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Hua Hin Morning Market

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Chatchai Market in Hua Hin (also transliterated as Chat Chai), is well worth a visit. Whenever we head to the south of Thailand, on our own or when we used to during one of Kasma’s small-group tours to Thailand, we always plan to stop.

An Aisle in Hua Hin Market

An interior view of the market

The market is located off the main highway, highway 4, also called Thanon Phetkasem (Phetkasem Street); it’s on the right as you head south. The southernmost boundary of the market is Thanon Dechanuchit (Dechanuchit Street). The market is mostly indoors, with a little spillage to the street.

This is mainly a market for locals, featuring fresh ingredients of all kinds: vegetables, fruit, fresh-pressed coconut milk, meats, fowl and seafood. It also includes stalls with dried ingredients (dried shrimp, etc.) and prepared food. On the north end there are a number of shops catering more to the many fahrang (Caucasian) tourists and selling beach attire, colorful shirts, straw mats for the beach and so on.

(Click images to see larger version. There’s a slideshow of all images in the blog plus more at the bottom of the page.)

We go largely just to enjoy the lively, colorful display of fresh food.

Inside Hua Hin Market

Inside Hua Hin Market

Different markets throughout Thailand have different feels. This market is one of the most bustling markets we go to: the aisles are a bit narrow and it seems as if there is always someone wanting to get past you in the cramped quarters. Often you’ll have to scrunch over to one side to allow a motorcycle (often making a delivery, the item in a box on the back of the motorcycle) to edge past you. So be prepared to be jostled and don’t block the aisle too badly when you take photographs!

I always look forward to one of the aisles at the market where you find all kinds of dried foods; for years I’ve tried to reproduce the wonderful palette of oranges and reds created by the stacks of dried shrimps, vegetables and fruits.

Dried Food Stall

Colorful dried shrimp and more

Various Dried Foods

Close-up of dried foods

Fish Vendors

Fish vendors

When I think of Hua Hin Market, one thing that I always think of is fresh seafood. Hua Hin is right on the coast and the market naturally contains a whole section with many seafood vendors. The aisles in this section can be a bit treacherous: they are often very damp and often a bit slimy from water used to clean and refresh the seafood. Tread carefully! Usually a vendor will specialize in one thing or another: fresh fish, shrimp, squid or crabs, for instance. In addition to the fresh seafood, you’ll find all kinds of dried fish, squid and shrimp. When you see all the fresh seafood, openly displayed, you wonder how on earth all of it can get sold and what happens to the surplus. Luckily, Thais love seafood so probably hardly any of it goes to waste.

Whole Fish For Sale

Whole fish for sale

Dried Mackerel

Dried mackerel in baskets

One item that we always look for here is jackfruit (kanoon or kanun); it always seems to be good from this market. When you visit Thailand you really must try jack fruit: it has a subtle, delicious flavor unlike nearly any other fruit. It’s found in many markets already cut out of its matrix and ready to eat: something you appreciate much more if you’ve ever had to prepare it yourself!

Preparing Jackfruit

Preparing jackfruit for sale

Jackfruit Fruit

Jackfruit fruit, ready to eat

As befits a local market, there are a large number of vendors with fresh vegetables, ranging from large stalls with just about everything, to small vendors on a straw mat on the ground with just a few items to offer. As usual, you’ll find any vegetable you could desire for cooking Thai food, including items that we would love to be able to buy in the U.S., such as “rhizome” (krachai) and fresh, green peppercorns. In addition, you’ll find varieties of vegetables that are very different from what you’ll find back home. One example is the long, green eggplant (makeua yao) that is so delicious when roasted; you’ll even find it here already roasted – all you need to do is take it home and easily finish a delicious Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yum Makeua You).

Vegetables for Sale

Vegetables for sale

Roasted Green Eggplants

Roasted green eggplants

Hua Hin Municipal Market Slide Show

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Inside Hua Hin Market
An Aisle in Hua Hin Market
Dried Food Stall
Various Dried Foods
More Dried Shrimp
Fish Vendors
Whole Fish For Sale
Prawns For Sale
Fresh Crabs
Dried Mackerel
Dried Fish
Preparing Jackfruit
Jackfruit Fruit
Yellow Mangoes
Vegetables for Sale
Green Peppercorns
Roasted Green Eggplants
Palm Sugar
Dried Chilli Paste
Fresh Chilli Sauces
Butcher Stalls
Egg Vendor
Making Coconut Milk
Meat on Sticks
Grilled Fish Vendor
Frying Fish Cakes
Miang Kam to Go
Donut Holes
Flower Stall

One of the aisles at Hua Hin Market; notice the motor scooter in back.

Here's a view of Hua Hin Market from the inside.

There are numerous stalls selling dried shrimp and the like.

