I’m not a fan of fish. Of either variety. Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, on the other hand loves fish. Unfortunately, he likes both kinds. But that’s cool. I prefer to ignore his fondness for the two legged variety, opting to go with the burying my head in the sand approach. And that usually works. Ignoring his fondness for seafood is not as successful of a venture.
Noom knows I’m not a big fan of seafood. When he suggests a restaurant he takes my eating habits into consideration and seldom leads me to a place serving fish only. At any other restaurant he chooses he can satisfy his love of seafood and I can always find something I’m willing to call diner. He’s not quite a picky as I am about what he’ll eat; if it comes on a plate that’s good enough for him. And if it came on my plate, that’s even better.
When we order separate meals I seldom eat off of his plate. Whatever he ordered is usually not something I want in my mouth. His love and concern for me, on the other hand, is so immense that he routinely eats half the food from my plate so that I don’t become a fat farang. On occasion though he’ll order something so delicious that he wants me to try it. And that something is always fish. Which I always refuse. I’ve never said my boy wasn’t a sharp cookie. But I believe I have mentioned that when it comes to food he’s a greedy little pig.
Noom has figured out that I’m not too particular about where or what we eat during the day. Dinner is a different matter. My dining rules for dinner are still not that difficult: there must be at least two feet between your table and the street, the place has to have chairs – ubiquitous plastic stools do not count – and of course, a fish only menu is verboten. But Noom usually tries to go a step further He tries to please both my taste buds and my appreciation for ambiance. It is not a skill he has mastered. But then it’s not his fault that he cannot make sense of the strange farang mind.
For a while he routinely chose a fake Parisian restaurant in Patpong that served some of the worst steaks known to man. Thais don’t really get beef. At least not large chunks of it. Fortunately that place has gone out of business. Then he switched to an Italian restaurant in Patpong that masqueraded as a girly host bar. Or maybe it was the other way around. Owned by a local who’d never been to Italy, the ‘Italian’ menu consisted of pizza. And to a Thai, it just ain’t pizza if it doesn’t include pineapple. Noom loved the place. And he loved that he’d found a restaurant that he assumed I’d like. I’d start eyeballing the closest McDonald’s after dining there.
But even that place is a better choice than a seafood restaurant. Occasionally though, Noom can’t help himself. The smell of fish is just too tempting. One night we ate at the seafood place at the front (and alongside) of the soi that leads back to the Rose Hotel. Just because I don’t like fish doesn’t mean I can’t tell good seafood from bad. I’ve lived in too many seaside locales where half of the best restaurants in town offered seafood-only menus. While Bangkok qualifies as such, that particular eatery will never make anyone’s ‘best’ list. Or so I thought.
A recent poster on one of the gay Thailand forums mentioned he’d dined there and how good it was. He then went on to describe his visit to Soi Twilight, which wasn’t as successful, it being filled, in his opinion, with far too many women. Huh. All that told me was the he hasn’t a clue about fish in any of its forms.
On one visit Noom was excited about a place he’d heard of and was dying for me to take him to. Getting my consent without me having a clue about what he had planned, we stopped by his old bar so he could get the location and name from one of the Captains. Surprisingly for a Thai, much less two working together, they even managed to call the place and make a reservation. And not surprising for Thailand, on hearing a local on the phone the restaurant offered a deal no farang would ever hear of. The place was a bit off the beaten path, some 30-45 minutes away by taxi. Our instructions were to catch a cab and on arrival the restaurant would pay the fare. Sweet.
Our driver didn’t mind the long trip and seemed to know exactly where we wanted to go. I began to doubt his familiarity with the area when we started driving down cramped little sois lit by nothing more than the moon. The further we went the darker and more dilapidated the surrounding neighborhood became. Houses lined the soi like a mouth full of rotting teeth busily holding each other up. And then the gods chimed in on the fun, unleashing booms of thunder following hard on the flashes of lightening that transformed the squalor into a harshly lit Tim Burton fantasy. The evening was not going well.
Our taxi plodded on ducking pot holes that had become swimming pools as the storm passed, having decided, much like bar boys do, that the only difference between short-time and long-time is the amount of effort exerted. The downpour decided to become a drizzle, causing the taxi’s wiper blades to beat like a metronome keeping time for an adagio, before settling its efforts on doing nothing more than ramping up the humidity to sauna level. Edging around a corner we pulled into what was either a parking lot or wading pool, whose still surface glimmered with the reflection of hundreds of Christmas trees lights twinkling out a welcome to the Baan Klang Nam Restaurant.
Noom and our driver began an earnest discussion over the fare, quickly joined in by the restaurant’s doorman with all three sets of eyes casting furtive looks at the rich farang who was standing patiently, waiting for the outcome that undoubtedly would involve his wallet, while sweating like a dyslexic on countdown thanks to ambient temperature mimicking that of hell’s. An agreement reached, or at least Noom and my wallet’s participation no longer required, and we were left to navigate the flooded path leading to the restaurant.
The inky black expanse gathered at the far side of the open-air restaurant tipped me off that we would be dining riverside. The large tanks of fish coupled with Noom’s exuberant mood during our drive tipped me off that it was a seafood restaurant. I just couldn’t make out what the screeching caged monkey at the entrance was tipping me off to. But I’ve travelled enough in SE Asia to have learned there are some things you’re better off not contemplating, my boy was wearing that silly smile he plasters on his face when he’s particularly pleased with himself, and having raped the restaurant over the taxi fare the only choice was to enter.
The Baan Klang Nam is an atmospheric restaurant sitting on the banks of the Chao Phraya River offering a relaxed and friendly eating environment for touri and locals alike. It’s the kind of place that lower-middle class Thais choose to celebrate important family dates and that tourist who get their dining tips from a guidebook flock to. The cozy dining rooms are in a pretty teak house, a larger less formal room takes up what would have been the veranda, and the overflow is spread out on what is supposed to pass for a barge.
It is a beautiful setting at night, provided you don’t look to closely at what exactly makes up the flotsam bumping up against the moorings; rather than trying to be pretentious they’ve gone with a casual informality that seems to work. Undoubtedly, the place is usually packed. With a major storm having just moved through our reservation was unnecessary and we had our choice of tables. I smiled at the hostess who was struggling to remember what her duties were. “Two,” I said helping her with the count. “Smoking please.”
“Sorry, smoking finit.”
I’ve grown used to the Thai use of that English word. It’s a catchall for we’re out, we’re closed, they’re all gone – and now evidently a handy world to replace no, a word Thais hate to use. I’ve grown used to restaurants and bars not allowing smoking too. But this is Bangkok. Even if the government has decided to pretend that they care whether you kill yourself or not in their effort to look like they are part of the developed world, in Thailand rules are made to be ignored. And I was eyeballing a deserted barge with seating for hundreds, well removed from the handful of diners huddled together on the veranda. Noom caught my drift, translated it into Thai, and the hostess made the right call. We had the barge, the restaurant’s new smoking area to ourselves.
That was a win-win in my book. Along with every conceivable type of seafood known to man, as well as lesser beasts, the restaurant served entertainment along with dinner. A local band fronted by a diminutive songstress belting out traditional Thai songs. Thais are big on love songs. They sound like cats in heat when singing them. They are also big on songs from the more rural areas of the nation, songs that Noom calls ‘country’. In the past, when Noom starts singing along, I’ve asked him what those songs are about. Not so much out of curiosity, but more as a means of getting him to stop his singing. Evidently food is the second most popular song subject because his short reply is usually, “Dat about rice.”
