Tasting Thailand: Edu Jarque’s Bangkok Food Trip

  • December 6, 2018

Besides dining in fine restaurants, a feast of flavors in Bangkok included a hole-in-the-wall where the Thai princess dines

It was a taste of the fabled Thai hospitality at The Sukhothai Bangkok. The resplendent timeless property, designed by arguably one of America’s best architects and a master of geometric form, Ed Tuttle, was lavishly designed with aspects of their traditions and culture. Located in central Sathorn District, the sprawling grounds of some 40,400 square meters had decades-old towering trees, lush green gardens, courtyards of low-rise pavilions bordered by cerulean ponds and pools, a swimming pool and spa hideaways.

No detail is small enough to be overlooked; there are no elevator bells to be heard or vacuum cleaners in view. Huge floral arrangements bloom in the imposing lobby with subdued tones; there are jasmine on the bedroom pillows, and daily replenishment of fruits, orchid blossoms and truffles. Besides the ever-helpful concierge, the staff in the food and beverage outlets anticipate requests even before these are asked.

It is little wonder that high-profile celebrities and personalities like political leader Nelson Mandela, musician Ricky Martin, American Idol Kelly Clarkson, and even diva Beyoncé Knowles, have chosen The Sukhothai Bangkok as their place of residence. It is bound by six other districts, making it a virtual gateway for travelers.

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The Executive Suite of The Sukhothai Bangkok
The Executive Suite of The Sukhothai Bangkok

Fruits, Fresh and Dried

Bangkok is fruit heaven. We sourced basketfuls from the gourmet markets, grabbed more than a handful from groceries, haggled with street peddlers by their now stationary, once-upon-a-time tuktuks. We were even able to purchase bundles of fresh fruits while they were being unloaded for further distribution off from a 6×6 truck. We literally had a smorgasbord of naturally sweet seasonal yield of mangosteen, rambutan, durian, and longkong (that is lanzones to you and me). We also collected packets of dried nuts and candied fruits such as their trademark tamarind, kiwi, mango, passion fruit, kumquat, raisins, cherries, and dates.

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The well-lit pond at night
The well-lit pond at night at The Sukhothai Bangkok
The entrance of the Baan Khanita and Gallery
The entrance of the Baan Khanita and Gallery

Ambrosia of Coconut Ice Cream

This trip was all about Thai cuisine, save for breakfasts. It was a short seven-minute walk from our hotel to Baan Khanita and Gallery. This two-storey, 250-seater bistro uses quality fresh ingredients from an in-house organic farm in the plateau area of Khao Yai National Park. It takes a two-hour delivery drive every single day, to the 20-year-old landmark known for quality, healthy food.

While we flipped through the menu, a complimentary traditional Thai amuse-bouche was served at the table. The miang kham arrived in a neat platter lined with dried shrimp, roasted coconut shavings, chili peppers, cashew nuts, and condiments such as ginger, garlic, and lime.  These were placed inside folded cones of raw wild betel leaf, then filled with palm or sugarcane syrup.

We sampled several mixed appetizers, such as deep fried spring rolls, pandan leaf-wrapped chicken, shrimp and fish cake, followed by a hearty serving of everyone’s favorite tom yum soup. The main courses were salted egg pork belly bean curd in brown stew, grilled snowfish topped with crispy lemongrass, galangal, kafir lime leaf, and young peppercorn, and lamb shank in masannam sauce. Dessert was southern coconut stuffed dumplings in milk, topped with sesame, plus coconut ice cream reminiscent of our very own macapuno at the Selecta Restaurant by the former Dewey Boulevard during our school days.

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The exteriors of the Celadon Restaurant at nightfall
The exteriors of the Celadon Restaurant at nightfall
Raw wagyu beef salad, aloe vera, fresh herbs from our garden
Raw wagyu beef salad, aloe vera, fresh herbs from the garden
Grilled river prawn, salted baby shrimps cooked in fresh coconut milk
Grilled river prawn, salted baby shrimps cooked in fresh coconut milk

The Most Flavorful Pad Thai

Another restaurant that came highly recommended by friends was The Celadon. It is a quaint 86-seater establishment within The Sukhothai Bangkok. It has been hailed for years as the Best Thai Restaurant by Thailand Tatler, Forbes Magazine, and Travel and Leisure, and has made the shortlist of the 2018 Michelin Star Guide.

A short stroll through the covered walkway, surrounded by ponds of blooming water lilies led to the warmly-lit double pavilion. Two traditional dancers in full regalia stood on a side stage, strongly conveying the country’s heritage, arts and customs.

Refreshing pomelo salad and several aromatic starters were the beginning of an evening of surprises. These were followed by the chicken coconut milk soup. No Thai meal is ever complete without the iconic pad thai. From the many we have tasted before, this was the most flavorful.

The main courses were braised snow fish or cod in spicy southern yellow curry and stir-fried beef with chili. It was the kind of meal where you wish there more friends and family to share it with. The elegant meal finished with Coconut ice cream, requested again owing to the previous day’s tasting of the same.

None of these would have been possible without the talented chefs, under the guidance of their revered Lady Chef Rossarin. She is continuously tapped by Tourism Authority of Thailand to share Thai cuisine all over the world during their hosted food festivals.

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Jay Fai busy with her flaming wok
Jay Fai busy with her flaming wok
The famed crab omelette
The famed crab omelette

Michelin Star in a Busy Alley

On another day, the food adventure led to a bustling, smoky, nondescript street through bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Phra Nakhon District. A crowd waited for their turn to sit down in one of the stools in a barebones, open-air hole-in-the-wall, similar to the shop houses in Binondo. This is Jay Fai, an unassuming canteen, which received one star in the Bangkok 2018 Michelin Guide.

Jay Fai had never even heard of the coveted ratings guide. She was born to Chinese immigrant parents, the middle child of a large family. A former seamstress, she honed her culinary skills when she was in her thirties. Today, she is the sole cook, who mans two charcoal braziers and several piping-hot woks day in and day out, assisted by family members, whom she supports. The quirky owner always wears ski goggles and a beanie.

The eatery only opens from 2pm. It is wildly popular among foodies despite its cost. A simple dish in this humble diner is just as expensive as high-end Philippine fancy restaurants!

Her specialty is crab omelette, with chunks of the nakornsithammarat crab sourced all the way from the southern islands of Thailand. The Second Princess of the Royal Thai Family, who is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, regularly eats here!

We watched Jay Fai in her element as she worked by the side of the shop, frying chunks of crab in boiling oil, adding scrambled eggs, to produce a pancake, that she folded, and later sliced open, to display the contents. This was her bestseller, though other dishes were worth trying. The fried king prawns in garlic, pepper, and seafood sauce; stir fried seafood with fish, crab meat, prawns, egg yolk, and yellow curry with chili; and tom yum with spicy prawn, all pulled their own weight to deserve the Michelin Star.

Words and photos by Edu Jarque
Additional photos by Santichai Boonrasri

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