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2006
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Chotechitr, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 3, 2005 ó Walter and Mary-Alice had been to Thailand a couple of weeks before I arrived. They made only one restaurant recommendation for all of Bangkok. I figured I better get there first. It was a bit of a challenge as the language barrier seemed to ensure that the cabbie would have no idea where the place was even though I had the front desk at my hotel write down the address for him. Apparently knowing the restaurant is located on Phraeng Phuton doesnít help much if you have no idea where Phraeng Phuton is. At the last minute I found that one of my maps actually had the street on it and directed the cabbie to drop me off nearby Chotechitr.

You need to understand that to me, upon arrival, Bangkok was like a ripe fruit, bursting with possibilities, and I was worried that in my haste I would let too much of the juice drip onto the floor. (OK, thatís kind of yucky imagery but you get the gist.) If I wanted a small restaurant, not frequented by tourists, off the beaten path, and family-owned, this was the place. Needless to say I was pretty proud of my accomplishment at even getting there when I was asked a question by the owner and chef Mrs. Krachoichuli Kimangsawat that I couldnít answer: ďwhat would you like to eat?Ē It hadnít occurred to me what I might want for lunch, so I decided to put my fate in her hands. This was a good idea.

While I waited for my food I ordered a Coke. I was pretty clear on not drinking tap water (or putting ice made from tap water in any of my drinks) and while I thought of asking to see if they had Pellegrino, I decided to settle for a Coke. It always tastes better from a glass bottle anyway.

Soup was first. Tom Yum Goong specifically. This is a soup I love and adore and have had many times. I still remember the first time I ever tried it when the wall of sour and spicy hit me like a heart attack. It really blew me away. This was at once a more confident and down to earth soup than almost any other instance of Tom Yum Goong Iíd ever tried. It was hearty, thick, and rich. There were fragrant bits but it was also sweet (but not overly so). The flavors were very balanced but not shy either. There were also enormous prawns in the soup. The shells were mostly gone, but the heads were there in their full glory. I admit I was a wuss about the heads, but I ate the bodies hungrily. The soup was very good.

Next up was Mee Grob. Think of it as a nest of fried noodles with sauce and (in this case little shrimps) dotting the noodle landscape. The dish was certainly deep fried but there was zero grease. The noodles themselves were crunchy but never too hard. And the flavor of the sauce was sweet but not cloying. It almost had an orange juice flavor. Mrs. Kimangsawat assured me it was lemon juice. Excellent.

Finally I had the Banana Flower with Shrimp and Chicken. I really had no idea what the hell a banana flower was so she was happy to show me. I apologize if I misunderstood, but I believe she showed me an example that was young and not quite at the point where it was ready to be included in my dish. I was right to trust them. While the first two dishes had similar flavor profiles, this dish was different. It had more of an emphasis on the savory tones tones than the other two dishes. It was also creamy with a super light acidity (maybe from citrus?). And most enjoyable there was a build up of pepper on your palate way at the end of the finish of the flavor. The effect was that by the end the dish had a nice kick to it. Excellent with the fragrant and perfectly cooked rice that was sent my way.

Iím not sure I could have asked for a better first meal in Bangkok. And while I typically donít mention cost as it varies and peopleís perspectives on cheap and expensive can be vastly different, this meal cost $5.25. It would almost be amusing if the food weren't so good.

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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