Eating in Nakhon Si Thammarat, morning.
Nakhon Si Thammarat is one of the oldest towns in Southern Thailand according to wikipedia, unfortunately most streets belie this fact. It is also the place where Buddhism started in Thailand, but sightseeing isn’t on the agenda, I’m here to eat. To eat Chinese, Malay and Thai food, and thanks to ancient immigration, maybe a hint of the subcontinent. This place has a real small town feel, as though not too many tourists pass through here. And if you are a tourist, good luck, the staring can get uncomfortable, transportation is problematic (the town is devoid of taxis and public transport is limited), but the food, oh the food! It makes everything worthwhile. And for the first time ever in Thailand, I have a local guide, the partner of a good friend, who is the real reason I’m here. Double luck, they both love to eat.
First stop from the airport, an outdoor dimsum joint. We take a tray and load it with raw delicacies, there’s the common siu mai and har gao, but other offerings are novel, like broccoli and mushrooms planted in a ball of minced pork, or lurid green noodles enveloping the same pork mince. The tray is handed behind the scenes to be steamed. Slippery dough wrapped around a tumble of bamboo shoots was the winner. A bowl of thin rice soup, eggy and peppered, and glasses of hot, condensed-milk-sweet thai tea round out my first breakfast in Thailand, good tidings for things to come.
This coffee shop is housed in a beautiful old Portuguese-style building, high ceilings with fans whirring, huge doors opened to bring the outside in. It’s quiet and relaxing, a calm place, respite after the sudden shock of heat, traffic and spice one feels when arriving in Thailand. We sit at a big, round table on a covered balcony, watching the occasional car clunk by. We’re here to drink strong, sweet iced coffees that quickly make condensation puddles in the heat and thimblefuls of green tea. There’s a cool breeze, the coffee is good, I could have stayed here all day.
A second round of juk, this time at the bustling, vibrant morning market. Thick and enriched with a half cooked egg, liver and pork meatballs, this rice soup is satisfying, the additions of fresh julienned ginger and pepper invigorate. A paragon of breakfast dishes. Guay-jap is the opposite. This soy-dark soup is sweet and strong and full of insides, blood and tendons, difficult ingredients to wake up to. The warm broth only just coats this cornucopia. Jellied blood, fried tofu, intestines, liver, chickens feet and wing, boiled egg and other miscellany take on a new aspect as they’re coated with the deep, sweet, spicy sauce. Underneath are noodles that start out flat, but the shock of being cooked causes them to tense into tight spirals, magnificently dense. A dish totally unsuited to a by-the-books breakfast, but so enjoyable that I ate it twice.
This food, as much I’ve experienced in Southeast Asia, is somehow made better by the surroundings. Early morning in a busy market, sweat starting despite a cool breeze, the promise of new sights, smells and experiences, and of course, lunch.