keen for my next durian!

Speaking of firsts, can you believe I also had my first MK restaurant experience during this trip? These ubiquitous chain of shabu shabu restaurants are found in just about every mall in Bangkok but it was only during this recent trip I finally went there. A Chinese-influenced but Thai shabu shabu (or "suki" as it's known there) chain, you order your veggies, meat, and other extras ala carte or you can go with a few pre-made sets. Then, individual Thai-style suki sauce (nam jim suki) is brought to you along with the option of adding things like minced garlic or peppers to the suki sauce according to your preference.. The sauce itself is on the sweet side but it has some mild fishy and spicy notes to it too as well as a bit of nuttiness from the sesame oil. It's definitely a sauce that's easy for most palettes and I couldn't help but think the sauce would be quite popular with Koreans as well.

Each table has a hot plate which the giant bowl of broth is brought over after ordering. I'm not sure what the broth consists of but seeing as how other vegetarians have blogged they enjoy eating here, I'm going to assume the broth is vegetarian- though you may not want to quote me on that.

On my visit, the three of us got an assortment of everything which included lots of veggies, tofu, fish balls, meat and more.

Their green noodles are also quite popular which you can order in a number of varieties. I'm told the noodles are made from a plant called "moroheiya" which has all these alleged beneficial health properties. Of course, if the noodles at MK are, indeed, made from this plant, it also matters just how much of it they use to make the noodles but as MK touts itself as a healthy restaurant, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that the noodles are good for you. Taste-wise, I didn't taste anything particular about them.

As most hot pots go, I recommend putting in the fish balls, dumplings, and harder vegetables early on so it has the proper time to cook. Other items like the softer veggies and meat (unless it's pork) shouldn't be left in the pot too long. You can also break and mix an egg or two and let it swirl in the pot, with or without a sieve, to add some egg-y threads to the pot.

As it boils, take your items, dip in the suki sauce, and eat! Having a series of bold Thai food consecutively for meals everyday can really tantalize your taste buds so it was nice having a meal that was a bit plainer yet still flavorful. Of course, I am a sucker for hot pot anyways so that probably influenced my liking.

In addition to hot pot, MK's roasted duck, red pork, and roasted pork are quite popular and you can even make half and half orders. In this case we had the roasted pork and roasted pig. My expectations were quite low but for a chain restaurant specializing in hot pot, the roasted meat dishes were quite good! The meat was thick and flavorful and not dry at all. The sauce, which admittedly isn't the most appetizing looking thing, is pretty tasty and works well with the meat. Many choose to eat it with the green noodles I mentioned above.

MK Restaurants (Found just about everywhere in Bangkok)

I should mention that I went to the MK Restaurant as a first meal for a reunion with two of some of my most respected and cherished friends. One guy, Bing, lives and works in Bangkok while the other, Cedric, lives and works in Singapore and the three of us have had reunions in Bangkok and Seoul a number of times over the years. In any case, the three of us decided to crash together at Bing's house for a few days and we stayed up late that night catching up over drinks.

The next day we decided to feed our hungry selves ala greasy American style and Bing took us to one of his favorite hamburger joints, called Firehouse, which he raved about.

Started up by two American ex-pats who have long lived in Thailand, Firehouse is a tribute to some of their favorite American comfort foods which they pride in making with some of the best quality ingredients available. The joint is quirky for its firehouse theme and it even apparently has Thailand's largest collection of vintage firemen helmets and other memorabilia which are all displayed as decoration in the place.

True to an American pub style, all tables have shelled peanuts on the table for you to enjoy as well as jars of pickles while you order and wait.

I'm a huge dill pickle fan and the ones here were all right though a little less snappy and extra tart than I'd like. But it's difficult to come across dill pickles in general in Korea so I was a happy camper.

My friend ordered a cobb salad which turned out a lot better than I expected. the Romaine leaves were dressed in the creamy and cheesy dressing with diced tomatoes, chopped eggs, bacon bits, and blue cheese crumbles. It wasn't drowning in dressing but had just the right salad to dressing ratio which made it quite a treat.

My other friend had the chili which was also quite decent though a little under spiced. It did say they came in second or something in some chili cook-off so kudos to them.

The real star of the entire establishment, however, is the burgers. They have a whole explanation about how their beef comes from specially raised French-Thai beef and are fed organic, chemical, and hormone-free fed and that they hand grind, season, and make the beef patties by hand. With your burger order you let them know how you like your patty cooked and you can also choose what kind of fries you like- thick cut, shoestring, wedges, etc.

My friend went with the premium burger which is a 180g patty from a rib-eye cut served with a simple assortment of iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise.

