Thailand – chilling in Chiang Rai

Posted in Chiang Rai, Northern Region, Thailand with tags on April 24, 2019 by gannet39

After finishing work in Nan I moved a little further on to Chiang Rai, the northernmost city in Thailand. The plan was to stay a couple of nights before heading to nearby Huay Xai in Laos to take a boat down the Mekong, more of which in a later post.

Chiang Rai has a relaxed, country town feel to it, but the locals aren’t above a bit of ostentation as their town clock shows.

The police also seem to like a bit of bling.

I’m guessing this is a member of the royal family cutting a macho figure.

I enjoyed staying at the Nak Nakara Hotel (Intermediate B+) at 661 Uttarakit, ตำบล เวียง อำเภอ เมืองเชียงราย, www.naknakarahotel. The modern Lanna-style rooms have air conditioning, satellite TV, a mosquito net, fridge and a private bathroom. The breakfast is decent and all the staff were friendly and helpful.

There are also a lot of beautiful wats in town, more of which in the next post. The main market is also quite interesting, so I’ve given it it’s own post, and there’s also another post on my dining experiences. My map with everything on is here.

Other than the wats, there were a few other bits of architecture that caught my eye. There were a couple of pieces of deco.

Not to sure how to label these but I liked the colours.

So, lets check out the wats…

Thailand – traditional northern food in Nan

Posted in Nan, Northern Region, Thailand with tags on April 23, 2019 by gannet39

Nan is an ancient town with a lot of history but what struck me most was how beautifully green and lush it was. I’d love to come back one day and get to know it better.

Again my experience was very brief, there’s only three places on my map, but I did get to go to this excellent restaurant…

Huan Puka เฮือนภูคา (Intermediate A), Nai Wiang, Mueang Nan District, Nan 55000,

Huan Puka is located in a beautiful old traditional house.

The surroundings are very atmospheric.

On one wall is a copy of a famous local painting called Pu Marn Ya Marn, the Whisper of Love, showing a tattooed man whispering words of love into a woman’s ear. The original can be seen in Wat Phumin.

This is an old wooden cowbell which is now used to summon the waiters.

The restaurant specialises in Northern dishes. Apologies but I didn’t get the local names.

Most lovers of Thai food will be familiar with Nam Prick, the chilli-based sauce. However in the North they have Nam Prick Ong which is made from ground pork pounded in a mortar with tomatoes, dried chili, salt, garlic, lemongrass, water and shrimp paste. This is typically served with an assortment of fresh seasonal vegetables and here with sliced sausage and pork scratchings as well.

The Herbal Curry looked like a bowl of garden trimmings, which is what it actually turned out to be. Pom the young owner told us that many of the herbs and other ingredients grow in the yard around the restaurant.

Not exactly sure what this prawn dish was sorry but it was great!

On the menu this dish is described as Stir-fried Gymnema Sylvestre with Egg.

I’d never heard of it before but Gymnema Sylvestre is a woody vine which is used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Purple sticky rice is one of a few different colour varieties you can find in the north.

Although many of these ingredients were unknown to me it was all delicious and you could sense it was very healthy.

We finished the meal with a few of shots of Thai brandy which was less healthy but ended things nicely.

By this time Pom had joined us at the table and we spent a long time chatting. He used to work at a reggae bar in some holiday resort but now has invested in a quieter life in his home town. He still considers himself a Thai rasta although he had recently cut off his locks. He’s a lovely guy that’s definitely deserves supporting.

Sadly Nan was the last stop on this work trip and Grid and I had to say our goodbyes. Many thanks for looking after me so well Grid! It certainly was a great culinary experience.

My adventure hadn’t finished though and I carried on further north to Chiang Rai…

Thailand – a Chinese Muslim noodle soup in Phrae

Posted in Northern Region, Phrae, Thailand with tags , on April 22, 2019 by gannet39

Phrae is a town of about eighteen thousand people in the northern region of Thailand. The historical culture and cuisine of the region is called Lanna.

Lanna cuisine shares certain dishes with neighboring Shan State in Myanmar, and with Laos. As in north-eastern Thailand, glutinous rice is preferred rather than jasmine rice.

I’d give you a map of the town but it’s pointless as the restaurant address doesn’t come up on Google maps. However it is very famous locally so if you ask around I’m sure you’ll find it.

Khaosoi Che Lek (Elementary A), 35 Nam Kue Road Nai Wiang Subdistrict Mueang Prae District, Phrae

A simple place with a pleasant atmosphere specialising in Khaosoi, a Lanna meat noodle soup made throughout Myanmar, Laos and northern Thailand.

It’s reckoned that Kahosoi was originally brought from China by the ancestors of the Chin Haw, Thai Chinese people whose forbears migrated to Thailand via Myanmar or Laos. About a third of the Chin Haw were Muslim so their version of Khaosoi featured chicken or beef.

Che Lek is the name of the lady who owns the restaurant. Her Khaosoi is made with egg noodles, both boiled and some deep-fried to garnish, with beef in a curry-like sauce (although I believe there is a chicken option too), a slab of congealed blood, chopped green beans, lettuce and coriander. Pickled mustard greens, known as Phakkat Sophon amongst other names, are served on the side.

The restaurant is also known for Moo Satae, grilled fermented pork served with peanut sauce. The original Indonesian satay is of course made with chicken but various meat and even vegetable versions can be found in Thailand.

Fantastic food once more. I wish I could eat it all over again.

A lightening visit to Nan next…

Thailand – traditional Isaan food in Ubon Ratchathani

Posted in Northeast Region (Isaan), Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani with tags on April 21, 2019 by gannet39

In September 2017 I had a week of work in the north and north-east of Thailand. It was a whistle stop tour, we visited four towns in that time, so these posts are just a very brief snapshot of my experiences.

My employer provided a fixer called Grid to look after me. He’s on the left in this pic. Happily Grid was fond of his food as well and he nosed out some great traditional restaurants where we could try the local delicacies in each town we went to.

We started in Ubon Ratchathani (‘Royal Lotus City’), or Ubon for short. It’s one of the four largest towns in Isaan province, the name of which actually means ‘north-east’.

Within Thailand, Isaan is considered by the Thais themselves as the region that has the best food, going on the number of eateries in other regions. It differs from the central region in that flavours are hotter and sourer. Isaan people also have a preference for eating sticky rice.

In these respects Isaan cuisine is quite similar to that of neighbouring Laos. The difference is that it is without French and Vietnamese influences as it was never part of the French colony of Indochina.

Given the above I was very interested to try as many dishes as I could at this little restaurant specialising in local food…

You’ll find it on my map here.

Nom Chok Isaan Food (Elementary A), Sisaket 2 Rd, Tambon Warin Chamrap, Amphoe Warin Chamrap, Chang Wat Ubon Ratchathani 34190

This is a plain and simple place as you can see from the photo at the top, but the food is really good.

There were lots of intriguing things on display.

My friend’s local girlfriend, a speaker of Laos Isaan, calls the eggs ‘Kai Ping’. ‘Apparently the eggs are emptied, lightly whisked, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and then put back inside the shells, then steamed’. After which they’re ready to be skewered and put on the BBQ.

Three tubs contained small packages made of Pandan leaves, their contents ready for steaming. Grid ordered one of each.

Here you can see the cooked contents of the packages. This is Naem, fermented pork (B).

The other two contained fish, Ho Mok Pla (A), minced fish with red curry paste, and another with whole fish which had more chilli and an unusual flavour that I couldn’t pin down (B+).

We also had Som Tam (A), the classic Isaan salad (tam) made from shredded green papaya, green beans, tomatoes, peanuts, lime, dried shrimp, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, and palm sugar. It’s eaten all over Thailand and will be very familiar to tourists.

Soups are very popular in Isaan. This is Tom Yam Het, which directly translates as spicy mushroom soup (A).

