Thursday, May 5, 2011

Som Tam Nua: Putting the Bang into Bangkok

Till this year I was very possibly the only person I knew who hadn't been to Bangkok. But now I can hold my head up high, knowing I've perspired my weight whilst haggling at Chatujak, was left guessing if it was a he/she/a he in girls' clothing/an ugly she, got a little neck ache from Sawadee-kap nodding.

Despite the grey concrete jungle, I loved the energy that reeked from this city. Like many other SEA capitals, chaos on the streets is the charm that makes these cities memorable. One moment I'd feel annoyed from weaving in and out of madding crowds, the next I'd be greeted by the most dazzling smile when asking for help. And it's one city that gives you unexpected adventures if you go with the flow. We certainly would not have found this treasure, if we hadn't gotten lost from window shopping in Siam Square...

We wondered into one of the many trendy fashion outlets that make up Siam Sqaure, and asked the shop assistant if she knew of any good local food joints nearby. Her expression lit up as she scribbled down Som Tam Nua on Soi 5, telling us to "ask anyone, they will know". Like she predicted, we were literally hand held to the restaurant door. What we didn't know, was how long the queue was.

It was as if this was the only restaurant left on earth. Two waiters standing outside, were inundated by orders. Apparently the system was to hand in your order first, then wait for a suitable table to turn up. These two guys taking down notes had photographic memories, they were able to match up tables to orders, with the right group of people and without mistakes. Even then it took a good 45 minutes for a table for two.

In the mean time, friends gossiped, boyfriends held girlfriends' shopping, and smartphone owners hit all-time new highs on Angry Birds.

After a wait that long with very little patience, we made empty threats with ourselves in case it didn't live up to all the hooha. Thankfully, it wasn't in vain at all.

Isaan Thai food is known for it's zing. A deep-fried fish with a spicy dressing, topped with fresh bean sprouts, lived up to its reputation and sent me blowing away into a tissue. The stir-fried pork was equally punchy and enlivened with a healthy amount of fresh mint and coriander.

After numerous papaya salads in Laos, I was eagerly awaiting the Thai version. Strangely, this didn't follow in suit to the high standards set, and was merely a pile of fresh vegetables.

It then became clear what we had been waiting for, the fried chicken. My thoughts were, go with the locals, who had been queuing unrelentlessly, and observing countless baskets of the stuff being carted onto tables. It had a thin layer of crumbly crust, golden in every sense of the word. Peppery, with a hint of fermented soy beans, it was a perfect, salty dream.

You certainly get bang for your Baht, at 400 THB for four dishes and drinks for two. Given we had time to wait, and it came high on local recommendation, it was worth the little adventure. Since being back, we've tried recreating the chicken but not quite getting there. We'll keeping trying, and remembering how good the original was. I heart Bangkok.

Somtam Nua
392/14 Siam Square Soi 5
Nearest BTS: Siam 


Tom said...

A good counterbalance to my upcoming trawl of restaurants in BK run by white European/ Australian chefs!

Strangely most of the food I ate was on street stalls by the side of the road but because of the heat and immediacy of it I didn't pull out my camera/ take notes - which is a real shame as there was some amazing stuff.

The Grubworm said...

It's what BK does best, this sort of fresh, fast, side-of-the-street food. It must be what powers all that energy ;)

Shame about the salad, but the rest of it looks to be full of those high-powered flavours that bring your tongue alive, but still remain in some sort of harmonious balance.

Hungry Female said...

@Tom - well I look forward to your contrasting experiences, and from a "farang" point of view;-)

@GrubWorm - "high-powered" is a great and appropriate phrase!