BANGKOK, Oct 29 — When in Thailand, I could snack on som tum (raw papaya salad) every day. Or eat chewy, eggy pad Thai noodles full of smoky wok hei aromas. Or drown my non-existent sorrows in endless cups of cha yen (Thai milk tea).
But given how much of a fan tong (literally “rice bucket” in Cantonese; someone who’s good for nothing but “storing” — i.e. eating — lots of rice) I am, my favourite Thai foods are all meant to go with bowls of hot, steamed rice.
There’s nothing simpler than a quick lunch of pad krapao moo or stir-fried minced pork with chillies and Thai basil served on rice.
The ever-present Lee Café, a local casual restaurant chain, makes an excellent rendition in a claypot. Eaten with their mara pad khai (stir-fried bitter gourd with egg), it’s everything I could ask for in a meal: meat, egg, some greens, lots of spice and, of course, plenty of rice.
But sometimes one gets bored of eating alone. Some meals are meant to be shared. Nothing feels sadder than a meal where everyone is tucking into their own eggs Benedict after taking copious pictures for Instagram and checking their social feed while chomping down. A soulless, joyless meal. Only the belly gets fed and little more.
Rice, then, becomes an excuse to draw friends and family together. “Let’s have rice,” we say, “and maybe share some dishes to help finish all those grains of rice.” With this mission in mind, I will nonchalantly suggest we go to Kub Kao’ Kub Pla at The Emquartier since it’s right in front of the Phrom Phong BTS station. Easy for everyone to get to. Everyone agrees and my devious plan is set in motion.
Founded by dessert queen Atchara Burarak (of the iBerry café empire famous for cakes and sorbets), Kub Kao’ Kub Pla means “dishes to eat with rice” in Thai.
Here at her sleekly-designed yet cosy restaurant, savoury Thai comfort food reigns rather than waffles and ice cream. Pestles and mortars, tiffin carriers and enamel mugs are discreetly found in various corners, a nod to the family kitchen origin of most of the recipes.
Indeed, a meal at Kub Kao’ Kub Pla could well be a family reunion of sorts even if the guests at your tables are bound by friendship rather than blood ties. And family reunions entail an opportunity to feast, to celebrate, with abandon.
Let us begin with an unusual appetiser, a deep-fried som tum instead of the usual raw variety. Crunchy and addictive when enjoyed with the spicy dip — full of dried prawns and peanuts — this is better than any greasy fast food onion rings.
Next comes a parade of dishes, each more enticing than the one before (perhaps only because we are gluttonous, as we ought to be): kang cha-om khai (acacia leaf omelette, cowslip creeper and prawn in sour soup) that is truly lip-smacking thanks to just the right amount of acidity, fragrant fuk-tong pad khai (stir-fried pumpkin with salted egg and crab meat) and moo kratiem (garlic fried pork) that rivals any fried fare from a street stall due to the meat being marinated before it met any sizzling oil.
Everyone’s favourite has to be the khao kha moo (pig knuckle stew), reminiscent of a good bak kut teh without the strong herbal notes. The gaeng kiew wan gai (green curry with chicken) arrives with the lovely orbs of makhuea or Thai eggplant that is crunchier than our Malaysian variety, adding plenty of texture to the curry.
Some dishes are very familiar, especially for those of us who frequent daichows in Malaysia where everything is similarly meant to be eaten with rice. Kub Kao’ Kub Pla’s version of salted egg squid is drier but equally aromatic; their pad namprik sa-taw goong sod is far spicier than our local petai prawns (though their stink beans aren’t any, well, stinkier).
To soothe the fieriness, some iced nam dok anchan (blue pea flower tea) will help.
The only odd one out is the khanom jeen nam ya, which is a Southern Thai dish of yellow coconut curry with crab meat, served with vermicelli on the side. This, arguably, could be eaten on its own without any rice.
That’s the theory, at least... but could you resist soaking up every last drop of the mouthwatering curry with more rice?
I know I couldn’t, and that’s how I keep my fan tong credentials for another day...
B Floor, The Esplanade, 99 Ratchadaphisek Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily 10am-8pm
Kub Kao’ Kub Pla
6th Floor, The Helix, The Emquartier, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily 10am-10pm