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.
(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.)
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.
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.
This photo shows a dish that is as spicy and tasty as it appears – Black-peppered Crab with Roasted Spices (Bpoo Pad Priktai Dtam Gkap Kreuang Tehd). Kasma took this picture on one of her trips to southern Thailand at one of the seafood restaurants on the island of Ko Yaw on Lake Songkla right outside of Songkla town. You’ll need to prepare to get your hands messy to eat this dish!
It would be very easy to pick a photograph of a delectable Thai dish such as this each week for the Wednesday Photo.
The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.
Alas! As of February 2018 we found out that the restaurant has been permanently closed. I’ll leave the post up as a sad reminder of a great restaurant.
One of our favorite seafood restaurants in Thailand is [was] found in the coastal town of Pranburi. I always think of Pranburi as “Squid town” because of the presence everywhere of squid and cuttlefish that are laying out on the racks to dry.
The restaurant is called Rahn Ahahn Sunni or, Sunni’s Restaurant. To find it, go to Pranburi from the main highway, go to the coastline, and look for the Pandorea Hotel; the restaurant is right across the street. The address for the hotel is 444/4 Moo 2, T.Paknampran, A.Pranburi, Prachubkirikhan 77220, Thailand.
One of the best parts about traveling around Thailand with Kasma is that she has found some of the best restaurants you can imagine. My first trip to Thailand was in 1992 and one of the most memorable meals in a trip full of memorable meals was in a little restaurant in the town of Pranburi along the Gulf Coast of Thailand.
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)
If you go, be prepared to order in Thai – if nothing else you can order the dishes here for a great meal.
The reason we eat at the restaurant is the extremely fresh seafood, prepared in numerous delectable recipes. It is directly adjacent to the sea and from your tables you can watch the waves go in and out. There’s often a very nice breeze going through the space that keeps you cool as you eat the spicy, delicious seafood.
By far my favorite dish at this restaurant it’s what we call Solar Squid; In Thai it’s called Bplah Meuk Daad Diow, which literally means “squid in the sun for a moment.” Actually, the squid is dried in the sun for about half a day, giving it a unique texture and flavor, and is then stir-fried in oil. It’s a seemingly very simple dish but I suspect that there is a lot more to it. One year when we came to town, our favorite restaurant was closed. Well, Kasma still had a group of people to feed so we went to another restaurant down the coast and were delighted to find out that they also had solar squid on the menu. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near as good. When Kasma has asked Sunni, who is the chef, what her secret is, Sunni just laughs and tells Kasma that she’ll just have to keep coming back to get the dish here.
There are several other delicious dishes that Kasma nearly always orders. One of these is simple grilled prawns that are served with three different dipping sauces. Another one is a fiery hot “yum” salad made from baby clams; this dish is called Yum Gkehsawn Hoi in Thai. The dressing is sour and spicy-hot – you can see from all the chillies in the picture that this dish is not for the faint-of-tongue!
Another “must-have” dish is the Basil Crab – Neua Bpoo Pad Gkaprao. The Thai people will cook almost anything with basil – this dish is made with crab meat removed from the shell, lots of delicious holy basil (gkaprao), and (of course) lots of spicy, hot prik kee noo chillies.
One of the best looking dishes is the “Three-flavored Grouper” – Bplah Gkow Sahm Roht. This dish is not as spicy as the others and is topped by a sauce that is salty, sweet and sour (the three flavors).
Kasma also orders a plate of Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables – Pad Pak Ruam. It’s a non-spicy dish that serves to balance some of the other hot dishes.
So if you’re driving from Bangkok down to the south of Thailand, be sure to make a luncheon detour over to Sunni’s restaurant in Pranburi. You’ll get some of the freshest, most delicious seafood of your life and a dish (Solar Squid) that you may never have again. [So sad this place is closed!]
Salted crabs (Boo Kem) are an ingredient foreign to many westerners.
In my childhood days, I was fascinated by the myriad moving, darting and crawling creatures inhabiting the edge of the pond that wrapped around two sides of my family’s property. Among them were these small black crabs, no larger than a small Louisiana crayfish; they scurry through the rushes and sometimes venture across the wide expanse of our lawn to the sedges at the edge of our neighbor’s pond. Their strange sideways movement always caught my curiosity, but whenever I approached one, it would come to a complete halt, raising its front pincers up toward me, its alarmed eyes protruding out from their sockets and moving side to side to study me closely. I had even come across ones that would foam around their mouths. A bit too ominous for a small child to touch!
