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Taling Pling

November 18, 2013

After 3 days glorious days in Singapore, it was time for my husband and I to hit the road one final time for the last stop on our 2 week Asian sojourn.  This time, we were flying from Singapore to Bangkok.  I have tons of relatives from both sides of my family that live in Bangkok, so we thought that stopping off in Bangkok for a couple of days before our return to Los Angeles made the most sense.  It prolongs our vacation by a couple of days, and gives me an opportunity to catch up with some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  One of my cousins was nice enough to come to the airport to pick my husband and I up when we arrived into town.  The plan was for us to catch up over dinner and do a little sightseeing with her before she dropped us off at our hotel for the evening.  One thing you need to know about Bangkok, if you don’t ever learn anything else, is that the city is notorious for TERRIBLE traffic.  And unfortunately, the hotel that we chose for our brief 2-night stay was right in the heart of the city where some of the worst traffic can be found.  After getting picked up from the airport, we were going to stop by the hotel briefly, check-in, drop off our bags, maybe freshen up a bit and then head out to dinner where we’d meet up with other cousins.  Well, after 80 minutes in the car and still being more than an hour away from reaching our hotel (due to nothing more than traffic – because later that night we made the same drive through the same section with no traffic in about 15 minutes), we decided we needed to change plans.  We were just going to go straight to dinner and come back to the hotel later.  Even with the change in plans, it took almost another 60 minutes before we reached the restaurant for dinner.  By that time, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car, and the thought of some good Thai food had my stomach growling.

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My cousin, knowing that my husband and I wanted Thai food, chose a chain restaurant called Taling Pling.  The location we went to is in the trendy and popular tourist neighborhood of Silom.  Serving authentic Thai cuisine, this particular branch of Taling Pling is set in a 2 story “colonial Thai-house”.  You walk into an inviting and friendly atmosphere of teak tables and chairs with divided “rooms” that make it feel like you’re stepping into someone’s  house for dinner.  Being in Silom, the location gets lots of tourists and ex-pats who come here for a business meal, or just a place to unwind for the day while enjoying some terrific Thai food.

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So, even though this was a Thai restaurant, surprisingly neither my husband nor I ordered a Thai iced coffee (which we both love) for dinner.  Instead, I went with blended mango drink.  When I’m in Thailand, I can’t resist getting these blended fruit drinks.  It’s basically fresh fruit blended with a little bit of simple syrup.  You can find them all over Thailand using a variety of different tropical fruits – mango, watermelon, honeydew, lychee, pineapple, etc.  It’s so simple, and delicious and irresistible.  And being that mango is one of my favorite fruits, I couldn’t resist ordering this blended mango drink instead of a Thai iced coffee.  And I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  Smooth and refreshing this drink hit the spot perfectly.

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My husband, in keeping with this love of ginger went with a drink called the ginger garden.  Made with a bit of carbonated syrup and ginger and topped with a refreshing cucumber slice and fresh mint, this drink was absolutely perfect.  It was a great blend of sweet from the syrup and spicy from the hint of ginger.  It was cool and refreshing, and the perfect thirst quencher for the hot and humid Thai weather.

At a Thai restaurant, food is generally served family style.  You order a couple of dishes, some rice, and everything is brought out to the table as it is cooked and everyone digs in.  This ensures that everyone has the opportunity to sample a little bit of everything that is ordered.  My cousins, who we were dining with, asked my husband and I to go ahead and pick out what we wanted to order.  But being put on the spot like that, it was hard to know what was good and what wasn’t since we’d never eaten here before.  And my husband is easy,  order it and he’ll eat it.  So, we compromised, my husband and I each picked out a dish (from a picture menu) that we thought looked good, and then my cousins picked out dishes they thought we’d like we’d roll the dice and see what came to the table.

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After looking through the menu, my husband saw a lettuce wrap dish that he thought would be good.  It didn’t hurt that the filling for the lettuce wrap was made with lemongrass, something my husband adores.  Big huge leafs of iceberg lettuce was presented along side a bowl of filling which was made with stir fried lemongrass, shallots, lime juice, cashews, green onions and spices.  No one at the table had ever had this dish before, and everyone was thrilled with how tasty it was.  The lemongrass was fragrant and bright and fresh and was a great compliment to the lime juice.  The cashews gave the dish great texture and crunch.  This was easily one of the most enjoyed dishes at the table.

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One item that my husband and I both agreed we wanted to try was the fried shrimp cake served with sweet Thai chili sauce.  Traditionally, this dish is made with fish paste, curry spices and green onions that are deep-fried.  However, the more modern twist on this traditional Thai dish is to take minced shrimp meat, form it into a patty bread it with panko and deep fry it to make a fried shrimp cake.  This is something that my husband and I both enjoy eating at Thai restaurants so we were eager to try the version being served at Taling Pling.  The deep-fried shrimp cake here didn’t disappoint at all.  The flavor of the shrimp cake was fantastic, perfectly cooked and tender on the inside and wonderfully crisp and crunchy on the inside.  I think this may have been the first dish that we finished that night.