Didn’t get the name of this chicken dish right sorry, but it was very tasty (B+).

We also tried Mu Yor, a steamed pork mince sausage (B)…

… and some Cab Moo pork scratchings (B).

Finally, another salad but made with crab and extra strong fish sauce (B+).

This was too hot for our local driver!

A top spot for trying classic Isaan food. Definitely recommended!

Bangkok – Japanese food in Thonglor

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Thailand, Thonglor, Watthana with tags , , on April 20, 2019 by gannet39

Another reason I chose to stay in Thonglor is that it’s a hub for Bangkok’s Japanese community. Japanese food is my go-to when I want a change, and this was certainly the case after a couple of weeks of eating northern Thai and Laotian food which are very similar. There are many other Japanese eateries in the neighbourhood but I think these are some of the best…

Here’s my map.

Nirai Kanai (Intermediate A), 138/1ซอยทองหล่อ11 ถนนสุขุมวิท55 แขวงคลองตันเหนือ Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana

This attractive semi-outdoor restaurant (the name means ‘Heaven of Happiness’) is the local branch of a Tokyo chain selling Okinawan food, the distinctive cuisine of the southern islands of Japan. I’d had my first experience of it the year before in Ginza, during a holiday in Tokyo (post here), and really enjoyed it.

In particular I wanted to eat Umibudo again, a seaweed that looks like bunches of tiny grapes.

I had this with a selection of sashimi.

In Tokyo I hadn’t been keen on the draught version of Orion but the canned version of this Okinawan beer is okay.

I tried several kinds of Awamori (a rice distallate like shōchū) in Tokyo but wasn’t in the mood this time. Here’s a handy chart to help you choose one though.

A lovely spot, wish I could go again.

Kushikatsu Daruma (Intermediate B), 205 ซอย ทองหล่อ 9 Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana

This is the Bangkok branch of an Osakan chain that specialises in traditional kushikatsu (deep-fried golden oysters, tuna, prawns and vegetables in a breadcrumb batter).

I had a couple of Kushikatsu but went for more healthy choices as well like the Edamame steamed soya beans, cold tofu, assorted pickles, fried capelin fish, grilled skate wings and some Ikayaki octopus balls.

So nothing fancy, just good, simple Japanese food. I can’t get it in my home town so I make the most of it when I can.

Ramen Ajisai (Elementary B+) 125/1 ซอย สุขุมวิท 55 Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana,

A Japanese noodle shop selling tonkotsu ramen, my favourite, on the next block from where I was staying. I had their extra thick soya sauce tonkotsu twice and still wanted to go back again (B+).

You’ll need some gyoza pork dumplings and a cold beer to go with it.

And that was the end of my holiday in Bangkok! Time to head up north…

Bangkok – hipster eating and drinking in Thonglor

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Thailand, Thonglor, Watthana with tags , , , , , on April 19, 2019 by gannet39

Trendy Thonglor has heaps of good restaurants and bars. The places below are all on the modern Thai tip, see the next post for Japanese food in Thonglor.. You’ll find all the places below and more on my map.

Supanniga Eating Room (Intermediate A), 160/11 ถนน สุขุมวิท 55 Thong Lo 6 Alley, Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana,

A hip, popular restaurant serving traditional dishes from all over Thailand. Everything I had was great.

The Appetizer Platter showcases northern flavours like Mieng Yong (shredded pork with peanuts and sweet roasted coconut wrapped in cha plu leaves, and Ma Hor (mince pork stir-fired with garlic and peanuts and served on slices of tangerine), all served with Khaotang Namprik Kakmoo (rice crackers and a chilli pork crackling dip).

The star dish of the menu is considered by many to be the Moo Cha Muang, an Eastern pork stew with Thai herbs and cha muang leaves.

Also the Ka Lum Tod Nam Pla, fried Chinese cabbage with fish sauce, is a powerful umami dish from Trat province in the south-east.

And a mushroom rice with grilled shitake was good too.

Kate’s Mojito, made with dark rum, mint leaves, lime juice and brown sugar is pretty decent.

Everything was excellent. A definite recommend but book well ahead as it’s very popluar.

Soul Food Mahanakorn (Intermediate A), 56/10 ถนน สุขุมวิท 55 ซอย ทองหล่อ Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana,

Another popular modern place, handy for the Skytrain, with good food and interesting cocktails.

I started with some Southern Thai Lamb Samosas made with Australian lamb, cumin and served in a spring roll wrapper with a mint and yogurt dip on the side.

I really enjoyed the Yam Hua Plee, shredded banana flower grilled chicken and basil, tossed in a sweet and sour coconut dressing.

The Pad Cha Kob, stir-fried frog with chilli paste, herbs and young coconut, was a little challenging but okay. It brought back memories of the first time I ever ate frog, also in Bangkok, back in the 80s.

The Sticky Tamarind Ribs, pork ribs braised in a tamarind barbecue sauce and grilled with caramelised pineapple on the side, are always going to be a crowed pleaser.

The Kanohm Maw Gaeng, peanuts, egg and Thai coconut custard, tasted good but didn’t photograph well.

Another good place I would definitely recommend.

My friend Ian tipped me off about a couple of good cocktail bars along the main drag. My favourite was The Rabbit Hole at 125 Sukhumvit Soi 55 as it has low lighting, a great soundtrack and highly skilled mixologists serving an innovative cocktail list that includes many local ingredients.

Also good is The Iron Fairies at 394 Soi Sukhumvit 55, which is larger but guests seemed more packed in. They have live music, which isn’t always a good thing.

Both bars were very darkly lit so I’ve not bothered posting photos, but suffice to say the locals know their cocktails.

Thonglor even has its own hipster shopping mall, The Commons…

Roast – The Commons (Intermediate A), 335 ถนน สุขุมวิท Thong Lo 17 Alley, Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana,

Roast is a third wave cafe on the top floor of The Commons that does great coffee and food. They’re reputed to make the city’s best flat white.

I can also vouch for their juices and smoothies (A).

Also the Pulled Pork Burger in a toasted brioche with red cabbage slaw and house made fries on the side is rather fine (A).

Another good spot for a coffee is Goodfellas Cafe at 1039-1041 Sukhumwit 55,, just by the Skytrain station.

And finally, the antithesis of hipster…

Much as I love tasting new things sometimes all you want is a taste of home. This is particularly true if you haven’t been home for quite a while as was the case with my old friend Lisa and her friend and colleague Jason, two teachers from my neck of the woods in Yorkshire who had been living in Bangkok for a couple of years. They took me out for traditional English Sunday dinner at The Robin Hood in nearby Phrom Phong.

As we all know, what tastes good is what tastes familiar and after a month away from home, boy did this taste good!

Japanese food in Thonglor next!

Bangkok – staying in Thonglor

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Thailand, Thonglor, Watthana with tags , on April 18, 2019 by gannet39

After working in north-east Thailand and a short holiday in Laos, I came back to Bangkok for a few days before flying home. This time I wanted a contrast from the wooden villa in the old town where I’d stayed before, so I chose a modern apartment in the up-and-coming and very hip district of Thonglor.

Thonglor is the area around Soi Sukhumvit 55, and its side streets, which runs north off Sukhumvit Road and is within the larger Watthana neighbourhood. It has its own Skytrain station so you can get to many places easily. My map here.

I stayed in a serviced apartment in the Aspen Suites

I live in a block of flats myself because I love having a good view out of the window at different times of day.

The complex also had a small but decent gym which I was in dire need of after eating my way around two countries! The clincher though was the infinty pool. Video here.

Just the spot I needed for a spot of R&R.

The other reason I stayed in Thonglor is because it has lots of good restaurants…

Bangkok – a couple of high end restaurants

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Pathum Wan, Sathon, Thailand with tags , , on April 17, 2019 by gannet39

In a culinary capital like Bangkok I was eager to try lots of different kinds of restaurants. Here are two high-end ones I went to. They’re both on my restaurant map.