Here are several kinds of dried foods, including colorfully orange dried shrimp, to the right.

Here are 4 different dried shrimps, packaged to sell.

Hua Hin is on the coast and the market features numerous vendors of extremely fresh seafood.

Here's one vendor's selection of whole, fresh fish.

Fresh prawns (shrimp) such as these are widely available.

Other vendors offer fresh crabs, such as these.

This dried mackerel (pla too) is one of Thailand's favorite fishes; here it's sold in baskets, ready for steaming or frying.

Other kinds of dried fish are artfully arranged in an aesthetic swirl.

Hua Hin market always seems to have delicious jackfruit; here a vendor separates the fruit to sell.

Here's the fruit of the jackfruit, removed from the sticky matrix and ready to eat.

Of course, there's all kinds of other fruits as well, such as these sweet, yellow mangoes.

Here are orange and green papayas.

Naturally, there are numerous vendors with fresh vegetables; these are artfully displayed indeed.

Thai markets in general have a wealth of exotic ingredients hard to find back in the U.S., such as these fresh, green peppercorns.

The market also offers cooked ingredients that can be taken home and incorporated into a dish, such as these roast green eggplants.

Hua Hin market offers any ingredient you need to cook Thai food. Here are plastic bags of soft, easy-to-use palm sugar.

The market also offers fresh-made chilli pastes and sauces, providing an easy way to make an easy, delicious dish.

Here are some more spicy sauces.

Here's an inner aisle with several butchers offering fresh meat.

This woman offers chicken and duck eggs and also salted duck eggs. You select the eggs and take them home in a plastic bag.

Here a woman is making extracting fresh coconut milk from the flesh of coconuts; notice it running into the front pink bucket.

Of course, there's lots of pre-made food. This vendor is out on the street and offers various meats on sticks, such as satay and sausages.

Here's a grilled fish vendor with a marvelous smile.

Here's a close-up of fish or shrimp cakes fried in oil in a wok.

There's also many different pre-made foods, such as these packages of miang kam.

No market is complete without a complete selection of kanom (snacks), both Thai and, as we see here with these "donut holes," western.

Every Thai market has at least one vendor with colorful flowers; here we also see refreshing young coconut, ready to drink.

Inside Hua Hin Market thumbnail
An Aisle in Hua Hin Market thumbnail
Dried Food Stall thumbnail
Various Dried Foods thumbnail
More Dried Shrimp thumbnail
Fish Vendors thumbnail
Whole Fish For Sale thumbnail
Prawns For Sale thumbnail
Fresh Crabs thumbnail
Dried Mackerel thumbnail
Dried Fish thumbnail
Preparing Jackfruit thumbnail
Jackfruit Fruit thumbnail
Yellow Mangoes thumbnail
Papayas thumbnail
Vegetables for Sale thumbnail
Green Peppercorns thumbnail
Roasted Green Eggplants thumbnail
Palm Sugar thumbnail
Dried Chilli Paste thumbnail
Fresh Chilli Sauces thumbnail
Butcher Stalls thumbnail
Egg Vendor thumbnail
Making Coconut Milk thumbnail
Meat on Sticks thumbnail
Grilled Fish Vendor thumbnail
Frying Fish Cakes thumbnail
Miang Kam to Go thumbnail
Donut Holes thumbnail
Flower Stall thumbnail

Two Previous Blogs on Hua Hin

Five Previous Blogs on Thai Markets

Written by Michael Babcock, September 2011

Asian Markets – Oakland’s International District

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 18th, 2011

When shopping for Thai or Asian ingredients in Oakland, California, one of the best areas is the International District, which covers International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street) and East 12th Street. There are many Southeast Asian and Chinese markets on these two streets from the Lake Merritt end to 17th Avenue. In this blog I’ll talk about the markets where Kasma shops for ingredients, both for her personal use and for her Thai Cooking Classes (although she retired from the classes in 2020).

This is a companion piece to last-week’s blog: Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients), more often than not Kasma goes to a number of markets on her shopping trips; different markets carry different ingredients and she always tries to get absolutely the freshest ingredients and the best brands of packaged products.

International Boulevard, the old East 14th Street in Oakland, and East 12th Street are intersected by the numbered avenues, beginning with First Avenue. Up until about 17th Avenue, the stores are primarily Asian; after that, the flavor turns more Hispanic. It is one of the two main districts for Asian supermarkets in Oakland, the other being Oakland’s Chinatown situated from 7th to 9th Streets bordered by Broadway to the west. One of the advantages of shopping at International Boulevard is that many of the stores have parking lots.

Note: As of May 2020, Kasma still shops at these 6 markets for her personal shopping.

(Click images to see larger version.)