Premium burger

I was torn for a while between the mushroom burger and the California burger, but seeing avocado in it, I had to go with the California. In addition to lettuce, tomato,  grilled onion, it also comes with big avocado slices with melted Swiss cheese. Verdict? Worth every bite. Not only were the topping ingredients fresh but the patty was juicy, seasoned just right, and cooked to perfection (aka medium-rare). The big ol' lettuce slices makes the burgers a bit awkwardly tall but once you squish it down a bit it's no problem. The fries were delicious as well and cooked just right. Made me think of the fries from back home.

All in all, a fantastic burger bar and great value. The other food seems all right but if I lived here I'd definitely frequent this place for their bomb burgers. They also have other dishes such as tacos, fish and chips, and even a veggie burger for those looking for other things besides a beef burger.

3/26 Sukhumvit 11 (Chaiyot) Klongtoey Nua Wattana, Bangkok 10110

One of my most memorable eats during this trip came through my other Thai friend, Kanny. Through his work, he was able to get a few free buffet vouchers for the swanky international buffet at the Red Oven in Sofitel So Bangkok. Located on the popular hotel's 7th floor, the buffet and restaurant gets its name from the fiery-red Molteni stove, imported from France, which serves as the place's signature center piece.

The floor is spacious- with three different wings- and the large views brings in plenty of sunlight to give it a cheerful atmosphere (not to mention some great views of Lumpini Park). 

Once you're seated, there's some bread and butter served but I only had a bite of it because my bulging eyes were wandering here and there at all the food that was presented before me...

As you can see, the choices offered at Red Oven are truly staggering from seafood to Thai to Japanese and Mediterranean. I was especially surprised at the selections they offered in even the minor things including different kinds of olives, mustard, etc. Many of the single ingredient dishes- such as the smoked salmon, cold cuts, etc- include the country of origin in the explanation.

In addition, Red Oven really excels in their various "stations" which whips up dishes for patrons on a made-to-order basis. These include a Japanese style robata grill with selections of pork, beef, seafood, chicken, and veggies...

Sushi station, where your sushi is made fresh for you.

Som tam station...

Pasta station...

and soup station

They have a table number system for these stations too which allows you to order what you want at a station, give them your table number, and the dish is presented to you right after it's done. Wonderful.

My style of eating at a buffet is always the same: begin with multiple plates of samples of everything and then go with repeats of the dishes that stand out. So after 2-3 trips, my friend and I were surrounded by a sea of plates, which, truly is one of the most beautiful sights you can see. 

I mean, look at this spread:

Cue the heavenly chorus

Random note: Does the above picture look familiar? I used it as the background of this very blog heh :P

The robata grill items were pretty good with the exception of the beef which was a bit tough in some parts but overall nicely seasoned.

Som tam was a little on the sweeter side and I would have liked a little more kick but still fresh and wonderful.

Sushi was so fresh and delectable. The Japanese dishes, including sushi, really stands out at Red Oven.

The hot items were misses and hits. The quiches and baked dishes were on the drier side while the beef cuts were nice and juicy.

Seafood and salads section were also some of Red Oven's strongest suit. So delightfully fresh and surprising in variety.

Fried goods and Thai section were quite excellent as well. Loved the gyoza and pad thai in particular.

The barbecue pork soup was also surprisingly good and I could tell they put in a lot of effort to make it at the station. It definitely could have been sold on its own. 

Pasta, again, was good. I went with the arabiata with penne and it had a nice kick though a mild bitter tone to it.

What's a buffet without a good dessert section? And in that area, folks with a sweet tooth will appreciate Red Oven as the selections are quite extensive...

From pies, tarts, cakes, and pastries...

to waffle section...

bread (including gluten free selection), cheese, jams, and spreads...

homemade ice cream...

and more. The only slight letdown is a rather slim selection in fresh fruits as they only had one plate of a fruit arrangement of pineapple, watermelon, and dragon fruit.

There's also a coffee/espresso station which puts out fresh coffee and espresso for patrons.

Can't go wrong with a long black coffee (no syrup).

Sweets and desserts were fantastic. The mini mango and sticky rice was lovely while the puddings were rich but not overly. 

The hot brownie and vanilla ice cream was particularly memorable. The hot brownie comes right out of the oven and if you break into the thin crust, your spoon enters the gooey, hot chocolate center. So rich but so good. 

All in all, I was blown away by the Red Oven which not only puts almost all buffets in Korea to shame. I think it can even compete with some of the minor casino lunch buffets in Vegas! 

The dishes are, for the most part, excellent and the plethora of stations ensures you get dishes that are made-to-order and hasn't been sitting out for hours- which is not uncommon for many buffets. Most importantly, the ingredients are fresh and superior quality which, I believe, is what makes the dishes at Red Oven stand out.