Gaggan (Advanced A), 68/1 Phloen Chit Rd, Khwaeng Lumphini, Khet Pathum Wan,

This fine-dining establishment is Bangkok’s best restaurant in terms of international awards and accolades. Despite topping Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for a third consecutive year, chef owner Gaggan Anand has said he will close the restaurant in 2020 to take on a new challenge (a ten-seater restaurant in Fukouka).

I ate here with my friend Ian to celebrate my 51st birthday in September 2017. While I was waiting for him I had a Negroni made with Carpano Antica Formula, my favourite vermouth, along with Campari and Ironballs Gin.

As Ironballs is distilled in Thailand, this was a new kind of Negroni for me.

Anand’s approach is very playful. I’ve heard his food described as high-end Indian but many other influcences, such as Thai and Japanese, were in the mix. It seems to be all about making things look like something they’re not, or deconstructing classics and reformulating them in a fun way. Even the menu is a series of emojis.

When Ian arrived we ordered a bottle of Albarino, a favourite white from Galicia…

…and commenced with the culinary fun…

Black Salt Watermelon, an edible oyster shell filled with watermelon ‘pearls’.

Yogurt Explosion, a yogurt bomb with a burst of mango chutney.

Lick It Up Mushroom Peas. Perhaps my least liked dish as we had to listen to Lick It Up by Kiss while we were eating and talking!

Tom Yum Kung with the soup frozen into an ice cream and piped into the head of a prawn.

Goat Brain Flower Power was my favourite for flavour.

Eggplant Cookie, sandwiched together with onion chutney jam.

Chilli Bon Bon, a chocolate shell containing a liquid filling of cumin, chili, ginger and other spices.

Idly Sambhar, a rice sponge cake with coconut chutney, lentil curry foam and topped with a curry leaf.

Banana Chicken Liver, derived from a banana curry made for Anand’s baby!

Fish Granola was a new way of eating seabass.

Gin Tonic Uni, sea urchin temakis with cucumber cured in gin and tonic.

Chutoro Sushi, top quality fatty tuna served on dashi meringues rather than sushi rice.

Foie Gras Yuzu Carrot served in a carrot-flavoured waffle box (never thought I’d write those words).

The foie and yuzu were inside.

Green Vegetable Matcha, an unpleasant palate cleanser made with asparagus powder, celery, green tomato, green apple, cucumber and coriander…

…served as if it were tea.

Pork Vindaloo served as if it were Pork Tonkatsu, a Japanese deep-fried pork cutlet.

Scallop Uncooked Curry, scallops from Hokkaido with coconut curry flavoured ice cream.

Sheep Kebab Mango Chutney, a spicy lamb sausage to be wrapped with the darker dehydrated mango chutney leaves presented on a real plant, somewhat reminiscent of bullrushes.

Thai Green Curry, deconstructed blobs served on chicken skin atop a big rock.

Seabass Bengali Mustard, more seabass with Bengali mustard, steamed in a banana leaf and smoked on the table…

… before being unwrapped.

Charcoal Lotus Stem, a blackened lotus croquette.

Lobster Dosa, curried crustacean served on a dosa with strips of young coconut.

Beetroot Rose, an empty book containing roses with beetroot petals.

Milk Cake Reisling Muscat, wine flavoured mooncakes with a filling of grape ice cream.

Minion Wasabi, lemon cheesecake in the form of popsicles.

Peach Ghewar, an interpretation of a Rajisthani peach dessert.

For dessert we treated ourselves to a glass of Chateau Jolys Cuvee Jean made from Manseng grapes.

Finally an off-menu Passionfruit and Chocolate Birthday Cake.

Of course the passionfruit and chocolate were inside the edible candle.

I was too busy talking to grade the food but suffice to say a culinary good time was had. Thanks to Ian for sharing the experience and partially bankrupting himself with me!

Hate to say it but on my way home I stopped by my favourite ramen shop for a snack. People might wonder whether it was because Gaggan left me hungry or whether it was just out of sheer greed. I’m ashamed to report it was the latter but hey, it was my birthday!

More about the ramen in my coming Thonglor post.

On an earlier occasion I also met Ian here.

Nahm (Advanced B+), ground floor of the Metropolitan Hotel, Sathon Tai Rd, Khwaeng Thung Maha Mek, Khet Sathon,

Although the restaurant space is rather uninspiring the food is very good here. Top Australian chef David Thompson uses great quality ingredients and time honoured techniques to recreate traditional recipes.

Thanks to his efforts Nahm topped the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014.

We went at lunch time when it’s easier to get in and had the tasting menu for B1,700.

I have to be honest and say that again I didn’t grade this food, nor can I remember what the dishes were called but it was all great!

Hopefully the pics will do all the talking that’s necessary.

If you want a drink after eating you could try to get in next door at the Vertigo Moon Bar on the sixty-first floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. I haven’t been but it’s reputed to have one of the best views in Bangkok. Alternatively you could walk a few minutes more to this place…

Smalls (Intermediate A), 3-4 Suan Phlu 1 Alley, Khwaeng Thung Maha Mek, Khet Sathon

This great little jazz bar is Ian’s regular hangout and it would probably be mine as well if I lived here.

It’s low lit and very atmospheric. Live jazz can be heard on most nights of the week.

Off to Thonglor next, which also has a few good cocktail bars…

Bangkok – boat noodles in Ratchathewi

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Ratchathewi, Thailand with tags , , on April 16, 2019 by gannet39

After visiting the Suan Pakkard Palace (see previous post) I headed a few blocks north to the Victory Monument (a big roundabout to the north-east of the old town) for something to eat.

The street vendors in the alleys north-west of the monument are famous for Kuaitiao Ruea or Boat Noodles, a type of noodle soup once sold from small boats on the canals.

Sam-Ang Kulap (Elementary B+), Ratchawithi Road, Khwaeng Thung Phaya Thai, Khet Ratchathewi

If you can’t use my Google map or read Thai, then this place is just by the canal bridge on Ratchawithi Road (really an alley), opposite this modern temple.

It’s a fair sized space with several long trestle tables under a tin roof. My order was taken by a little girl who spoke excellent restaurant English!

As seems appropriate, the food is served from a boat-shaped counter.

The soup also contains a seasoning called Nam Tok which is cow or pigs blood mixed with salt and spices.

Other ingredients might be both pork and beef meat, dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd, meatballs and pig’s liver.

~Which along with morning glory, fresh garlic, fried garlic, cinnamon and chilli flakes makes for quite a powerful flavour as you can imagine. The noodles here are thin rice noodles although this can vary from place to place. On the side comes a bowl of fresh beansprouts and sweet basil leaves and another of fried wontons.

My only complaint was that the bowls were very small, but that’s down to tradition as the larger bowls were dangerous for the vendors to handle on a boat. I’ll order two next time.

Besides that it was a good experience and I’m glad I made the trip.

Some high-end food next…

Bangkok – a couple of museums

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Ratchathewi, Thailand with tags , on April 15, 2019 by gannet39

In September 2017 I visited a couple of museums in Ratchathewi and Pathum Wan neighbourhoods that had a focus on traditional architecture, arts and antiques. My map is here.

Suan Pakkard Palace, 352 354 Thanon Si Ayutthaya, Khwaeng Thanon Phaya Thai, Khet Ratchathewi,

This is a complex of five traditional teak houses all of which exhibit various historical items from different periods.

Exhibits include boats, ancient masonry, homewares, an automaton and various archaeological artefacts, some more interesting than others.

However my favourite thing was walking around the lovely garden.

Click on the photos to expand.

Jim Thompson House, 6 Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Wang Mai, Khet Pathum Wan,

Jim Thompson was a successful silk merchant who revitalised the Thai silk industry in the 50s and 60s. He built the complex in 1958 to house his extensive antiques collection.

