Sunday, October 5, 2008

TBA Day 23: A Palace, an Election, and Crab Curry

Apologies in advance for the excessive (even for me) length of this post… It was a good day.

Day 23 featured both completing our obligation to do touristy stuff out of the way and eating the best meal of the trip thus far. The day opened with wandering around the neighborhood a while, stopping for a bit of deep-fried street food and a couple iced coffees for brekky. The food was decent, especially once dipped in sweet chili sauce (the picture is of the lady's entire inventory, by the way, not our breakfast). A nice (albeit somewhat random) breakfast.
From there we hopped in an auto-rickshaw and headed down to the Grand Palace, which Stanley had heard was definitely worth checking out. Turned out that rumor was true and this place was pretty sweet. I’ve never seen so many very very shiny buildings. It doesn’t really come through in the pictures, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was seriously impressive.
After the Palace visit we spent the rest of the morning wandering around checking out the wares of street vendors (and accidentally ending up in the Amulet Market where, not being connoisseurs, it appeared that about 200 stalls were all selling the exact same little hunks of stone and/or metal…). If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I really dig this city. Again, the people I’ve met who were distressed by how “dirty” it is here must have been from really clean cities. We did a good bit of exploring today and I never found any “Wow, this is dirty!” thoughts crossing my mind… I’m sure it’s out there, but I’m not seeing it yet... Both Stanley and I found ourselves feeling like this is a city where we could definitely live quite happily.

We came back to the hotel and made use of the rooftop swimming pool to cool off after all that wandering around in the sun, then it was off to lunch. Mostly out of laziness and apathy (but also due to the fact that we enjoyed our meals yesterday) we went back next door for lunch. We ordered a cheesy fried wonton appetizer, which was obviously good since deep-fried wontons dipped in sweet chili sauce are always a good thing…
Stanley ordered Pad Thai while I ordered Massaman Chicken Curry (yesterday was the same dish but with pork, so I’m not being completely redundant). Stanley requested some chili flakes for his Pad Thai which was great because then I got to spice up my curry a bit (which is why you see all those little red flecks floating in it in the picture below) which was a definite improvement.
So, at dinner the night before there had been a sign at the restaurant informing us that there would be no alcohol served due to election day, but apparently that was just in preparation and this was the actual election day. We tried to order beer with lunch, but were denied for election-related reasons. Our waitress, however, told us we could order off the hard liquor menu. That wasn’t a problem for me and Stanley, so we each ordered a Black Label on the rocks. After asking if we wanted coke in it (no), the waitress returned with a coffee mug and asked if it was OK to serve us drinks in this vessel instead of the regular glass. At this point we figured out that it was to hide the fact that they were serving us (which the coke would have hidden in a clear glass if we’d let her add it…). Good times.
The lock-down on alcohol put an end to our plan to hit Moon Bar (on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel) that night, so we decided instead to focus our efforts on tracking down a great dinner. There are two restaurants in Bangkok (Lek Seafood and Somboon Seafood) that the folks in the know over at tend to say are two of the best in the city. There has been quite a bit of discussion about which is best, with Lek often coming out ahead. Given Lek’s proximity to Moon Bar, however, we decided to save that for Day 24 and check out Somboon today.

Somboon is apparently so good/popular that there are many impostors in the city and cab drivers get paid off to take you to an impostor rather than the real thing. We found a picture online of the location we wanted to try, wrote down the address, and noted nearby landmarks. The auto-rickshaw driver at one point seemed like he might be trying to take us somewhere we didn’t want to go (after we’d handed him a piece of paper with the name and address of the restaurant he started to say “you know, there’s actually other locations I could take you to…”) but Stanley was politely firm and we ended up in the right spot in the end. I’m so glad we did, because I would say this was by far the best restaurant on the trip so far (sign viewed from inside below).
We started off with a simple dish of garlic-marinated grilled calamari with sweet chili sauce. The calamari was perfectly cooked and so tender. A great way to start the meal.
Next up was the dish this place is most famous for: Crab Meat Curry. We had read that Somboon may have the best Crab Meat Curry in Bangkok, and after trying it I would have to say “Believe the hype.” Wow. This dish was totally and completely outstanding. Sometimes a thing will be delicious on your first bite, but then you stop noticing by the end. Every bite of this from the first to the last made me pause to say “Holy crap, that is insanely delicious!” (or some variation thereof).
This dish also made us realize how horrible the dish by the same name at Bangpo Seafood in Samui was. In that dish the curry overpowered the crab meat completely, so you could see big hunks of crab but could only taste sauce (which led us to believe, erroneously, at the time that Crab Meat Curry was just intrinsically not a very good dish rather than understanding that we were just being served a bad version). At Somboon, the crab is clearly the star of the dish. This is by far the best thing I’ve eaten on this trip.

Next up was Tom Yum soup, which was also rumored to be exceptional. Initially I thought the broth was on par with that at Sabinglae (which I loved) although the shrimp here were much more tender and succulent here and practically melted in your mouth. As the broth simmered in the pot at the table, though, the flavors became more and more intense and by the end I had to admit that this was a far superior soup.
This is where the order probably should have stopped, but we added two more things: a crab meat salad (referred to as “Crap Meat Salad” on the menu) and steamed fresh water prawns with garlic. Both dishes were very tasty (the salad was a refreshingly light accompaniment to the other heavier dishes, and the prawns were fresh, tender, and delicious), but by the time they came we were pretty much mesmerized by the amazingness of the Crab Meat Curry and becoming aware of the finite capacity of our stomachs…
Oh, and this was an "expensive" meal for this trip, which is to say that all of this amazingly fresh and delicious seafood cost us a total of around US$20 each. Not too shabby, eh?

All in all, a great day in a great city. When I was in Malaysia I wondered a couple times why I was even coming to Thailand (rather than just spending more time in Malaysia and Singapore), but I’m so very glad I came. My whole time in Thailand thus far (with one day to go) has been a great experience. Some of that may be due to having great company , but I think the location deserves a good portion of the credit as well.

1 comment:

Stanley said...

It's true. This was an exceptional meal. The crab curry was as perfect as described.

It's tough to add much to my sister's, shall we say, detailed analysis, but just in case someone cares, it was the best meal I've ever had at an "Asian" restaurant.