Thanks P'Kanny for the memorable meal!

Red Oven at Sofitel So
7th floor Sofitel So Bangkok, 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, Bangkok. 10500 Thailand
+66.2. 624 0000

On one of my final days in Bangkok, I followed my friend Pop as he went to attend to some business in the Chachoengsao area (I think?) which is only about an hour east of Bangkok. Pop's friend, who has a car, also had business in the area so we took a mini day trip over there.

It was a nice and quiet area which has the Bang Pakong River snaking through it and after their work was finished, Pop led us to a popular restaurant called Mathuros Ruenpae. Located right on the banks of the Bang Pakong River, it makes for a nice sit outside... though the brown, muddy river isn't so picturesque and the weather quite hot, hot, hot.

At least there's shade but even under it, since it's still outdoors in the humid weather, even the plethora of fans didn't do much to make things cool.

The river views are all right. Tranquil and peaceful, though the restaurant itself is quite boisterous.

At least there are fishies joining you for your meal.

I left the ordering to Pop and minutes later came one of the more surprising dishes I've had in Thailand- a whole catfish, prepped and grilled. I mean, I'm Korean so I'm used to having whole fishes (head and all) served but I must admit seeing a whole grilled catfish was initially a bit shocking. The golden meat of the body itself, peeking through the cuts, looked tantalizing but the black head which looked so life-like and at the same time so taxidermy-like was quite jarring.

With the catfish came a slew of herbs and greens including, what I believe are cherry eggplant (makuea poo-ung) which are the little round green things below and are extremely bitter.

Then there was the spicy, sweet sauce/dip accompanying it which I believe had tamarind in it?

To eat the thing, you took some of the herbs, including the bitter cherry eggplant, added some catfish meat to it and spooned a bit of the sauce on top. Those little cherry eggplants pack a bitter wallop which is what catches you off guard initially but then fascinatingly the sweet and spicy flavors of the sauce kicks in before it gives way to the tender fish meat. The grilled fish itself was rather plain but as I ate the dish more, I understood how the bold flavors of the herbs and sauce went well with the simple fish meat.

There was also some sort of fried fish dish with sauce and salad accompanying it. It was fried perfectly and it was fine enough but it did have a lot of bones (which I always get tired of) and overall I think the grilled catfish was much more interesting.

THIS. I don't know what kind of mushrooms these are. I tried googling "Thai mushrooms" and different varietals of it but to no luck... though my closest guess is that it's called "hed pop" in Thai which only grows during a certain period (usually mid to end May). But whatever its name is, these stir-fried mushrooms were fantastic.

Thai cuisine can often have some pretty bold and in-your-face flavors and seasoning but I loved the simplicity of these mushrooms and how the restaurant here let the earthy and even nutty flavors of the mushrooms shine on their own.

The chicken satay was also quite memorable. It's such a simple dish but it was seasoned and grilled just right while the sauce and salad a perfect match. The kiddie tray-like dish it was served in was cute but random. Perhaps it was even ordered off a kids menu here haha. 

Mathuros Ruenpae
174/38 Maruphong Road Na Muang, Chachoengsao, Thailand
+66 38 511 958

It's unheard of for me to eat at a fast food joint when I'm abroad but for lunch on one day I was a bit short on time before a meeting (literally like 15 minutes) so I ended up at a McDonald....I know, I know. The shame of it all. I think I visit McDonald's at most twice a year (if even that) and it turns out my annual visit to the Golden Arches this year was in Bangkok of all places.

To my credit, I did avoid the standard burgers and chose only the Thai-exclusive menu options. Most intriguing was a Mc Khao Krapao, which is the fast food joint's take on Thai basil chicken. What comes out is a plastic box of rice with a side of the basil stir fry with McD's fried chicken slices.

I must admit, despite the initial visual, I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the khao krapao. The first thing you note is that it's pretty spicy for the dish coming from an American fast food joint and the basil notes are evident. The addition of preservatives and flavorings (I'm sure) seals the deal to make it tantalizing to the taste buds. The rice was fluffy and didn't seem like it had been sitting out for a while. The only downside was the chicken itself and more specifically- the fried crust- which was way too salty. If there was an option for grilled chicken (though I have my doubts if the chicken here is really 100% "chicken") with the sauce, I wouldn't have minded it as much. Still, the Mc Khao Krapao provided a pleasant surprise as I said, and I'd recommend it over any of the burgers at a Thai McD's- that is, if you really insist on having McDonald's while in the land of fantastic Thai cuisine.

Besides an iced coffee, the only other thing I got with my visit to McDonald's here was a curry crab stick pie. The exterior crust is the same as their familiar apple pies while the filling here is minced imitation crab and curry flavorings. The taste was ok- wish the crab or curry flavors were bolder. But at its price, it was like paying for and eating a really cheap, fried dumpling.

