Friday, February 15, 2013

A market visit with the chef of The Siam, and a delicious Thai dinner in an antique house by the Chao Praya in Bangkok.


In Bangkok last week, living a never-endingly eventful Travelife, my single foray into civilization out of my lovely hotel was to visit a neighborhood market and see what kind of local produce was on offer.

I was staying for the weekend at The Siam, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World,  supposedly the best hotel in Bangkok at the moment, and so I was understandably reluctant to leave this oasis of tranquility for anywhere else.


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HOLIDAYS START WITH BREAKFAST

It started out over a pretty heavy breakfast, where I practially ordered everything on the menu because I was on a proper holiday for once.

When I'm not on holiday, I never eat breakfast. But when I'm on vacation, I'll have two or three courses for breakfast, including eggs benedict and the works.

First course for breakfast at Le Quartier Francais
in Franschhoek, South Africa

In South Africa last November, for instance, I think I ordered eggs benedict 14 days in a row -- as a second course.

GOING LOCAL

For this weekend in Bangkok, though, I decided to go local for breakfast at The Siam, and I wasn't sorry at all for my choice.

The fish soup with noodles was excellent.



BREAKFAST BY THE RIVER

So I had a leisurely breakfast by the river and a cup of herbal tea, while doing mundane stuff on my computer like ordering flowers online as thank you gifts for dinner invitations, for friends in Manila, and updating our blog.



The Travel Companion had a busy morning ahead of him as he'd decided to combine work and some R&R.

So while he was doing some wheeling and dealing with a couple of hotshot Bangkok bankers over an early lunch at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, I was left to my own devices that morning.


THE MOST LUXURIOUS COOKING LESSONS
IN BANGKOK

I'd signed up for a private Thai cooking lesson with Blair Mathieson, executive chef of The Siam.

We were to have this lesson right by the river, under the eaves of one of the antique Thai wooden houses right on the property, that had been transported lock, stock, barrel from Ayutthaya.



So while I was having tea, Blair came over to discuss how the lesson should go and what I wanted to learn how to cook.

COOKING ALL OVER THE WORLD.
JUST ON PURE INSPIRATION

I don't cook on a daily basis, but I do like cooking and hosting dinners all over the world.

I entertain whenever I can in Manila and in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur or Mount Fuji. And I've cooked dinners for as many as 30 people in London and New York, 18 in Paris, and 8 in Tuscany and Deauville.

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As my friends will tell you, most of the time, I don't even cook with a recipe book. Just on pure inspiration.

I think if you like food a lot, and you eat pretty good meals often enough, you'll instinctively know what to do, with a few tweaks.

So cooking skills and knowing how to whip up a great Thai green curry in a flash, the authentic way, will always come in handy somehow.

A VISIT TO THE LOCAL MARKET



The first thing Blair said to me was: "Would you like to come along to the local market with me?"

The private cooking lesson of The Siam actually includes an early morning visit to the market.

But as we'd dilly-dallied over breakfast and taken our sweet time with everything -- we were on holiday, after all -- it was closer to lunch by the time Blair and I had had a chance to meet up. By then, I'd assumed I'd missed the market trip.

That's Blair, executive chef of The Siam, at the market in Bangkok

A MEAN VONGOLE PASTA

But nothing is impossible in a Travelife, of course, and I was up for anything and everything.



And, luckily, Blair had an excuse to go to the market again anyway, since a couple of hotel guests apparently wanted him to make them spaghetti with clams for dinner -- I heard his version is to-die-for -- and so he was really planning to go back to the market anyway.

I forgot to ask if the cat was for sale too...


So in ten minutes, we were off to the market, which is a wet and dry market near The Siam.

As far as Thai markets go, this was pretty upmarket and so the produce is all of a very good quality.



EVERYTHING IS PICTURE-PERFECT

What surprised me most was the fact that everything was so beautifully arranged, as if they knew a photographer was coming.

Look at these chillies!


I had a great time walking around with Blair, gasping over all the varieties of chilis and curry condiments.



Of course. Thailand takes its curries seriously.

But it's so different seeing the raw ingredients in a market stall, and having a curry in a restaurant all done up.

These cost a small fortune back in Manila...


TO PASTA OR NOT TO PASTA.
WAS THE QUESTION.

Blair got his clams as well.

For dinner, I was so sorely tempted to ask him to do his famous vongole pasta.

But as we were in Bangkok only for two nights, we definitely wanted to do local. The travel companion was still out when we got back to the hotel, so I made the executive decision of asking Blair to just make us all his Thai specialties for dinner.



Blair is from New Zealand so you can be forgiven for wondering if he can actually make good Thai food.

He made us a salad with soft shell crab, a crab curry, different vegetables dishes, and a medley of desserts.

Some of these probably got into our dinner that night...


ALMOST LIKE JIM THOMPSON'S HOUSE

We ate this in the antique villa which made me feel like we were having dinner in Jim Thompson's house -- which is one of my favorite houses in the world. I was enjoying it so much that I actually forgot to take photos.

It was one of the best Thai meals I've had in a long time, living a never-ending and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




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