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)
These small freshwater crabs are found in great numbers in and around ricefields and flatlands turned into wetlands during the rainy season. Though they do not have much meat, they are caught and fermented in salt water, making a briny crab sauce for seasoning. They are then called boo kem (or boo kem), salted crab. The best part, though, are the crabs themselves, which are cut up into chunks shell and all, and added to salads, including the delicious Salted Crab Green Papaya Salad(Som Tam Boo Kem) – to this day my favorite rendition of this popular national dish. They are also cooked in saucy dishes to lend their flavor, and make a wonderful sauce with chopped pork, shrimp and coconut cream for serving with crisp vegetables, aromatic herbs and rice (see recipe, below).
Since other Southeast Asian cultures also delight in the flavor of salted crabs, these small black crustaceans can occasionally be found among the unusual offerings of ethnic markets located near areas where large concentrations of Southeast Asians have settled. Look for them in small plastic pouches or containers in a refrigeration unit.
Crab Coconut Cream Sauce (Loen Boo Kem) Recipe
6 small salted crabs
2 cups coconut cream
1/4 lb. ground pork
1/4 lb. fresh shrimp, shelled and chopped finely
1/4 cup tamarind juice the thickness of fruit concentrate
1/4 cup palm or coconut sugar
Sea salt as needed to taste
2 small shallots, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly crosswise
1 red or orange serrano pepper, cut into fine slivers with seeds
1 green serrano pepper, cut into fine slivers with seeds
4 red and green Thai chillies (prik kee noo), cut into 2 segments
Assortment of fresh firm and crisp vegetables, such as green or long beans, snap peas, cauliflower and cucumber; and sprigs of leafy aromatic herbs, such as mint and basil
Pull off the back shell of the salted crabs and discard. Remove the gills and cut each crab into four pieces, each piece with a few legs attached to a body part. Rinse and drain.
Heat the coconut cream in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Spoon out 2 tablespoons and reserve for later use. Add the ground pork and chopped shrimp, stirring to break into small bits as they cook. When most the pork has lost its raw pink color, add the crab pieces and return to a boil. Season sauce to taste with palm sugar and tamarind.
Simmer uncovered for ten to fifteen minutes. Taste, and if it is not salty or sweet enough, add a little salt and palm sugar. Stir in the sliced shallots and slivered red and green serrano peppers. Return to a boil, stir and transfer to a sauce dish. Let cool for ten to fifteen minutes. Top with the reserved coconut cream and garnish with the Thai chillies.
Arrange the vegetables on a platter and serve with the salted crab coconut sauce. The sauce may also be eaten with plain steamed rice. Suck on the crab pieces for a burst of salty crab flavor.
Serves 8-10 in a multi-course Thai meal.
Notes and Pointers:
Dip the vegetables and herbs into the sauce to eat, or place a few pieces at a time on the side of your dinner plate and spoon a little sauce over them. Dip and nibble-eat as you desire, rather than serve it as a course. The sauce may also be spooned a small amount at a time onto a little bit of rice and eaten to clear the palate after spicy bites from other dishes in the meal.
In addition to mint and basil, many other kinds of leafy aromatic herbs and strong-tasting vegetables found in Southeast Asian markets are delicious with this sauce, such as polygonum (called “rau ram” by the Vietnamese), sawleaf coriander (oblong leaves with serrated edges), rice paddy herb (rows of very small green leaves growing up soft, light green stems), lemon mint and edible chrysanthemum leaves. Bitter and astringent vegetables like bitter melon (warty, oblong squash) and fresh banana blossom also make good accompaniments, as the sauce softens their strong bite. Look for these unusual produce in Asian markets near you and give them a try, or substitute with strong-tasting salad greens, such as arugula, radicchio, endive, sorrel and parsley.
If you wish to try out the exotic banana blossom, it is available from time to time during the warmer months in Southeast Asian markets. The outer layers are a rich purplish red color, but the best parts for eating are the light ivory leaves in the center. Because the sap can blacken the heart and leaves, soak in salted water immediately after cutting. Banana blossom has an unpleasant astringent bite (an acquired taste) when eaten by itself, but this disappears when accompanied by the creamy sauce – a very unusual experience!
Note: This originally appeared in Kasma’s second cookbook, Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood (now out of print).