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Markets Travel

Chatuchak Market in Bangkok

Cooling Off and Filling Up at Chatuchak

Heading for Chatuchak Weekend Market – ตลาดจตุจักร – on the skytrain on a Saturday morning, I chuckled to myself, “I’m going to ‘church!'” It’s an inside joke Michael and I shared with my mother about a decade and a half ago when she was in her mid-70’s and still very active and mobile.

Food Stall
Food stall

One of my brothers had converted to the Seventh Day Adventist faith in his youth. Following father’s death in 1997, whenever he visited from Singapore where he lived and worked, he would try to persuade mother to go to church with him on the Sabbath. Having been a Buddhist all her life, Mom disliked going as she found Christianity to be irrational and narrow. So, whenever he’s in town, we would hurry off to Chatuchak on Saturday morning before he arrived at the house. We would say “We’re off to ‘church!'”

(Click images to see larger version. Slide show at bottom of page.)

And what a ‘church’ it is, well-attended by people of all persuasions, happy and enjoying their time at the huge bazaar filled with sights, scents, sounds and delightful tastes where there is something for everybody. It’s our own kind of earthly heaven and a great way to spend a day without any goal.

Squid Egg Stand
Squid egg stand

This is the third June in a row that I’ve come to Thailand – not for business but to visit mother who is now in assisted living at Mission Hospital in Bangkok. In between trips to see her, I try to squeeze in visits to some of my old haunts to check things out and see what changes have taken place. So today it’s Chatuchak* (see below for inconsistencies in the spelling of the market’s name) – Southeast Asia’s, if not the world’s, largest bazaar.

I like to arrive early as the shops are just opening and many of the stalls are still being set up. It can get very hot here by mid-day, even during the cool winter months, when the crowds swell and the narrow aisles get stuffy. Although shaded, the ventilation is poor with the cubicle stalls packed so closely together and spilling onto the aisles. But it’s what makes this bustling bazaar exciting!. By early afternoon, the heat and crowds are usually more than I can bear and my feet are achingly sore from hours of walking about, especially if I have acquired a heavy load of goodies to carry. Then it’s time to take an air-con cab home.

Coconuts
Various coconut treats

This June is especially hot and I’m already soaking wet with sweat by mid-morning. An iced cappucino made to order from freshly ground coffee beans from one of many stalls is my first attempt at cooling down while at the same time getting a jolt of energy to continue on. Much better than any Starbucks can make! A half hour later, it’s time for an ice-cold roasted coconut! Very refreshing and rejuvenating! There’s no shortage of choices of cold drinks besides ice-cold bottled water. The problem is there are too many choices!

Fruit Smoothies
Fruit smoothie stand

Grass jelly is cold and invigorating, made with an herb that has cooling properties for this hot, steamy weather. But wait a minute, there’s the tart, thirst-quenching roselle drink. made from a red hibiscus flower. Next to it is “bua bok” and I love “bua bok!” (pennywort, also labeled “gotu kola” – a very good herb for the capillaries in the brain and for internal inflammations). There’s also chrysanthemum with stellar cooling properties, especially when I’m this hot! A few steps further, my attention shifts from the innumerable jars of herbal drinks to a colorful stall with neatly stacked covered plastic glasses filled with various kinds of fruits. For a very cold and refreshing fruit shake, all one needs to do is select a glass with the fruit of choice for the vendor to put in a blender with ice and some syrup. I settle for a strawberry shake and it’s so cold my chest begins to ache!

The annex to the main market, called Jatuchak (their spelling) Plaza, has wider aisles and taller roofs and is less crowded, so I wander in that direction. It’s not quite as interesting a place to “window” shop though unless you are looking for home furnishings. I wish I could bring some of the beautiful teak furniture home but it’s too much trouble to deal with shipping. Beyond the plaza is the air-con JJ Mall which opens seven days a week unlike the main bazaar that’s open mostly only on weekends. I’ve never been in there before and decide to check it out – at least I can use some cooling off. It turns out to be a less-than-desirable move as the mall is waaaaayyyyy too boring. So after I’ve cooled off enough, I head back to the main bazaar area.

Grilled Pork
Grilled pork on skewers

All along the walk from main bazaar to plaza to mall, there’s no shortage of cold beverages and tempting foods to cool off and fill up on. For a quick bite, the grilled pork on skewers is delicious! So is the crispy skin roasted pork belly with hot dipping sauce! There are lots of other quick eats that don’t require sitting down and wasting precious shopping time. For those whose feet are tired and prefer to sit down, there are plenty of stalls with sitting areas all around the bazaar offering various kinds of noodle and rice dishes, salads and grilled foods. Some are small and get very crowded by the noon hour. For cool, air con comfort and more refined decor, there’s, of course, Toh Plue (see Michael’s blog on Toh Plue Restaurant in Bangkok.) where the food is good but comes at a price for the comfort. It’s well worth it if you have the time.

Coconut Ice Cream
Coconut ice cream

On this trip, I forego sitting down for a leisurely meal by myself. After all, all along my walk around the bazaar I’ve acquired a big selection of irresistible ready-made foods to keep me well-fed for days. But before I leave, I cannot miss out on the fresh-made coconut ice cream with a choice of toppings, including peanuts, palm seeds, cooked pumpkin, young coconut meat and sweet corn. I sit down on a stool in front of the stall shaded by patio umbrellas and savor every mouthful with great satisfaction. It’s my last attempt to cool off in this tropical heat before hopping on a cab to head home, leaving my earthly “church” in a state of contentment.


* The official spelling of the market’s name according to the signs in the market is “Jatuchak” but this presents an inconsistency as the same Thai alphabet is used to begin both the first and third syllables. So if the letter “j” better represents the Thai alphabet’s sound, the spelling should then be “jatujak.” I prefer to use “ch” to approximate the sound of the Thai alphabet which is neither “j” nor “ch.” The particular Thai alphabet is often represented by ‘ch” in many other instances in proper names.


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Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2012

Categories
Travel

Toh-Plue Restaurant in Bangkok

Toh-Plue restaurant, found at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, serves delicious, flavorful Thai food. Back when Kasma was offering her small-group tours to Thailand, whenever we took a group to Chatuchak, we always always ate at Toh-Plue. This blog gives my impressions and explores some of our favorite dishes there.

Toh-Plue Sign
Sign for Toh-Plue Restaurant

Chatuchak Market (in Thai จตุจักร), also called “JJ market” is a weekend market that is spread out over 27 acres, has over 8,000 stalls and is said to attract over 200,000 visitors each day. It’s a “must-see” destination in Bangkok, if you’re there or a weekend. It sells virtually any and everything, including Thai handicrafts, clothes, ceramics, plants, pets, and on and on. Its published hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays; the plants section is open on Wednesday and Friday the market is open for wholesalers. (See the Info-Asia site – offsite, opens in a new window – for a good summary of the market; the official market site is Chatuchak Weekend Market. – offsite, opens in a new window)

Click on photos to see a larger image.

Toh-Plue restaurant is found in section 27 of Chatuchak Market and the sign can be seen from the center courtyard. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.

As much as I love going to Chatuchak – I visit every year on my annual trip to Thailand – it can be an exhausting experience. One reason is the heat: it can get very warm indeed. The second is the number of people crowding the narrow aisles. After a couple hours of shopping I’m ready for a sit-down. One distinct advantage to Toh-Plue is that it is air-conditioned so you can relax in luxurious coolness. They do get quite a few tables in a small space and there are times when every table is filled.

Restaurant Interior
Inside Toh-Plue
Restaurant Interior 2
Another view insde Toh-Plue

One nice thing about Toh-Plue is an extensive menu that includes pictures of many dishes. They clientele is a combination of Thai and fahrang (the Thai word for Caucasian).

Menu Cover
Front of Toh-Plue menu
Toh-Plue Menu
One menu page

They serve good, solid Thai food. I’ve always gotten the authentic, Thai variety – but that may be because I’m usually there with Kasma doing the ordering and making sure they know we want it Thai-style.

One picture is said to be worth a thousand words. I’m going to just show some pictures of some of the dishes we often order.

Be sure to click on each picture to see a larger version.

Pork Neck Salad
Pork Neck Salad
Fish with Mango
Fried Fish with Mango

When Kasma and I came to the restaurant on our own in January of 2011, the two dishes pictured above are what we ordered. On the left is a spicy Larb (pronounced lahb) salad made from succulent pork neck with a very spicy dressing that includes (lots of!) chillies and ground rice. This is one dish I always order here. The menu lists the dish on the right as “Deep Fried Fish and Spicy Mango Salad” (Pla Samlee Yum Mamuang). One (of many) things that the Thais do extremely well is fry things; fried food very seldom has a greasy feel or taste – it is simply flavorful. Here, a cottonfish is split open, boned, coated with tapioca flour and fried crispy: so you get the crispy, tasty outer side enclosing succulent, tender fish meat. The fried fish is topped with a spicy mango salad for serving and eating.

Steamed Fish
Fish Steamed with Lime
Haw Moek
Fish Curry in Young Coconut

Here are a couple more fish dishes. On the left is a fish steamed with chilli-lime sauce (Pla Kapong Neung Manao); this dish is typically very spicy. To the right is a fancy presentation of Haw Moek, this version served in a young coconut and hence called Haw Moek Maprao Awn; this dish can be thought of as a (red) curried mousse and is typically served in banana leaves.

(Here’s a picture of the more usual presentation of Haw Moek.)

Crab Dish
Crab dish
Fish Cakes
Fish or Shrimp Cakes

Here are two more seafood dishes. To the left is a Stir-fried Crab with Basil – the green herb in the picture is basil that has been deep fried. To the right is (in Thai) Tod Mun (pronounced Tawd Mun), a deep-fried fish (or shrimp) cake; it is served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. They do both dishes very well here.

Crab & Bean Thread Noodles
Crab with Bean Thread Noodles
Vegetable Dish
Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli

I’ll finish with these two dishes. To the left is Boo Ohb Woon Sen – Crab served with Bean Thread Noodles. It’s a tasty, savory dish. To the right is Kana Nam Mon Hoi – Chinese Broccoli Stir-fried with Oyster Sauce. This is the Toh-Plue version of what I’ve blogged on as Universal Vegetable Recipe


All in all, Toh-Plue is a reasonably delicious restaurant. I wouldn’t say it is worth making a special trip to Chatuchak Market just to eat there; but Chatuchak Market is worth a special trip, so check out Toh-Plue for lunch when you go.


If you’re looking for places to eat in Bangkok, check out our blogs:


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2012.