Our entertainment for the evening decided to combine the two, sounding like a cat in heat caught in a Cuisinart. And the local crowd was loving it. Between songs, her screeching patter sounded not that different from her singing but she had the fans cracking up at her, what I’m sure were corny, jokes. As amused as the audience, she too laughed often. Not in the high pitched giggle you’d expect from such a tiny creature but in a low rumbling laugh like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up. I began to suspect there was more boy than lady beneath her gown and began to appreciate her efforts more than being bothered by her intrusion on our dinner.
Meanwhile the waitress appeared with a bit of payback for the farang who’d snagged a for locals only free taxi ride and had then had the audacity to demand a place to smoke. The menu was in Thai. All fifty pages of it. Fortunately literacy is not one of the country’s favorite pastimes and most dishes included a descriptive picture. I started to hunt for something that wasn’t smiling back at me while Noom began to curse the gods for not giving him enough fingers to keep place of all of the dishes he wanted to order. Part of the menu, however, gave him pause.
“What dat mean?”
I laughed. “Market price means they are going to get the cost of the taxi back.”
He didn’t understand my explanation or my joke. I tried again. “It means they don’t want to tell you how much unless you ask,” I told him. “Maybe this time 1,000 baht. Maybe for Thai only 300 baht.”
Noom let out a derisive snort. Not at the tiered pricing. That he understands, accepts, and thinks is only right. But on a Thai menu? He was insulted. And flipped to the next page. I was busy flipping pages too. Looking for anything that looked like meat. Carefully studying the food photos that looked like they had potential, I narrowed it down to a few and then rather than take a chance asked Noom to translate the accompanying Thai.
“Dat pig ear.”
“Dat, how you say . . .” and he made a loud honking noise that let me know geese sound the same the world over.
What looked like slightly rare medallions of beef in a brown sauce brought him up short. He clapped his hand together loudly to bring the waitress running. She translated for him. “Dat ot-sterd- edge”
The caged monkey out front started making sense. I translated her English into English just to make sure. “Ostrich?”
Well, it had to be better than the fish with three eyes, though ostriches are not native to Thailand and the gods only knows why out of all the possible imported foods the chef had to choose from he decided ostrich would best round out his menu. It came somewhere in the middle of dishes presented to our table though well before the spring rolls we’d ordered as appetizers, looking not too different than it had on the menu. I’m not sure that ostrich is supposed to be served quite as rare as it was. The pepper sauce it was swimming in was good. The ostrich itself was extremely rich. The ‘I can’t possibly swallow this’ kind of rich. Next time I’ll go with the three-eyed fish. Or check to see what the market price for monkey is.
But my boy was in hog heaven and our table, meant to sit six, was piled high with all of the different types of fish he’d ordered. Needless to say, he tried some of my ot-sterd-edge too. I’m not a big fan of veggies either, though that is more about a childhood of being forced to eat them than it is a dislike for the flavor, so I was able to eat my fill by picking out the least identifiable ones from those Noom had decided he needed to try. Halfway through my foraging, dessert was served – with more entrees to appear later – and I guarded my plate of mango sticky rice from Noom’s wandering fork with the gusto Oprah displays over the last slice of chocolate cake.
Noom raved about the food, and I have to admit for a seafood restaurant it really wasn’t too bad. I also have to admit the bill was capable of causing a bit of indigestion on its own. Sated and smoking we waited for the waitress to reappear while Noom pointed at empty plates signifying which had met with his approval and which, though licked clean, he had found wanting. We both ignored the barely touched platter of ostrich.
Allowing Noom to lead me blindly to wherever he chooses to dine is probably not a good idea. While doing so helps control my weight, it can be an extinction-level event for my wallet. I’d be more restrictive about allowing Noom to pick the restaurant we’ll be dining at to avoid further close encounters with denizens of the deep and large flightless birds, but I’ve noticed he shares a characteristic with many Thai bar boys. Food, at least the type of food they enjoy, seems to be an aphrodisiac. As it was the night we dined at Baan Klang Nam. Back at our hotel, he was more than affectionate. And I taught him how ostriches burying their heads . . . well, there was no sand in the room but we made do.
Related Posts You Might Enjoy: