Bangkok Post reviews
Savours of the South
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: June 7, 2013 at 8:24 am
If you want to sample southern Chinese cooking at its subtlest, don't judge this book by its cover
The exterior of the restaurant. It is across the street from the Empire Hotel.
Bangkok's Chinatown is so dense with good places to eat that a committed foodie could spend years exploring the neighbourhood. As happens so often in this city of ours, an inverse relationship can exist between the outward appearance of a restaurant and the quality of the food inside.
Some of the best dishes in town are served at places that look so utterly basic that even a rat might think twice before stepping inside.
While Raan Taechiw on Yaowarat doesn't look at all down-market, there is nothing about it to hijack the famished eye. Like other excellent local restaurants such as Hoon Kuang, farther up Yaowarat, or Jay Fai, at Prathuu Phee, it looks pretty generic. Ung-aang Talay had walked past it many times without glancing inside until frequent dining companion AB mentioned having heard good things about it and suggested a visit.
Raan Taechiw consists of two adjoining dining rooms, one of them air-conditioned, the other open to the street. Both are almost completely innocent of decor except for a few framed pictures and newspaper reviews. Seating is on basic, functional tables and chairs.
The restaurant opens late in the afternoon, at 4pm, and when U-a T and some friends arrived shortly after opening time, it was empty. That situation changed quickly, though. Within half an hour it was packed with an eager clientele, all speaking Chinese _ an encouraging sign.
After studying the laminated, photo-illustrated, trilingual (Thai-Chinese-English) menu, U-a T and friends asked for servings of nuea pla kraphong tham nam gaeng (a clear soup made with seabass), kai jio mara (omelette with bitter melon), hua pla pat tao see (fish head with Chinese celery), pla buu nueng see iew (a freshwater marbled sleeper fish steamed with soya sauce and seasonings), pat khana see po (Chinese broccoli with flakes of dried fish) and bai horapha pat hoy kraphong (small, thin-shelled mussels stir-fried with basil and additional seasonings).
Small, thin-shelled mussels stir-fried with basil and seasonings.
The fish soup, scented with spring onion and fresh coriander, contained plenty of firm meat. If U-a T had not seen the menu listing, sea bass, with its slightly coarse texture, would not have been the first ingredient to come to mind on first sampling this dish. Some other sea fish with more delicate meat _ pom-fret, for example _ would have seemed likelier. But the clear, mild-flavoured broth harmonised well with the taste of the very fresh and firm fish meat and made for a satisfying dish.
The small flakes of dried fish meat that were sprinkled over the stir-fried Chinese broccoli in the pat khana see po came from a sole-like flat fish and were imported from China. The vegetable seemed to have been stir-fried quickly at high heat to bring out its sweetness while retaining its crunch and fresh, green colour. The seasoned, dried fish meat itself was appealing more for its crisp texture than for any remarkable flavour, but no one who orders this dish based on the tempting menu photo will be disappointed.
U-a T had some doubts about the suitability of mara (bitter melon) as an omelette ingredient and the serving brought from Raan Taechiw's kitchen did little to lay them to rest.
The frying had given the mara a mushy consistency but had not reduced its bitterness, which overwhelmed the taste of the egg. U-a T will not be ordering this dish again, but others may appreciate it more.
A quick scan of the other tables revealed that the shellfish dish, bai horapha pat hoy kraphong, was being requested by almost everyone, so an order was placed to find out why. Its appearance was intriguing: the shells were paper-thin and pretty, with their striped design and iridescent interiors. The mussels inside were tiny compared to the usual variety (hoy malaeng poo) served in Thai restaurants but nicely flavoured by the basil and seasonings in the sauce.
The hint of chilli was welcome among a selection of less aggressively seasoned dishes. Unusual and fun to eat.
Clear soup made with sea bass.
For U-a T, the highlight of the meal was the pla buu steamed with soy sauce. The pla buu (its English name, according to Wikipedia, is marbled sleeper) is a freshwater fish whose unlovely appearance belies the fine flavour and delicacy of its tender, white meat. Raan Taechiw's kitchen had steamed it to perfection in a sauce that enriched its flavour without being oversalting it, and garnished it with slivers of chilli, ginger and spring onion.
Expensive as it is, at 800 baht, this dish alone would make a visit to the restaurant well worth the trip for those who know and enjoy this fish.
The same might be said for the hua pla pat tao see. The fish head, from a large grouper, was steamed to extreme tenderness and then fried with the fresh tao see. The appeal of the dish has less to do with the meat _ other than the cheeks _ than with the skin, which acquires a soft, gelatinous consistency during steaming. It is enlivened not only by the strong whiff of celery from the tao see, but also by the salty, smoky taste of tao jio (fermented soya-bean sauce containing whole beans) and slivers of fresh chilli. Recommended to anyone eager to explore southern Chinese cuisine.
The service was efficient, with prices in the high-moderate range.
Freshwater marbled sleeper fish steamed with soy sauce and seasonings.