Parts of old houses, some already 100 years old, were reassembled to create six new buildings.

The collection of antiques on display is very impressive.

Unfortunately though visitors aren’t allowed to take photographs inside the house so I have very few of the antiques themselves.

You are however allowed to stand outside the house and take photos in.

Again, the garden is lovely.

Especially the small Spirit Houses (click to enlarge).

The house eventually became a museum after Thompson disappeared in 1967 under mysterious circumstances.

After visiting Suan Pakkard Palace you might be in the mood for some noodles…

Bangkok – mid-range eating and drinking in Phra Nakhon

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Phra Nakhon, Thailand with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2019 by gannet39

As you’d expect there are heaps of good places to eat in the old town. I’ve put all the places mentioned below and more on this map.

Thipsamai Pad Thai aka Pad Thai Pratu Pi (Intermediate A), 313-315 Maha Chai Rd, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200,

Pad Thai Pratu Pi (meaning “Ghost Gate Pad Thai”, named by customers after a nearby intersection) is perhaps the most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok. Consequently it’s very popular with locals and tourists alike and starts filling up as soon as it opens at 5pm and doesn’t stop till 3am.

Pad Thai has an interesting history. Its status as a national dish originated during a rice shortage in WW2 when the nationalistic prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram (aka Phibun) introduced a campaign to make people eat more noodles. According to some accounts a competition was held to find the best noodle dish and Pad Thai was the winner.

Ultimately of course noodles and stir-frying came from China so prototypes of this dish must have existed before the war. You might notice that chopsticks are used to eat Pad Thai and they are only ever used in Thailand to eat Chinese food (otherwise forks and spoons are preferred, etiquette on their use here). Ironically the use of chopsticks was discouraged during the Phibunsongkhram era as they were considered unpatriotic. This restaurant started during that time and it’s classic version of the dish is used as a standard by many other restaurants around the world.

I arrived a bit later and had to queue for a short while but I didn’t mind as you could watch the chefs working out on the street churning out Pad Thai at lightning speed. One chef fries the soaked dry noodles and adds other ingredients (eg tofu, shrimp, leeks, bean sprouts) according to the recipe and passes it to a second chef who wraps it in a thin skin of egg omelette, twice. Video here.

The whole place is run like a factory production line. These are the side plates of fresh bean sprouts and lime segments waiting to go. Other additions like chili flakes and crushed peanuts are already on the tables.

Once you’re seated you are presented with a tick box menu offering a choice of Pad Thais. You can choose between cheaper dried prawns or more expensive fresh ones, whether to have egg or glass noodles whether egg is to be included and how but there is an ‘other’ section for any special requests relayed to the server.

I began with the classic version wrapped in egg which is called Pad Thai Haw Kai Goong Sot (ผัดไทห่อไข่กุ้งสด).

On the menu it’s the ‘Superb Pad Thai (big prawns)’ option.

I was still feeling hungry so I followed up with Pad Thai Sen Jan Man Goong (ผัดไทเส้นจันมันกุ้ง) where the noodles are fried with the head juices of the big shrimp for extra flavour. Rather than being wrapped in egg, this style included scrambled eggs mixed in with a bit of tofu for good measure. This isn’t on the menu so you’ll have to show them the Thai name above, or show them this picture so they can write it in that ‘other’ section on your bill.

A plate of Pad Thai costs between 60 and 300 THB costs here. Expensive by Bangkok standards but it’s a great experience nonetheless.

There’s another smaller, more recent but also very famous noodle restaurant just on the next corner…

Raan Jay Fai (High Elementary B+) , 327 Maha Chai Rd, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon

I make a point of avoiding popular places at peak times so I got a table straight away when I arrived in the late afternoon.

Jay Fai is the nickname of the elderly lady wearing goggles working the wok outside the side door in this corner restaurant. Despite the no-frills appearance of her shop she’s considered one of the best street food cooks in Bangkok and her prices reflect that. However for your money you will get good quantities of quality ingredients stir fried in a style that uses minimum amounts of oil.

I had her most popular dish, Pàt kêe Mow Talay aka “drunken noodles”, or broad ho fun noodles stir-fried with seafood and lots of chillies. The food had a slightly singed taste and appearance which surprised me a bit but it was still very good (B+).

It’s now much harder to get in since she was awarded a Michelin star in 2018, something she’s not too happy about (article here). A friend went in 2019 and waited two hours for a table so you might want to avoid peak times.

This next place is handy for Wat Pho…

Err (Intermediate B+), 394/35 Maha Rat Rd, Khwaeng Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Khet Phra Nakhon,

This is a modern trendy place aimed at visitors rather than locals and again the prices aren’t as cheap as they can be in Bangkok. However, the Thai and Australian chef couple who own it have a good pedigree via working at London’s Nahm and their own fine dining restaurant Bo.Lan.

I was just here to snack on interesting stuff so I got a few starters as small plates rather than try the mains.

I liked the Sai Ouwa; coconut-smoked northern sausage (B).

By my favourite was the Kor Moo Yang; grilled pork neck with tamarind sauce (B+).

Their craft IPA and Weiss beers from Phuket’s Full Moon Brewery were pretty good too. I can’t remember anything about this spirit though! It’s glorified paint stripper no doubt.

Rarb (Low Intermediate B+), 52 60 Charoen Krung Rd Soi 30, Khwaeng Bang Rak, Khet Bang Rak

A bar that sells decent food and delicious cocktails with vulgar names, designed by award-winning bartender Karn Liangsrisuk. I enjoyed every aspect of the Fuck My Farm (rum, American honey, kaffir lime, roselle)…

…Mahon – Nhahor (gin, Vietnamese coriander, lychee)…

… and the Fake Wedding (tequila reposado, pink grapefruit, passionfruit, salted caramel).

I don’t really remember what any of them were like but the Mahon – Nhahor sticks in my mind as the most interesting for some reason.

In preparation for travelling to Isan and Laos, I tried their Larb Moo (a kind of spicy pork salad) as well which was fine (B). It’s best with the toasted rice apparently but I wasn’t hungry enough for both.

And if you’re in need of a change head to Little India…

Royal India (Intermediate C) 392 1 Chakkraphet Rd, Khwaeng Wang Burapha Phirom, Khet Phra Nakhon,

The best of the Indian restaurants in this Indian neighbourhood, according to Lonely Planet at least.

It’s fine (C+) but not worth a detour unless you really have curry withdrawal. I went at lunch time and had the non-veg thali with Mutton Curry, Veg Curry, Raita, Naan, Popadom, Pulao Rice and a sweet (Gulab Jamun) for only 300 baht.

And that’s it for the old town. We’re heading east for a bit of culture next…

Bangkok – Phra Nakhon – the wonders of Wat Pho

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Phra Nakhon, Thailand with tags , , on April 13, 2019 by gannet39

Wat Pho is the second most important temple in Thailand, after. It’s thought to be the oldest in Bangkok, predating the city’s status as the capital, but the date and founder are unknown.

The complex was renovated and constructed by King Rama I in 1788 and again by King Rama III in 1832 which is when many of the present structures date from.

The temple is also regarded as Thailand’s first university and is a center for studying traditional Thai massage. I didn’t have time to try it but I told a friend and he said it was the best massage he’d ever had. Must go next time.

Phra Ubosot, a hall with a large golden image of Buddha sitting under an umbrella, is the most sacred building of the complex. You should take your shoes off when entering and sit on the floor, but be careful not to show the soles of your feet to Buddha as it’s considered disrespectful.

I went to see the Reclining Buddha which is one of the biggest Buddha statues in Thailand. It represents his final ascent to Nirvana and liberation from perpetual rebirth. The circles on the soles of his feet each represent a chakra or energy point.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the famous Giants, the figures guarding the entrance to the Phra Mondop library as they were being renovated.