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For a rice dish, I requested that we order the crab fried rice.  Traditional Thai fried rice with rice, soy sauce, chopped green onions and egg is always a crowd pleaser, but top it with chunks of crab meat, and how could you go wrong?  If you’re going to have some starch in your diet, this is certainly the way to go.  I think I must have enjoyed this dish more than anyone else.  But then again, I’m a rice lover, I grew up eating rice every day of my life.  This was perfectly cooked, and tasted wonderful.  The dish wasn’t too heavy, and the subtle sweetness of the crab meat matched well with the fried rice.

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Knowing that my husband is a huge fan of tom yum goong, a traditional Thai shrimp soup, we ordered a pot of this spicy, lemony, wonderful soup.  You can see the size of the prawn in this huge bowl of soup we got to share at the table.  The broth for tom yum goong is traditionally made with kaffir leaves, lemon grass, cilantro, mushrooms, galangal or ginger, green onions, red chilies, tamarind paste, sugar, lime juice and fish sauce.  The galangal/ginger, lime juice, lemon grass and kaffir leaves really add that tangy flavor to the broth.  The cilantro and mushrooms help to add an earthy undertone.  The shrimp adds some sweetness along with the sugar and tamarind paste which is both sweet and sour and the red chilies really add the heat.  There are a million and one ways to make tom yum goong, by adding and subtracting various ingredients, but this particular version of this famous Thai soup was delicious.  It was a bit spicy but went down smooth.  The flavor profile was fantastic.  And, like I said, the prawns were huge.  This tom yum goong didn’t disappoint at all.

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We also decided to order another traditional Thai dish, shrimp pad Thai.  This is probably the most well-known Thai dish served in Thai restaurants in the United States.  Traditionally, in Thailand, it’s made with all manner of seafood, and shrimp is particularly popular.  Rice noodles are stir fried with green onions, bean sprouts, shrimp, fish sauce, garlic, sugar and vinegar and generally served alongside cilantro, fresh bean sprouts, a wedge of lime and crushed peanuts.  This dish at Taling Pling was a very traditional version of classic shrimp pad Thai.  It had wonderful flavor to it, sweet, salty, sour and savory.  Look at that grilled piece of lemongrass served alongside the dish!  This too was too yummy to pass up and was quickly devoured by all of us at the table.

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One of my cousins decided to order a dish I’d never seen before, but ended up loving.  It was a stir fry of fish skins with shallots and lemongrass.  Pla salit is a very popular and commonly found flat fish in Thailand.  It is sometimes called a snakeskin gourami or Siamese gourami for the coloring of the scales on its body.  To preserve the fish, a popular preparation in Thailand is to take the fish skin and dry it, once dried, it is then deep-fried.  It’s very similar in consistency to deep-fried pork rinds.  In this case, the fried pla salit is prepared simply in a salad with finely sliced shallots, lemongrass, lime juice, cilantro, fresh mint, fish sauce, star fruit and cashews.  This was a terrific, refreshing and palate pleasing salad with the crunchiness from the fish skin, the sour of the lemongrass and lime juice, the saltiness of the fish sauce and the sweetness from the star fruit.  It was something different and something I probably would not have thought to order.  But I’m certainly glad my cousin did order it as it gave me something new to try.

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Finally, the last dish we ordered for the night was a deep-fried fish dish.  I love ordering deep-fried fish when we got to a Thai restaurant.  You get such a wonderful presentation of the whole fish brought right out to your table.  Waste not, want not.  In this case, the fish was fully fileted open, soaked in fish sauce, and then deep-fried to a golden brown.  It was crispy on the outside but tender, flaky and moist on the inside.  The fish sauce helps the meat of the fish retain its moisture through the deep-frying process as well as add a bit of saltiness and a hit of sweetness to the fish.  How could you not want to eat that?  Looking at that picture makes me want to eat it right now.

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As if we hadn’t already ordered enough to eat, we just couldn’t leave the restaurant without ordering some dessert.  And what kind of dessert do you order when you go to a Thai restaurant?  Mango with stick rice of course!  This might have been my most favorite dish of the night.  I loved the presentation of the two halves of the mango sliced inside the peel and then turned out to create this wonderful texture, though admittedly, since the meat of the mango was still attached to the peel, it was a bit impractical to eat.  Then on top of a banana leaf was sticky rice with coconut milk and toasted sesame seeds.  The mango was perfectly ripe and sweet and contrasted nicely with the sticky rice and sweet coconut milk.  This is heaven in terms of Thai desserts and a terrific end to the meal.

My cousin made a terrific choice of restaurants when I told her that my husband and I were just looking for good Thai food.  We wanted good, authentic Thai cuisine and Taling Pling didn’t disappoint.  I liked that the restaurant tried to use some modern flavor profiles with these traditional Thai dishes.  The atmosphere was cozy and comfortable, like we walked into someone’s house for dinner.  The presentation of the food was gorgeous, and the food itself was delicious.  And the company of my cousins to catch up with and chat with over dinner was fantastic.  I’d gladly go back to Taling Pling again for dinner any night.  This meal really hit the spot after a day of traveling from Singapore to Bangkok, not to mention the additional 2 hours in the car we spent just to get to the restaurant.  In the end, it was all worth it for good food and good company.

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