First of all, let me make it clear that I am one heck of a cagey kiddo. I am not one of the most adventurous people you will meet. So, what one earth was I doing today strolling through Bangkok’s infamous protesting grounds that have been occupying the news flash lately?
The answer is simple. I was lured there by the promise of food. Alright, the kiddings aside: through a series of miscommunication with my brother, I had the understanding that we were going out to lunch at the Okinawan restaurant with my aunts, mum and my brother’s friends. Turns out we were actually going to the protesting grounds in “Rajdamnern” district to let my brother do some sightseeing before he flies back to the States (and the dinner was in the evening instead).
By the time I realized where I was going it was too late. I was already stuck in the car. The day before, I had told my mum that I did not want to go to the protesting headquarters, but she managed to trick me into going!
(Above in the distant is the ‘monument of democracy’)
We started off at one of the most dangerous point in the demonstration area. This was where some of the fatal exchanges of gunfire between the protestors and the police had occured.
I was scared witless the whole time driving up to the entrance of the protesting grounds – going past the bunkers gave me chills.
One of the first ‘confiscated’ landmarks we walked past, once we got out of the car was the Thai ‘White house’.
Of course, the highlight of the day for me would be the food, rather than the enthralling experience of walking through a ‘revolutionary protesting ground’. Whilst sightseeing, we encountered a ‘food truck’ – more accurately a ‘free food giving’ truck for anyone walking by within the fenced off protesting area: hungry revolutionaries.
Vegetarian foods – sponsored by the ‘Righteousness Army’ (translated from “Gongtap-tam”) a sort of passive, Buddhist sect of the protesting groups. I even saw a couple of female monks chilling underneath the marquees within the area. Not the first time a passive religious group becomes involved in a political protest.
But anyway, that day they were giving out “Indian salad” or “salad-kaeg” (despite the name, I would still calll it a Thai-take on salad).
The “Indian salad” consisted of the usual salads component – lettuce, shredded carrots, coleslaw, cherry tomatoes; but what makes the dish distinct is the presence of the boiled egg, fried tofu and signature sweet peanut sauce that is generously lathered on top.
The peanut sauce is mostly made of chopped roasted peanuts (they must also be ‘dry-sauteed’ in a hot pan before as well to achieve the slightly burnt taste), coconut milk, sugar (most of the time palm sugar) and chili to your tastebuds’ level of tolerance.
Looking at how fatty and sweet the special ‘Thai’ salad dressing is, this salad may not be the healthiest one out there (cannot compare to Japanese of course. I also had tuna salad at an Italian restaurant recently, and could easily distinguish the differences in oiliness in Japanese and European style cooking). However, this still would be a better alternative to vegetable oil-laden mayo or super creamy dressings like ‘Thousand island’.
The sauce can be easily reduced in the amount of sugar, coconut milk used and still obtain the delicious mildly sweet and hot flavour distinctive of the salad, along with goodness of a bit of peanuts (vitamin E, good essential oils and fibre).
Another dish on menu by the “Tamma-army” was boiled rice porridge.
After the brief surprise salad stop (3 s’s in a row, boo-yah), we continued through the camps, down the lane of sporadic bunkers made of tyre and sandbags, street gift shops selling souvenirs for the movement (or in other words,revolutionaries’ gear – only found in Thailand), makeshift mosquito nets where people stay overnight (they also did this really clever thing of stapling together snack packets to create a heat reflector made of foil), and food stops where charitable kitchens were cooking up fuel for revolution, all this within the vicinity of the demonstrators’ grounds.
We walked out off one of the fenced off areas to see the UN building of Thailand (And by the way, this camp that we walked out from was planted right outside the Royal Thai Army headquarter… Once again, typical Thai. This is what you call real daredevils. Good thing we went on a good day)
But most importantly, as we walked out from the camp areas, the place we were met with that had caught our eyes the most was none other than the famous, long-standing, grilled chicken restaurant “Likit roast chicken”.
We decided it was time for a break from our sightseeing (I quickly seconded the proposal with a jittery raise of the hand), and so we settled with trying out the infamous roast chicken:
This was the order of a ‘whole roast chicken’.
The roast chicken which turned out to be slightly dry. That’s the thing with chicken. It is such a lean, low-fat source of protein (if you choose the right part, and also without skin) that making it delicious to the fat-loving people can be quite a chore.
I hope the fact that the meat was a bit tough indicated it wasn’t really a hormone-flooded, six-weeks old factory raised chick, but actually locally sourced, and perhaps had been someone’s pet (probably not the last part) but what I meant was a backyard raised chicken.