My map is here. Here’s more info if you want it. I’ll let these beautiful images do the rest of the talking. Please click on the photos to get a better view if you’re on a computer.

Time to eat! There’s a nice restaurant called Err around the corner…

Bangkok – a walk in the old town

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Pathum Wan, Phra Nakhon, Samphanthawong, Thailand with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2019 by gannet39

Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of an architecture buff, not least because it’s a good excuse for a long walk. Below I describe one that could easily take a whole day, or two if you break it up and include Wat Pho which I’ve given its own post. However I start with a couple of places, Hua Lamphong Station and the Scala Cinema, which could be destinations in their own right, even if just to catch a train or see a film. My map with everything on is here.

Hua Lamphong Station was built in an Italian Neo-Renaissance-style in 1910.

The architect was Turin-born Mario Tamagno who was responsible for a few other major buildings in Bangkok.

The Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in Germany was a prototype.

The station is scheduled to be closed in 2021, after which it will become a museum. You can click on these photos to enlarge them.

Another favourite building is the Scala Cinema in a back street off Siam Square in Pathum Wan.

It has a Modernist shell with Art Deco interior decorations.

Back in Siam Square the Skytrain tracks bring you back to brutal modern times.

Also known as the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) the Skytrain was opened in late 1999. I presume that an underground system wasn’t feasible due to the river flooding regularly.

The first road to be built in Bangkok was the Charoen Krung Road in 1861. Ironcially, the English name for the road is New Road. It stretches from Wat Pho and the Grand Palace and continues for 8.5 km to Dao Khanong. The first few kilometers in the old town make for a good walk as there are quite a few historical buildings along its route. After seeing Wat Pho (see next post), a logical starting point would be Saranrom Park.

The park was originally part of a palace built by Rama IV in 1866 but he died before it was completed. The basic layout of the park remains today is as it was designed by Rama IV. A couple of examples of traditional house architecture can seen be inside. The park is now used as a training school for city gardeners.

There’s a bit of neo-classical around the outside of the park.

Fairly soon after starting you’ll cross the first canal ring, Lod Canal or Asadang Canal.

Fairly soon after that you come to the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre The cinema was opened in in 1932 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Bangkok but nowadays it hosts performances of classical Thai dance.

The modernist building isn’t particularly exciting although it does have a few nice features inside.

A show about Hanuman the monkey god was on when I went.

Of more interest to me was the Art Nouveau exterior of the cafe next to the theatre.

I tend to wander of the path a lot, to go and look at architecture that catches my eye. From here I deviated from the route and headed south along Ti Thong towards the Old Siam Shopping Centre which has a few interesting buildings around it. Not sure what style you’d call these. Thai Deco perhaps.

There are a few more easily recognisable Art Deco buildings dotted around.

There’s this lovely piece of Brutalism just over the road from the shopping centre.

From here you could deviate even further south to Little India but I wouldn’t bother as there’s not much to see, unless you fancy a curry for lunch at Royal India (see my Eating in Phra Nakhon post).

After you cross over the second canal ring, Banglamplu-Ong Ang Canal, you are in Samphanthawong, the location of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

I came across this Chinese temple somewhere around here.

Chinatown’s central street Yaowarat Road runs parallel to Charoen Krung Road to the south. The streets seemed a bit narrower and more chaotic here. A bit of dereliction seems to be creeping in as well.

I did brieftly consider staying in Chinatown but was quite glad I didn’t as its a bit full on. I looked at two hotels, Loy La Long; a cool little hostel in a choice location on the river, and the more luxurious Shanghai Mansion Bangkok on the frenetic Yaowarat Road, both good in their own ways.

I enjoyed checking out all the street vendors along Yaowarat Road.

From here it’s just a short stroll to Hua Lamphong Station which is where this post started.

Back to Wat Pho for the next post though!

Bangkok – staying in Phra Nakhon

Posted in Bangkok, Central Region, Phra Nakhon, Thailand on April 11, 2019 by gannet39

In September 2017 I was very excited to be invited to work in Thailand for a week. I’ve been twice before but that was back in the 90s when I did the full moon party thing as a young teacher. This time I was going to be up in the north and north east of the country, away from the touristy beach zones. As I was finishing in the north east I decided to have a holiday in Laos afterwards but more of that later. These trips were to be bookended by breaks in Bangkok, so that’s where we’ll start.

In the Thai language, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep. It’s in the central region of Thailand’s four regions. The central district of Bangkok is called Phra Nakhon, also known as the old town. This is where most tourists will stay, particularly in the Khaosan Road backpackers area, as it’s near major sites like the Royal Palace and Wat Pho (see following post). My personal map is here.

Having stayed in Khaosan on previous visits and wanting a quieter life, I found this traditional guest house just off Dinso Road…

Baan Dinso 1 (Intermediate A), Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Khwaeng Wat Bowon Niwet, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200,

This is an old wooden villa, dating from the late 19th century. If you book it please be aware there is a Baan Dinso 2 at the beginning of Dinso Road which is very different, so make sure you’re booking/going to the right one. Fortunately I was armed with a local SIM card from the airport so when the airport bus (60 baht) dropped me at the art deco Democracy Monument at the end of Dinso Road, I was able to use Google maps to find the right one.

It’s a lovely building, made of golden teak, the traditional building material, and beautifully restored. There’s a nice terrace at the front with water features.

Lovely artworks decorate the interior.

There are nine spotless rooms, all with a fan, TV, fridge and shared bathroom facilities, which started at around £45 a night in 2017.

My favourite thing was the breakfasts which were beautifully presented. You get a choice of different ones. I think this was the Continental.

And this was the Asian breakfast.

So, a good base for seeing the old town. The Giant Swing is at the other end of Dinso Road.

I’ve written a few other posts about Phra Nakhon and broken them down as follows:

Walking Around Phra Nakhon the Old Town
The Wonders of Wat Pho
Mid-Range Eating and Drinking in Phra Nakhon

Other posts about Bangkok are:

Boat Noodles in Ratchathewi
Staying in Thonglor
Hipster Eating and Drinking in Thonglor
Japanese Food in Thonglor
Two High End Restaurants
A Couple of Museums

Off for a long walk next!

Sheffield – Romanian food in Attercliffe

Posted in Attercliffe, England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire with tags on April 10, 2019 by gannet39

To start with I should tell you that two of us were given a free meal in return for this review but these are still my real and honest opinions.

The dining scene in Sheffield is coming on in leaps and bounds at the moment, not just in terms of the quantity and quality of new places to eat, but also in the number of different kinds of cuisines on offer. In the last few months I’ve eaten excellent Korean, Ethiopian and Portuguese food, all of which were quite hard to find in our city just a short while ago. And now we can add Romanian cuisine to the list of exciting new arrivals…

The Sfinx (Intermediate A), 539 Attercliffe Road, Sheffield S9 3RA, +44 114 244 3123,

Tucked away in deepest darkest Attercliffe, this hidden gem is virtually unknown to most people outside of the local Romanian community. It’s on the main strip, opposite La Chambre, but you can easily park round the back on Kimberley Street.

The Sfinx is owned and run by Adrian and his wife Camelia, both of whom are from Transylvania, the central region of Romania. The restaurant takes its name from a famous rock formation in a national park in the nearby Bucegi Mountains that bears a resemblance to the famous Egyptian Sfinx.

The dishes on their menu are taken from all over Romania but Adrian and Camelia give them their own personal touches. In turn Romanian food has been greatly influenced by a number of neighbouring cuisines but has interpreted each of them its own way. From the north-west, influences have come from Germany, Austria and Hungary, and to the north-east, from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, while to the south you have Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. While Romanians share many common foods with these countries they have also developed their own distinctive cuisine.

Although I’ve never been to Romania, I have been to Moldova which was once a part of its larger neighbour so I have some knowledge of its food and wine as they are very similar (my Moldova posts are here).

