Decided to post this when I realized that reading it was actually making my mouth water…
SURROUNDED by groups of civil servants greedily slurping bowls of soup at Chote Chitr, a tiny, family-run restaurant in the older part of Bangkok, our table soon overflows like a Thai Thanksgiving. The yam makhua, a salad of grilled long eggplants topped with tiny dried shrimps, combines the tang of fresh shallots with expert charring. Prepared by the hand of a skilled griller, the vegetables retain a smoky crunch on the outside, but a first bite pierces the crackling char and reveals a juicy eggplant so sweet it resembles a ripe peach, full of lime juice and fish sauce that has soaked into the flesh.
Next comes Chote Chitr’s gaeng som, a soup flavored with tamarind and palm sugar, packed with chunks of coarsely chopped cauliflower and large, meaty shrimp, their fat melting into the hot broth. Native to southern Thailand, where cooks use the abundant local seafood, gaeng som has a dense mouth feel, because the chef has added finely ground fish flesh into the stock, thickening it like roux.
Chote Chitr, which has been around some 90 years, prides itself on cooking recipes developed by ancient Thai royal courts, and its wall menu lists hundreds of dishes. These often rely on traditional ingredients tough to find today, and Chote Chitr’s cooks say little about how they uncover them. Dodging longtime customers and a small dog in the tiny dining room — just five simple rectangular tables packed together and open to the street — the chef brings out a plate of mee krob, crunchy stir-fried vermicelli flavored with a caramelized sauce of palm sugar, ginger, lemongrass and som saa. A fragrant, tart variety of orange now almost extinct in Bangkok, the som saa balances the sticky sweetness in the dish, which in the hands of a lesser chef can taste like strands of rock candy.