International Boulevard Asian Markets

Sontepheap Market

Mithapheap Market

Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market

1400 International Blvd. (at 14th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826

I list this market first because it is the market Kasma frequents the most out on International Boulevard. The market is run by Cambodians and is a great source for hard-to-find Southeast Asian ingredients, such as holy basil, kaffir lime leaves, cha-om, bai chaploo and more. Read Kasma’s blog Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland to find out more. There’s a small parking lot right by the store. The name was changed from Sontepheap to Mithapheap in early 2012.

International Lao Market

International Lao Market

International Lao Market

1619 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888

The International Lao Market, owned by Laotians, gets second position because Kasma often goes there for hard-to-find produce items when they are not available at Sontepheap. The market also carries many frozen, bottled and packaged goods from Thailand, including one of Kasma’s favorite fish sauce brands – Tra Chang – as well as her favorite brand of shrimp paste (kapi) – Klong Kohn. This is one place Kasma’s students can find clay, stone and wooden mortars and pestles. Nearby street parking is usually available.

Mekong Market

Mekong Market

Mekong Market

1613 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630

Although it’s a small store, I’m including Mekong Market here because it is right next to the International Lao Market. The proprietress is Cambodian and Kasma uses this as a back-up for ingredients such as Thai eggplants, holy basil and kaffir lime leaves. Of the Southeast Asian cuisines, Cambodian and Lao foods share the most similarities with Thai and markets run by people from these two countries are more likely to carry the hard-to-find fresh ingredients also used in Thai cooking.

Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

1199 E. 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 663-0138

Also on East 12th Street, Thien Loi Hoa is a fairly large and complete market. They have fresh and frozen seafood in addition to produce and a butcher. In the freezers are also various Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables, like cha-om and sadao (neem). This is the only market in Oakland where Kasma can find pickled garlic from Thailand without preservatives in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated section. In the same section, there’s usually the sometimes hard-to-find salted mackerel from Thailand. Fresh duck eggs are frequently available here, too. The store has a small parking lot; I’m usually able to find a spot.

Lucky Fish Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

1201 E 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 436-6068

Lucky Fish Market is right across the street from Thien Loi Hoa and is a good place to look for fresh fish, including live ones in the tanks, and other seafood such as crabs and lobsters. They have another market on 8th street in Oakland’s Chinatown. Thien Loi Hoa and Sun Sang (see next entry) also have fresh fish, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here.

Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

751 International Blvd. (at 8th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 891-0298

A fairly large Asian grocery store with produce and a meat counter. Kasma used to go there specifically to buy Lion and Globe Peanut oil in 5 liter bottles but lately they have only the smaller sizes. The store has a large selection of frozen seafood products and also a fairly good fresh fish counter.

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011 & May 2020

Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

One of the two best locales to shop for Asian ingredients in Oakland, California is Oakland’s Chinatown. When Kasma does her weekly shopping for her Thai cooking classes, she invariably begins at Oakland’s Chinatown. Below are the stores where she shops.

One map I came across shows Oakland’s Chinatown Boundaries (offsite, opens in new window) as a rectangle bound by Broadway and Oak on two sides and 6th Street and 11th Street on the other two sides. The stores where Kasma shops are all within a narrower area, bounded by Broadway and Webster on two sides and 7th Street and 9th Street on the other sides.

Although it is called Chinatown, it is really more pan-Asian as the stores are run not only by Chinese but also by Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese.

Street parking can be somewhat hard to find in Chinatown, particularly on 8th Street and 9th Street where there are many stores. Double-parked vehicles, including large delivery trucks, are very common on these two streets. On weekday mornings, Kasma can sometimes find parking on Broadway between 8th Street and 9th Street. When I shop here I usually drive up 9th Street (it’s a one-way street) coming from Clay Street and park at the metered-street parking either between Clay and Washington or between Washington and Broadway. Alternatively, there’s a parking lot under the Asian Cultural Center, which is found on Franklin Street in-between 9th and 10th. Drive up 9th (one-way) from Broadway and turn onto Franklin (left only, Franklin is one-way) and the parking lot is underground to your right. It costs the same to park here as on the street, but they charge in hour-long increments.

Although as of May 2020, all these markets are still here, Kasma actually does most of her shopping these days at Oakland’s International District.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Oakland Chinatown’s Asian Markets

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

415 Ninth St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 268-0358

Wah Hang Market is a small shop just on 9th street between Broadway and Franklin. Kasma occasionally stops here mainly to look for fresh produce; if Khanh Phong is out of a certain item or if the freshness is not to Kasma’s liking, she’ll stroll down here and see what is on display. She’ll also buy certain cuts of pork here, again, if Khanh Phong doesn’t have what pleases her.

