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Eating Bangkok Food

I just concluded a 5-day trip to Bangkok, back in Manila now and I’m missing the flavors of Thailand. Thai food is one of my all time favorites. The flavors just explode in your mouth with the right balance of spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter…oh and did I say spicy? These flavors dance in your mouth even if you just order one dish. Each dish has a unique taste though and you can taste which ingredient is being highlighted with every spoonful. Oddly enough though its not the main ingredient like meat, poultry or fish that makes the dish standout but its the collection and blending of the minor ingredients that do justice to the meal. The red curry paste and the kaffir lime leaves to fish cake, the galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to  Tom Yum Kung (sour soup with prawns), the coriander and the lime to Som Tam (papaya salad), and the basil leaves and mint leaves to the stir fries.

The best Thai food, however, are the ones sold on the streets. You have to know how to order though because they do not always have a menu with pictures, or with English translations and explanations, and to further add to the excitement, the vendors know very little English to communicate. Your index finger and your hands are trusty allies as you communicate in signs. Patience is certainly a virtue in some situations.

Here is a short food guide on 5 popular Thai foods to eat to get the best out of your Bangkok trip:

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tam

Made from a mixture of green papaya, carrots, red chilies, lime juice, coriander, fish sauce and tomatoes, beaten and mixed together using mortar and pestle to obtain that spicy, sweet and sour goodness. It’s amazing that the flavor of this dish remains consistent even if you eat at a local restaurant or at a makeshift stall on a street corner. Best one I’ve had though is right under the BTS Skytrain station in On Nut and the lady cook enthusiastically showed me how it was made. Not every stall sells Som Tam though and one way of finding out is to look for the mortar and pestle made of stone; if they have one then you’re in for a treat! There are also several varieties of this dish – with salted eggs or cucumber and the equally popular Lao variety with fermented crablets. Best eaten with Tod Mun Pla (Thai fish cakes) and sticky rice or on its own, if you can bear its chili goodness.

Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns)

Tom Yum Kung

This is the uber popular hot and sour soup usually served with prawns. The soup is distinctly flavoured with galangal (a type of ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and, you guessed it, chili! The semi-clear broth greets your pallet with the tangy goodness then flicks your taste buds as you feel the kick of the chili gently tapered by the sweetness of the kaffir lime leaves and galangal. This soup is a great starter for any Thai meal as it gently cleanses and prepares your palate for the other flavors of the succeeding dishes.

Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake)

Yummm :)

My absolute favorite and too bad that I haven’t tasted anything close to it here in the Philippines, so I really went for it while in Bangkok. I love the rubbery texture and the balance of fish and red curry paste made even more pronounced by the cucumber generously soaked in sweet chili sauce dip. Every bite is a delight! Thai fish cakes are different from western style fish cakes since they are not battered. The shredded fish fillet is held together by the red curry paste which also gives it the rubbery texture. Best ones I’ve tasted was after our floating market adventure at Damnoen Saduak on our way to the elephant show in Samprahan Elephant Ground!

Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Creamy Coconut Soup)

Tom Kha Gai

This is chicken soup Asian style, chunky slices of chicken fillet in creamy coconut milk interlaced with the exotic flavours of kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander and fresh chilies, of course. The smell of the coconut milk, herbs and spices alone will make anyone crave for more. Similar to its cousin, Tom Yum Kung, Tom Kha Gai greets your palate with the sweetness of the coconut milk then leaves it with the gentle but powerful kick of herbs and spices. This dish is moderately spiced. Best one I’ve tried is in a local restaurant near the port on the way to Damnoen Saduak as we traveled to Samprahan Elephant Ground.

Stir Fries

Stir Fries

Mainly tried these from street vendors near our hotel, Imm Fusion in Sukhumvit. The stall had various sea foods, frogs, snake heads and vegetables. We were fortunate that they had a menu in English with pictures so we only had to point at the ones we found interesting. What was interesting is the distinct flavor of the basil and mint leaves that each dish had but the cook still managed to create uniqueness and individuality to each stir fry. We had 3 stir fried dishes –  one with clams, one with beef and a vegetable called mimosa, and one with ground pork – and stuffed egg, which is basically an omelet, Thai style.

There is also the ultra popular Pad Thai, a noodle dish with peanuts and tamarind sauce, which is something to order if you are extremely unfamiliar with the dishes or there is no English menu available – a safe alternative and very lightly spiced.

Eating by the road side

Thai foods are normally very spicy, but this shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying them out. Just make sure that you have a hefty serving of raw vegetables – cabbages, string beans and cucumber – to munch on in between bites. Whatever you do, do not drink water! It may provide temporary relief but after a while water, especially when cold, tends to aggravate the burning sensation in the mouth. A yoghurt drink is a good diffuser and they are readily available practically everywhere.  Milk also does the trick but it has a tendency to make you feel full and that would spoil the fun.

