A treasure trove of Southern Thai cooking is tucked away inside a major Bangkok hospital
FINE DINING and hospitals are about as far apart as chalk and cheese so when a friend suggests meeting up for lunch at Chulalongkorn Hospital, my taste buds shudder in involuntary protest.
Resigning myself to bland rice soup, I agree to meet her at Mallika Chumphon, which I assume is the name of one of the stalls inside the hospital’s large food court at the Thaweewong Thawansak Building. She soon puts me right and directs me instead to the second floor, where I discover an independent eatery far beyond my expectations. It’s the biggest restaurant in the hospital compound, occupying 270 square metres and easily accommodating 100 diners.
Boasting a minimal and clean look with plenty of natural wood, Mallika Chumphon is packed at lunchtime, the clientele made up of both hospital staff and workers from nearby offices.
As the name suggests, the restaurant is owned by a lady called Malika Khwammun (but her restaurant named Mallika), who was born to a Chinese family in the Southern province of Chumphon. As a child, Malika was eager to exchange the Chinese delicacies in her lunchbox with her classmates, whose mothers had packed them a feast of local and spicy Southern dishes.
“My family had a vegetable stall in Chumphon so my standard lunch was stir-fried vegetables cooked Chinese style. When I tasted my friends’ Southern dishes, I found the flavours wonderfully complex and delicious. I used to get myself invited to the homes of my friends so I could ask their mothers to teach me how to cook,” Malika recalls.
When Malika grew up and married a local boy, she opened an Isaan-style restaurant in her hometown only to have it wiped out by Typhoon Gay in 1989. Not one to be put off by the most powerful storm to affect the Gulf of Thailand in more than 35 years, Malika opened a new restaurant – the original Mallika Chumphon – this time serving Southern-style dishes. She and the restaurant relocated to Bangkok in 1997.
Mallika Chumphon made its home on Soi Rang Nam for 15 years before relocating again to the Meng Jai intersection off Ratchadaphisek Road. Limited parking convinced her to move again after three years to Chulalongkorn Hospital, where she opened her doors late last year.
“At first, I intended to open a small food stall in the food court, but the hospital offered me this spacious location. I decided to give it a try especially as my new landlords were offering me a 15-day trial fee. And right from the first day, the tables have been fully booked every lunchtime. Half of the dishes are Southern-style delicacies and the rest are Thai and Chinese favourites.”
Som Tam Nang Fah
The most popular appetiser is Som Tam Nang Fah, a spicy mixed fruit salad served in a bowl of crispy fried tortilla (Bt150). Diced pineapple, apple, guava and rose apple as well as tomato, grape, carrot and shredded fresh mango are seasoned with palm sugar, fish sauce and lemon juice together with pounded chilli and garlic. Roasted cashew nuts add the crunch.
Hoy Lai Pad Phed
Inspired by the favourite tidbit of stir-fried dried shrimp with dried chilli and roasted peanut that traditionally accompanies beers and shorts, Malika has come up with Hoy Lai Pad Phed – stir-fried seasoned clam with dried chilli, garlic, green pepper corn and roasted cashew nut (Bt180).
“The garlic, chilli and green pepper corns are first stir-fried then seasoned with sugar and salt. I use canned, seasoned dried clams and roasted cashew nut as a substitute for the usual dried shrimp and peanut. Customers love it and always order it while waiting for the main dish,” she says.
Pak Ruam Kati Goong Sod
Another favourite is Pak Ruam Kati Goong Sod, a dish of mixed vegetables and prawn in coconut milk enjoyed with a seasoned shrimp paste dip (Bt170). The vegetables in the soup are local –liang, kood and cha-om leaves, chopped bottle gourd and young coconut meat. A basket of fresh mixed vegetables is served on the side.
“This is almost always cooked during merit-making ceremonies in the South. The region has millions of coconut trees so people gather at a temple to cook coconut milk soup in a huge pot and mix in seasonal vegetables, dried shrimp and glass noodle. It’s seasoned with a shrimp paste dip rather than the fish sauce with chilli that’s popular in the Central region,” says Malika.
Gaeng Khua Hoy Khom
Gaeng Khua Hoy Khom – pond snail sauteed yellow curry (Bt180) – has a wonderfully strong and well-balanced flavour. The pond snails (without shells), shredded lesser ginger, cha-om and cha-plu leaves are cooked with yellow curry made from dried and fresh chilli, galangal, lemongrass, red onion, turmeric and kaffir lime peel that’s seasoned with dried shrimp paste and salt.
Kha Moo Tom Som Khaek
Thanks to her Chinese upbringing, Malika is well versed in braising pork leg. Her Kha Moo Tom Som Khaek – pork leg and pork tail braised in garciia cambogia sauce (Bt180) is one of her signature dishes and the taste is a perfect combination of salty, sweet and sour.
“The pork leg and tail are braised with salt and sugar before being seasoned with ground garlic, pepper, red onion and coriander root stir-fried with shrimp paste. It’s slowly braised for a half day without soy sauce. Garcinia cambogia – a tropical fruit known as the Malabar tamarind thanks to its citric acid – is added to give slightly tangy flavour. The dish is served with a seasoning sauce blended from chilli, garlic, coriander root, vinegar and salt to overcome any oiliness,” says Malika.
Tab Tim Krob
Desserts are strictly traditional. Tab Tim Krob or ruby-coloured water chestnut in chilled coconut milk makes for a refreshing end to the meal, as do Lod Chong (chilled green flour threads in coconut syrup) and Chao Guay (black jelly in chilled black sugar syrup) all priced from Bt30 to Bt35.
Mallika Chumphon is on the second floor of Thaweewong Thawansak Building, Chulalongkorn Hospital on Henri Dunant Road.
It’s open daily for lunch from 10am to 2pm, and for dinner from 4 to 8pm.
Make a reservation at (095) 547 8181.