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

824 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2698

Kasma comes to Yuen Hop Noodle Company basically for two items. One is the loosely packed bags of fresh-made rice noodles, which are the best rice noodles on this side of the Bay. The other is a snack – Chinese-style mochi (sticky rice dough balls) stuffed with a ground black sesame and peanut filling that is very good and a favorite snack among her students. Both are usually sold out before noon. Although it is called the “Noodle Company”, the store is more or less a typical Asian grocery store carrying a wide variety of fresh produce, dried seafood products (occasionally the hard-to-find salted mackerel), and packaged and canned goods. The cookware aisles are worth a look.

Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

719 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 835-2318

I’m including this smaller, Asian market just for the sake of completeness. Kasma comes here mainly to look for nino (” baby”) bananas (Thais call them “egg bananas”) if she can’t find them at the right stage of ripeness for cooking that she needs at other stores. This store seems to always have bunches of these bananas hanging from wire hooks at the front.

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

814 Franklin St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-4983

Kasma stops here to get char siu – Chinese barbecued red pork. Their roast duck and crispy-skin roast pork are also quite good. A good place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.

Old Oakland Farmer's Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Ninth St. between Broadway & Clay
Oakland, CA
Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

On Friday mornings, the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market is a great place to get Asian produce. There’s a large number of Asian vendors, many of them immigrant Southeast Asian farmers including Hmong and other hilltribes. The produce is very fresh and the prices are among the best you’ll find. It pays to get to the market as early as you can as store owners often come early in search of hard-to-find produce for their stores, such as pea eggplants, Thai eggplants, holy basil, lemon basil and chayote greens. Many stalls are ready to sell even before 8:00 a.m., the official opening time. In addition to produce, we come here for very fresh duck eggs; our Filipino mailman swears by the balut we get here. There are also stalls selling ready-made food and a few tables set up for people to eat. See our earlier blog Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.

Oakland Chinatown’s Seafood Markets

Asian seafood markets are very different from what you find in regular supermarkets. Most of the fish is displayed whole, with the head, tail and fins still on; you can have them cleaned to your liking after you’ve made your selection. The best way to tell how fresh a fish is is when it’s still whole and not yet scaled and gutted. (See Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish.) Kasma prefers to shop for fish in Chinatown because there are three stores within close proximity that have a good selection of fresh whole fish; it is not uncommon for her to walk to all three stores to make sure she gets the freshest possible seafood. All three markets display the whole fish on ice and also have tanks with live fish and other seafood, such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp and clams. (See also Whole Fish Dishes.)

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

377 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2018

New Sang Chong Market is where Kasma usually looks for fresh fish first. Although the selection is not as large as Lucky Fish Market (across the street), the fish tends to be fresher. In addition they sell what in Thai would be called gai bahn, literally “house chicken.” These free-range chickens are a much smaller variety than that found in traditional American supermarkets and have a much better flavor. When Kasma was perfecting her Thai Southern Fried Chicken Recipe, she was able to get the result she wanted only from this smaller variety of chicken. The chickens are sold with head and feet on. The market also has a butcher, a good selection of frozen seafood, and fresh produce.

Yet Sun Market

Yet Sun Market

Yet Sun Market

397 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-3338

Yet Sun Market is the third market with fresh seafood and also the smaller variety of free-range whole chicken with head and feet still on. They also have very fresh produce, well worth a look here.

Oakland Chinatown Bonus Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

388 9th St # 182
Oakland, CA 94607-4292
(510) 268-1288

I’ll include this restaurant because it’s a great place to get jook (or johk) – congee (rice porridge). On the Fridays that we come to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market we usually come here for congee or for the roast pork or roast duck, both of which you can see hanging enticingly in the window. I often get a plate of the pork and Kasma usually gets congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. This restaurant is worth a blog of its own sometime soon. (Prescient words! See Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee, from February 2012.)

Further reading:

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011, updated May 2017 & May 2020

In Search of the Best Sour Fish (Pla Som)

Kasma Loha-unchit, Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Pla som, or sour fish, is one of my very favorite foods from the northeastern Isan region, which is also known for its sour sausages. It’s made in a similar way as the Isan sour sausages, using fermented rice as the souring agent. I’m partial to fish and a perfectly fermented and crispy-fried sour fish is so delicious it’s hard to stop eating it! The problem is: perfection is hard to find, even in its home territory. (Note: Isan refers to the northeastern part of Thailand.)

Ready-to-eat Sour Fish

Ready-to-eat sour fish

My first encounter with pla som was some fifteen years ago in the then small riverside town of Nakhon Phanom in the northeastern corner of Isan. It was at a small rice shop near the hotel I spent the night. Hungry and looking for a good place for breakfast, I walked down one of the streets and noticed a busy rice shop crowded with customers – a good sign! Among the assortment of ready-made dishes in front of the shop was a yummy-looking fried fish topped with crispy fried garlic, fried dried chillies, sliced shallots and cut Thai chillies. I soon discovered it wasn’t any ordinary fried fish. It had a very unusual and delicious sour flavor definitely not from lime juice, tamarind, vinegar or any other sour condiment. That introduction to pla som was truly memorable and I fell deeply in love with this Isan food.