On arrival I slaked my thirst with a bottle of Ciucaş Export (4.6%). It’s a slightly sweet beer, with hints of roasted malt and flavoured hops, made with spring water from the Ciucaş Mountains between Transylvania and Bucharest. It was a little too sweet for me but it’s still a nice beer.

We began with the delicious Sfinx Sharing Platter. Starting clockwise from top left this included Salată Muraturi, a traditional pickled salad with green tomatoes, gherkins, sweet pepper, carrots and cabbage. You either love pickles or you don’t, personally I’m a big fan. Continuing to the right; Ouă Umplute (devilled eggs filled with chicken liver pate, served with lambs lettuce), some black olives, ‘winter salad’ (roasted aubergines and peppers, onions, mushrooms and beans), Salată de Vinete (roasted aubergines blended with chopped onions and mayonnaise, served with sliced tomatoes and Pâine, fresh bread). Finally, bottom left are some Sarmale; cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground pork, bacon and pickled cabbage, and some cubes of fried cornbread served with sour cream and chilli pepper.

Sarmale are my most favourite Romanian dish. They are probably a take on Greek stuffed vine leaves but personally I prefer the Romanian version. At the Sfinx they can be served as a starter (two rolls) or as a main (four rolls). I strongly advise you to get at least two per person.

I added on the bowl of Ciorbă de Burtă as an extra starter. Adrian was a bit surprised that I finished it so quickly, given that it’s a soup made with cow stomach parts. It’s true that it’s not a dish most Brits would usually go for but personally I adore tripe when it’s cooked as well as it is here. The soup is a deep and flavourful stock with small strips of tripe settling at the bottom. I agree with Adrian’s observation that the tripe has a very similar texture to squid. The soup is served with separate pots of garlic and chilli sauces on the side both of which I emptied into the bowl. I can totally understand why it’s one of the most popular dishes with Romanian customers.

Moving on to the mains, we got to try a selection of meat stews. We really enjoyed the Gulaş Unguresc, which is of course the Hungarian national dish but is also very traditional in Romania. Also good was the Tachitura Românescă, a Romanian stew which is a mixture of chopped pork, chicken breast, Romanian sausages, mushooms and tomato sauce, served with a topping of polenta, fried egg and Brinza cheese.

Our favourite though was the Ficătei de Pui Prăjiti in Ceapă; chicken livers fried with sliced onions. This went well with the Cartofi Piure Cremosi; creamy mashed potatoes.

After the Sarmale, my second favourite dish was the Ceafă de Porc la Grătar, a chargrilled pork collar steak, (the juiciest cut according to Adrian) which had spent some time in the Sfinx’s secret marinade. It’s pretty much unmissable I’d say.

Also nice were the Mici la Grătarl they came with; minced meat rolls reminiscent of koftas, made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices and served with a dipping sauce of Romanian mustard and mayonnaise.

At this point I feel I need to say that although our selections were very meat heavy, there are two or three vegetarian options for both starters and mains on the menu. Romania has a surprising number of vegan and vegetarian dishes due to their long tradition of fasting for Lent. The Sfinx menu features many dishes with beans, wild mushrooms and other kinds of veg and for dessert there are vegan pancakes with jam.

Happily Romania also has a long wine making tradition and we really enjoyed all the ones we tasted. Adrian started us off with a glass of Fetească Neagră, a Merlot blend de Ceptura, demise DOC Dealu Mare, Crama Ceptura. Jokingly Adrian said that he had inherited a love of this table wine from his father, much as you would a football team!

After this we moved up a notch to a really nice Moldovan wine; Rara Neagră, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bostavan

The best though was a Reserve Sec by Budureasca called ‘Origini’ from the DOC Dealu Mare, which was a blend of Shiraz (50%), Cabernet Sauvigno (34%) and Merlot (16%)

To finish we had the classic dessert of Papanasi, also known as papanash, which are sweet doughnuts made with cream. At the Sfinx they are served with yet more whipped cream and drizzled with a loose, homemade, wild berry jam. They weren’t as sweet as I expected them to be (a good thing) and in fact one mouthful tasted slightly savoury to me, but that changed when I slathered a bit more cream and jam on it. A perfect ending to a great meal.

In Moldova I would have finished with one of their excellent brandies but I didn’t want to take the mickey as I wasn’t paying! They have a likely looking bottle on the shelf though.

So for me the Sfinx is a great new addition to the Sheffield dining scene. I have no hesitation in recommending the food there to anyone, carnivore or vegan, adventurous or not, and there are also plenty of new experiences for wine lovers. And if one of your party isn’t in the mood for trying something new, they do pizza as well. What’s not to like?

Sheffield – a few of my favourite things

Posted in England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Yorkshire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by gannet39

I’m often asked why I don’t write reviews of restaurants in my home town Sheffield. The reason is that I know a lot of people who work in the local food industry personally and I don’t want to upset them, so by way of compromise, in this post I’m just going to accentuate the positive and list some of the things that I really, really like.

You’ll find all these places and many others on my Google map.

Full English Breakfast at The Hidden Gem, Bents Green, Ringinglow Rd, Sheffield S11 7TB, +44 114 262 0094,

The Hidden Gem Full English comes with Moss Valley sausages, bacon chop, fried egg, black pudding, charred tomato, mushroom and their own baked beans, served with freshly-baked, toasted bread. All the ingredients they use are top notch but it’s the homemade black pud with that seam of confit belly pork running through the middle of it that wins it for me. This helps them beat off strong breakfast competition from Ceres and Jonty’s down at Hunter’s Bar.

Pancakes and Maple Syrup at Four Corners Canteen, 150 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FH, +44 114 250 0768

Slathered with butter with a bottle of syrup on the side, these pancakes come as the second less healthy part of the Big Sur breakfast, another strong contender for my favourite breakfast in Sheffield. I do my very best to avoid them but have to succumb every now and then!

Hot Roast Pork Sandwich from Béres, 151 Pinstone St, Sheffield S1 2HL,

Not many people know that one of Sheffield’s most famous ‘delicacies’, the hot roast pork sandwich with all the trimmings (crackling, apple sauce, stuffing), was first introduced to the city by Mr. Béres, a Hungarian immigrant butcher fleeing the Russian invasion of his country in the 50s. Thank goodness he came here is all I can say. Many other places do a good one, Roney’s on Sharrowvale for instance, but you can only get your bun dipped in gravy at Béres. Or you can treat yourself and ask for a double dip.

Toasted Sandwiches at Braggazi’s, 224-226 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FL, +44 114 258 1483

All the focaccia and sourdough sandwiches are killer here. You can have them cold but they’re best toasted. I loved this one with Fennel Salami, Emmental, Basil Pesto and Vine Tomatoes. I’m quite partial to their coffee as well. And their Sicilian lemons.

Chicken Flatbread at Shoot the Bull Rotisserie & Grill in Kommune, Castle House, Angel St, Sheffield S3 8LS,

Maple-brined chicken with a waldorf salad made with lemon mayonnaise on a soft flatbread. Fresh, healthy and very tasty.

Sarmale at Sfinx, 539 Attercliffe Rd, Sheffield S9 3RA, +44 114 244 3123,

Sarmale are cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned pork mince and vegetables, a Romanian take on Greek Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves). For me they are the tastiest dish in a great cuisine, and the Sfinx is the only place I know of where you can get them in Sheffield.

Fried Chicken at Yoki Social Table in Kommune, Castle House, Angel St, Sheffield S3 8LS,

I adore Korean food and this outfit are the only authentic purveyors in the city. Their fried chicken is dangerously moreish. Stay away.

Cod & Chips at Brenda’s, 2 Earl Way, Sheffield S1 4QA, +44 114 249 3035

For me this is the best chippy that I know of within striking distance of where I live. You can get a small cod and chips and a can of Vimto for a fiver. They’re only open at lunch times, never in the evening. Another fantastic shop is Hicks Street Fish & Chips where I had an amazing beer-battered cod with some excellent chips. I also like the Admiral and the Abbey Friar but I don’t have a car to get to them, so Brenda’s it usually is.

The Special at Kurdistan Charcoal Grill, 97-99 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LE

For a mere £12.50 you get five different kebabs, rice, salad, four sauces, naan and a bowl of lentil soup. Not only cheap but delicious as well, especially the soup and the lamb doused with their yogurt. So what if they got a zero rating from the environmental health inspectors. I’ve eaten there a dozen times and never had any problems. It’s a takeaway but they have a few tables and your food experience will be better if you eat in. Be warned they close at 9.

Aubergine Dips at Narooz, 140 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT, +44 114 255 5522

I come here when I’m desperate for an easy kebab and the Kurdistan Grill is shut. Narooz’s kebabs are quite average but I love their aubergine dips Kashkeh Bademjan (aubergine with yogurt) and Mirzaghasemmi (aubergine with eggs and garlic) as starters.

Mixed Seafood Lunch at J.H. Mann, 261 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZE, +44 114 268 2225

A slightly pricey fishmongers but oh god, they do the best seafood lunches. You’ll be hard pushed to eat fresher seafood in Sheffield which is usually a nono for me.

Beef Noodle Soup at Noodlesta, 192-194 Brook Hill, Sheffield S3 7HE,

The ‘Braised Beef Pull Noodle’, aka beef noodle soup made with hand-pulled noodles, at Noodlesta is as authentic as any I’ve ever eaten on my trips to China. Hordes of Chinese students seem to agree.

Hot Pot at Golden Taste, 279 London Rd, Sheffield S2 4NF,

Definitely the best hotpot in town. You check off what you’d like on the tick box menu (maybe skip the meat) then cook it yourself in one of the two different stocks in the hotpot. The helpful staff are always happy to explain some of the more unusual items like the seaweed (order it).

Vinegared Cabbage at China Red,

I know, it doesn’t sound great but don’t knock it till you try it. My favourite out of many excellent dishes served at this completely authentic Sichuan restaurant. Other great dishes are the Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Doufu, and for the more daring, an offal dish called Husband & Wife, or alternatively their delectable thinly sliced pig’s ear. Expect big flavours and lots of dried chillis, chilli oil and Sichuan peppers to scorch and numb you.

Thali at Hungry Buddha, Unit 2, Food Court, 77 The Moor, Sheffield S1 4PF,

Choose between the curries of the day, or have them all as I do. Nepalese Chicken Curry, Goat Curry, Yellow Gram & Cabbage, Aubergine & Potato, Rice, Dal, Homemade Chutneys and a Roti for a mere fiver. Lunch time only, get there early or they may run out.

Lamb Curries at Mangla, 149 Spital Hill, Sheffield S4 7LF,

When it’s on form, which isn’t all the time, the Mangla does the best value curries in the city. The lamb on the bone, and anything else made with lamb, is considered very scoffable by me. They don’t sell beer but you can bring some in from the offy a few doors down.

The Pulled Pork Burrito at Street Food Chef, 98 Pinstone St, Sheffield S1 2HQ,

Too plain to photograph but oh so good, especially with extra avocado, sourcream and a cold beer. A must whenever I’m passing.

Pork pies from Waterall Brothers, 26/27 Moor Market, Sheffield S1 4PF,

Now that Kempka’s has closed to the public, this is the best pork pie in Sheffield that I know of.

Halloumi from Porter Brook Deli, 354 Sharrow Vale Rd, Sheffield S11 8QP,

This is the best halloumi I’ve ever eaten, although for legal reasons it has to be called Yorkshire Squeaky Cheese (it’s made in Huddersfield). Sublime when grilled, perhaps with some psb. The deli also sells a fantastic Colston Bassett Stilton, which for me the is best example of Britain’s greatest cheese.

The donuts from Forge Bakehouse, 302 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FL,

A variety of flavours are on offer from traditional jam to vanilla cream and they’re all good (no pic sorry). Make sure you get them early, I’ve seen a group of Chinese students come in and buy the entire stock of twenty plus donuts in one go!

Ice Cream from Ikea, Sheffield Rd, Sheffield S9 2YL,

Not an obvioius one I know but super soft ice cream, or Soft-Is as it’s known in Scandinavia, is very nostalgic for me as it was a special treat for me as a child when I visited my family in Norway during the summer holidays. Ideally it should be dusted with chocolate powder but this inferior Swedish version comes a good second. Have a hotdog first (another must) and finish off with this.

There’s more to be added but that’s it for now!

What are your favourite foods in Sheffield? 🙂

Jaen – Santa Catalina – restaurants on the hill

Posted in Andalusia, Jaen, Jaen Province, Santa Catalina, Spain with tags , on April 6, 2019 by gannet39

Santa Catalina is the name of the castle and the hill upon which Jaen sits. I’ve written a separate post about walking to the top, this one is about a couple of old school places to eat when you finally get up there.

This first place is about halfway up…

Horno de Salvador (High Intermediate B+), Subida al Castillo,

I decided to go a little out of town for Sunday lunch during my 2017 visit and this seemed the best option. You need a taxi to get here (€6 or so, more going back if you call it), as it’s on the steep hill road going up to the castle. The restaurant is quite posh but the waiters are friendly and the food is good.

To start I had the Pate de Perdiz, partidge pate, which is very typical of the area. It was very good (B+), but there was too much and it could have fed three or four, although I polished the lot off because I was starving. The price (€15) should have been a warning but I was just eager to try it.

As the word ‘horno’ suggests, Salavador speicalises in roast meats so I had the Cochinillo Tostón al Horno; two slabs of roast suckling pig with chips, which was just what I wanted (€20, B+).

To drink, a bottle of Marques de Campoameno, an old friend and generally regarded as the best local wine (also €20, B+).

To finish, a dessert of super sweet Tocino de Cielo (B-)…

…a glass of PX (B)…

…and a Terry Reserva brandy (B).

With bread, water and coffee the bill came to a tasty €83. It was a great food experience but a rather greedy one!

This next post is about the restaurant in the government owned hotel next to the castle at the top of the hill…

Parador de Jaén (High Intermediate B-), Castillo de Santa Catalina,

On my final day in 2013 I decided I just had to get to the top of Santa Catalina hill (see previous post), and if I couldn’t do it on foot, I’d do it by car, so I booked a table at the parador’s restaurant and took a taxi each way. For some reason it was a cheaper fare going there than getting back!

When you go inside, after first walking past the hotel reception and along a corridor, you get to ‘the lounge’, a huge square room with soaring vaulted ceilings, high chimneys on facing walls.


And on another wall, a bank of windows with wooden Moorish shutters.


The décor in here consists of long swords hanging on the walls, alongside portraits of Christian saints. One shows a knight with a halo riding a horse and smiting the heads of some turban-wearing men with his sword.


Not very PC but this is the actual history of this place. A Moorish castle once occupied the hill but it was put under siege several times by the Christians who eventually captured it and built this newer fortification in its place.

Passing through this room you come to the restaurant which has been designed to look like a Medieval banqueting hall; very long with a low ceiling and several arches.


It’s decorated in sturdy Medieval style with clunky wooden light fittings and a huge tapestry showing a battle scene on the end wall.


Unfortunately the food at these paradors is often not very good so I wasn’t counting on a gourmet meal. The Gazpacho Andaluz, with two halves of quail egg and a swirl of excellent olive oil, was pretty good (B+), but that’s quite hard to get wrong if you have quality ingredients.


However the grilled leg of goat came with the kind of mixed veg (diced carrots, beans and peas) that you get from a bag in the freezer, and the solitary potato looked processed as well. A swirl of reduced vinegar failed to make it posh (C).

