“Kwan-riam Floating market” – a brand new floating market experience: when contemporary meets modern day Thai – part 1

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(on their ‘boat service’ with “Ah-tia” or Grand uncle. The fee was 20 baht per adult, for a 35 minute ride along the “Saen-saeb” river. This photo was taken on my second visit to the market)

“Kwan-riam” is a new floating market conveniently located within the vicinity of Bangkok, located by the “Saen Saeb” river between Soi Serithai 60 and Soi Ramkhamhaeng 187.

The market is right next to “Baang Peng Tai” temple. Therefore, if you were also looking for an authentic Thai temple experience, you can obtain it by visiting the temple next door for activities like setting free animals i.e. frogs, fish, or sight-seeing within the temple.

On the weekends, which is the only times the market is open, the temple also holds small fairs which includes stalls selling toys for kids or small Thai souvenirs.

*The first picture above shows a view of the temple*

Because Kwan-riam market is so easily accessible i.e. not way outside the city, it is popular with Thai city people. Yet, not too crowded (might be because it has only been opened for a year and a half).

The best things about this market are definitely its cleanliness, abundant shades, the fact that it was not crazily busy, and that there are activities one could do rather than shopping.

One of those few activites include looking at animals (albeit a bit random).

ImageRight next to the area selling foods were cages and stalls containing giant turtles, pigs and of course, the prairie dogs as shown above. I wouldn’t neccessary put food and animals so close together, but the animals’ enclosures were quite well kept so that was more reassuring.

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Cute piggies! The next day I went (my mum and I just couldn’t get enough of the market) the two pigs were still sleeping in the exact same place… Perhaps they always have a noontime nap?

ImageGiant turtles (You can now understand the ‘random’ part I meant)

And now onto the part people really read the post/my blog for… Food!

First item I bought (out of the many I was enticed by): Chinese style buns with filling or “Salabao“/”Baozi” in Mandarin.

ImageThe market had a variety of ‘specialty stores’ that have added new twists to popular or common foods to the Thai palate. For example, this store made “Salabao” or Chinese-style filled buns into cute little animal and cartoon shapes.

The buns shown above had sweet fillings such as taro, red bean and custard cream.ImageThe buns shown on the left had savory fillings, most commonly which is pork. From far left: (all kinds of pork fillings) BBQ pork, pork floss, minced pork. The middle ones with the yellow smiley face was the bun which I bought, because it contained the famous new filling that I have never tried: lava filling. The filling was custard cream with salted duck eggs (not appetizing-sounding to Westerners, but salted duck eggs are an Asian food fetish. They are tossed into everything from salads, rice-porridge to sweets)

Image‘Contemporary Chinese-style buns’ conclusion? Very yummy. They did not scam customers on high buns to filling ratio, despite the low-price. However, I am yet to try the other flavours.

The “lava” buns were genuinely lava-like. The custard filling literally explodes in your mouth with its sweet and slight savoury flavour. Definitely worth 18 baht (typical price for Chinese-style buns) for a special kind of dessert.

Note on the flavours of the “lava” bun: I would have liked it if they had used less white sugar, condensed milk and included more salted duck eggs which were slightly overwhelmed by the sweetness. Of course, that would make for a more expensive bun that normal people or ‘sugar-lovers’ (as I call them) may not find particularly appealing.

ImageBefore we cross the “Saen-saeb” river to the otherside of the market, we have got three or four ‘boat restaurants‘ selling typical Thai foods e.g. noodle soup. But there was this restaurant that really impressed with its whole grilled scallops in shells, huge shrimps, etc.

I forgot to mention that there were two parts to the market, separated by the Saen-saeb river. The first side which you enter is adjacent to the temple and contained food stalls, fresh produce, and most of the animals and merchandise (and also the OTOP ‘One Tumbon One Product – a campaign to support Thai local produce. Tumbon means community’ stores selling all sorts of traditional Thai ornaments and products).

The food stalls and restaurants on either side basically sell the same foods/produce, by the same owner probably. Just depends which side of the river you prefer to do your shopping.

ImageI was quite intrigued by this fruit which I have never seen before; the fruit was a rare variety of “rose-apples” or “Chompoo” in Thai. This “rose-apple” variety was called “Nam Dorgmai” which means “flower water” or nectar, known for a sweetness atypical of “rose-apples”.

“Rose-apples” are another healthy Thai fruit. I call them ‘healthy’ because as with other fruit they come packed with nutrients, but in ‘packages’ of high fiber and water with very little sugar (unlike this “flower water” special variety pictured above). Fiber (soluble and insoluble) is important in maintaining a healthy digestive tract, cholesterol and blood-sugar levels in your body.

“Rose-apples” are another under-rated Thai fruit with respectable amounts of nutrients and antioxidants, but are overshadowed by their sweeter, hence, more delicious friends like oranges, apples, pomegranates (the craze right now).