(Click images to see larger version.)

In those days, Isan food hadn’t yet become popular in the main heartland of the country’s central region. It was impossible to find it in any eatery or restaurant in the capital, even in the few so-called Isan restaurants just opening in the city. But memories of that first encounter remained vivid in my mind and on my tongue. I could only dream of another trip to Isan to savor the delicacy.

So-so Fried Sour Fish

Sour fish at Si Saket

Fast forward half a dozen years. Michael and I took a trip to Isan with our friend and adopted brother Sun, who drives for my Thailand tours. I was showing Michael around to the places I’d been and we were exploring new places as possibilities for organizing a future tour. I hadn’t offered an Isan trip for years as traveling in the vast Isan region, Thailand’s largest, during the last two decades of the last century could be tedious and standard tourist accommodations lacking in many of the fascinating areas worth visiting. With Isan now a popular destination among domestic Thai tourists and Isan food becoming an “in” cuisine nationwide, it was a perfect opportunity to check out the new infrastructure, as well as the lively markets and local eateries I’d been reading about in Thai travel magazines.

Sour Fish in Surin

Sour fish dish in Surin

We had just arrived in Nong Khai on the Mekong River. It was late in the day and after checking into a family-run guest house near the river, we went for a walk along the alley by the waterfront, hoping to find a good restaurant with views of the river for dinner. My eye caught a signboard with the words pla som and immediately I insisted that we have dinner there.

I ordered the pla som while Michael and Sun chose a couple of other dishes. Soon, both of them understood why I was so excited about eating there. The fish was very quickly gone before the other dishes received our attention. The next evening, after a full day of exploration, Sun was the one to adamantly insist that we return to the same place for dinner and, this time, forget about other dishes and just order three plates of pla som, one for the each of us!

Sour Fish in Ubon

Sour fish in Ubon market

For the rest of that trip, as we journeyed along the Mekong east- and southward to the border province of Ubon and then cut westward to Surin and Buriram before heading back to Bangkok, we kept an eye out for pla som but, unfortunately, did not find any place with as good a pla som as we had in Nong Khai. Some were actually rather disappointing. Most of the pla som we saw were uncooked, sold in open tubs in the fresh marketplaces and made with whole fish, as it’s traditionally done, particularly small silver barbs (pla tapian) that do have a lot of small bones. The pla som we had in Nong Khai was made with chunks of a large fish with plenty of moist meat and very little bones.

Kamnan Jun Sour Fish

Sour fish in bulk at Don Wai

Michael and I love to visit open-air fresh markets in Thailand and Sun often drives us to marketplaces far and near. We soon begin to notice raw pla som being sold in some of the larger gourmet fresh markets in or near Bangkok, like Or Tor Kor market and Don Wai, either already packaged in plastic bags or sold bulk in big piles. The pla som made by Kamnan Jun sold in Don Wai market is particularly good. It’s made with a fish called pla nuanchan in large mostly filleted chunks with skin still on. The skin is important as it adds a good texture to the fish when it is crispy-fried.

The first time I saw pla som at Don Wai, I bought two large bags and fried all the pieces up the next morning for breakfast. Sun, whose home is in Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south, planned to breakfast with us before making his long drive home. He was so delighted to have so many pieces of pla som to feast on. The fish was crispier and even more delicious than he remembered having in Nong Khai. He was convinced that I must have a secret way of frying the fish that enhanced the crispiness and flavor. He devoured with great pleasure as much as he could but there were so many pieces we couldn’t possibly finish the two big plates. So he decided he would wait till afternoon to begin his long drive, so that he could have lunch and finish off the rest!

Sour Fish at Don Wai

Don Wai sour fish vendor

Sour Fish, Ready to Cook

Sour fish at Don Wai

Sour Fish Dish

Vientiane Kitchen's fried sour fish

Pla som has become much better known among Thais all over the country as Isan food continues to soar in popularity the past decade. As migrant workers from Isan find their way around the country, I’m seeing raw, ready-for-cooking pla som in markets far and wide, even in the southern region. A number of Isan restaurants in Bangkok now have it on their menus but so far nothing near as good as the best pla som I’ve had in Isan or that I’ve fried myself from fish bought at Don Wai and Aw Taw Kaw. Vientiane Kitchen on Sukhumvit 36 serves an acceptable one after the restaurant remodeled recently and put in a new menu (and perhaps new cooks, too), but it lacks the crispiness that has become a trademark of delicious fried pla som.