The saving grace was the award-winning local red, Marques de Campomeno 2011 (B+), a Tempranillo/Cab Sauv, which is now my favourite local tipple whenever I’m in Jaen.


To finish a local dessert, Dulce de Gachas con Matalauva y Aciete de Oliva Extra Virgen, which translates as a sweet set porridge, topped with aniseed and extra virgin olive oil. The main ingredients of most Gachas recipes seem to be milk, flour, sugar and whatever flavourings are to hand; a sweet born out of poverty if ever there was one. Despite its simplicity it was quite nice (B) and the waiter loved me for ordering it!


Generally the front of house staff here were very pleasant but they took a long time to attend to me, although to be fair they do have a lot of ground to cover.

After eating I decamped to the lounge with a glass of the local sweet anis, appropriately named Castello de Jaen, which seemed the only fitting way to end the evening.


So a  mediocre and slightly pricey food experience but the interior of the parador and the views of the town at night were worth it.

Please see my other posts on Jaen for other places to eat.

Jaen – delis and things to buy

Posted in Andalusia, Casco Antiguo, Jaen, Jaen Province, La Victoria, San Ildefonso, Spain with tags , on April 5, 2019 by gannet39

As Jaen has such a good rep for quality ingredients, a visit to the local deli for treats to take home is a must for me. The most famous one in town is Casa Paco.

They have two locations, both of which are top notch and very well stocked with local goodies. The first one is at 12 Paseo de la Estacion.

And the second at 7 Plaza de los Jardinillos (opposite the main post office).


They are both on my map which is here.

I always pick up a few tins of my favourite Ortiz tuna from here.

And always a couple of local prize-winning olive oils. The Paseo de la Estacion branch has a display of the best eight local oils on a special shelf.

Must remember to get some saltcod next time. The term Bacalao Inglés refers to a good quality curing technique which gives the cod a golden colour and harder texture, rather than any appellation of origin.

I’d loved to have taken a big batch of their olives home too but one of the kind ladies said that the plastic tubs would explode in my baggage at an altitude!

Casa Paco are also known for their crisps which they bag on the premises

The toasted almonds are a good buy as well.

If you can’t face climbing the the steep slope to Casa Paco to buy your olive oil then Carniceria Almaden at 7 Calle Manuel Caballero Venzalá is just two blocks from the Hotel Infanta Cristina and also has a good selection of local produce.


Happy shopping!

Jaen – museums and galleries

Posted in Andalusia, Casco Antiguo, Jaen, Jaen Province, Spain with tags , , , on April 4, 2019 by gannet39

These are my experiences of a couple of museums in Jaen. I would also have liked to have seen the Museo Internacional de Art Íbero but it was closed for renovations when I was last in town.

This first museum was my favourite…

Centro Cultural Palacio de Villadompardo, Plaza Santa Luisa de Marillac,

This is by far the most interesting museum in Jaen because you get to see the eleventh century Arabic baths, the Baños Árabes, in the cellar which are apparently the biggest and best preserved in Europe.

Entrance to the museum is free but you’re not allowed to take pictures, except of the baths.

The museum is located in a lovely old fifteenth century palace. It was built over the Banos Arabes which were only rediscovered in 1913.

The other museum displays aren’t that exciting, unless you like looking at old workman’s tools, ceramics and children’s toys.

There was also a temporary photography exhibition when I was there. This picture showing the realities of the Almadraba, the ancient but modernised method for catching blue-fin tuna, caught my eye.

I also liked this picture showing the traditional process of making pork products.

The palace also houses the International Museum of Naïve Art. The museum (three rooms) is also named after Manuel Moral, a local artist famous for his depictions of the countryside in Jaen province.

On Wikipedia, naïve art is defined as “visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes (in anatomy, art history, technique, perspective, ways of seeing)”. The Wikipedia post also adds that “When this aesthetic is emulated by a trained artist, the result is sometimes called primitivism, pseudo-naïve artor faux naïve art”.

Much of what was on display was a bit too childlike for my taste but there are some really beautiful pieces, particularly those by Moral.

I was told sternly to stop taking photos after this (it was okay at the other place below) but there were many more nice paintings.

I can also recommend the view of the town and the castle from the terrace outside the museum café on the top floor of the building. Video here.

Museo de Jaen, 29 Paseo de la Estacion,

Entry is free to this combined museum and art gallery and you are allowed to take pictures without a flash.

It’s housed in another old palace towards the bottom of the hill, so quite easy to get to from the Hotel Cristina Infanta.

Here are a few quirky pieces in the archaeological sections that took my fancy.

My favourite piece was this Iron Age fibula (brooch) depicting a man on horseback hunting wild animals.

Upstairs there is an art gallery.

A line drawing by Picasso was the highlight for me.

There were a few other paintings and sculptures that caught my eye. Click to enlarge.

So not the most exciting choice of museums but okay for killing time if you need something to do. There are some interesting developments happening though. Just two blocks away from the Hotel Infanta Cristina, between the ends of Calle Miguel Castillejo and Avenida de Madrid, is an overgrown plot of land that is boarded off from the new builds around it. Archaeologists have found the remains of a settlement with some unusual circular buildings dating back to 3000BC but excavations haven’t started yet.

If I had a car I’d really like to go to the olive oil museum, Museo Terra Oleum, which gets great reviews from people who have been. Not sure how much it would be in a taxi or if there is a bus going there.

Time for a spot of shopping now…

Jaen – wandering around the Casco Antiguo

Posted in Andalusia, Casco Antiguo, Jaen, Jaen Province, Spain with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2019 by gannet39

If you have a day or two to explore Jaen you have a number of options. The more exercise minded might want to make an assault on the castle for which I’ve written a separate post. A less strenuous alternative is to wander around the old town but you’ll still have to walk up half the hill to get there. With the latter option you could take in one or two museums along the way, also in a separate post. Here’s the rest…

Jaen is very famous for its Renaissance cathedral Like most other cathedrals in the south of Spain, the Catedral de Jaén was built on the site of the ancient mosque.

Personally I find it quite ugly except for some of the frescoes on the façade on Plaza de Santa María, the cathedral square, which have some interesting details. You can click on the following images to see them in more detail.

The streets to the south of the square plunge sharply giving you fleeting views of the tree covered hills in in the distance.


Heading north west from the square you could take in the Arco de San Lorenzo on Calle Almendros Aguilar. The arch is all that remains of the old San Lorenzo church. The Gothic-Mudejar interior can be viewed on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, at 11.00 and 13.00, as part of a free guided tour which you can book at the Tourist Office at Calle Maestra (minimum five people).

Further north is Barrio de Santa Cruz, the location of La Judería which was the medieval Jewish ghetto The main streets are Callejón del Gato, Calle del Rostro, Calle Santa Cruz and Calle de los Huérfanos.

There’s not a lot to see in terms of physical sights but wandering around the narrow streets quite atmospheric, especially when you imagine its time as a walled ghetto. The ghetto was a means of protecting Jewish customs and also as a defence against possible attack from enemies.

At the end of Calle de los Huérfanos is a small square called Plaza de los Huérfanos which was the location of one of the two gates into the ghetto, the Puerta Baeza. There are various plaques and installations here that commemorate the presence of the Jewish community in Jaen for over twelve centuries.

On the edge of La Judería is the Fuente De Los Caños, a public fountain dating from 1569.

From here head a little further north to Palacio de Villardompardo where you can see the Baños Arabes www.bañ in the cellar (see my separate post on museums).

In terms of more recent architecture, there are a few nice buildings around…

The first building on Calle Maestra, the main street leading off the cathedral square, is this quirky little place on the corner. It was renovated in 2015 so I’m looking forward to having a nosey inside.


Another nice house I’ve seen backs onto Plaza del Pósito and has its front door on Calle Bernabé Soriano.

This nice building is at 18 Calle Bernabé Soriano.

This post is a work in progress so I’ll be adding to it on my next trip. Museums next!

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