in that order...
Any sort of shopper will be happy in Bangkok. There is something for everyone: the rich, the poor, the mass-amounts-of-cheap-things buyer, the art collector, the fashionista (high-end and hipster), the cute souvenir buyer, the shoe lover, the bargainer, the gold lover, the shop-till-your-feet-hurt-and-then-get-a-massage shopper... you get the picture. I experienced a lot of it on Thursday, with a bit of eating in the middle (of course).
I was told that I had to go to Siam Paragon, the newest mall in Bangkok. And it was truly amazing. At about 1pm, I walked from the hot sweaty crowds from the sidewalk to the crisp air-conditioning and sleek white marble of this upscale mall. It had it all -- from Gucci, Chanel, Burberry to the hippest Thai and East Asian designers. The design was impressive, more like a minimalist 5-star hotel then what I pictured for a mall. Also, a world class aquarium lies in the basement! But what impressed me the most was the food court.
I followed the arrows to the escalator for the food court. As I got closer to the food court, I was was blown away. It was at least 7 times bigger than the average American food court and designed with cool curves of frosted purple and blue glass. Then something really caught my attention: 60-gallon fish tanks that you can eat at. Wow. I quickly tried to browse all the stalls when I realized that a special event was happening with 5 large tables. The banner said, "Authentic Taste of Thailand." I was in.
Not much English was spoken by the staff, so I just picked the most interesting things and paid them what they asked.
I got the Som Tom Pue, the papaya salad with the raw fermented crab that was mentioned in an earlier post. I figured that I had to try it, especially when I pointed to the basket of crab and the server replied, "Thai-style." The guy next to him picked up a 8 small green chili peppers and asked me something in Thai. The server mixing my salad slapped his hand away and started laughing. I assumed the whole event meant that I didn't look like I could handle that sort of heat. I probably couldn't. I gestured with my thumb and index finger close together and said, "Just a little?" My salad mixer guy put in two chilis. Phew.
I also picked out a small deck-of-cards-size package of something wrapped in green leaves and steamed. The server attending to that section said, "Seafood" when I pointed to it, so I went for it. At what seemed like the dessert table, I asked for small little cups of gel-ish custard that was labeled "banana" over which the server generously sprinkled shredded coconut.
There was no way I was going to pass up eating right in front of a giant fish tank. Surprisingly the coral reef tank was less crowded than the other theme tanks (freshwater, koi, aquatic plants), so I settled my self in front of some clownfish and dug in.
To drink, I opted for the coconut juice, fresh from the natural container. I didn't waste the fresh coconut meat either. It had been a long time since I had had fresh coconut and it surprised me how different it tasted from dry shredded coconut. The flavor is more mild and a bit more "green."
The Som Tom Pue was not all that hot, thanks to my thoughtful server. The fermented crab was not as strong as I suspected. It was quite easy to eat because the server threw in the whole crab and pounded it a few times in the salad. The legs ended up broken from the body and if you just bite down on it, the raw meat just squishes out. I found that the closer you got to body meat, the more pungent and fermented the taste was. I can't lie; I had a few moments of fleeting nausea. But I pushed through...all for you, my faithful readers.
The leaf package was quite good. It was a red curry, seafood (fish?) and rice mash with some whole shrimp and squid in it, all steamed in the leaf. Strong lemongrass and ginger flavors were also present. It was a bit spicier than I could handle, so each time the burn got unbearable, I took a bit of the banana custard cups and it tamed the fire in my mouth. Quite a good amount of food, but I decided that it wasn't anything that a few hours of mall-walking couldn't burn off.
So I set off to burn off the food at the other malls in the area. yes, there about 6 malls in the Siam area of Bangkok. Two of them are attached to the Paragon. Then others are across the road. It is a massive shopping town. With all sorts of different things. Siam Square is outdoor and has local Thai designers that cater to the young hip crowd. Then MBK is an outdoor market brought indoors. If you need to buy 1000 different dressy shoes for onlly 8 dollars each, it wouldn't be a problem at MBK. Or any sort of cell phone accessory. Or 60 different belts. They have it all, in any color and for a cheap price.
I met up with a friend from Berkeley and we went for dinner and then to yet another shopping spot! We had pad thai at a famous place in the Ari area of the city. They make pad thai with traditional noodles, rice noodles, even with papaya shreds. It's so good that even the princess of Thailand has been there! After dinner, she explained street food to me while we headed to the Sun Luum Night Bazaar. It was my favorite of the day and I recommend it to anyone visiting Bangkok. Open from 6pm to 12pm, it has four sections of outdoor stalls that sell souvenirs, clothes, artwook, furniture. But it has a artistic, craftmans sort of feel to it, which made me like it. And there's a huge beer garden and food area where you can take a break. After that, there are plenty of foot massage salons to rejuvenate your aching arches!
Man, what a day.