Hot on the heels of our monkey experience, Ms Mason has generously booked us 2 places on a food tour of Bangkok. We will get to sample an amazing number of dishes and visit lots of diffferent kinds of food outlet. This is exciting and I look forward to it eagerly. I look doe-eyed at Ms Mason and so she relents and lets us take a taxi instead of the skytrain. We find the appropriate exit and meet up with our guide, Puu, who is really friendly and enthusiastic about her subject. There are just 5 of us on the tour which makes for a nice intimate experience. We do introductions and I immediately forget everyone’s name except my own. Everyone else is going to be flying home except Ms Mason and I, and I really admire their spirit in indulging in a 4 hour food tour on the day they go home. I am sure I would be lying in a darkened room with a damp flannel over my eyes. But I digress (and I’m so good at it).
First we get to sample some little pastries from the curry puff vendor. This is street food in the shape of a tiny Cornish pasty but filled with a choice of taro, vegetable, potato, mushroom and something else I’ve forgotten. It is hot and delicious. From here we go to a curry paste shop. The pastes are made fresh daily and they will measure the exact quantity you need to make a meal.If you want to make a delicious massaman curry for 6, tell them and they will provide exactly what you need. The colours of the pastes are vibrant and gorgeous and the smell of the shop is comforting and spicy.
From here we go to a tea vendor. I opt for coffee and am pleasantly surprised when it arrives with lots of ice. I am not a big fan of condensed milk in drinks so was not looking forward to a hot coffee with it in but with ice, it was really refreshing and gave us a good pick up to continue on our tour. All the time, Puu tells us facts and information about the area, the things we are eating and drinking, the history and tradition. It’s really interesting and she is very likeable, too.
We go on next to sample some fishcakes from a stall. There is a small boy helping his Dad out and he is very serious about putting the fishcakes into a bag, even though that is not exactly what is wanted. Ours are really, really good. Far better than anything I have had at home. I have to apologise here to Puu for stealing some of her photographs. For some reason my laptop will not recognise the card from my camera so I have to steal hers from Dropbox. I am sure she will forgive me. You will also see why I had to steal some of them. This boy was so cute.
The Thai dessert shop is next on the list and I have to say, when Puu says there will be salted cocnut shrimp on the sticky rice I think “I am not going to like this”. Those who know me well know there are only 3 things I really cannot eat. Bananas (they make me sick), sweet coconut and marzipan. Nope. Not even to make someone smile. I just cannot bear them so the idea of coconut shrimps on a dessert just sounds plain wrong. Anyway, the dessert shop is cool and has comfortable chairs so we sit down and wait for our next treat. There is black sticky rice with coconut shrimp, sticky rice with custard, golden thread which looks like a bright, small version of Shredded Wheat and then 2 other golden drops. The final one we are advised to eat last to fully enjoy the taste. I plough into the black sticky rice first and do you know what? It is delicious. It’s sweet and savoury all in one go and I really like it. The rice desserts are my favourite. I am not too keen on the golden thread although it goes down a storm with some of the others. The golden drop is really an acquired taste and one I am not able to acquire at that precise moment. It is flavoured with jasmine, I believe, and is really not to my liking. However, that’s the first thing I haven’t enjoyed and we’re not halfway through the tour, yet.
Our next stop is to try some different fruits. We have mangosteen, rambutan and tamarind prepared for us. The tamarind is very date-like in its consistency and I don’t find it has a lot of flavour. The rambutan is lovely, though, and reminiscent of a lychee. The group’s favourite, however, is the mangosteen which is gorgeous. As Ms Mason can speak and understand a fair bit of Thai, she translates as we walk away that the fruit stall ladies are asking “Why didn’t they eat it all? What’s wrong with them?” I guess the reason is we have already had quite a lot to eat and know there is more to come. We walk to a small shop next which is Chinese and selling the usual Chinese dried sausages (delicious) and lots of different sauces. Puu tells us this shop has been in the same family for generations (I forget how many) but they produce herbal drinks which are designed to help different parts of the body recover. I choose one for a boost to my immune system. Unfortunately it is incredibly sweet and after one sip, i pass it on to Puu as I don’t want to waste it. Others have chosen perhaps more wisely and enjoy their drinks. The very exciting fact about this shop, however, is that this is where the brand Healthy Boy was created. We have Healthy Boy sauces back in our kitchen at home and use them all the time so I feel especially thrilled to stand where they were first created.
We then lurch onto a delicious lunch of roasted duck. The restaurant is already heaving downstairs so we climb upstairs and grab a table while there are still some available. We have duck 2 different ways with some broth and it is, obviously, delicious. I am running out of superlatives to use so you will understand that the food was really, really good. By now, I am feeling quite full but we still have 3 more food establishments to visit. It’s quite a good job that we’re walking in between as it helps me to feel less guilty when I am tucking into something outstanding. We force ourselves back out into the heat and go to a fried banana vendor. We have a choice of banana or sweet potato so I opt for the latter. It is sweet and tasty and full of starch and I can only finish half of mine.
The final 2 stops are, for me, the absolute highlights of the food element to our tour. Apart from eating and drinking, Puu takes us to alleyways and streets we would never normally go down, even if we knew they existed. There are parts where we are asked not to photograph people and we are privileged to see their homes as we saunter by. We also see an old cinema, now boarded up. The glass and typography speak of the 1930’s and Puu tells us they used to show silent films there, complete with a band to play along. Later, as things progressed, the cinema ran into a decline and in order to perk up sales, they showed silent X rated films, instead. No band playing along this time although I like to think a trombone would have been able to make a comedy of it all.
So we go to the Somtam restaurant. We have already been told that in Thailand, it is considered polite to say you are going to pick a flower when you need the toilet. This restaurant is a good place to pick a flower! It is absolutely packed with hungry people devouring the 29 types of somtam available on the menu. I am particularly pleased about this because I tried to order somtam a few nights before but they didn’t have it. We are trying it just 2 ways. For those of you not familiar with somtam, it is a spicy salad made with papaya and utterly delicious. The crunch and flavour is refreshing and makes you feel you are eating something which is not only tasty but good for you. The other kind of somtam comes fried which is also good but I prefer the original.
2 members of our party have to leave at this point as they need to go to the airport, so there are just 3 of us to head to our final destination. This last restaurant was opened by a Princess of Thailand who handed it on to her son. It is very different from the very busy place we have just left. It is hushed inside and there are linen tablecloths. The chairs are a little strange. Not one of us can touch the floor while we are sitting in them so we all sit, like giant babies, waiting for our food. When it comes, it is divine. I have to say it is the best green curry I have ever eaten anywhere. The flavour is incomparable and it is well worth a visit just to sample the curry although I expect the rest of their food is up to the same standard.
Finally, we stagger out into the sunshine, absolutely stuffed full with fabulous food. Puu will not leave us until we have been put into a taxi and on our way home. I feel I cannot really do justice to the day. The experience has exceeded my expectations and we have drunk with our eyes and ears as well as our mouths. It highlights what contrasts there are in Bangkok – that we could be in a small alleyway with poor housing just behind a bustling street full of high tech gadgets and shops. The tour has been about food but also about so much more and I would highly recommend it. If you want to go with the same people, they are at www.tasteofthailandfoodtours.org