Eurocompensating in BKK: Spain

Hey there reader, how’s life treating you? Good, I hope. Today’s Sunday Rap is all about getting your Spanish food fix here in Bangkok. I don’t know about you, but from time to time I get nostalgic for some aspects of life in the West. I miss London. I often wish I was in Paris. And every now and then, I get to dreaming wistfully about places like Mallorca and Barcelona—the art, the architecture, and oh my Buddha, the food. Spain opened up a whole new world of gastro-turismo for this uninitiated American that has never faded. Which is why, here in Bangkok, the presence of great tapas eateries is just another source of pleasure for yours truly, as well as an added feather in the cap of this city’s varied and eclectic food scene. For this week’s Eurocompensating post, I again must start by apologizing for not hitting every Spanish joint in town, though I did venture further than a mile from my apartment for once—specifically, to Soi Cowboy’s neighborhood, and many of you probably know why. Let’s start there.

Speaking of Barcelona, just round the corner from Cowboy is Gaudi—a restaurant with an outside façade that’s fashioned after the style of the titular artist’s buildings in that Catalonian metropolis. Most of the time when I go here, it’s a warm-up-slash-staging area for an impending run at Cowboy’s gogo bars. I like to munch on a cold cut platter for a pre-mongering snack. When it comes to cured meats, the Spanish have a magic touch, and Gaudi offers some amazing examples. I’m partial to the Fuet—Catalan pork sausage. Both the Iberico and Serrano ham plates are fantastic, as well. Shut your eyes, take a bite, and you’d swear you were back on La Rambla. The wine I typically choose to go with the meat is Espeto Tempranillo from Castilla La Mancha. Mild, fruity, and unpretentious, it pairs quite well and is also just delicious on its own. Honestly if meat platters were all they offered, I’d be happy. But there’s a plethora of pleasing plates on their menu.

On the day that I went specifically to do research for this blog, I started by ordering the gambas, paired with an inexpensive white wine: Ave de Presa Joven Airen from La Mancha. The prawns were flash-cooked in chili oil and garlic, with a healthy dose of chili powder sprinkled on for good measure. I found them to be bursting with zest and vibrance. The sting of the chile gave way to a satisfying warmth, like being slapped and then kissed by a lusty flamenco dancer. Tossed with the shrimps were thin, crispy seared garlic slices—simply delightful.  I worried the wine wouldn’t be sweet enough to cut through all that heat but it was a fair complement, dousing the spice like one would put out a flaming phoenix with a bucket of chalky Catalonian terroir.

Next up was deep-fried zucchini and eggplant slices, which looked and tasted exactly like the ones I’d had in a crowded Barcelona tapas bar near the Picasso Museum. Before I could finish them, out came a small plate of mushroom-pumpkin croquets. They were…..OK. While delicious, the dry, chewy texture of the pumpkin threw me off whilst drying out my mouth and throat. In fact, I finished off the wine with it, and so had to order another, to continue pairing with the remaining eggplant and croquets. I opted for a Chard—Vinas del Vero from Somontano. It was gorgeous.

Then it was time to move on to red wine and beef and pork—specifically, strips of New Zealand skirt steak sprinkled with parmesan, and pork meatballs. To pair with it, a Cab-Merlot-Petit Verdot blend from Penedes, Catalonia. From first bite to last, it was pure pleasure, and a great substitute for actually being back in Spain. One thing I didn’t get to try was the cheese. Specifically, I’m interested in the baked feta and fried brie. I can’t wait to go back.

A couple blocks north of Gaudi is Tapas Big Mama’s. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for this place, since right across the street is Big Mama’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant. And Big Mama can’t be from both countries—she’s either a Spaniard pretending to know pizza or vice versa. Right?

It turned out Big Mama was an elderly gentleman with a German or possibly Scandinavian accent. And the tapas place was shut. A bunch of Thai staff assured me that I could get the Spanish menu across the street at Big Mama’s Italian, so I skated over there, and sure enough they did have both menus. My order shocked the waiter who kept asking if someone else would be joining me. I guess I got a lot of food. Here’s the rundown: black olives and feta, grilled mushrooms, bombas (listed as “fried meatballs” on the menu) and two platters—cold cuts and cheese. The only wine by the glass options were “red” and “white” so I got one each, and my heart sank when I saw them being poured from boxes. As a California wine snob, boxed wine is an offense, so I won’t say more about them and instead will focus on the food.

The olives and feta were…olives and feta. I could’ve made this exact plate with stuff I have in my fridge at home. The mushrooms were better—grilled, with breadcrumbs on top that provided a crunchy contrast to the juicy softness of the fungi. I loved them. The meatballs were 50% pork, and 50% mashed potato and were quite flavorful. They would’ve been too dry, but thankfully they were simmered in a zesty tomato sauce. The cold cut and cheese platters were just plain fun. The former came with Salami (delicious), hard sausage (a triumph), parma ham (very satisfying) and pepperoni which had chunks of—I think green peppercorns in it. Fantastic. The cheese plate had brie, feta, mozzarella, parmesan, blue cheese, and Emmental. Some were rolled in crushed dill, sea salt and black pepper, chili powder, or chives. I had a ball devouring both platters, which also came with a small bowl of green and kalamata olives.

All-in with service charge and VAT, Big Mama’s set me back 2,500b. I would’ve gladly paid more for better wine, but in the end, the experience left me fat and happy. And as a kind of thank-you for dropping so much cash in one go, they gave me a free dessert. It was some kind of sweet cheese doused with black berry jam, and it was lovely.

The third location I hit last week was Taburete on Sala Daeng Soi 1, a quaint, cozy little tapas joint with a small outdoor patio and equally small indoor dining area. The menu is a boutique take on classic Spanish fare, and I found their stuff to be exhilarating. I opted for one of the daily specials on the chalkboard outside—pork belly and chorizo on a bed of chickpeas. From there, I went to the regular menu, ordering a plate of cheese and Iberico ham, mushroom-truffle croquets, and minced lamb in puff pastry. For the cheese and croquets, I ordered a glass of Canaveras Joven, a white from Castilla that, according to Vivino, sells in the US for under $3 a bottle. But it served its purpose, improving the flavor of the croquets and vice versa, while giving the cheese a nice boost as well. Speaking of, the cheese (which I assume was Manchego) tasted almost home-made—smooth as silk, milky and buttery. The croquets were a gooey treat, with the perfect balance of mushroom and truffle. Moist, not too heavy, and slightly sweet.

The chorizo and pork belly positively burst with flavor. The pork, a duet of tender meat and a light cushion of fat and another harmonious balance. The lamb puff pastry was downright fragrant, robust, and carnal. In fact, the whole meal could be summed up that way. If you told me the devil looked over my shoulder while I ate, I wouldn’t be surprised. To pair with the meat, I got a glass of Spanish Cab that was young, bold, and fruit-forward. When people talk about ‘balance’ in wine, they’re typically referring to fruit vs alcohol flavors. In the Cab, it was more of a fight for control, and it brightened each bite of the pork and the lamb, punching up the minor players in each dish.

In short, it turns out Bangkok has some really great Spanish restaurants. Who knew? The good news for we expats who pine for great European food but refuse to leave the refuge of Thailand, there are places we can go. Check back next week when we take on the seemingly insurmountable task of covering Italian joints. Spoiler alert: we’re going to fail miserably. Cheers, everyone.

PS—you can find a pictorial companion for the above post over at my website, along with a short update on recent events in Patpong: http://patpongnightlife.com/2021/04/04/eurocompensating-spain-pictorial-plus-patpong-update/

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