Last month I got sloppy with some chilli crab in Singapore after being told it was the signature dish. I thought it was OK and felt I’d had better crab in Bangkok. So today I set out to confirm that assumption. In the town of Rayong along the seaside is a seafood restaurant with a reputation that reached Bangkok. The owners knew a good opportunity when they saw one and in no time set up three locations here in the capital. The most accessible for me is in Central World, one of the large downtown shopping malls. Not exactly where I would expect to look for fresh seafood, but Laem Cha-Reon (or Laem Cha-Roen depending on how it gets transliterated from the Thai alphabet) is out of this world. Seating outside the restaurant right there in the hall overlooks the plaza through the plate glass giving at least the illusion of sidewalk seating but on the 2nd floor.
Four pages of “Famous” dishes seems like an exaggeration of the marketing department, but on all four occasions that I’ve eaten here with Ms. Peung or our friends, we’ve tried something different off those pages and were never disappointed. Today we did a repeat and ordered fresh crab. No sauces, curries, marinades — just straight up crab and a tiny cup of Thai chili seeds in lemon juice and salt on the side. Singapore’s crab seemed bland even with the sauce but crab at Laem Cha-Reon stands on its own. And rather than needing to wrestle with the shells without a tool and needing to wash my arms up to the shoulders afterward (like in Singapore), I had an easy time of the neatly pre-dissected shells and appendages and a little bowl of limewater to take away the crab smell from my fingers.
Not to be forgotten was the tom yung goong which is some of the best I’ve had (and I don’t say that easily). Thai spicy (not toned down for the farang) with a sufficient presence of Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, not too salty, a hint of culantro, ample mushrooms and good-sized, good-quality shrimp. This version comes with just a spot of milk to cloud it a bit. (Other versions might be “clear” or use coconut milk or evaporated milk. There are actually a guzillion recipes for this hot and sour soup, but I’m pretty partial to this one.) As I said, it was spicy, and I knew I’d be paying for the soup long after we left the restaurant.
We completed the meal with a whole grouper deep-fried and covered with garlic, chilis and sweet fish sauce. Superb. This is not cheap street food and the bill with 4 drinks between the two of us came to 1200 baht, just about $40 USD. So budget travelers may be steering clear or coming only on that special occasion. The mall atmosphere isn’t so special but there is no foot traffic as this part of the hall is a dead end. There are loads of other choices off the menu but these are certainly some of the very best. And the plaza below the windows almost always has something going on, and this weekend was no exception … (watch for the next blog)
Find this place yourself and build your own free printable PDF Bangkok guide/itinerary here.