SPICEGASM.COM My travel tales and food hunting

March 20, 2012

I finally know what COM really means

Filed under: Bars & Resto,Food,Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 10:08 am

Everywhere I walk, the word COM is everywhere in Saigon. I see it on the food stalls and restaurants. Just outside of my hotel, there’s a non air conditioned restaurant bearing a big signboard with the word “COM” on it.  I am smart enough to know that it’s not Internet related though. I decided to eat lunch there as my “FOODAR” told me that this restaurant will be all right. I was eager to find out the meaning of COM once and for all too. For those of you who are wondering what FOODAR means, is just a word I made up. It stands for “Good Food Radar”. Is not an I-Phone aps but is something I developed over the years hunting down the best eating joint.

The Com Tam restaurant located near my hotel

I sat down, the friendly waitress came and gave me the menu. The menu has pictures and it’s in Vietnamese and English language. Sweet! I browsed the menu for a bit and I see the word “COM TAM” a lot. You have the choice of COM TAM with chicken, beef or pork BBQ. I noticed on the menu it has the translation for the word “COM TAM”. It is being described as Broken Rice. Sounds interesting! So I ordered Com Tam with chicken BBQ Vietnamese style.

A few customers enjoying their Com Tam. I love how Vietnam has all this low stools and tables. Just seem more relaxing and not so formal like normal size dining chairs and tables.

This is where your meat is being grilled.

While waiting for my food to arrive, I went to get some pictures of the restaurant and glancing quickly at other customers orders. I love to see what they eat. After I am satisfied with my pictures taking, I went back to my seat and ordered a soup dish, saw someone having having the some what yummy looking soup. From my quick glance, I am guessing the soup would be beef tendon with tomatoes and pickled cabbage soup. Am really excited to see how the rice is being prepared. How often you get to eat broken rice? I then start to guess how the rice will look like, the texture and so on. I was pretty convinced that my rice would come in the form of paste or rice cakes.

Just look at the lovely grilled chicken. After the meal, I read on wikipedia that the rice are broken during the process of cleaning. These broken rice are then separated from the good ones and sold at a lower price. Initially Com Tam is food meant for poor people but some how it became favorite food of many people in Vietnam.

When my Com Tam finally arrived, the rice look like normal rice to me. Nothing broken or beaten about it. Only when I start taking picture of my plate of Com Tam with chicken BBQ, I realized that every single grain of my rice is broken. This seems pretty odd as long grain rice fetch higher price as it always taste better. Along with my Com Tam, there’s a small bowl of dipping sauce that doesn’t look like the normal soya sauce or fish sauce that I am accustomed to. The color of the sauce looked like lemon juice but when I tasted it, it is no where near the taste of lemon juice. I just added finely chopped fresh chili into the sauce.

Tasty beef tendon with tomatoes and picked cabbage soup. Perfect pairing as Com Tam does not have much gravy.

I liked the taste of the chicken BBQ, which has a sweet taste to it. It goes really well with the sauce that I just added chili into it. Everybody will like this food at the first try. It is for sure comfort food for the Vietnamese I am guessing. The steamed broken rice was all right too. To my surprise, it didn’t lack the same texture as the expensive long grain rice like Basmathi or Jasmine. The soup came in a small bowl and tasted really good too. It has a little bit of beef tendon, the portion of the pickled cabbage was just right.

I always take pictures of menu so I can remember the name of the food I’ve eaten. Not really meant to post it in my blog but I guess this particular picture is clear enough for you to check out the prices.

Feeling satisfied after the meal, I asked the waitress what Com means? She told me Com means rice and Tam means broken. I am happy with the information as suddenly all the images of food stalls and restaurant bearing the word Com rushed to my mind. I know now that those stalls are definitely serving dishes that is rice based. I can now avoid looking like an idiot going to the Com food stall and confidently ordering “One Pho Please!”

