Food Markets

Nakhon Si Thammarat Municipal Market

We always enjoy visiting the Southern Thailand city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and, when we visit, we always visit the Municipal Market, the talaat sod (fresh market) – Thetsaban Fresh Market. It’s a morning market and we make a point of getting there early for a bit of breakfast before we browse the market.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Market Sign
Nakhon Si Thammarat Market Sign

(Note: scroll down for a beautiful slide show of images from the market.)

This market has been in this location at least since 1992, when we began coming to Nakhon Si Thammarat. In December of last year (2010), right around the time of the King’s Birthday, the market completed a renovation and re-opened in this location after being relocated for 8 months. In addition to getting spruced up, the market became appreciably larger. Like many Thai markets, it’s an enclosed market with built-in stands for the vendors. It’s now probably as large or larger than the morning market in Krabi. (See our blog Krabi Morning Market.)

Vegetable Aisle
Vegetable aisle

This market is primarily a morning market and to see everything, you’ll want to get there early: certainly by 8:00 a.m. in the morning, and earlier if you can. It’s different from a separate Sunday market. This is definitely a local market. You won’t see a lot of fahrang (the Thai word for Caucasian) here, especially inside the market where most of the wares are targeted for cooks.

Nakhon Si Thammarat has one very long street running from east to west – Ratchadamnoen Road. The municipal market is found on Thanon Pak Nakhon (I’ve also seen it spelled as “Pagnagon Road” – thanon means road) – which intersects Ratchadamnoen Road – leading away from the Train Station. If you have turned off the main road the market is on your left, about a half block past the Nakhon Garden Inn.

Thai Snacks
Thai snacks

Once you enter the market, it’s organized by section. On the side closest to Thanon Pak Nakhan there are sweet snacks (khanom wan) and flowers. Other aisles (or parts of aisles) feature fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, prepared pastes, and so on.

The vendors here are very friendly and mostly enjoy having their pictures taken. It’s always more fun to walk through a market when you’re greeted by lots of smiles.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.

Nahkon Si Thammarat Municipal Market – Slide Show

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Written by Michael Babcock, May 2011

ingredient Markets

Cha-Om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia

Cha-om, a tropical member of the acacia family (Acacia pennata) native to mainland Southeast Asia, is a well-loved herby vegetable among Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. The parts that are eaten are the ferny young leaf shoots and tender tips before the stems turn tough and thorny. It has a particular fragrance that may seem unpleasant at first to the unaccustomed, but when it’s cooked up, it’s so tasty that most people can’t stop eating it and the aroma is just part of the package and soon becomes quite likable. This happened a lot whenever cha-om was cooked up in my cooking classes.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

There’s a slide show with all images in this post at the very bottom (scroll down).

Fresh Cha-Om
Fresh cha-om from Mithapheap
More Fresh Cha-Om
Prickly thorns on lower stepms

De-stemmed Cha-om
De-stemmed, ready to cook

Cha-om is a small shrub with prickly thorns on its branches and stems, though I hear breeders have come up with a thornless variety I have yet to personally come across. In tropical Southeast Asia, it is a fast-growing shrub that puts out new shoots year-round and most robustly during the rainy season. People in some regions, particularly the North, prefer to eat cha-om in the dry season since cha-om grown during the monsoon season tends to develop a tartness and has a much stronger smell. Growers prune the shrubs regularly to harvest the young shoots, wearing long gloves to protect themselves from the nasty thorns. A mature plant can put forth enough shoots for cutting every three days or so. In the more temperate climate of northern California, growth is less profuse and the plants need protection from the cold. They stop producing new shoots when temperatures dip in late fall and stay semi-dormant through the winter.

Cha-om Egg Squares
Cha-om egg squares

The most common way cha-om is cooked is with beaten eggs, like in an omelette, which is then cut into squares or rectangles to serve with pungent nahm prik (hot chilli sauces, usually with fermented shrimp paste – nahm prik kapi in Thai) and fried fish (usually Asian mackerel, or pla too).(See Kasma’s recipe, Pan-Fried Mackerel and Assorted Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping SauceNam Prik Pla Too.)

Nam prik pla too
Nam prik pla too
Thai Dipping Sauce
Nam prik with cha-om egg pieces

Cha-om Egg Rounds
Cha-om egg rounds
Cha-om Omelette
Cha-om omelette

Cha-om egg squares are also frequently cooked in a spicy sour tamarind curry with shrimp (kaeng som). One of my favorite restaurants, Mallika, located in the outskirts of Bangkok, makes a fabulous crispy fried cha-om in a ferny nest, topped with a hot-and-sour sauce containing squid, shrimp and chopped pork (yam cha-om gkrawb). It used to be one of the first dishes people in my Thailand travel groups got to savor as I used to take them to Mallika for lunch right after picking them up from the airport. (Kasma retired from the trips in 2020.) Most fall for cha-om and look forward to eating more of it in other dishes through the trip.

