Friday, July 20, 2012

thinking of thonkrueng

I would never have thought to check out Thonkrueng Thai Restaurant if not for my friends who've been living in Bangkok since mid-2011. It's in a relatively obscure neighborhood not frequented by tourists. From the BTS Skytrain Thong Lo station, you still have to take a cab. Their signboard is barely readable, and they don't have a strong online presence. Their website is woefully inadequate, but no matter-- the food is more than satisfactory.

Started with my favorite Thai dish, som tam. This time with breaded and fried slices of salted egg.

Super tender stir-fried beef with holy basil. Often imitated outside Thailand, but never equalled.

Crisp morning glory (kangkong) sautéed with garlic. Seemingly effortless and yet so perfect.

Deep-fried crab or fish cake, can't remember exactly. Must've been overshadowed by the other dishes.

I refused to eat the great Pinoy favorite chicken in pandan leaves the whole time I was in Thailand, but as a concession to our being Filipino, we agreed to get the other Pinoy favorite, pineapple rice. At this point, I was starting to worry that we may have ordered too much for our measly group of five, but we steadfastly soldiered on.

Fried rice served in a carved out pineapple. I think I ate too many interpretations of this back in the '90s.

Thonkrueng's Thai fresh spring rolls were quite good, but I much prefer the Vietnamese version.

I actually liked this catfish salad because the dressing was served on the side. Great idea.

Tom kha gai, or chicken soup with coconut milk. Impeccable balance of creamy, salty and mildly spicy.

The most unusual dish of the evening was the... uh, the little clay covered thingys. I don't know what they're called, but they were absolutely sublime. I can't even describe how it tasted because everytime I think about it, I fall into a swoon. I would go back to Thonkrueng just for this dish.

I could have eaten all of them, whatever they were. So good, and not available in other Thai restaurants.

ARRRGGGGHHHHH!!! I wanna go back. Right now!

The second most unusual dish was the raw veggies with sweet and salty dip. Again, I don't know what this dish was called or what was in it exactly, but it was lip-smackingly delicious. I especially liked the fresh young lotus root. I had never eaten them that small before. They're usually much bigger and you can see the distinctive Swiss cheese holes when you slice them. These were only as thick as a finger, and had the most wonderful texture: crunchy but delicate.

Yummy sliced young lotus root between the cucumber and the cabbage.

By the end of the parade of dishes I was actually too full to eat anything else, but when someone said "mango sticky rice", I couldn't resist. Thai mangoes are more fibrous than the Philippine variety, but I find them to be consistently sweeter. It's like the farmers submerged them all in a vat of sugar syrup before they went to market. I did not have a single bad mango in Thailand.

Whoever invented this simple dessert is a genius. Totally worth the extra calories.

Verdict: Ah, Thonkrueng. You have become my favorite Thai restaurant. Never mind that you're out everyone's way, you look like a retro German beer garden transplanted to the tropics, and your wait staff are almost impossible to communicate with. When I go back to Bangkok, this will be my first stop. Fresh, fast, cheap, delicious. Three stars.

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