ImageAnother food I have never seen before. This was a contemporary take on the popular Thai dessert – “Kanom Krok“. Kanom Krok normally consists of coconut milk, (light) coconut milk (the first water of the coconut), flour and palm sugar.

What they did here however, was turned the batter into a savoury one, and put a whole lot of seafood in. Judging from the colour of the batter, it seems they have included eggs into the mix as well. (a good idea to help all the fillings hold shape). They also pour a lot of clear liquids, which looked a bit like oil on top while cooking, and therefore was not very appetizing for me. Unfortunately, we did not try the “Seafood Kanom krok”.

However, definitely worth a test of flavours – the price was very reasonable, and look at how much seafood they stuff into each piece of “Kanom Krok”: a whole shrimp or a squid ring!

One of the vegetarian options at the market (which my mum immediately jumped at):

ImageGrilled mushrooms. Each stick was definitely stuffed with a whole lot of fresh mushrooms, and for just the price of 20 baht per stick! There was an array to choose from: shiitake, enoki, orengi, honey fungus etc. Comes served with a sweet and spicy sauce (Thais’ favourite flavours).ImageDefinitely vertiable whole mushrooms. I didn’t worry about the hygiene because they were thoroughly cooked on the grill (although the mushrooms still retained crunchiness – these types of mushrooms take a lot of cooking to mush them up, unlike something like portobello). What slightly bothered me however, was the fact that the mushroom juices with some of their nutrients were wasted as they dripped into the grill, and that oil was slathered on top to replace the fluids lost. Nonetheless, I saw that they did not use that much oil, but also brushed a bit of marinating sauce on top to keep the mushrooms moist. So the minerals, vitamins and definitely fiber were not all lost.

All in all, one of the lowest-calorie alternatives at the market.

WARNING! The following image is not most suitable for Muslims and vegans:

ImageI just had to take a picture of that pork simply plopped on top of that stall table. I have never seen a whole pork at a market before (although half of the meat was already gone). The stall was selling “roast pork” Traang-style. It is a pretty natural food (simply pork with a bit of seasoning, and no added oil), although because the skin is left on while cooking, it may have more fat than a lean piece of ham.

Note: Traang is a province in Thailand.

Then another thing I have never seen on sale in an open-air market:

ImageWhole salted fish. Of course, I have seen fresh fish being sold before (laid on top of mounds of ice), but these salted/cured fish looked so fresh (head and all still on). I would later find out from my aunty that these cured, sun-dried fish are normally bought to later be grilled, and often eaten as a side-dish with rice porridge. As long as they have been heavily cured, and will be thoroughly cooked at home, then they should be pretty bacteria-free by the time the fish reaches our plates.Image

On to the ‘floating boat restaurants’. Firstly, let me make it clear that this market is not an ‘authentic’ Thai floating market. If you want to experience the traditional ‘old lady floating along on a boat in a nice traditional outfit to offer you some fresh produce’, this is not the place. You would better visit somwhere like the popular “Ampawa floating market” which is about a 2 hour drive from Bangkok. In fact, there are not even boat paddling action around here (apart from the arranged group boat rides up and down the river).

Like I said, the market is more like modern-day Thai people’s take on the floating market.

The boat restaurants were tied to the dock (saves a lot of energy wading around).

This was one of them: a restaurant selling “Kao-chae” or “soaked rice”. The dish consists of cooked rice ‘soaked’ in cold jasmine water (water that has had jasmine flowers soaked in them) served with a variety of side dishes i.e. dried fish, shrimp paste balls, caramelized coconut meat. Most of them salty and sweet. This is a rice-porridge-like dish most suitable for a hot country like Thailand.

Image“Kao chae” or soaked rice was a favourite of mine. The water soaked rice was both refreshing, through both the calming smell of jasmine and the coldness of the water. They work really well with the sweetness in the side dishes (the sweetness makes the dish appealing to a younger palate, and also its lack of tough pieces of meat or veggies *although I never had a problem with veggies as a child!)Image“Kao-chae” is often associated with royalty (was a popular dish in the palaces). The colourful sweets on the right are “Kanom Alua” – not too sweet, but come packed with the chewy and softness of rice flour and light coconut milk mixture. Kind of like marzipan, but definitely not as rich. Also flavoured with jasmine essence so fragrance of the flower definitely exudes with each bite.ImageWe passed by a noodle shop, mixed with a “pad-thai” shop (at least I’m sure most readers will be well acquainted with this Thai dish). Other than dining on the shores, one can also elect to dine on the rafts where the restaurant boats are docked right next to. When coming to Thailand, ‘dining on water’ or at a restaurant by a river, is a must-do. The breeze is light, the view is not boring, and you can always feed leftovers to the fishies! (which would later become your next meal) Just kidding (that will dirty the streams). Bigger restaurants sell fish pellets for customers too.

I forgot to mention that at the market they also sell food for feeding fish in the river too i.e. bread or pellets.

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I’ve never seen people making fish cakes before, so it was interesting to see the process as I walked by this restaurant (At the market, they would openly showcase their kitchen, and how some of the traditional Thai foods are made. An eye-opener for city people like me).

Witnessing how much oil goes into each fish cakes, I will be off them for a while.. (I had thought the cakes were simply pan-fried)

Note: the oil is nearly black because at food stalls, oil is reused in order to save on costs. Deep-frying is expensive! I totally understand the store owners.

Another kind of animal on show that was located next to the areas of ‘on-river’ restaurants: fowls and ducks. ImageSwans.ImageEuropean geese called “Pomeranian geese”. They looked like ducks but three times bigger.ImageThey also had seats and benches on the raft next to the closure where you can eat and watch geese playing at the same time (I swear, it would definitely not be as boring as watching lions that are about 2 km away sleep at the zoo. These geese were always in action, whether it would be drinking, swimming, eating, diving, etc.)ImageThen we passed by this shop selling all kinds of rice noodle dishes. These were “Guaw tiao lord” often eaten with a sauce with a base of sweet soy sauce.

I’ve never eaten “Guaew tiao lord” or rice noodle roll in this style before. It had looked so appetizing and fresh that I immediately bought it (they also came with boiled duck eggs which are my favourite). Basically, they put all the toppings normally used as fillings in ‘rice noodle rolls’ on top of the noodles. A very good idea because they look so much more appetizing as compared to plain white rolls of noodles. (The noodles themselves also had dried shrimps within which was something I’ve never seen before). The fillings that were used as toppings instead include: dried shrimps, chinese sausage slices, tofu, lightly boiled mung beans (at least they included some veggies), a bit of lettuce, ground pork, fried minced garlic, and garnished with chopped coriander and half a duck egg.

ImageAll for the cost of only 50 baht (which is sort of normal for the amount of food given…) The same dish was served in red clay boats bowls, for those wishing to dine at the restaurant (I had a cold that day so did not want to use bowls at the restaurants which may not be particularly hygienic). However, I recommend dining fresh where they can heat up the sweet and salty black sauce poured on top of the noodles. The noodles are much better eaten that way (warmer, and the noodles becomes softer)

It was 50 baht that was quite filling and nutritious (not enough veggies though).

Other than the skewered mushrooms, the take-home foods we bought include: Thai chive dumplings (which I forgot to take photos of) – also a vegetarian dish which my mum absolutely commended, steamed coconut fish or “Hor-mok”, very sweet green-skinned mangoes, and the highlight would definitely be (seemingly typical) cakes that were only 39 baht per piece!

This is about a dollar to a dollar fifty per slice in countries like New Zealand or USA.

ImageI was very puzzled by how they could make genuine, Western style cakes at such a low price. We talked to the lady and she claimed that they used quality ingredients and that they do not get a lot of profit from the desserts they sell. “You cannot sell them anymore expensively here” was what she had said.

But anyway, we decided to try the very yummy looking sponge cake with fruit and egg-free options, banoffee pie and chocolate cake for my mum.

After tasting the cakes, I believe I have learnt their secret of low cost. They had used a very high ‘cream’ to sponge cake ratio in their cakes. The sponge cakes tasted alright (quite fluffy), however, the cream was definitely not the kind I have had in New Zealand. I believe the ‘cream’ they had used was a mixture of vegetable shortening and a bit of cream, whipped to the point where they are very fluffy and full of air, hence giving the cakes the appearance of being filled with a large volume of cream. The flavours and textures were all there: incredibly soft and not too sweet. The cream was not full-bodied, but very light, and biting into the cake was like biting into clouds of candyfloss that was not overwhelmingly sweet.

The cakes would be perfect if only the cream was not mostly vegetable shortening which is incredibly detrimental to your health as most of them (including margarine) contain trans fat. You would be better off eating genuine cream which at least contains some nutrients from cow’s milk such as calcium and vitamin B’s.

The other food we bought home was “Hormok” or steamed coconut fish:

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“Hormok” was a favourite dish of mine as well, because of the delicious creaminess you get from the combination of coconut milk, eggs and ground up fish flesh.

Basically, it is ground up, mashed fish mixed in with coconut milk, eggs, chillies, other flavourings. Also included are a bit of veggies like cabbage (I chose “Yor” leaves which is like spinach, but have a slight bitter flavour), and seafood like either fillets of fish, or shrimps.

I thought I’d end the post with a nice image of a street dog, finding sanctuary at the floating market. As you can see from the image, this market is incredibly clean, unlike your typical Thai “fresh produce” market. It is more hygienic than the streets out there. No wonder, the dog looked so comfortable sleeping underneath the bench!

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Stay in tune for part 2 of my “Kwan-riam” floating market adventure!

-Izzy

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