River prawns, in case you do not know, are the much sought after dish by Thai locals. Forget the high cholesterol; just imagine the sensually white, bouncy meat, the luscious, lava-like shrimp oil – and the grease it leaves on your lips that get you licking for more – the fresh, tangy and fiery dipping sauce, and the smell of charcoal where the prawns are grilled for our pleasure. And there are places where these shellfish delights are much bigger (and cheaper) than others. In Bangkok? Well, yes, but you’ll have to pay a hefty bill for them.
Today, with my parents, I strayed off the commercial route and headed to a provincial town Chachoengsao renown for its honey sweet mangoes, temple, a big bat cave – serious! – and the river Bang Pa Kong – yes, where the prawns dwell – for an indulgently Thai feast. My destination was a restaurant called Ruay, meaning “rich” in Thai, set on a massive raft. I could feel the breeze grazing through my face and distract myself looking at jumpy fish in the river. Yes, I knew, one of them fish would end up on my plate today!
First to arrive were this Pork Offal and Pickled Cabbage Soup and the Three Way Crispy Salad (Yum Sam Krob). The soup boast a fine balance between delicately poached offal and light pickled and very crunchy cabbage. Stems of spring onions and celery leaves took away the fowl smell of the offal, while the fried garlic oil added distinctively pleasing aroma to the dish. The salad of crispy fish maws, deep fried dried squid and cashew nuts – all crispy and crunchy, hence the title of the dish – was texture perfect but spicy, too spicy for my liking and would have been a lot nicer with a touch more of acidity.
Next up was my palate cooler stir-fry of Young Coconut Tips with Prawns. The sweet and crunchy young coconut tips went well with the prawns, sliced carrots and spring onions in a light soy-based tapioca flour sauce, a nice way to extinguish the heat of the salad.
Then, yes, the one that once swam in the river! My first main course of Steamed Sea Bass in Pickled Plum Sauce (Kra Phong Neung Chae Buay) was gorgeous. The fish, swimmingly fresh and perfectly steamed, soaked up all the goodness, the sour and salty flavours of the pickled plums, while the dried shitake mushrooms, pork loins, and pickled bamboo shoots steamed together with the fish provided not just contrasting texture but the depth of flavours. There was a mild heat from the chilli and the fresh herbal burst from the celery. This was just too good to be true.
As I was feeding myself to ecstasy, the Grilled River Prawns arrived. They were monstrously big, unhealthily packed with the shrimp oil. It was such a dilemma, to eat a lot or not! There was no extra added to this dish, just the raw beauty of the prawns cooked with modesty on a charcoal grill allowing the natural sweetness of the prawns to shine through. I slowly peeled the voluptuous meat off the shell and dipped it in the sour and spicy sauce made from green bird’s eye chili, garlic and lime juice. The contrast of sweetness and tanginess was heavenly. Then, the shrimp oil, my ultimate guilty pleasure, mixing it with rice, eating it, licking it off the spoon. I seriously couldn’t have enough of this. And, did I not mention, the prawns were so big there was a lot of meat packed in their very slim-looking claws, too?
Looking closer …
That’s it and I unwound my appetite with some fruity desserts: Mango and Sticky Rice and Poached Santol in Jasmine Perfumed Syrup. The mango was so ripe that it oozed honey flavour and very, very mellow texture. The saltiness and the creaminess of the coconut milk came in nicely adding dimensions, whilst the sticky rice was brilliantly al dente, with a hint of neutral sweetness, which took away all the o-so-rich flavour of this dish very beautifully.
And I was thinking, that was the best ever. Well, not for long, and as I tucked into the Poached Santol, I just couldn’t help grinning, grinning, grinning and letting out a rather atrocious humming, the sound of self-inflicted pleasure, of eating too much good food in one meal. The santol was soft and sweet, yet retained a hint of natural bitterness of this fruit. The syrup was pleasant to the nose and very sweet. I mixed it with crushed ice and – wow – that was just one freezing delight.
The bill was not shocking, considering how much my parents and I had eaten and could not finish, and came to just under £40 or 2000 Baht. When we were about to leave, at 1pm, the raft got very busy, with a lot of locals hosting a mini banquet and others trying to impress their guests. We hurdled off and headed for Klong Suan 100 Years Old Market for an after-meal stroll, but before that we stopped to marvel at Thailand’s biggest Genesha statue, which interestingly, came in …
Very bright pink -___-”
My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.
RUAY REUN PAE RAFT HOUSE RESTAURANT
293/3 Marupong Road
Tel. +663 851 5431 , +663 851 2000