I would go ahead and claim that the second best thing they are known for: “Som-tum” or spicy Thai papaya salad was the no. 1 pageant queen on that dining table stage.
My beloved brother’s order of the super delicious “Salted duck egg som-tum” (only beloved because of the circumstance). The name was not appetizing; I would normally only associate salted duck eggs with Chinese food i.e. stir fry or rice porridge (a porridge staple for the Chinese), and have not really tried many dishes where the saltiness of duck eggs were used to compliment spicyness in Thai cuisine (Apart from in this dish that had crab meat stir-fried with minced salted duck eggs).
Anyway, the saltiness borrowed from the salted duck eggs was a good change from the saltiness of fish sauce (which can sometimes be overwhelmingly fishy and pungent), and the salad was not too spicy nor salty. However, as my aunt pointed out, the salads here are made quite sweet. Possibly another reason why I like the salads here so much; I am a self-confessed sweet-n-savoury food addict. It isn’t so much an obsession but more a disposition; I would choose a hot and sour stir-fry over some deep-fried battered foods for sure. (Sugar over fat. I am only half human!)
Seen in little cylindrical baskets is sticky rice, which is normally steam cooked in the baskets they were served in (with a banana leaf placed at the bottom to prevent sticking, and sometimes lined with parchment paper/plastic)
(Top right: my aunt wearing her activist shirt) Then we also ordered the most gigantic fish ball I have ever seen, the dish was called the fishballs that “in this life you must at least try once”. To be honest, this dish still didn’t impress me as much as the spicy salad (still holding place): the balls were mediocre and slightly bland, in fact. My aunt said the fishballs were a bit too ‘fishy’ which my brother replied sort of achieved the restaurant’s purpose in claiming that the only main ingredient in their fishballs were ground fish meat.
Just to make it clear to those who don’t know: fish balls are not literally fish balls. Instead, they are steamed (or sometimes fried) fish meat that has been ground, cooked, squeezed dry of any juice, usually mixed in with a bit of flour i.e. tapioca (the amount of flour : fish ratio depends on the budget), seasoning, then rolled into balls. *Same process with chicken, pork balls.
We also ordered another ‘som-tum’ dish since they were pretty well-known for their ‘som-tum’ “tumming” skills as well (“tum” means “pound” or the process of making “som-tum”, meanwhile, “som” means orange. Don’t ask why). This other ‘som-tum’ dish, a “roasted pork neck som-tum” was one I have never tried. The ‘roasted pork neck’ did not indicate that they chuck the entire ‘pork neck’ into the dish, but instead, they came in thin fatty slices of pork pieces.
They also make a “vegetarian” version of “som-tum” where they use soy sauce instead of fish sauce (which mum ordered). I was very glad they could make something for mum, which some restaurant may have issues with. It also tasted delicious (a bit better than the real thing because it was not as fishy).
Here’s a closer look at the fishballs – it’s hard to believe these are purely made of ground fish. I guess they are like “surimi” but in a ball shape.
And this is “Chicken ribs soup” served in a traditional Thai hot pot. The hole in the middle is for hot air to rise up from the fire lit at the bottom of the pot. The soup was quite salty, and spicy as well (I swear, this shop is really pro with spicy foods). It contained typical tom-yum herbs and spices e.g. galangal, chili, kaffir lime leaf. The most notable flavours however were from sliced shallots, chillies and some lemongrass. There were also some delicious pieces of catfish in the soup as well.
That’s what I like about ‘non-sea fish’ or ‘freshwater fish’ because I know that most of them are sustainably produced. Or their farming have not caused noticeable damage thus far…
Close up of the “salted duck egg som-tum”.
Then we continued on our trail of revolutionary adventure (these were the mosquito nets I was talking about, which people slept under. The foil made from crisp bags thing seemed to have not caught on with this camp).
My brother – armed with a samsung smartphone.
Next to the “Royal Thai Army”.
Some hand-made propaganda.
A satellite signal receiver amongst sleeping tents.
Other than that, we strolled around the areas outside of the protesting camps (near the ‘monument of democracy’) which housed street markets selling (you guessed it) demonstration souvenirs. By the end of the three-hour adventure, my brother ended up with two t-shirts and a whistle shaped like ‘Thailand’. By the end of the day, I developed the aspiration to try out new varieties of “som-tum”, but most importantly, was glad to have a comfortable car to climb back into, to escape the hotness of the sun and atmosphere. I truly admire those people with a revolutionary mind and strong-willed passion.