Fishy business at Paknam Market

ตลาดปากน้ำที่สมุทรปราการ | Paknam Market, Samut PrakanIn our quest to acquire good-quality dried squid for Mae, we decided to check out Paknam Market (ตลาดปากน้ำ) in Samut Prakan, just a 30-minute drive from our place and where the Chao Phraya River meets the Gulf of Thailand. Although we arrived quite late (around 10am) and activities were already winding down, hordes of workers were still hard at work at the unloading area; some workers were selecting and picking fish into baskets as fast as the catch was transferred to land, while a couple others were mending fishing nets.

We then popped over to the fresh market and I became more excited with each step I took. Outside, cars, pick-ups, taxis and the occasional tuk-tuk thronged the narrow one-way street, while inside the entire market was abuzz with sellers and buyers, and trucks and trolleys piled high with styrofoam boxes constantly barreled down the wet corridors (note: non-slip shoes are a must here). Much bigger than the usual fresh markets in Bangkok, the vast market was filled with an extraordinary array of fresh produce and seafood. Sellers were all smiles and quick to sing praises of their produce whenever we stopped to peruse the items on sale or take photos with our mobile phones.

Among the warrens of stores, there were fist-sized promfret lookalikes, which a vendor insisted make yummy dishes when deep-fried; crystalline crayfish lined up in neat rows; gleaming fish roes, a stall that sells only squid and octopuses, and even stingrays made an appearance here. I also learned more specific names of the various seafood types on display—whisker squid anyone? Furthermore, prices were clearly displayed and cheaper than the fresh markets I usually frequent, so I foresee we will be making more trips to Paknam Market to stock up our fridge in future. Meanwhile, I’m already dreaming of seafood grilling sessions in the great outdoors!

ตลาดปากน้ำที่สมุทรปราการ | Paknam Market, Samut Prakan

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The flavours of time

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Nothing marks the passage of time better than an aged teapot. I was halfway through an enjoyable dim sum meal on Hong Kong’s Temple Street when the middle-aged stall owner stepped out and placed a worn-out tea flask to brew, on an equally worn-out gas burner, right by the roadside in a crowded Kowloon. I wasn’t the slightest perturbed by the shabby appearance of the flask, in fact after observing the owner strain the steaming brown liquid with deft actions, it dawned on me that the tannin coating accumulated on the vessel over time must have imparted extra seasoning to the cup of tea I was sipping. And, like a vintage teapot, I hope my culinary journey in 2014 will be one infused with strong flavours and immense appreciation.

Just stir in the oats

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The best thing about travelling, in my opinion, is the culinary inspiration that can spring forth anytime during a trip. I got the idea of whipping up my own yoghurt with muesli after indulging in German-style breakfasts at Berlin cafes, so I lugged a one-kilogram muesli pack over thousands of miles back to Bangkok. Now I love to enjoy this hearty combination as a mid-morning snack, which acts as a tummy filler when I need to meet deadlines.

Have food will travel

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A recent work trip brought me to Berlin, where I stayed on for another four days to recharge my batteries after work had concluded. It was a refreshing change from Asia, the German orderliness a sharp contrast with frenetic Bangkok, and also presented a good opportunity for me to sample German food at its source.

Since I didn’t have much time to do research for my Berlin trip, I decided I’d just enjoy the spontaneity. Besides obligatory trips to icons like Brandenburg Gate, Berliner Dom and Checkpoint Charlie, a lot of my leisure time there was spent cupping a warm brew or slicing wurst. It was partly the weather’s fault. With temperatures hovering around zero, the cold got to me after every hour of walking. My companions, first my colleague and then my good friend who’s studying there, were more than agreeable to the jaunts in cafes too.

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Cafes and restaurants in Berlin were surprisingly affordable, perhaps still a significant level above Bangkok’s prices but certainly equal or even less than Singapore’s. I was delighted to find that a cup of coffee was often priced at 2-3 euros (80-120 baht), similar to what higher-end cafes in Bangkok are asking for too, but of a much better quality. Furthermore, a lot of these cafes were individually owned, where the proprietor could often be seen bustling in the background and each place’s quirky character really shone through.

And I love popping into the supermarkets in Berlin to marvel at the dazzling array of cheese, sausages and alcohol on offer. Beer and wine are almost too cheap to be true—I even snapped a photo of a 35-cent beer to prove to Mr. P that I wasn’t lying when I said that alcohol was cheap. If we live in Germany, I thought, we will surely become alcoholics. Guess we Asian folks are missing out on the finer pleasures of drinking!

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On my last day, I went on a grocery shopping rampage in Potsdam (where my friend was staying), popping into bakery to bag freshly baked bread, hopping into a boutique to browse locally produced cheese and wrapping it up at the supermarket to pick up as many sausages, goat’s cheese, olive, chocolates and tea bags that could fit into my luggage.

I think travelling is to make one more aware of other cultures and ways of life, and for me the culinary aspects of a place often speak the loudest. The numerous cafe trips in Berlin have given me inspiration to recreate some dishes and drinks on my own back in the sultry Bangkok and certainly left me hungering for more food experiences overseas. Till the next trip then!

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Vietnamese coffee

Before visiting Vietnam, I’d read lots of raving accounts about Vietnamese coffee. Earlier this May, when Mr. P and I visited Saigon together with my folks, I of course made it a point to try the local coffee. We arrived to a scorching sun, and during our first outing to the Ben Thanh market, we stopped by a little roadside stall for drinks to quench our thirst. Perched on a stool beside a low table, I had my virgin taste of ca phe da, or iced Vietnamese black coffee. It was strong and flavourful, so unlike the watery versions often encountered in Bangkok and Singapore. Now I know why so many people sing praises of Vietnamese coffee. And for the subsequent three days in the city, I’d always order a cup of Vietnamese coffee for breakfast.

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