Food is one of the reasons that keep me excited about traveling and Thailand is one of those places where people are very passionate about cooking and creating the perfect meal. It was a pity that I didn’t have time to go to a Thai cooking class, but I know that this will not be the last time that my palate will be immersed in the sweet, spicy, tangy and fabulous balance of flavors that is Thailand.

It’s been a year and I’m still living in the busy streets of Cebu City. And what better way to celebrate this occasion than to relive the things that I love in this big city.

So, first stop would be McDonald’s in Jones Avenue. I know this restaurant is already the most overrated fast food chain in the world, but who cares, I love their food for breakfast especially their Longganisa with Egg paired with a cup of Super Hot Choco. Aside from the food, McDonald’s was strategically placed in the corner of one of the busiest streets in Cebu – Jones Avenue, and they have this little veranda where you can eat your food together with the morning sun while watching the busy morning people passing by.

After breakfast, I rode a jeep, which is the primary means of transportation in the city, to the oldest church in Cebu, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño. It is located in the heart of Colon Street, which is the oldest street in the Philippines. As I arrived at the gates of this massive stone church, I bought red candles and sincerely thanked God for the fruitful year He had given me. After praying, I also visited Magellan’s Cross, a small chapel adjacent to the church, which is home to the first Christian cross given by the first Spanish explorers in 1521. Cebu City has a lot of old places simply because it’s also the oldest city in the Philippines.

Basilica Minore del Sto.Nino (oldest church in Cebu)

So much for history class, I decided to visit another famous landmark and that’s the Cebu Taoist Temple. This time I got myself a taxi since the path to the temple is quite remote. Less than half an hour later, I already walked down the temple’s own version of the Great Wall of China. Before I lose myself in the picturesque view, I honored their gods first and prayed inside their temple with incense sticks in hand. After all my incense sticks burned down, it was now time to check the commanding view of the city and the nearby island, Mactan. If you’re lucky you can use their telescopes to observe big airplanes landing on and departing from Mactan International Airport. The heat of the sun is already scorching hot signaling me for lunch.

Cebu Taoist Temple

For lunch time, I met up with my friends and I asked them to eat with me at “pungko-pungko”. So where exactly is “pungko-pungko”? Answer: Anywhere on the sidewalk. In Cebuano dialect, “pungko” is to sit or squat, and this is what you do – you eat street foods bare-handed while sitting in the sidewalk with a lot of people and jeeps passing by. Sounds challenging, right? But I bet you’ll be surprised how delicious the hanging rice known as “puso” and the fried “ginabot” (pig’s intestine) are. At 50 pesos your tummy will be so full you will not have any more space to for another bite. And if you’re not convinced, you can try it for yourself next time.

Pungko-Pungko

After our sumptuous feast of street foods, we headed to Rainforest Park to shake off our sleeping fats for a jungle adventure. They have this jungle adventure worth 250 pesos per person and you’ll have to do 8 rope-obstacle courses. It is one good way to test your backbone and guts, and to enhance your agility and balance while injecting an adrenaline-filled thrill. And if you’re not ready yet to conquer your fear, you can relax and give yourself some refreshments inside the Oceanarium Restaurant which is encased with aquarium walls.

Jungle Adventure at Rainforest Park

When the one-hour jungle adventure is over, the Kartzone is our next destination for an 8-lap go-kart session for only 300 pesos. If you don’t know how to operate this thing, no need to fret because a marshall will give you a mini briefing on how to use the kart. But it’s really hard to pay close attention to someone if you’re mind is already excited, so, right after he said we can start, we were already on our way racing against each other. Next thing we knew, the 8 laps was already over.

Go-Karting at Kartzone

Go-Karting at Kartzone

The sun was about to settle in the horizon so we decided to go to Crown Regency Hotel and Towers for the Extreme Sky Challenge. Edge Coaster and Skywalk would be the best way to spend sulking and watching the sun’s glorious last rays of the day. Just imagine sitting and standing on a ledge outside the 37th and 38th floor, isn’t it stomach-wrenching? But as soon as you see the vast scenery from the top floor all the butterflies in your stomach will be evaporating like steam. At least you get to be like superman with the bright orange jumpsuit hovering outside the building for an hour or so.

Sky Adventure at Crown Regency Hotel

Sky Adventure at Crown Regency Hotel

“Puso” and Pork Barbecue

After our sky adventure was up, we decided to skip the jeep and we strolled over to our last destination and that would be Larsian, one of the most well-known eating havens in Cebu. Its intentional location is in uptown area close to the famous landmark Fuente Osmeña Circle. This haven has barbecue stands lined up offering barbecue selections ranging from chicken, pork to seafood. And again you’ll get to eat “puso” together with your ordered barbecue. Compared to “pungko-pungko”, Larsian is much more organized and cleaner. Thank God for foods like this, you get to eat a lot without damaging your pockets.

My itinerary could go on and on but one day here would be so short a time. Aside from the places and foods, it’ll be too hard not to love the people here. It’s a neutral ground for the rich and famous, the poor and meek, the young and old, and the like.

And maybe I’ll stay here for a couple of more years. Or maybe, just maybe, forever.