I can even find ready-to-cook pla som in my local Cambodian market in Oakland (see my blog on Mithapheap Market), in packages in the freezer imported from Thailand and labeled in Thai as pla som Mae Jinda. The ingredients are shown in English though, listing fish, garlic, rice and salt. To preserve the fish better for its long journey here, it is made saltier than what’s available in Bangkok’s markets and needs to be eaten with plenty of rice. Delicious though it is!

Frozen Sour Fish
Mae Jinda Sour fish

Sour fish out of package

Tilapia for Sour Fish

Very fresh tilapia for making sour fish

I’ve also taken to making my own pla som and used to teach it in one of my advanced classes. (See Menus for Advanced Set F.) Definitely a fish with skin still on makes the best pla som. I’ve tried making it with red snapper, catfish, basa (swai) and tilapia. The best result so far is with very fresh tilapia that I buy live from the tanks in Asian fish markets, that I then fillet to remove only the center skeleton, head and tail, but leaving the skin on. In the Bay Area it takes about a week to sour the fish. Rubbed with a coating of tapioca flour before frying, it delivers a most satisfying combination of crispiness and natural sour flavor to rival the best I’ve had in Isan’s restaurants.

Making Sour Fish

Preparing the tilapia

Sour Fish, Ready to Fry

Week-old soured tilapia

Sour Fish Dish

Sour fish at Bao Pradit, Mukdahan

My most recent trip to Isan was in December 2009 with a group of twelve on a special northeastern Thailand tour. (On Google+, opens in new window, see Kasma’s Northeastern Trip Photos, Part 2.) Whenever and wherever I saw pla som on a menu, I would order it. Several in my group loved it, but like me, they soon discovered that quality and taste could vary substantially. By far the best we had was at a truly native Isan restaurant in Mukdahan, called Bao Pradit. It’s south of town along the river, serving really hardcore Isan food made with local ingredients not found in other regions. With all the wonderful choices and fiery hot range of flavor combinations, Sun asked that I order for him his own plate of pla som and that’s the only thing he ate that night with a heavenly grin on his face. I would have to say it really was the best of the best pla som I’d ever had.

More Ready-to-eat Sour Fish

More ready-to-eat sour fish

Sour Fish, To Go

Sour fish, to go

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, July 2011.

Nakhon Thong – Portrait of a Thai Community

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The Nakhon Thong community is situated just north of Sukhumvit Road and across the canal from the large municipal market and bustling town center of Samrong in Samut Prakan province.

(Note: scroll down for a slide show of images from Nakhon Thong.)

Samrong Canal

Samrong canal

My sister moved to this community about a year and a half ago along with my elderly mother whom she has been taking care of the past five years. It’s a convenient neighborhood with all essential services within a short walking distance, including two large, open-air fresh markets, a shopping mall with a big department store and modern supermarket, branches of all major banks, and the post office. Although it is in Samut Prakan province, the town of Samrong is only a few kilometers across the boundary line from Bangkok and is very much part of the greater Bangkok metropolitan area. Mass transportation systems and freeways make commute to jobs in the heart of the capital easy.

In many ways, Nakhon Thong is a typical Thai working class community with most of the residents living in two- to three-story townhouses or rowhouses along quiet dead-end streets and alleys. Many of the rowhouses have been converted into primary residences from machine shops prevalent in the area in years past. Most are homes to families with two to three generations living under the same roof, so it is common to see grandmas and grandpas visiting one another and small children running around the alleyways playing.

Offering Alms

Offering alms to a monk

Like in many communities, there are social programs for the residents sponsored by the district government. For instance, for several weekends last year, free cooking and craft classes were offered in the open area by the canal that serves as the community’s forum. Every weekday evening, a free aerobic exercise class is given in this same space. Neighborhood meetings are frequently held here as well with good attendance and most of the residents know one another and watch out for each other. Living in the community is a district representative who visits every home to make sure underweight children are provided with free milk and the elderly and the handicapped are given assistance in applying for the central government’s 500 baht per month welfare program for the disadvantaged.

As in many working class communities, there are cottage businesses operating on the ground floors of many of the rowhouses. Among them is a home that makes coconut ice cream in large canisters for tricycle street vendors. Another home sews striped fiberglass bags like the ones you see selling in most marketplaces around the country. Still another home makes beautiful cloth cosmetic bags for vendor stalls by the shopping mall.

