Part 3 here.
I’m disappointed that I can’t make it to the local markets on this trip. I’m only here for two days and my schedule is tight. I’m limited to the department stores and photography is frowned upon here. So I do what any self-respecting, okay desperate, food lover will do ”“ I take some ninja-style shots and I turn on the charm when need be to get that much-coveted photo.
Each of the department stores I visit, Paragon and Emporium, have an entire floor dedicated to what they call a Gourmet Food Hall ”“ a supermarket at the back and food stalls in the front. Sleek and clean, the space is modern and mouth watering. I’m drinking everything in; all my senses are on full alert.
The Thais have mastered the art of preserving food, especially fruit and seafood. I see a lot of stalls like this where baskets upon baskets of dried fruit are on display, their colors a mosaic of reds, browns, and yellows. I spend some time admiring various kinds of dates, some still on the stem, something that I’ve never seen before.
Moving on, I pass plenty of stalls selling food that are at once captivating and bewildering. Here, exotically aromatic soups in pots large enough for an infant to wade in tempt passersby. Redolent with curry and lemongrass, one chooses the noodles, vegetables and meats with which to fill their chosen broth. The smell is intoxicating, but I move, on eager to absorb more.
My adventurous palate wants to try something new. I spy a stall selling glutinous rice similar to Chinese machang. This seems to be the Thai version. With deft sign language, the attendant understands my order and my chosen toppings: mashed taro, shiitake mushrooms, gingko nuts, and salted egg yolks. She motions that I’m meant to mix the toppings in with the rice. I never did catch the name of this dish, but I like it. It might be too carbo-heavy for some what with the rice and then the taro (gabi), but I have a die-hard passion for this tuber.
My friend Jenn is the one who told me about Bread Talk’s kaya buns, so I peer through the shelves of every Bread Talk that I come across. Kaya jam is a Malay spread made from coconut milk, eggs, and laced with pandan, which attributes to its green color. It has a more delicate taste and texture than Filipino coco jam which is darker and more sticky. Not too easy to find, I finally espy a kaya bun. Speckled with coarse sugar, I hurriedly make my way to a table to shoot and eat. I like it very much. The jam is encased in a pillowy dough, its surface textured only by the crunch of sugar. Mmm, dessert appetizer.
And now, on to dessert. I have spotted a Thai make-your-own halo-halo stand, a refreshment of crushed ice upon which I point out the toppings I’d like. With a maximum of six among the 20 options, I decide to go all the way with my four favorites: water chestnuts, one hunk of taro (see, I’m a taro lover), little red morsels made from water chestnuts and tapioca flour, and tiny green slivers called cendol, which are made from pandan, lye, and pea flour. With the colorful toppings reposing on their icy bed, the attendant ladles some coconut milk (extra please, I say) and then tops everything off with a spoonful of palm sugar syrup also known as gula melaka.
Ahh, bliss. Amidst the crunch and cold, the “halo-halo” echoes with nuances of coconut: from the gula melaka, which has a deep, almost molasses undertone, and the coconut milk of course. It’s spectacular and I want another but I have a big meal later tonight.
Traffic in Thailand
I remember there to be lots of traffic in Bangkok, but it seems that the BTS (or SkyTrain) has eradicated all that. I wouldn’t know too much since I’m always ambling about on foot. I’m hankering for my dried cuttlefish and sampaloc (preserved tamarind), and I can’t find the ones I want in the supermarkets.
So I make my way to MBK, stands for Mah Boon Krong Center — think a Greenhills tiangge (flea market) blown up to Megamall proportions. It’s a bargain shopper’s heaven, lots of fashion and doodads that I have absolutely no interest in. I’m strictly here for the food, you know. I’m walking through the interconnecting walkway that leads from the BTS to MBK when I see a tuktuk (TOOK-took). It’s an auto rickshaw or a three-wheeled motorized car. I’ve had the luck to ride in one once and it reminds me of riding in a tricycle. Cute little things, them.
There’s preserved treats aplenty on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of MBK. Ah, cuttlefish and sampaloc! The place is humongous however, so I rack up a lot of mileage in my sneakers. Heading back to the hotel, I decide to stop at a café for some kopi roti. Essentially black brewed coffee, it sits on a layer of condensed milk. Once stirred, the brew becomes a dark caramel. It’s sweet and full of body, thanks to the milk and the coffee is strong and earthy. Perfect. Now I’m ready for dinner.
To be continued tomorrow…