On my last day in Bangkok, I found myself wandering around the On Nut area and starving. I walked into some random Thai place by the BTS station. I tried to find the name of the place again but I'm out of ideas. According to the picture below the sign has the number 7 and two 'S' in it. And it's across from the Rhythm condominiums.

In anycase, Thailand always whips up a voracious appetite in me (at least, more so than usual) and I went with my final pad see yew and somtam for lunch. The pad see yew with chicken comes with soft, chewy noodles, big ol' slivers of chicken, and plenty of egg bits. As you can see, it's not as dark as other places and the taste was light but still the taste I was looking for. I wish Korea had some spots that made some good pad see yew that wasn't drowned in salty and/or sweet flavorings.

Som tam... what can I say. I think I could eat this for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Drool...

Finally, for my last meal during this trip, I got together with Pop, Noo, and Kris after work to have dinner at Laem Cha Reon in Siam Paragon which specializes in seafood and came recommended by Noo.

Kicking things off for the meal was a unique dish of fish cakes with curry paste that had been steamed in some leaves of some kind. I'm not sure what's the full  makeup of these little guys but they were ever so soft and fluffy. They had the consistency of steamed eggs but with a mellow fishy tone that was light enough that even those averse to fish would have no problem enjoying.

Steamed fish with curry paste (hor mok pla)

For our veggies, I specifically requested the stir fried kang kong (water spinach) as it's one of my favorite Thai veggie dishes. I like how they still have a good crunch to them while the garlic and sauce adds to the dish without masking the water spinach's flavors.

Stir fried kang kong (water spinach)

Fried rice was decent. Nothing that stood out but the grains were nice and fluffy.

The prawns and noodle dish was also an intriguing dish. The metal bowl/pan it comes in is extremely hot so you gotta eat the dish rather quickly, especially the noodles as they start to sort of disintegrate and get mushy later on. The prawns were great, just wish there were more of them :P

Baked prawns with glass noodle and herbs

However, my favorite dish of the meal ended up being the soup. On first glance, it seemed like a normal squid soup but within the squid rings I noticed a clear, gelatin-like substance. When asked what it was, I was told it was squid egg sacs! Within Korean cuisine alone, I've sampled various eggs of fish, crab, and whatnot but it was my first time even giving thought to the possibility of squid eggs being edible! Nevertheless the egg sacs had a pleasant texture to it, sort of like a congealed jello and I didn't seem to notice any particular taste in them. The soup made up for that though with its mix of tart, savory, spicy, flavors mixed with herbs. The soup taste sort of knocks you back at first with its bold flavors but it definitely grows on you.

Squid and squid sac soup?

Laem Cha Reon (Siam Paragon Branch)
4th Floor, Siam Paragon, Bangkok, Thailand 10330

After the meal, we had one last hurrah at Another Hound which, I ironically visited on my first day during the trip. Love their take on classic Thai sweets such as Thai iced tea and mango sticky rice. Not a big dessert guy but this is definitely a recommended spot.

Sweet times with some sweet folks!

Another Hound By Greyhound
1st Floor, Siam Paragon, Bangkok, Thailand (Pathumwan)

Because I love eating so much, the trip was pretty much happy days, every day, but I realize that even at some of my most memorable eats, it's sharing the meal with these cherished friends and special folks that everything becomes that much more special. So thank you to all those who spared time from his/her respective busy lives to catch up and hang out over a meal or two, thank you for taking me to such wonderful spots to dine, and thank you for your friendship! I truly believe it's my friends and family around the world who makes me feel like the most blessed guy there is and this year's trip to Bangkok reinforced that thought! If more people in the world took the effort to befriend others from different parts of the world over new and unfamiliar meals, I truly believe the world would be a better place. :) As always, thanks for the memories, Thailand! Gotta get back to you soon...

As for the return flight, I slept through pretty much the entire thing. As I was taking the budget Jeju Air to Bangkok and back for the first time, I didn't realize that they really took things to a minimal level with no in-flight meals, entertainment, and only water served (though they do offer drinks and snacks for sale). As soon as I landed in Korea and was back in Seoul, I made it straight to a seolleongtang (simmered beef stew) place as I had been craving the soup like crazy along with copious amounts of kimchi on the side. And there, amid the familiar Korean flavors and scents of garlic, scallions, chili flakes, and simmering soup and rice, I breathed a bittersweet sigh of relief to be back and enjoyed my soup, rice, and kimchi.

It's strange, I don't even really seek after seolleongtang in Korea but there's something about long simmered soup such as it or yookgyejang that I crave after traveling. 

What's a dish that you usually get for your first meal when you return home from a trip abroad?