January 2, 2012

Cheap seafood by street vendors in Thailand

Filed under: Food,Thailand,Travel — Alex @ 5:35 am

I think by now for those of you who has been reading my blog, you guys would definitely noticed that I am a big fan of Thailand street food. Besides being so affordable, the taste of the food is just simply amazing. Whenever we go out on a drinking session in some cheap beer joints, time after time we get the element of surprises. What do I mean by element of surprises? Well, whenever we go to drink in these cheap beer joints, we have no idea what our food will be. Normally these beer joints do not provide food but instead we get vendors on motorcycle or by foot hawking their goodies. It ranges from noodles, fried foods, Thai spicy salads and even seafood.

I really do love this experience, I am like a kid going to the candy store but in this case, the “candy store” comes to me. All you need to do is just sit down, chit-chat and drink, continuous stream of vendors with different type of food will just come to you. My personal favorite has to be seafood. Is normally steamed different types of shells like mussels and cockles. The river prawns are awesome too. The seafood sauce which is spicy and tangy really enhanced the taste of the seafood.

Here are some pictures of one of my drinking session with some of my friends.

Cheap Thai whiskey and Chang beer

Can’t remember what this vendor is selling but he is cool enough to let me take his picture with him doing the thumbs up

A Thai noodle vendor on her motorbike having a brisk business

Beef, chicken and pork jerky. Salty and tasty, perfect match for beer

Seafood vendor with his push cart offering various type of steamed seafood

Big headed river prawns, the head is super tasty and some people believe it serves as aphrodisiac. I not sure bout that but it surely will give you the spicegasm feeling!

Flower crab with some sort of water snails

Lots of cockles! One of the funkiest tasting seafood but loved by many Thai and Asian foodies

Baked mussels with the special Thai seafood sauce. So addictive just like pop corn, you can never stop. If only the cinema allow this item to be sold in Thailand, I bet it will beat the sales of pop corn.

Flower crab which has not much meat in it but is not about the meat, is about having something to munch and not to get full. Is kinda like eating pumpkin seeds.

There you have it, pictures of cheap seafood in Thailand. An activity where you can do it over and over without feeling bored. Most importantly, it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket when you go with a few friends.

December 31, 2011

Unexpected experience in Thailand’s Chinatown

Filed under: Food,Thailand,Travel — Alex @ 12:49 pm

I was browsing the net for some cool places to go eat in Bangkok. I stumbled upon a site which offers a food tour in Chinatown. In order to join the tour, one got to book half a day in advance. I have to admit that I suck when it comes to doing things that is scheduled. I am more of the spur of the moment guy. So I did not book the tour and went to sleep.

I woke up the next day at 7am and I really felt like going to Chinatown and get the taste of Chinese Thai Dim Sum. The thing with Chinese food in the region of South East Asia, every country has its own special twist to it. It is normally a fusion mixed between Chinese cooking and the local style. So I thought would be a cool idea to go sample some Chinese Thai style Dim Sum. My friend Zach is still sleeping and I thought would be a good idea to invite him as well.

Busy street with many roadside vendors in Chinatown, Bangkok

Wen Zach woke up, I told him about my idea. He said yes and we should do it. So we were thinking whether to take the MRT or taxi. Since Chinatown does not have an MRT station nearby, we decided to take the taxi. How bad could the traffic be at 9.45am in the morning. We stopped a cab and the driver was more than happy to bring us there. That’s when our ordeal began!

I have no idea why the traffic was so bad on that day. It took us 2 hours to reach Chinatown from Ratchada. I bet without any traffic, it would probably take us less than 20 minutes to be in Chinatown. We had to go pee so badly while in the cab. By the time we reached Chinatown, our man pipes feels like is going to explode. I gave the taxi driver extra 100 baht on top of the meter charges and frantically trying to look for a restaurant. To my surprise, I didn’t see one single restaurant near the area where we were dropped off. It was all shops selling various merchandises. There’s a lot of street food though, mostly selling “Wan Ton Noodles”.

Street food in Chinatown, Bangkok

We walked frantically for another ten minutes looking for restaurants with toilets. My mind is no longer thinking of Dim Sum. I no longer feel hungry. Finally out of desperation, we thicken our face and asked a Thai lady vendor in our halting Thai – “Where’s the nearest toilet. She gave us some directions in Thai. We quickly thanked her and walked as fast as we could. “Thong Pai, Liaw Sai , Liew Sai, which means go straight, turn left and left again.”

We were so happy to have found a run down restaurant which has a working toilet. Is not 5 star quality but under the circumstances, this is more than welcome. I went first and asked Zach to sit down like we are customers. I have no idea why at this old age, I still feel embarrassed to use the restaurant toilets only and not eat there. Zach is no better than me when it comes to having a thick face. I guess no Dim Sum for us, whatever the shop sells, we will consume it.

This is the front of the beef noodle shop

When I got out of the toilet, I only realized that the run down shop is selling beef noodles. This is the kind of shop that I love. Run down shops in Asia always serve the best food, most of the time based on my personal experience. Judging from the crowd, the shop must be really popular. The waitress came to us and asked us what we want. We couldn’t understand a word and upon sensing that, she told us in Thai what they have. We could only understood the word noodles and beef. I just nod my head and put up a peace sign, indicating TWO please. I have no idea what we are going to get but at times is fun to eat something different in situation like this.

Customers waiting for their beef noodles

Beef balls that is really crunchy and bouncy – awesome!

My second round – beef tripe, tendon and more beef balls

Gelatinous goodness – beef tendon

She brought us two bowls of rice and another two bowls of soup with beef meat and beef balls. The serving is pretty small and after finishing my bowl of soup and rice, I wasn’t satisfied. I knew beef noodle shops would definitely have the cow innards like stomach, tendon and tripe. I went to the area where they prepare the dishes and just pointed to all the innards that I wanted, together with their awesome beef balls.

Can’t understand Thai, but it seems like this is a recognition poster by a TV station for serving excellent food.

After the meal, we walked a bit in Chinatown and as usual, like most other Chinatown in the world, is pretty busy. Rows of shops selling clothes, toys, hardware and many other products. The afternoon heat was pretty intense on that day. After snapping a few pictures, we decided to hop on a tuk tuk and go to the nearest MRT station. The ride was just less than 10 minutes and the MRT ride home was less than 20 minutes.

Rolex anyone?

Toy vendor

Rows of shops most likely own by Chinese Thais

This is the main reason I want Dinemates to be successful. I wouldn’t have to tell my friends in the future that it took me 2 hours to go to Chinatown to pee and eat beef noodles only.

December 24, 2011

Mum Aroi Thai restaurant near 3rd Road, Pattaya

Filed under: Bars & Resto,Food,Thailand,Travel — Alex @ 2:07 am

Had the pleasure of being invited by a friend who is from France that is based in Thailand for many years to go eat in a fancy Thai restaurant. The name of the restaurant is Mum Aroi and is situated near to 3rd Road in Pattaya. Even though I am a big fan of street food but sometimes dining in a chic restaurant is very much welcome too.

I invited another American friend to come along. He came to my La Cerise, the guest house which I am staying and we asked for direction on how to go to Mum Aroi restaurant. The front desk staff then told us that transportation is provided for free to the guests of La Cerise. I thought the gesture was super cool and on top of that, the transportation was a bad ass looking tuk tuk!

It was just a 7-10 minutes ride and upon reaching the restaurant my host is already waiting together with an ex staff of his who is a Thai. His Thai ex staff brought along her mom as well. I really love it when there’s a party of 5 or more  when it comes to dining in restaurants like these. On top of that, there are locals in the group and this means we will definitely get to sample more varieties of dishes.

The restaurant looks really classy and has the Zen like feel to it. Spicy and delicious food served in a calm atmosphere is good for a change compared to the loud and noisy atmosphere of street food.

The parking lot of the restaurant is pretty huge. Easy to find a parking slot.

The ambiance of the restaurant is really cool. Dim lighted with some lights on trees and sound of the pool with a mini water fall.

Dining at Mum Aroi restaurant feels like eating in a really nice garden. Felt very relax and made me feel at ease and ready to swine and dine.

The restaurant has a pool which added a touch of class to this chic Thai restaurant. With the sound of flowing water it made me kinda thirsty and it just confirmed my beverage of choice for the night – BEER!

First dish was a spicy seafood salad. The shiny round balls are not pearls but some kind of fish egg. I have to admit this is my first time seeing fish egg this big. It has no distinctive but I guess is added to the salad for texture. I don’t know how to describe the texture exactly but is definitely not chewy  like those taro balls that you find in the pearl tea. I will leave it to Andrew Zimmern to make those descriptions. If he can describes how is it like eating dried camel testicles, this fish egg would be a piece of cake for him.

Baked mussels with Thai herbs. Really good appetizer when dip with the Thai seafood sauce. Sourish and spicy makes you want to eat more.

Khao Moo Yang, barbeque pork’s neck. Very famous Thai dish from Isaan. I can remember this dish’s name in Thai as I simply have to remember the words “young cow that moo”. I used to get confused during my first trip to Thailand between pork and beef. Pork is known as “Moo” and I always get mixed it up with beef as cow moos. Beef in Thai is known as “Neua”.

Dried chili stir fried with chicken and cashew nuts. Most likely a Chinese influenced dish but ordered for the courtesy of the American friend.

Can’t remember the name of this Thai soup dish. Made of coconut with spices, lemongrass and sea food. Didn’t want to order Tom Yum as we been ordering the King of Soup since the first day I was introduced to Thai food. Just wanted to try something new for a change. I have to admit that I still prefers Tom Yum but is good to experience new dishes once in a while.

BBQ river prawns! Just fresh big head river prawns grilled on charcoal. It has a special spicy dip to go with it to make eating these prawns more heavenly. Super fresh and the flesh of the prawns bounced right back to your gums. I love the head also which is full of yucky looking gooey goodness. The elderly Thai lady that was with our group would only eat the heads. This comes as a perfect trade between my American friend and her.

Nam Prik with crab eggs. I ordered this as I’ve never tasted Nam Prik with crab eggs. I was disappointed though as it is just regular Nam Prik with some crab eggs in it. It cost 120 Baht which I think is pretty pricey. All the other dishes were pretty standard and I think the bill came up to 2000 plus ( with 5 bottles of large Heinekken beer ). I did not know the exact price as my host fights to pay the bill.

Overall, the dining experience was pretty good because of the ambiance and atmosphere of Mum Aroi Thai restaurant. As for the food, I think is pretty good but definitely there are places that are better and less fancier. Everybody has their preferences and I am sure some people would regard Mum Aroi as their number one Thai restaurant. I would definitely go dine there again once in a while if given the choice.

December 21, 2011

Many types of Nam Prik in the new Central Mall, Ratchada

Filed under: Food,Thailand,Travel — Alex @ 3:41 pm

Central Mall Ratchada opened to the public on the 14th of December. I went to check it out on the next day. First stop was the food court and the first thing that caught my eyes is one stalls that offers Nam Prik set meals. Nam Prik is similar to the Singapore or Malaysia version of sambal belacan. My mouth literally watered when I see Nam Prik and I decided to get this set meal for lunch.

The set meal comes with plain white rice, a piece of fried fish, three kinds of vegetables of your choice (fried, boiled or raw  ) and egg omelet. Fried fish and omelet comes as default and I selected raw cucumber, boiled okra ( ladyfingers ) and fried egg-plant. I added a fried dried fish.The stall offers six different types of Nam Prik and I only know the name of one. I chose Nam Prik Kapi. It cost me around 65 Baht.

My Caucasian friend Zach ordered the same set meal too. He is being featured in my blog a lot as I am trying my best to convert him into a real Asian foodie. Still got to get him to enjoy eating innards and the big prawn heads. So far I am pretty happy with his progress as he really loves Nam Prik Kapi. His love for Nam Prik is real and sincere as I’ve seen him whacking it few days in a row. I do know some other Caucasian friends who declared their undying love for Asian food but whenever we go to food court, they would still order hamburgers.

I actually wanted to eat with my hand but there’s no sink available in the food court. I voiced my disappointment to Zach and he gave me a look that would be translated as “Ewwww…with your hands!” I then told him that to enjoy Nam Prik Kapi 100%, you need to eat with hands. By using fork and spoon, is just probably 80% satisfaction. The statement made him gave me another look like I am retarded for coming out with that reasoning. At that point my mind was working extra hard to find a perfect example to strengthen my reasoning. I then asked him if he ever eaten steak with plastic fork and knife. I then got a look from him that I was felt very pleased with. Case close and i started to eat my Nam Prik Kapi with a smugly face.


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