Published on November 11, 2007
This is understandable in restaurants in the central or northern regions, where chefs are taught to cook the muddy-tasting river fish thoroughly or mask the true flavour with potent marinades of coriander root, garlic and white peppercorns.
The marinades are for fried fish. For grilled fish, lemongrass stems, kaffir lime leaves and other aromatic herbs are stuffed into the mouth and stomach cavity, then the fish, with scales left on, is coated in salt and cooked over charcoal.
Chinese restaurants draw on ancient ways of cooking the fruits of the sea. Thailand owes its steamed seafood dishes to the Chinese chefs who came to these shores hundreds of years ago.
I'm lucky enough to know the owner of Giang Nguan Mahachai Seafood, a woman whose family arrived here from China many years ago, bringing with them an expert knowledge in cooking seafood that they applied to Thai cuisine.
So when I visit this restaurant I get the best of both worlds - Chinese and Thai cuisine, but seafood that's never overcooked, and tastes absolutely wonderful.
They have two branches in and around Bangkok, but the original is in Samut Sakhon - better known as Mahachai - a seafood mecca on the coast south of the capital. Mahachai is the centre of the wholesale seafood trade for Bangkok and regions north, so you can be sure that the seafood you get at Giang Nguan is the freshest of the fresh.
I usually order both Thai and Chinese dishes. On the Chinese side I like the steamboat of heavily peppered broth, to which you add vegetables, then slices of pompano fish, poaching to perfection before dipping them in the sauces provided.
This is a dish to order during the cool season, a window of opportunity that seems to be getting smaller and smaller for Thailand.
Then I might go for the three-flavoured fried shrimp, cooked Chinese style with dry Chinese plum and gingko nuts.
For Thai dishes - which need a rice accompaniment - you should try the stir-fried catfish with chilli and garlic. Though it's spicy-hot, you can still taste the sweetness of the flesh.
For a taste of Thai traditional seafood, order the hor mok talay (steamed seafood curry mousse). The mousse is steamed whole in a banana-leaf cup, making for a creamy, rich and spicy dish.
Whole fish is steamed Chinese style, but served Thai style with steamed vegetables and a roast pepper and tomato salsa. This dish should be fairly familiar to any Italian diner - pair the salsa with toasted French bread and you could call it bruchetta!
If you remember one dish from this review, make it the nam prik pu kai, a crab and crab roe dip. Again, it's spicy hot, but also sour and rich because of the roe. It begs to be eaten with an accompaniment of vegetables and rice.
Last but not least, crab and crab roe sour curry. This curry is a very traditional one, and I guess you need to acquire a taste for it because it is very different from any other kinds of Thai curry that you've had before.
But if you eat it with Thai omelette and rice, it is indeed heaven. The sourness of the curry cuts the richness and oiliness of the crab roe and omelette, creating a perfect blend of taste and texture in you mouth.
So next time you'd like to try really fresh and good Thai seafood done perfectly, drive over to Giang Nguan Mahachai Seafood. The restaurant sits in the middle of a lake and has a great atmosphere.