Whenever I travel internationally I try to seek out the restaurants where the locals eat, because that’s the only way to ensure you’re going to get an authentic experience from cuisine to culture. Restaurants and bars along popular shopping streets or within view of museums and monuments, although appealing and convenient, are generally more expensive, less appreciative of your business, and the food is often mediocre. Sure they might speak English and the restaurant’s full capacity may seem like a good sign, but the point of your trip is to step out of your world and into the world of another nationality. When in Rome…right?
On my family trip to Thailand we were fortunate enough to have a personal connection with Jack our private Bangkok tour guide (whose information I’ll provide at the end of this post). My stepmother used to work with Jack and his wife Lek when she brought groups of tourists to Thailand for Globus.
So after a day of sightseeing, we got picked up by Jack’s friend Loy (since they interchange their L’s and R’s here, we’re not sure if his name is actually Roy) and brought to Jack and Lek’s home for a feast of traditional Thai cuisine.
I was surprised at the spread Jack put together in the few hours between the last time we saw him that afternoon and when we were removing our shoes on his door step. Yep, in their home, Jack actually does most of the cooking, and he’s fantastic!
As we drank some Chang and Singha beers we picked at some dried mango pieces (the real stuff, and not the overly sweet crap we buy at Costco in the States), banana chips, and toasted cashews.
For the first course, Jack outdid himself and served homemade Tom Yom Kung soup in fresh coconuts. This coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, and galanga root soup was served with straw mushrooms and shrimp. The best part about serving the soup this way is scraping the fresh coconut flesh off the walls as you go.
We had mussels and giant Tiger prawns for the second course. Jack cleaned the shrimps by deveining them via a cut he made down their backs. Then they were grilled with their heads and shells on. The cut he made from cleaning them also made them easy to peel and dip in this awesome Thai lime and chili sauce (recipe to follow in a future post).
The same sauce was used for the giant boiled mussels. Some were orange on the inside and some were white, which I’ve since learned is the difference between the sexes. The males are white and the females orange….they taste the same. They were served slightly warm and perfect in the fresh citrus dipping sauce.
Then we had Massaman curry with beef and potatoes. This is a traditional Thai red curry dish made with a specific combination of Indian spices (cardamon, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves, black peppercorns, etc). Tamarind paste (or juice) plays a big role in Massaman curry by adding a subtle tangy-sweetness to play off the heat from the chilies, and they added some peanuts to the mix for a little crunch. This was served with some plain white rice. So F-ing good!
Remembering how much my stepmother Fern used to love Thailand’s fresh vegetable dishes, Jack made us Pat Bung Fai Daeng. In the US we call it morning glory. This dish is considered a peasant dish in Thailand, but it’s delicious and we were happy to have it served with loads of garlic, oyster sauce, and fish sauce.
Just when we thought the meal was over, Jack surprised us with one final savory dish: fried tilapia fish filets with a citrus, cilantro cabbage coleslaw.
“This is way too much Jack,” we said, astonished at all the work he was doing running back and forth from the kitchen to the outside patio dining table on the deck where we dined with Lek and their daughter Titi.
“You’ll know when there’s no more food coming when the chef sits down to eat,” Lek said. I felt bad enjoying such a wonderful meal while one of the hosts continued to serve us tasty dish after tasty dish.
“And you’ll know when there’s no more beer when Jack falls down,” Lek said laughing and we followed suit.
For dessert (and by this time we were completely full), they served up some grilled pineapple.
Finally Jack sat down and joined us in drinking more beers and wine. By the end of the night, we’d enjoyed fantastic Thai food and Jack, Lek and Titi’s company. We rolled ourselves into our van and Loy drove us back to the Lebua hotel.
If you’re traveling to Thailand (or any part of Asia for that matter) and need a well-connected guide for your small or large group, you should reach out to Jack and his wife Lek. Both of them have been in the travel business for over twenty years, their English is impeccable, and they have all the connections you need from restaurant owners to bus drivers, jewelry dealers, furniture makers, etc. They work with small groups (like my family) and large corporate groups of several hundred too.
Email us via our Contact Us page and we can put you in touch with them if you’re interested in learning more about what services they offer. You wont be sorry.