Cha-om in Curry
Cha-om egg squares in curry
Dish with Cha-om
Crisp-fried cha-om

Stir-fried Cha-om
Stir-fried cha-om with egg

Because of its fairly assertive flavor and higher price, cha-om is usually not stir-fried by itself like other leafy green vegetables, but is instead used much like an herb to flavor other things cooked with it. For these reasons, it is sold in small bundles in markets across Thailand. Eggs go especially well with cha-om and in my classes, we used to make a delicious stir-fried cha-om with eggs and bean thread noodles. I taught this recipe in Advanced Class G-3.

Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om at Hua Hin market
Cha-om Bundled for Sale
Cha-om at Krabi market

Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om at Mithapheap

Starting last spring, we’ve been lucky to be able to get cha-om fresh in the Bay Area during the warmer months beginning in April until the weather turns cold in the fall. Being a tropical acacia, cha-om needs warmth to enable it to put forth new shoots. However, there’s only one store I know of that carries the fresh shoots and that’s Mithapheap, a Cambodian market on International Boulevard in Oakland. [Update, May, 2014: Lao Jaleune Market, formerly Heng Fath Market, on 23rd Street in Richmond, CA also carries it on occasion.] Last summer the store even had cha-om starter plants for sale. But the supply is very limited and disappears quickly in spite of its price (retails for around $15 a pound).

Cha-om Plants
Cha-om plants at Mithapheap

Sam, one of the owners of Mithapheap, tries to carry as many of the tropical herbs and vegetables that his Southeast Asian clientele craves and misses after immigrating to this country. He’s made an arrangement with farmers he knows in Modesto to grow many of these exotic produce. Among them is cha-om. During the growing season, Sam drives down to the farm two to three times monthly, usually late in the week (often Thursdays) and the produce would be available over the weekend. Cha-om is usually gone within a few days. Since both Michael and I are very fond of cha-om, as are many of my students who’ve been introduced to it, Sam would call or email me whenever he’s been to the farm and brought back cha-om. As soon as I receive the message, I would dash down to the store to pick up some before it disappears and then shoot off a message to my students. Sam is the main fresh cha-om supplier in the Bay Area and many of his big Southeast Asian customers, including some restaurant owners, often place special orders with him and are among the people he would contact whenever he brings cha-om back from the farm. (May 2020, they may not be able to purchase cha-om anymore – phone before visiting to check for availability.)

Frozen Cha-om
Frozen cha-om at Mithapheap

Short of being able to get cha-om fresh, it is available for a lower price in 4-oz. packages imported from Thailand in the freezers of several East Bay stores (haven’t checked the Cambodian markets in San Francisco which most likely would have it). Mithapheap sometimes has frozen packages of de-stemmed leaves which make it easier to use and you get more for the same weight. But most frequently, the frozen packages contain cha-om still on the stems. The Laos International Market two blocks further down the same street also regularly carries frozen cha-om and a third store in the same vicinity to check is Thien Loi Hoa on East 12th Street at 12th Avenue.

Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om at Lao Market
Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om at Thien Loi Hoa

Not only is it delcious, cha-om is a nutritious vegetable, high in vitamin C and beta-carotenes. It is good for the heart and is known to be an anti-cancer agent. There’s nothing like a natural food that tastes great and, at the same time, is good for you!

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.

Kasma’s Cha-om Photo Slide Show

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Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011. Updated by Michael Babcock, May 2020.

Food Restaurant

Shanghai Dumplings in Bangkok

This blog is about a Chinese restaurant in Thailand that serves delicious Shanghai dumplings — xiao long pao. I seem to be on a roll lately blogging about non-Thai food in Thailand. Recent blogs have been on a chocolate store in Bangkok (Great chocolate; in Thailand!) and a stretch of street in Ao Nang Bay with more non-Thai restaurants than Thai restaurants (Are We in Thailand?)

Note: This blog dates from May 2, 2011. When we visited this restaurant in December 2012 the name had been changed to Shanghai Xiao Long Pao and the dumplings were not very good. We checked it out again in December 2013 and the dumplings were quite good (not quite great, however) and the rest of the food was very good. We posted a second blog about the restaurant as of January 2014 and were still pleased. As of May 2020, who knows?

Restaurant Logo
The restaurant’s logo

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

There are a fair number of ethnic Chinese people in Thailand; information from a couple of different places on the Internet suggests 5 to 6 million people claiming to be Chinese ethnicity, so about 12 to 14 percent of the population. (See, for instance, Wikipedia’s “Thai Chinese” – offsite, opens in new window.) It is only natural that there would be excellent Chinese restaurants and we’ve eaten at quite a few of those.

Outside of Restaurant 1
Shanghai Xiao Long Pao Restaurant
Outside of Restaurant 2
Outside sign

Inside the Restaurant
Inside the restaurant

Kasma and I like to go out for dim sum every once in awhile, both in the U.S. and Thailand. For some time we’ve been in search of really good Xiao Long Pao– Shanghai dumplings. One friend sent us to a restaurant in San Francisco that was very disappointing. Another friend and frequent trip member recommended some at the Taipei airport and these were good dumplings, if not great. When she’s in Thailand Kasma likes to take her mom out to malls for sightseeing and meals and it was on one of these excursions recently that she came across the restaurant “Shangkai Xioa Long Pao” at MBK Center (Mahboonkrong), which bills itself as “the most visited mall in Bangkok.”

Place Setting
A place setting

Malls usually have lots of chain restaurants, with the ubiquitous western chains on the first floor and many Thai-owned chains as well scattered throughout. For less formal eating there are also the Food Centers – basically street food brought indoors. Generally Kasma and I don’t eat at a lot of chain restaurants – we prefer individually-owned, Thai-run restaurants, though when we have eaten at Thai chains, the quality of the food has often been fairly decent, if not superb. The Shanghai Xiao Long Pao at MBK is one of 12 branches. Given our desire to find a great Shanghai dumpling, we had to try this place out.

Interestingly, the English words on the front of the menu are “Shanghai Chicken Rice.”

I ate there twice with Kasma and her mom. Each time we had a very good meal.

Shanghai Dumplings
Shanghai Dumplings (Xiao Long Pao)

The Shanghai dumplings were verygood indeed. The best we’ve come across. The dough on the outside was thin so it did not overwhelm the filling and, most important, resilient enough so that it did not break; this means that when you bite into the dumpling, you get a spurt of delicious “soup”. The filling is made from fatty pork and is savory and delicious. Add all this to the dipping sauce with chopped ginger and it is very satisfying. You can order these in baskets of 3 or 6: I recommend getting 6!

Dim Sum
Pan Fried Ham and Onion Cake

Both times we ordered the Pan Fried Ham and Onion Cake. It is crisply fried (probably in lard, the best fat for frying things like this) with a delicious filling. Highly recommended as well.

Of the other dim sum we tried, the Shanghai Style Steamed Pork Bun was excellent. The dough on the outside was the right amount with a good texture and taste. The filling was savory and good – not the sweet filling that I usually associate with Chinese Steamed Pork Buns. Highly recommended.

Pork Belly
Braised Pork with Napa Cabbage

Each visit we ordered another 3 or 4 dishes from the menu. I particularly enjoyed both the Braised Pork with Bamboo and the Braised Pork with Napa Cabbage with Gravy Sauce + Steamed Buns (see picture). We ordered them because of the picture (the menu has pictures of all the dishes), where we could see succulent-looking pork belly in a sauce. Both dishes were perfectly cooked – fatty and delicious. Recently pork belly has become sort of trendy dish at some of the restaurants in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area in the United States: the Chinese have appreciated pork belly for a long time

Chicken Rice Set
Shanghai Chicken Rice Set

Also recommended is the Shanghai Chicken Rice, the dish listed on the front of the menu. This is pretty much the same as the Thai Kao Mon Gkai. At this restaurant it comes a set that would make a great one-dish meal if you’re eating alone. (Well, along with a small basket of Xiao Long Pao.) It comes with a plate of succulent, juicey steamed chicken, a broth with melon, some spicy cabbage (very reminiscent of kim chee), a spicy dipping sauce, a pickled vegetable and a bowl of chicken-fat rice. I would recommend getting this dish just for the rice. Chicken-fat rice, in Thai kao mon gkai.This rice is first sautéd in chicken fat and then cooked much like a risotto in chicken broth. It is a rich, delicious treat. We ordered this dish and then ate it family-style with everything else.

Fish Dish
Steamed Fish with Vegetables

We ordered a fish dish each time. The Deep Fried Fish with Oyster Sauce was quite good. The Steamed Fish with Vegetables (pictured) was ok, though I don’t think I’d get it again – there are just too many other delicious dishes that I like better along with several pictured in the menu that I’d like to try. Of the two dishes, the fried fish dish had a lot more flavor.

The Chicken in Chinese Shaoxing Wine was quite good. I would definitely order that again, though I’d give the Shanghai Chicken Rice an edge (as a chicken dish) because of the delicious, rich rice.

Dipping Sauce
Dried red pepper sauce

One accoutrement that bears mentioning is the dried red pepper paste (sauce). This was fiery hot and added a delightful component to many of the dishes: I found myself using it quite a bit.

The one dish that I found disappointing was the Stir-fried Prawns with Hot and Spicy Sauce: there was just too much unexciting, overwhelming sauce, not spicy at all. Luckily, we had the dried red pepper, which I added in quantity.

Sweet Dumplings
Dumplings with black sesame paste

We finished our second meal up with a dessert that was on the dessert menu on the table. It’s only in Thai in a script I can’t decipher so if you want to try it, remember our picture and point. It was a dumpling with a sweet filling of black sesame beans with the dumpling dipped in chopped cashew nuts. The filling is the same is used in a more commonly available dessert – Sticky Rice Balls Stuffed with Black Sesame Paste in Warm Sweet Ginger Broth (Bua Loy Nahm King). The filling works very well in the dumpling, with the chopped cashew nuts adding a effective contrasting taste as well as a different texture to interest the palate.

All of this blog pertains to the Shanghai Xiao Long Pao restaurant at MBK center at 444 Phayathai Rd., Patumwan, Bangkok; the restaurant is found on the third floor in the Tokyu zone. It’s pretty easy to get to since it’s within walking distance of the National Stadium skytrain station.

Do read our second blog from January 2014.

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2011 & May 2020