Last year on Thanksgiving, I was flown across the Gulf of Thailand on way back from Koh Kood. The plane was luxurious and small, seating merely 8 people, and I was holding my breath, cherishing my blessings and gawking at the gorgeous views down and around. Green islands dotting the infinity of the sea, in all majestic shades of blues and greens, adorned with cloudy mist here and there. It was a heaven on earth. And I was so thankful for everything, big or small, bad or good, boring or exciting, that have come into my life.
This year, however, things were a bit different. The view was the dusty rails of the Thai train with crazy announcing noise blasting through bad speakers. When the trains arrived, I felt the earth moving under my feet. I also needed to cover my ears from the chattering, deafening, boisterous noises of the train’s steel wheels screeching and rumbling through the station. But we were still very, very thankful.
Six of us – three writers, one chef, one food stylist and one cartoonist – were at Samsen train station on this past Thanksgiving. It was a lunch at the time when Bangkok was literally on fire. Those who followed the news might have already known that November 28th was the day that the police decided it was their right to bombard unarmed protesters with tear gas and guns. Those who were at the front line fought, those who were not have their eyes glued at the televisions, hoping things wouldn’t turn more bloody and tragic.
When things around us are not right, naturally we can’t be too happy talking about other things, like, the year-end vacations and the plans to purchase, perhaps, a second beachside condo. We make do simply by appreciating each meal. A good chat with friends. Small things such as a peaceful and quiet time during the past two auspicious days of HM the King’s Birthday was what made us happy.
So for thanksgiving, instead of carving a turkey, our bunch went to Sei (เส่ย) – a long-standing Thai restaurant known for their gorgeously bold-tasted food. This is a restaurant for those do not care much about the ambiance. If you look for a nice quiet place to chat, go somewhere else. If you feel you can’t stand the rumbling noise, go somewhere else. If you look for table-side manners of the waiters, go somewhere else. But if you crave for all the tastes in the world. The tastes so pungent and strong that would make your nose run, this is the one restaurant you need to come and have your nose blown away.
Sei is the name of the owner, the chef, who hails from Petchaburi – the land of gunmen, bounty hunters, best toddy palm sugar, rice and lime. If you have traveled to Petchaburi with a local, you will know that it is also the land of extreme. They do not go easy on spices when they cook, hence a wonderful spot for those wishing to get a real taste of Thai dishes.
Food at Sei can be spicy and it can be bland. You can even bring your children and give them a plate of stir-fried veggie or omelette and they will be satisfied. Their most famous items, however, are those with strong flavours, such as the crispy fried mackerel heads that they clean and gutted and only fry the head bones to the lightest crisp possible. Dusted with lots of salt and white pepper, this is a dish that will make drinkers swoon. You can’t get a better company for a chilled beer or, for me, a chilled rose, than this. However, this is a dish that you’ll need to call and book ahead. Usually, they do not sell it to everyone and you can’t just stride in and order. Either you book ahead nicely or you become a good regular customer so they decide to dole some out for you the next time.
We also ordered the wasabi shrimps which is their famous adaptation of goong chae nampla – raw shrimps in garlic, lime and chilies sauce. The pungent wasabi gives the already very spicy sauce a big blow of nasal kick, hence a bite that will make you cry and smile at the same time. I really love this dish and I will order this every time I go there. I good dish to eat when you are sad. So mood-lifting for it can instantly erase your dull thoughts for you’ll need to curb your screams. Your head will be all cleared right after. Promise.
Also gorgeous is their beef shank in spicy basil sauce. The beef shank was tendered before being stir-fried in a way that it contains all the strong flavours of the herbs in the dish. Aside from the basil, there were also young hand-shredded kaffir lime leaves, chilies and garlic – all enhancing the flavours of this dish. It goes well with a steamed rice or fried rice with mackerel meat, if you will.
But then, Sei also has things that are not too spicy. We went for a plate of crispy fried shrimps in sweet garlic sauce (first pix), stir-fried bok choy (so scrumptious), stir-fried glass noodle with pickled garlic, and a pot of mackerel tom yum with lots of fresh basil leaves to increase the aromatic kick of the spicy broth which is also an item on their most popular list.
It was a big meal and we had such a lovely thankful time. We were thankful that despite other unstable things, we still have these great food. We thanked the owners, the staff, the meticulousness of the chefs and the freshness of the stuff they prepare for us. We thanked the time we spent together and for the abundant lands that give us the herbs, the fresh seafood, the spices, the rice and the flavours to combine into these wonderful dishes.
These two last items are Sei’s desserts. They bear some strange names that always slipped out from my mind. Just ask them for the ice shave desserts and they will just cite you the list to choose from.
Sei (เส่ย), at Samsen train station. Daily (except Saturdays): 11.30 – 22.00, T: 086-103-6603, 087-508-8402. About Bt300-400 per person.