While I was away in Iloilo, a new eatery moved into the spot at the Valero carpark where Pizza Niro used to be. This, when I came back, piqued my curiosity because I saw that it was a Thai restaurant rather than another pizzeria.
Ever since Thai Mien disappeared from Times Square at the Pacific Star and Sen Lek over at the SM Makati Food Court started skimping on the portions, there hasn’t been any place in the Ayala-Paseo-de-Roxas district of Makati where I could get a decent platter of my favorite pad Thai, let alone a scrummy tumbler-full of chilled Thai milk tea. That said, I toted along my trusty umbrella and – blustery wet weather notwithstanding – I tramped down to Valero to check the new place out.
The new shop’s name is Songkran – obviously named after the Thai water festival – and its interiors are bare-bones simple. The walls were simply whitewashed sans embellishments save for the logo painted onto one wall and the fuschia-colored elephant pointing the way to the restrooms.
The ceiling is decorated with simple wooden slats and wire-cage lanterns holding incandescent bulbs – though the bulk of the lighting comes from recessed tungsten fixtures in the middle of the ceiling. The tables are plain wooden ones without benefit of tablecloths or cloth napkins and the seats are communal benches as opposed to individual chairs – a move that encourages diners to make new friends by way of sharing their tables with others. But the homespun decor’s not what I came in for – I came in for the food!
You can opt to have your pad Thai cooked with either prawns or sliced chicken. Either way, it will come to your table in a plain white cardboard box with a pair of bamboo chopsticks wrapped in plastic on the side.
The noodles are scrumptiously fragrant when you open the box and the steam wafts out: you get those classic hints of scallion and soy, the toasty aroma of peanuts, and the nose-tickling fragrance of fresh lime. The dish itself is savory with a rather sweetish flavor reminiscent of the classic Indo-Malayan condiment kecap manis (sweet, thick soy sauce) as opposed to the more savory, blossomy taste of a classic pad Thai.
But it works, though, and the noodles are just a shade over al dente and are properly chewy and the flavors moreish. Peanuts and chives add crunch to the dish and the nicely cooked prawns add a briny-sweet counterpoint.
I don’t usually order Thai desserts, but the water chestnuts in pandan [screwpine] coconut milk seemed like an interesting choice.
Known as tup tim krob, this dessert is supposed to be red as opposed to the tumbler of green layers that came to my table. The name essentially translates as “mock pomegranate seeds” because the diced water chestnuts used for the recipe are rolled in pink-dyed tapioca starch before cooking and this results in shimmering, ruby-esque tidbits suspended in thick coconut cream and a pink-hued sugar syrup.
Songkran’s version of the dish involves rolling the diced water chestnuts in a pandan-infused tapioca before cooking. The resulting little “emeralds” are then layered in a clear plastic tumbler with lightly sweetened coconut cream, pandan-flavored syrup, and crushed ice to serve. It is a tasty, whimsical mix of flavors, colors, and textures: the “emeralds” are chewy outside and crunchy within, the silkiness of the coconut cream contrasting with the somewhat watery syrup, the nutty-floral taste of screwpine permeates the whole thing. All in all, it was rather good.
The perfect thing to drink with all this is the one shown at the top of this post: a chilled, soothing sipper compounded with fresh mint, sugar syrup, and crushed lemongrass – quite a restorative thing for those days when the stormy weather seems to seep deep into one’s bones.
Songkran Authentic Thai Street Food: Ground Floor – Valero Carpark, Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati