Thursday, December 24, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Although, if you're a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Thailand isn't exactly the best place to hold your next meeting!!!
I am well placed to comment on this aspect of Thailand, thanks to my penchant for the amber nectar and having consumed more beer over the years, than a coach load of hillbillies at a Klu Klux Klan convention.
One of things that tourists often find strange is that the Thais drink their beer with ice!!! For the first time visitor this takes some getting used too, but it is an aspect of the drinking culture that I have come to accept. And you soon understand why this is the case when you're sitting in the sun and your beer starts going warm!!!
In the next few paragraphs, I shall endeavour to provide information and tasting notes covering the most popular brands together with highlighting some of the less well-known beers.
1) Beer Singha
Singha beer is the oldest and most well-established of the beers in Thailand, having first gone into production in 1933.
The beer is reminiscent of the pilsners found in Germany and the Czech Republic, this is mainly due to the fact, that the founder of the Boon Rawd brewery was trained by Bavarian Braumeisters.
Singha used to dominate the local market but has lost ground in recent years to the new kid on the block, Beer Chang.
The Boon Rawd brewery produces three beers under the Singha brand; namely Singha (6%), Singha Gold (4,8%) and Singha Draft (4,8%) .
Besides Singha, Boon Rawd also makes a beer called “Leo” (5,5%) and its slighlty stronger cousin Leo Super (6,5%). It was also responsible for a brand called Mittweida (5%) and has also produced Kloster (5%), under licence from Beck's.
Unlike some beers that use imported barley, Boon Rawd use grains that are grown in Thailand and this gives its Singha brand a distinct flavour.
In my opnion the Singha beers (Singha, Singha Gold and Singha Draft) have a mild hop bitterness that is off-set by a malty sweetness. This sweetness is a characteristic which is fairly common in Asian beers. It is has a slight flavour of citrus fruits and a hint of spice which gives it a slightly dry finish. This means it is a great accompaniment to hot and sour Thai dishes like Tom Yam Gung.
Make no mistake though, despite its sweetness, the 6% variety packs a punch like a mule and is responsible for some dreadful hangovers.
Leo is popular among Thai drinkers thanks to the value it offers, although, at a strength of 5.5% it is a lot milder than Chang and Singha, when Thai's tend to go for drinks with a higher alcohol content.
However, for some strange reason, it is not universally popular among foreign tourists or ex-pats and I have read some very disparaging reviews about it, saying it lacks flavour and tastes chemically. But in my humble opinion, I really enjoy it and whenever I'm in the Kingdom, Leo will be my tipple of choice. It's a simple, easy drinking beer when served ice cold, with a plate of Som Tam. I like to drink it with a slice of lime, as you would with a bottle of Corona.
Leo is a very light and subtle beer with a floral aroma. There is a slight sweetness with overtones of honey and rice which gives it its smoothness and a nice mellow finish. I think it also has a mild peppery flavour which cleans the palate and doesn't leave any lingering aftertaste.
I like to drink it with seafood or poultry dishes and it also goes well with noodle soup.
3) Beer Chang
The inimitable Beer Chang is prodcued by the ThaiBev company and was launched in 1995.
ThaiBev is also noted for the production of the Sang Som and Mekhong brands of rum, and I hold them personally responsbile for at least 9/10 of my hangovers!!!!
Beer Chang rapidly gained over 60% market share thanks to aggressive advertising and good old fashioned low prices. This has since fallen to to around 50% but it still remains one of the most popular beers among both locals and tourists.
It is recognised as the beer of the working man and can be bought at almost any corner shop, bar or entertainment venue. However, some of the top end establishments might look down their nose at you if you order a bottle of Chang rather than a 1,500 baht bottle of Johnny Walker!!!!
It is a deep golden coloured beer with a complex combination of aromas and tastes. It ranges from treacle to bitter hops to sweet biscuit. It has a robust constitution and it is this firmness of flavour that means it is perfect with most spicy or sweet and sour dishes.
Chang used to be my preferred beer whenever I was travelling in Thailand, but the sheer strength of it at 6.4%, coupled with the bitter aftertaste and some very bad hangovers, led me to search for something new!!! However, if I'm having a BBQ then I will still reach for an ice cold Chang or 2 to whet the whistle.
4) Beer Tiger
I know that Tiger isn't strictly a Thai beer, as it is made by Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) in Singapore. But it is common brand in Thailand and popular throughout SouthEast Asia, so I believe it is worthy of a mention here.
The brand is well-established and dates back to 1931. It has an impressive history and boasts over 30 international gold medals.
In my opinion Tiger is very light on the palate and has a very silky texture. It's has a balanced fruity flavour with sweet berries together a note of malt and a hint of honey. It comes in at about 5% in terms of alcohol content.
I must admit that it is an acquired taste and I wasn't always a great fan of Tiger. I found it a little bit too sweet, but I'm happy to admit that it has grown on me over the years and I'm now more than happy to pick up a 4 pack at my local 7-11.
5) Beer Lao
I did say that I would bring you some of the less well-known beers and Beer Lao is certainly one of them. Although it is not a Thai beer, as I'm sure you've worked out from the name!!! But, such is the quality of this brew I thought it warranted a mention!!!
It is made by the LBC (Lao Brewery Company) and is available throughout Laos. It is also increasingly common in western-orientated establishment, in neighbouring Cambodia and is slowly making inroads into the Thai market.
If you do visit Lao there is a lovely draught version available known as biá sot, which I believe means "fresh beer" and it is very similar to the "biá hoi" you find in Vietnam.
If you want to read more about Vietnamese biá hoi the following article is quite good.....
Beer Lao is one of my all time favourite Asian beers and is a fantastic blend of East and West. It is made using the local jasmine rice together with yeast and hops imported from Germany.
The aroma is one of herbs and and grasses and the flavour is predominantly rich and buttery with hints of corn or cereals. You will also detect some fruitiness, with melon, pomegranate and mangosteen flavours being the most noticeable.
6) Micro Breweries in Thailand
Believe it or not, Thailand has some fantastic micro-breweries and here are my thoughts on some of the best.........
a) Tawandang Brewing Company
Located in Bangkok, on Rama 3 just south of Silom, it’s a unique mix of Thai and Western both in terms of dining, entertainment and drinking. It is first and foremost an entertainment venue and features bands such as Fong Nam, fronted by the "unique" Bruce Gaston, but also hosts performances from leading Thai artists like Bodyslam.
The microbrewery specialises in German style pilsners, dunkel (dark) and weizen (wheat) beers, all of which are extremely palatable. It's decor is similar to a Bavarian brauhaus with long wooden tables and benches. Patrons are encouraged to join in with the songs and rowdy atmosphere.
I have tried both the dunkel and weizen beers at Tawandang and here are my opnions.....
Dunkel: It has a dark rich colour and warm aroma. I detected hints of burnt treacle, dark toffee and liquorice. It goes very well with lighter and more delicately flavoured Thai dishes and unlike some other dark beers it was not too heavy.
Weizen: It is opaque in appearance with a good head. The aroma is fruity with a gentle hint of malt and hops. The initial fruity taste gives way to a light peppery and spicy flavour. This is great with fish and white meats.
Overall they were both very drinkable and together with the good food and entertainment, I would highly recommend Tawandang.
b) Londoner Brew Pub
This venue is also in Bangkok and can be found on Soi 33 Sukhumvit. It is a traditional style English pub showing live sports and offering a selection of decent food including all your pub favourites.
But, the main reason punters come to the Londoner, is for the beers that are made on site!!!!
They are currently offering a pilsner style lager (London Pilsner 33) and an English Bitter (Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter).
All the raw materials, as well as the expertise of the the masterbrewer, come from Europe. In my opinion this has created a winning combination.
London Pilsner 33: This lager is very light and aromatic. It has sweet, grainy notes and there is also a good fruity punch. This is perfect accompaniment to any of the steaks they serve!!!
Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter: This bitter is low in body and density but higher in alcohol (5.5%) than many bitters you find in the UK. There is a hint of spice and citrus and I instantly thought of Christmas and mince pies when I drank it!!! This tipple is perfect with roast beef and yorkshire pudding!!!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The capital of Thailand has many monikers, "the Big Mango, "City of Angels" or "Krung Thep" as it is known to the locals.
It currently holds the record for the world's longest place name. So, I shall give it ts full dignified title..........
"Krungthep Maha Nakorn Amorn Ratanakosindra Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajthani Burirom Udom Rajnivet Mahastan Amorn Pimarn Avatarn Satit Sakkatuttiya Vishnukarm Prasit".
Wow, what a tongue-twister, I think even most native Thai speakers would struggle with that!!!
Better still, try saying it after a couple of Johnnie Walkers!!!!
Bangkok is often described as a city of contrasts. This is reflected both in the cityscape, with the juxtaposition of centuries-old temples and gleaming 21st century skyscrapers and in society itself, with beggars sharing pavement space with the Gucci-wearing members of Thailand's high-society!!!!
The city has a plethora of eye-catching cultural landmarks and together with its infamous adult nightlife, balmy climate and delicious food, means the city is synonymous with fun, exoticism and pleasure.
But beneath this facade of enjoyment lurks a more dangerous, seedy and visceral Bangkok. With scammers around every corner, a changing politcal atmosphere, increasing numbers of undesirables arriving on a daily basis and the fall-out from the global economic crisis, I am of the opinion that travellers are more more likely to encounter problems than they were 5 or 6 years ago when I first visited Bangkok!!!
The pace of life in Bangkok is frenetic, so if you're looking for a quiet, relaxing getaway then Bangers is certainly NOT the place for you.....But if you're looking for fun, adventure and excitement then you've hit the proverbial jackpot.
I know this may sound stupid and I'm sure this is what most people do. But, because Bangkok is a large, sprawling city and the places of interest are spread out, it helps to be fairly close to where you want to go.
Nevertheless, travelling around Bangkok is not difficult, even though public transport is not as good as you find in the West. However, the transport system has improved enormously over the years with the introduction of the Skytrain (BTS) and the underground (MRT). Taxis meters are readily available and offer very good value for money but journey's can take a long time due to the large volume of traffic. River taxis and express boats are cheap and convenient and there are many bus networks cris-crossing the city. Tuk Tuk's are also an option for short journey's but they rarely charge less than 100 baht and many will try to take you tailors or gem shops and I try to avoid them if at all possible.
The riverside area of Bangkok is a haven for photographers and gives tourists the chance to exeperience some of Thailand's most famous monuments and attractions. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Keaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (The Dawn Temple) and Wat Pho, are just a few of the delights that are located along the banks of the Chao Phraya river.
The Chao Phraya or "River of Kings" is integral to daily-life in Bangok. Water taxis can be seen ferrying commuters to their places of work, long-tailed boats whizz along taking wide-eyed tourists on voyages of discovery and old fashioned rice barges chug slowly along to deliver their of exotic cargos. It is also a focal point in the city during important events like "Loy Kratong" and the New Year "Songkran" festival. Despite it's history and old-world charm it is home to many of the city's swankiest 5-star hotels such as the Peninsula, Sheraton, Hilton and Shangri-La.
Each lane or "soi" adjacent to the main road, has its own unique personality and you can while away many an hour exploring them all. You will stumble across hidden treasures like the beautiful "Benjasiri Park", an oasis of calm in a chaotic city, which was created to celebrate Queen Sirikit's 60th birthday, or the delightful "Kamthieng House", a stilted rice farmer's dwelling, typical of the 19th century and built entirely of teak wood. Those with families will also enjoy the "Science Museum & Planetarium".
Despite being rather light on the more traditional tourist attractions, visitors are drawn to Sukhumvit by the trendy shopping malls, boutiques and good quality restaurants. There are also plenty of accommodation options from 5 star to budget.
But in my humble opinion, Sukhumvit's greatest asset is its fantastic nightlife. You can find upmarket nightclubs, European style bars & bistros together with the red-light districts of Nana Plaza (Soi 4), Soi Cowboy (between Soi 21 and Soi 23) and the "artists Bars" of Soi 33.
But, by night the area puts on its flares and dancing shoes and the infamous "Patpong" comes alive. It is a small area of 2 adjacent sois and best known for its night market and "adult themed entertainment".
There are a broad range of hotels to suit all budgets and tastes in this area but cultural attractions are few and far between. However, a popular spot is Wat Khaek Silom better known as the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple.
It is one of Bangok's busiest and most colourful districts and is full of street markets, stalls and bazaars.
If you are considering a trip to the market then the only advice I can offer is to arrive early, as you will beat the crowds and not have to struggle through the heat of the day!!!! The market runs from approxiately 8:00 am to 6pm every Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Urm.........99% of the time yes!!!
But there are occassions when you just can't stomach noodles or fried-rice for breakfast. Or, when you're in the middle of the jungle, squatting over a toilet pan (the word toilet, being used in the loosest possible sense!!!!) and watching a spectacle that is akin to muck spreading, the thought of eating a curried rat or portion of fried crickets is probably the furthest thing from your mind.
However, despite the odd gastronomic hiccup, which has lead to me purchasing of immodium on an industrial scale and experiencing a burning sensation in the nether regions, giving a whole new meaning to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", overall the standard of Thai food is exceptional.
The sheer number of ingredients, flavours, aromas and textures are mind boggling, as are the different dishes and styles of cooking. Contrary to popular belief not all Thai food is so spicy it will melt your teeth!!!
Thai food is known the world over for being bold and flavoursome due mainly to the herbs and spices that are used, such as chillies, lemongrass, garlic, corriander, "Nam Pla" which is a fermented fish sauce and "Kapi", a type of shrimp paste.
The food varies from region to region, much the same as in the United Kingdom, although you won't find any deep-fried mars bars on the menu in Thailand!!!!
I have described the basic regional characteristics of Thai food in the following paragraphs. However, do bear in mind that I'm no Ken Hom and they are simply my observations from having visited numerous parts of the country and eaten more tucker than you can shake a stick at.
Dishes that are salty and piquante are very popular and the taste intensity can range from very mild to fiery hot. You will notice a distinct absence of sugar or sweetening agents being used to flavour meals.
Boiled vegetables and sticky rice are served with nearly every meal, together with, "Nam Phrik Oong", a hot sauce made with tomato, minced pork and chilli sauce. You will also find a lot of soups and curries like "Gang Kae", a chilli flavoured chicken soup.
The North is also famous for a sausage made with fermented minced pork, called "Nham" which is sour in flavour and normally sold wrapped in a banana leaf. In some rural areas, creepy-crawlies like grasshoppers, crickets, ants eggs and silk worm larvae are also considered to be a delicacy.
I have eaten a type of worm larvae called "Non Mai" and although it was an experience, I would much rather tuck into a "Zinger Tower Burger"!!! I have also observed that they use lots of wild growing vegetables and herbs.
The infamous "Som Tam", a spicy green papaya salad, is probably the most famous dish from this region and just happens to be one of my favourites.
The food is generally hot and salty with a sweet/sour theme running through it. Rice which is the staple food source in Thailand, is served steamed, with a variety of "Nam phrik" sauces. Soups like "Tom Yam Kung", a type of hot and sour prawn soup with lemon grass and "Gang Som", a chili vegetable soup feature heavily. The sliced beef sald known as "Yam Tua Pu" is also very popular. I have noticed that dishes usually contain a lot of spices and come served with many condiments.
Thai Red Curry which has become increasingly well-known to diners in Western countries, orginated in the this area of Thailand. It is known locally as "Gang Phed".
I really enjoy eating a fish called "Pla Too" and although you can buy this anywhere is Thailand, it is most common the Central region. I believe it is a species of herring but don't quote me on that!!!!
Southern cooking is renowned for being very hot and sour. It's main influence comes from the mainly Malay-Muslim population.
A popular breakfast treat is a "Roti" or crispy pancake. Personally, I enjoy the sweet version which is served with condensed milk.
The most celebrated dish from the South has to be "Khao Yam". It is made by cooking a bowl of rice with roasted coconut, sliced herbs and a fish sauce called "Budu", it is often served with thin strips of a red flower called "Dawk Dala".
In my humble opinion Thailand is one of the world's culinary centres and there are restaurants and eateries to suit every taste and budget. I am just as comfortable eating a bowl of noodle soup, sitting on a plastic chair by the side of the road, as I am eating in one of the glamorous restaurants in Bangkok.
In thailand, you will notice that people will eat 4 or 5 small meals everyday, unlike in the West where we are rigid with our breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like to try and do the same whenever I'm visiting the country, as it gives you the opportunity to try a variety of dishes and means you don't over eat and suffer in the hot weather.
I would strongly encourage people to eat food from the street vendors, push carts and ramshackle road-side restaurants!!!
Western friends often express concerns about the standards of cleanliness when I eat a these places, but as I always tell them, if they were dirty or unhygenic then the Thai people who frequent them would be dropping like flies!!! So to experience traditional Thai food, be brave and give them a go!!!!!
I have an unusal piece of logic that has served me well over the years and it is this......Unlike in the West where you would avoid a restaurant if it looked run-down and you saw cats and dogs sitting by the chef, in Thailand this is generally the sign that you will experience good quality,
traditional style cooking and genuine hospitality. It means that if the restaurant is falling to bits they have been concentrating more on the quality of the food than on the decor!!!!!
One piece of advice I always give to travellers is not to eat too many spicy dishes in the first few days you are there, gradually build up your intake of spicy food so your stomach has a chance to get used to the food. This way most cases of "Delhi Belly" can be avoided!!!
People are always asking me what my favourite Thai foods are so I have compiled the following list:
1) "Jim Jum": This is a lovely soup originating from the Isaan region, in the North of Thailand. It is prepared at the table in an earthenware pot on small charcoal burner. You can order a variety of meat and seafood which is then served raw on a plate, together with a basket containing eggs, sweet basil leaves, cabbage, celery leaves, spring onions and glass noodles. The combination of vegetables can vary between restaurants, as can the dipping sauces that are served with it, although the are usually based around garlic, chilli and lime juice. You then add the meats, seafood and vegetables to the pot of boiling broth and voila!!!!
If you going to try Jim Jum, I would suggest you go to a local restaurant specialising only in this type of cooking, as they will give you the true Jim Jum eating experience!!!!
2) "Chicabub": This is typical street vendor fare, it consists of small skewers of meat, usually beef, pork or chicken, with slices of pineapple and chilli or jalepeno peppers. It is cooked over a charcoal flame on the back of the vendors motorcycle or cart, it will normally served with a slab of sticky rice that has been basted in butter and cooked over the charcoal grill until it goes golden brown. Aroi aroi (delicious, delicious) as they say in Thailand!!!!
3) "Som Tam": This is one of the most famous dishes in the whole country and you will find a "Som Tam" vendor on nearly every street corner!!! There are 2 versions, one which contains dried shrimps and peanuts and the other which comes with salted black crabs. The main ingredients are shredded green papaya, chopped green beans, tomato, chillies, garlic and lime juice. These are all pounded together in a pestle and mortar and then the black crabs or shrimps and peanuts are added. It is usually served with sticky rice called "Khao Neow".
I welcome your comments on this post and do let me know if you have any amusing food related stories you would like me to mention.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Sompon Nabnian and his English wife, Elizabeth, were the first to open a cooking school in the north of Thailand in 1993. From humble beginnings, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School has since spawned a phenomenon, turning cooking courses into one of the most popular tourist activities when visiting Thailand.
About the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School
The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, with over thirteen years’ experience in the business, has garnered a reputation which has reached far beyond Thailand. Sompon has been invited to appear as a special guest by numerous television programmes on food and travel, including the BBC ‘Holiday’ programme, the National Geographic Channel, ZDF and the Thai Channels 3 and ITV. In 2001 he hosted his own series for UK television titled ‘Thai Way II’.
Sompon’s recipe for success combines a dollop of charisma, a splash of humour and a generous mix of knowledge. His lessons are fun, informative and brimming with value. Whether it is to learn how to cook some of Thailand’s most beloved dishes to impress friends and families at home, to enjoy a terrific day out, or to participate in one of Thai people’s favourite past times – communal cooking and eating – the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School experience is an unforgettable memory for many visitors to Chiang Mai.
Trendsetters Sompon and Elizabeth have now opened Jasmine Rice Village Boutique Resort & Spa, where guests can relax and unwind in a traditional northern Thai village ambiance, or combine their stay with Sompon’s famed cooking classes in the innovative ‘Stay and Study’ packages.
47/2 Moon Muang Rd, (opposite Tha Phae Gate) Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand.
Tel: +66 (0) 53-206388 or +66 053-206315 Fax: +66 (0)53-206387
This cookery school is one of the most well-known and run by Thailand's foremost "celebrity chef". Khun Sompon has featured in numerous TV programmes aired in the UK, so he may be familiar to my British readers.
There are many reasons to choose this school, from the friendly staff and the reasonably priced courses (starting from THB 990 for 1 day) to the special "study and stay" packages they offer.
But just so you don't think I'm being biased in reviewing this particular establishment, I have attached a link which includes some 3rd party reviews!!!