Bangkok Post reviews
Surprises from the South
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: August 31, 2012 at 8:29 am
Ramkhamhaeng restaurant boasts some unusual southern fare and a fine sensibility for balancing potentially explosive flavours
Ask a food-savvy Bangkokian to name some southern Thai dishes and you'll usually hear the same list: kaeng tai pla, kaeng lueang, pat sataw, khua kling, khao yam, some kind of fish fried with turmeric _ in other words, the usual. And no wonder, because these dishes, plus a few others, define the boundaries as far as most Bangkok restaurants are concerned.
Adventurous diners who enjoy the occasional meal at a place specialising in southern cuisine, like the excellent Dao Tai near the Phran Nok intersection in Thon Buri, might list several more, among them that delectable dish of shredded sting-ray fins fried with palm sugar that, in a perfect world, would be on every Bangkok menu. And Ung-aang Talay still pines for the little southern sausages containing fresh green peppercorns that used to be served at the long-gone Luk Nieng restaurant across from the Interior Ministry.
But probably only a native southerner would recognise some of the dishes listed on the menu at Chanhom, a spacious and comfortably relaxed restaurant located in a townhouse on Ramkhamhaeng Soi 21.
Ung-aang Talay recently arranged to have lunch there with a friend and, since a rainstorm and the resultant traffic held her up for quite a while, there was plenty of time to study the menu.
Now, the English translations on menus at many of this city's Thai restaurants are one of Bangkok's surest sources of free laughs. But Chanhom's menu was a stunning exception, a document that must have taken a great deal of work and research on the part of its compilers. Scanning it, U-a T learned right away that the sataw-like legume called luk lieng in Thai is known as a "reng nut" in English, and that the tender fungus called het khraeng is actually a Schizophyllum mushroom.
And this was only the tip of the iceberg. U-a T briefly considered stealing it to use as a reference resource.
When U-a T's table companion arrived, orders were placed for a mysterious pork dish called mookho yawt lieng pat khai (a green vegetable fried with egg), kaeng khua het khraeng (a mild, coconut cream-based curry made with Schizophyllum mushrooms), kung pat sataw (shrimps stir-fried with sataw beans, chillies and seasonings) and thawt man moo khrueang kaeng (deep-fried patties of minced pork mixed with spicy seasonings).
The thawt man moo, which arrived first, were a pleasant, snacky surprise. Minced pork formed into patties and fried with pepper and lots of garlic are a familiar offering at any fresh market, but these were very different, combined with enough chilli-intensive curry paste to give them a good, fiery bite. The texture was lighter and less chewy than with market-style thawt man and the accompanying sweet-spicy dipping sauce accented them nicely.
Mookho, as it turned out, was nothing exotic, just moo tit man _ small cubes of pork, each with a chunk of fat attached _ deep-fried together with slices of garlic. It was chewy rather than crunchy, and although it was far from the most interesting or delicious thing on the table, it would be perfect as a kap klaem snack for a long drinking session.
Much more intriguing was the kaeng khua het khraeng, a fine curry that was new to U-a T. Its southern pedigree and bright yellow colour caused U-a T to approach it cautiously, expecting a nuclear blast like the ones unleashed by certain similarly coloured curries sold by stallholders at Nakhon Si Thammarat market. But this kaeng khua was mild and creamy, with the seasoning kept on a leash short enough to permit the flavours of the mushrooms and shrimp it contained to come through unmasked by chilli or turmeric. Het khraeng have a very appealing taste and texture. Why don't we see them on menus more often? This curry was the high point of the meal and is very highly recommended.
Yawt lieng, the leafy green vegetable fried with egg to make yawt lieng pat khai, was new to U-a T and the dictionaries at hand have been no help. Whatever it is, it fries up nicely with egg, with a pleasantly firm but not at all stringy or fibrous texture and mild flavour. A simple and satisfying if unremarkable dish.
The strong-smelling beans called sataw in Thai, once something of a rarity in Bangkok, have long since become favourites and are everywhere in the markets this season. U-a T has been taking advantage of their abundance by ordering them in every restaurant that has them on the menu.
At Chanhom, U-a T and friend asked for them fried with shrimp and we were served a very agreeable version of kung pat sataw with the beans cooked just long enough to cancel out their slight bitterness while preserving their crunch, and the shrimps fresh and firm, with onion, chillies, a little garlic and seasonings adding their highlights without overwhelming the whole.
Service was friendly, if a bit slow, and prices moderate, with this meal for two costing less than 700 baht.