Chinatown “Yaowarat” – Bangkok style

The evening following New Year my family and I decided to go for a stroll in Bangkok’s ‘Chinatown’. We don’t call our so-called ‘Chinatown’ literally “China-town”, but the district is called “Yao-wa-raad” and everyone just knows that it’s ‘Chinatown’. (because most of the shops around there have been run by the Chinese for at least a century).

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Some random girl stood in the middle of my photo, so I decided to blur out her face for the sake of viewers. On the street in the middle of “Yaowaraj”

It’s “Bangkok custom” (or City people) to celebrate the New Year outside of the capital, so the city that never sleeps has been pretty much empty the last few days. Yay for no traffic jams! *Driving down the road was almost like floating through heavenly paradise – a very euphoric moment after moments of traffic jams, although I have only been back for a couple of weeks. What a moaner.*

And onto why the customary out-city trip? Obviously because in Thailand, we have a *for most people* 5 days holiday, so who the heck would want to stay behind? I guess people like my family and extended family who just simply can’t be bothered and are sick of going for relaxing trips(?). Realistically, going on vacations can sometimes be more stressful (How pointless).

Bangkok’s state of emptiness was still prevalent when we went to “Yaowarat” the evening following New Year’s day. The place was pretty much unusually not crowded that evening.

Although “Yaowarat” is more a day place anyway. The entire district filled with: Chinese-style shops, fresh fruits shops, restaurants, dodgy smelling water on the ground, etc. is at least 1 to 2 km squared, but in the evening, “Yaowarat” only covers a single road.

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Pomegranate juicing stall

The ‘it’ juice in Thailand right now: pomegranate. (Don’t know if this applies to anywhere else?) Thais are known for following with the flow/current/trend. (I guess good when you’re a fish)

Living in Christchurch, New Zealand, there was no such thing as the ‘it’ juice or new-craze veggies. It’s just bobby bananas, ‘Sunfirst’ mandarins, apples for all times (Obviously great, stable market for the producers. But NZ is exporting more and more produces all the time anyway i.e. to a country like Thailand. I have to beg my dad to stop buying imported New Zealand apples/kiwifruits.)

As for the health benefits of pomegranates: the fruit (in fact, all fruits are good for you) was traditionally known as a ‘superfruit’, containing an enormous amount of nutrients, amazing detoxing qualities, etc. However, not a lot of research have been conducted to support the claim. A recent study, however, have shown that pomegranates contain certain nutrients that may help improve the appearance of your skin! This has made it so popular with the ladies here in Bangkok, (just slap on a cosmetic claim) and also because we have had such an overflowing surplus from the China this Winter.

For me, I don’t see the reason to go with the hype and gorge on these red fruits, since pomegranates seem to have the same nutritional qualities as it always has for centuries.

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One of the many noodles/fast food stalls

Then my mum egged me on to take photos of this noodles soup stall guy just because he was chopping up enormous pig intestines/stomach. These street foods i.e. noodles soup or “Guaew-tiao” are super quick grabs that are also not too nutritionally inadequate (some protein, veggies, but mostly carbs); faster than fast food, and less fatty!

Normally a bowl of noodles soup include pork/chicken bones broth, rice noodles, some chicken/pork meat, pig’s blood (my favourite), liver, meatballs, mung beans and some fried shallots and coriander sprinkled on top. Also some optional addition of chili or crushed roasted peanuts. Seems like an abundance of delicious offerings, but one bowl of these are normally 35 Baht, so you can expect just one tablespoon of each toppings.

In the case of this stall, since they specialize in pig-innards (either stomach or intestines) noodles, you can anticipate to have some nice and chewy boiled intestines plopped on top of your dish as the finishing touch.

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A row of fruit stalls, with their elaborately arranged offerings. I think the apples were from “USA” *another overload of surplus I guess*

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Yet another pomegranate juicing stall

The thing with these fruit stalls is that, most of them have identical produces, from the same distributers, selling the exact same thing: so what is the point of having tiny little individual stalls everywhere, rather than merging into a super shop? That’s because we all want to make money for ourselves! Duh!

From the constant bombardments of pomegranate juice stalls, I managed to learn something new about juicing them. I’m not sure if most people already know this, but instead of halving the pomegranates, then vainly digging out the little fruits with your fingers or a fork/spoon (at least I used to do this, and my dad still do the whole caveman claws digging method), there is a quicker way of harvesting the juicy seeds: The stall holders have got these sticks padded at the end that they use to wack the pomegratnates on the back, after having created the cuts as shown above. Then the wee pink seeds just easily fall out, without getting stuck in the dang white piths.

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This stall sold “yellow noodles” with an option of shrimp dumplings, BBQ pork or crab meat. These are also normally topped off with fried shallots, chopped spring onions and drizzled with sesame oil. Yum.