Cooking on the Street

Cooking on the street

But perhaps the most common cottage business is food and there are many cooks along the alleyways of the community offering a range of either pre-made or cook-to-order food. Together with all manner of tricycle, motorcycle and pushcart food vendors who regularly come into the neighborhood, busy home-makers and the elderly need not leave their homes to be well-fed. For more choices, a short walk over a pedestrian bridge by the Sukhumvit Road overpass, or an even quicker and easier 2-baht ferry boat ride across the canal will bring you to a bustling marketplace selling all kinds of fresh produce and meats, as well as a wide assortment of ready-to-eat foods. From there, a short walk across the street takes you to another large open-air food market by the big shopping mall, in which are plenty of eateries on several floors. Busy commuters tired out by Bangkok’s notorious traffic have plenty of choices to pick from on their walk home from the bus stop and need not worry about cooking after a long hard day.

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 Thong Community – Slide Show

Community Meeting
Ice Cream Vendor
Ice Cream Sandwich
Chicken Vendor
Pork Vendor
Community Spirit House
Giving Alms
Making Coconut Ice Cream
Motorcycle Food Vendor
Motorcycle Food Cart
Cooking on the Street
More Prepared Food
Slicing Crispy Pork}
Pork Soup Vendor
Pushcart Vendor
Salad Vendor
Herbal Drink Vendor
Herbal Drink
Drink Stand
Ferry Boat
Samrong Canal
Pedestrian Bridge
Samrong Food Market
Street Vendors
Open-Air Market
Shopping Center Food Fair
Outside Food Stalls

A community meeting sponsored by the district government announces social programs planned for the neighborhood.

My sister waits for her turn to buy coconut ice cream from a tricycle cart parked in front of her townhouse.

The vendor makes a Thai-style ice cream sandwich for my sister.

Wan, a neighbor hired by my sister to help take care of my mother, takes her blood pressure. Wan is also very active in helping handicapped people in the community.

A pushcart fried chicken vendor visits the neighborhood.

This motorcycle vendor is well-known in the neighborhood for his delicious barbecued pork and crispy pork rice.

This is the community's spirit house.

Nan, an elderly neighbor, gives alms to a monk across the alley from the community's spirit house. The woman kneeling in front makes a variety of food (in the large pots) each morning for sale outside her home as alms offering.

A couple of doors down from where residents gather in the morning to give alms to monks, coconut ice cream is being made in large canisters for tricycle cart vendors who will come by to pick them up.

A motorcycle food vendor makes his way into the community, announcing his arrival with the sound of a peculiar horn.

A motorcycle cart sells fresh and pickled fruits and snack foods.

Neighbor Keow, who loves to cook, makes delicious dishes on propane burners outside her home to sell to residents in the community who doesn't have time to cook. She also makes some money on the side by selling transportation services with her pickup truck. We've relied on the convenience of hiring her to take us to the airport on our trip back to the USA, especially with our big pieces of luggage which wouldn't fit in a single cab!

Appetizing home-made food to go varies from day to day from neighborhood street stalls, giving busy residents choices and variety in their diet.

Jeng, who lives across the alley from Keow, is slicing up yummy crispy fried pork belly for me to take on my plane ride home. She cooks just about any standard wok dishes to order.

Dtia and Jae make pork soup noodles from a push cart parked outside their home.

A couple make green papaya salad and grill chicken and fish on a pushcart outside their waterfront townhouse.

Hohm is proud of her made-to-order Isan-style hot-and-sour salads, which sell out every day.

Across the walkway from Hohm's cart, Oy sells a home-made herbal drink of pandan leaves and butterfly pea flower, which she grows herself.

Oy's herbal drink is colored naturally with fresh green pandan bai toey leaves and the deep blue butterfly pea flower (dawk anchan).

Oy's brother sets up the tables along the canal, selling various cold drinks and snacks on a hot summer afternoon.

Petch and other members of his family operate a simple wooden boat "ferry" service to cross the canal to the marketplace for two baht per ride.

This view of the Klong Samrong is seen from the middle of the pedestrian bridge crossing the canal. The community is situated on the right bank where the ferry boat is seen at a distance in the middle of the picture.

The pedestrian bridge straddles the concrete Sukhumvit Road bridge. This picture is taken from the marketplace side.

The huge Samrong municipal fresh food market as seen from the bottom of the pedestrian bridge.

Vendors sell ready-made foods, as well as clothing and household items, to passersby from stalls beneath the Sukhumvit Road overpass

In another large open-air market across the Sukhumvit Road overpass from the municipal market is bustling with shoppers.

Weeklong food fairs are frequently held in the wide open area on the ground floor just inside the main entrance of the Imperial World shopping complex. This is another reason why residents in nearby communities hardly need to cook.

Outside the Imperial World shopping complex are more food stalls under tents along the sidewalk.

Community Meeting thumbnail
Ice Cream Vendor thumbnail
Ice Cream Sandwich thumbnail
Caregiver thumbnail
Chicken Vendor thumbnail
Pork Vendor thumbnail
Community Spirit House thumbnail
Giving Alms thumbnail
Making Coconut Ice Cream thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Vendor thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Cart thumbnail
Cooking on the Street thumbnail
More Prepared Food thumbnail
Slicing Crispy Pork thumbnail
Pork Soup Vendor thumbnail
Pushcart vendor thumbnail
Salad Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink thumbnail
Drink Stand thumbnail
Ferry Boat thumbnail
Samrong Canal thumbnail
Pedestrian Bridge thumbnail
Samrong Food Market thumbnail
Street Vendors thumbnail
Open-Air Market thumbnail
Shopping Center Food Fair thumbnail
Outside Food Stalls thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Municipal Market

Michael Babcock, Monday, May 23rd, 2011

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

Nakhon Si Thammarat Market Sign
Outside Nakhon Si Thammarat Market
Prepared Food Aisle
Flower Aisle
Some Flowers
Snack Vendor
Thai Snacks
Fruit Vendor
Noodle Vendor
Curry Paste Vendor
Curry Paste Close-up
Shrimp Paste Vendor
Shrimp Paste Vendor
Vegetable Aisle
Vegetable Vendor
Another Vegetable Vendor
Winged Beans
Pork Vendor
Pork Vendor 2
Pork Innards
Pig Head
Pork Belly
Duck & Chicken Vendors
Another Market Aisle
Thai Children
Seafood Vendors
Motorcycle Delivery
Fish Vendor
Fresh Snapper
Fish Vendor 2

Sign for the Nakhon Si Thammarat Municipal Market, seen from Pak Nakhon Road

Approaching the market from Ratchadamnoen Road, it’s on the left.

Prepared food is found on the outermost aisle of the market.

Just inside the door, the flower & snack Aisle

Some of the beautiful flowers for sale.

A snack vendor, also found on the aisle closest to the street.

Some traditional Thai kanom (snacks).

Fruit vendor with a combination tropical fruit plus (imported, usually from Washington state, U.S.A.) apples.

At one end of the market there are a number of vendors selling kanom jeen - fermented rice noodles.

One of the highlights of the market for me are all the vendors selling pre-made chilli and curry pastes.

Here's a close-up of some delicious looking curry paste.

There's also many vendors selling luscious mounds of kapi - shrimp paste.

Another view of this vendor, who sells curry pastes, chilli pastes and kapi (shrimp paste)

Here's a view of the vegetable aisles.

Almost a one-stop vegetable vendor.

This vendor has several kinds of eggplants, winged beans (in the middle), cucumbers and more.

Here's some very fresh and young galanga (kah) with bright orange turmeric in the back.

These winged beans (tua poo, in Thai) are a bit more frilly than I've seen before.

This woman is a pork vendor - meat vendors tend to specialize in one kind of meat (pork, beef, chicken, duck)

Here's another view of our pork vendor: not quite the way pork is sold in the United States!

Every part of the pig is sold: here we see small and large intestines.

Did I mention that they sell every part of the pig?

Traditionally, the Thai people are not afraid of a little fat, such as we see in this delicious-looking pork belly.

These two Muslim women are selling ducks and chickens. In Thailand it's quite common to see them with both feet and head still attached.

You get quite used to walking through the aisles at the market.

We usually come across some cute Thai children on our market walks. Hard to resist.

These three seafood vendors were quite keen to have their pictures taken.

Need a large amount of an item delivered in the market? Use a motorcycle!

This fish vendor is scaling, cleaning and fileting a large fish.

Very fresh seafood of all kinds, such as the crab, are found here.

So many varieties of fresh fish, such as these snappers. Whole fish are preferred.

This man was very proud of the large fish he had for sale.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Market Sign thumbnail
Outside Nakhon Si Thammarat Market thumbnail
Prepared Food Aisle thumbnail
Flower Aisle thumbnail
Some Flowers thumbnail
Snack Vendor thumbnail
Thai Snacks thumbnail
Fruit Vendor thumbnail
Noodle Vendor thumbnail
Curry Paste Vendor thumbnail
Curry Paste Close-up thumbnail
Shrimp Paste Vendor thumbnail
Shrimp Paste Vendor thumbnail
Vegetable Aisle thumbnail
Vegetable Vendor thumbnail
Another Vegetable Vendor thumbnail
Galanga thumbnail
Winged Beans thumbnail
Pork Vendor thumbnail
Pork Vendor 2 thumbnail
Pork Innards thumbnail
Pig Head thumbnail
Pork Belly thumbnail
Duck & Chicken Vendors thumbnail
Another Market Aisle thumbnail
Thai Children thumbnail
Seafood Vendors thumbnail
Motorcycle Delivery thumbnail
Fish Vendor thumbnail
Crabs thumbnail
Fresh Snapper thumbnail
Fish Vendor 2 thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, May 2011