Monday, November 12, 2007

Dine by the River

At what length would you go to get good food with a picturesque view? Tucked away, a provincial setting, and welcoming smiles are just the reasons to search far and wide – sure, and why not?

For the Thais, the river is the source of life, it is where everything begins. Properties by the river command the highest price, and restaurants by the river have its enduring allure. Owners Pete and Frederick knew this and converted the old family house into one of the ideal places to take refuge and enjoy good food. Opening its doors to guests, the rural setting is just a perfect setting to unwind.

Baan Rabiang Nam (Nonthaburi 1 road, soi 23, Sanambin Nam; Tel: 02 9681481) is a stone’s throwaway from the busy mall infested thoroughfare of Chaengwathana Road. A turn to the Sanambin Road pulls you out of the city into a time warp, like you are miles away from civilization. As you enter the small street and park your car, a pedicab ushers you into a smaller alley where you have feeling you are visiting long lost relatives deep in the “tamboon”. Wooden planks lead to houses attached to one another into the riverfront sala in wooden stilts, in a rural setting view of the river with water hyacinths floating. The location is at Chaopraya’s largest point, half way between Nonthaburi pier and Koh Kret Island.

There is a stream of guests starting at lunch time (10% discount till 2 pm). Aside from the local residents, the nearby ISB international school, surrounded by Moobaan about 5km away, provide the regular clientele. City slickers from Bangkok also come by car through the expressway or by boat to the Nonthaburi Pier and a short taxi ride to the restaurant.

The best time to come would be at sunset, where you can have one of the herbal drinks of roselle, lemon grass or purple flower (20B) while being mesmerized by the sighing sunset. Fai Deang, a dish of fried morning glory (80B) and Dok kai, a salad of thai flower (90B) is a nice touch to start of the meal. Shortly before 6 pm, an interesting sight was a local vendor in a boat full of dried squid and popcorn. A fishnet with a pole delivered a bag of popcorn to a customer, from one of the groups of office workers unwinding after the 9-5 shift, to munch with a glass of beer.

The menu is very much a pick from northern to southern dishes, with some from the royal cuisine. The most impressive dish was the fried fish in five flavors: salty from nam pla; spicy from prik thai-on; sweet from palm sugar; tannin from the nuts and herbs; and sour from tamarind juice (200B). The combination was a burst of flavors to delight the taste buds. Other favorites are: steamed mullet with veggies,“nam jim jeow”; mullet fish “nam tok” style with mint, chili and herbs (200B/dish). Soups are also main attractions: lemon grass soup w/ chicken & tamarind leaves; spicy beef soup with herbs & mushrooms; spicy mixed seafood soup “tom seb”; and boiled beef in red Chinese sauce (90-120B/serving).

The ten cooks in the kitchen work with everyday fresh produce from the Nonthaburi market. A list of 21 recommended dishes are renewed on a monthly basis, using what is best in the season. Lovers of Isarn food are pampered with typical servings of “larb” and “namtom” in different varieties and of course “somtam” with fruits, catfish and raw prawns to the traditional green papaya. Thai favorites grace the menu, like fried salty chicken, prawn cakes with plum sauce, fish cakes with sweet peanut sauce, and chicken with lemon grass. Prices are surprisingly very reasonable (50-100B/serving).

The drink list extends from mixed cocktail, fruit shakes, to whiskeys and wine. Frederick, a true blue French, takes care of the wine selection. From Bordeaux, Australian Shiraz to Chilean Merlot to complement the food, the rustic ambience offers a fair five-star meal. For those who prefer to bring their own, corkage is a mere 75B for wine and is free for whiskey.

The experience was invigorating. There is a hovering feeling of being in a remote village as I watch the tide ebb in the river, which was a historic landing strip in the Second World War. The breeze was light at this time of the year and in the approaching cooler months the protective roof from the rainy season will be dismounted, so evenings will allow stargazing at the night skies. Baan Rabiang Nam is one of the thriving quaint places where life in the fast lane slows down for a marvelous evening enjoying great food. Chon ka!

(How to get there by car: Exit the expressway on Ngam Wong Wan road, then straight on Ratanatibet road until Phra Nang Klao bridge. Don't cross the river but make a U-turn under the bridge, then turn left on Nonthaburi 1 road, into soi 23 - next to the Ministry of Commerce.)

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