The name of the shop was “White Dragon” and the dishes are 40 to 80 Baht – quite pricey for street food. And the thing hanging behind the window is (don’t worry, not rabbit!), but it’s mostly a piece of BBQ pork.

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Then we passed, and ate at this “Chinese-style desserts” stall shop. Each wok had a boiling soup of (mildly) sweet assortment of Chinese desserts. That’s what’s good about Chinese desserts: they’re never too sweet.

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This is “Poi-gia”. It consists of a light syrup soup with some lotus seeds and root, longan, perhaps gingko nuts and some ice. This is what I love about Chinese desserts: never too sweet, and you don’t feel like you are punishing your body by eating the desserts. In fact, you would feel rather healthy about taking a dosage of gingko nuts, lotus roots, red dates(another popular component of Chinese desserts), etc. while satisfying your sweet tooth. Clever Chinese.

About the nutritional quality of typical Chinese dessert’s components:

Gingko nuts are reputed to be very… nutritious. Not much research have been done for most of these popular Chinese foods, but they are simply named as health foods by the Chinese. However, I’ve heard that Gingko nuts are good for cleansing your lungs. They are cheap, has that slight peanut-y taste without yielding too many calories (mostly carb). A good addition to Asian stir-fries.

Lotus roots and seeds are used (mostly the roots) very often in Asian cuisines. The roots have that nice, crunchy texture that are normally utilized in sweet style stir-fries i.e. with sweet soy sauce and sprinkled with white sesame seeds (common Korean dish). The lotus roots are also normally boiled to make healthy (reportedly very healthful) juice, sweetened with a bit of sugar. Lotus roots and seeds can be grounded to make flour, and so they contain quite a high content of carbohydrate (especially the seeds). They also have alkalining properties, which always comes in handy in an acidic world we live in.

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Then we passed some guy showcasing his fiery stir-frying skills (while listening to some rock music). I think he made Chinese stir-fry dishes.

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still stir-frying
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“Hai-yah!” (I just don’t know what to put in the captions)

Afterwards, “Ah-tia” or “Grand uncle” (the purpose of coming to “Yaowarat” that evening was basically because Grand Uncle “Ah-tia” and Grand Aunt “Ah-lao-Goh” wanted to go par-tay that evening. They are in their late sixties and seventies and have recently rekindled their flame of passion for adventure.) Anyway, “Ah-tia” wanted some side dishes thing to go with his morning porridge (another Chinese thing) so we stopped by a shop that specializes in “rice porridge side dishes”.

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“Ah-tia” wanted some ‘cured’ meat. Here we have a got a selection of ‘smoked’ chicken thighs, whole duck, hog legs or feet, and a pig head. Pig heads are such a Chinese thing. I think I have tried pig head once (don’t worry you don’t eat the brains, or something along that line). What is shown there on the table is only the outer layer of the pig’s head. What you get is a fatty layer of pork meat, and the crispy skin on the outside that you can take with thin pancakes and sweet sauce like “peking duck”, and also the ears are thinly sliced and mostly eaten with warm porridge (I know that I’m not making a lot of tummies rumbling here..)

The reason why I put ‘smoked’ in brackets is because after a conversation about how this meat has been cooked (totally unprepared blogger – I wanted to be able to explain how the meat was prepared) with my dad (who has a Chinese background), I am led to believe that the meat wasn’t really ‘smoked’ cooked. But more boiled to achieve the ‘cured’ texture, then perhaps smoked for about ten minutes to get a bit of smokey flavour. My dad said these shops make these ‘cured’ meat en masse on a daily basis, so they most likely will not have the time to truly ‘smoke’ prepare them which would take weeks to achieve the true flavour of smoked cooked foods.

By the way, right next to the “porridge shop” was another very similar “porridge shop” once again selling the exact same thing. (Just look at the meat on display, basically mirror images of one another). I don’t get how they don’t have any fights over customers.

Having just arrived from New Zealand, I simply still have a lot of questions about how things roll here in Thailand. Even Thai people themselves don’t really understand some of the customs (when I ask ‘why do they do this, etc.’ 40% of the time I just get a ‘dunno.’)

In summary, “Yaowarat” is not a very big ‘night market’ district. Most of the shops are definitely open during the day, meaning you get a better selection, more food, and greater chance of detecting crockcroaches before stepping on them (Just kidding, there actually weren’t many cockcroaches, as compared to other shopping places. The only crockcroaches you see strolling around a street with a constant crowd flow would be either suicidal or plain crazy.)However, if you would like to have some yummy seafood (an emerging band-wagon of stalls/restaurants offering fresh and cheap seafood have been appearing in Yaowarat), you would be better to come at night time.

-Izzy

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