COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” So wrote the venerable Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, his riotous account of the debauched careers of professional chefs. For those of us of an epicurean bent, the fat bastards of this world, living well is more important than living long.
The second item on Bourdain’s list of essential indulgences is truly a wondrous thing. I’m no doctor, but pork fat’s unmatched success-rate at curing hangovers – whether in pad kraphrao moo or sausage sandwiches – suggests to me it has life-giving properties. In Bangkok, nowhere is this heavenly consumable better paid its dues than at Bankara Ramen, a Japanese noodle soup house on Sukhumvit Soi 39.
Bankara has already emerged as the go-to place for Bangkokians who know their tonkotsu from theirtonkatsu. Rumor has it that its Thai owner paid a Japanese master a small fortune for his recipe. After eating a bowl of Bankara’s kakuni tonkotsu, a sensual mix of pork-bone broth, pork belly, bamboo shoots, scallions and firm noodles, it’s easy to see why. For a would-be ramen otaku (ramen nerd), this is heaven.
Besides the food, there’s a lot to love about Bankara, not least its undiluted Japaneseness. When you cross the threshold, the staff – in unison – shout a welcome at you. (At least I presume that’s what it was. Not understanding a word of Japanese, I concede they may well have been screaming “get out fat man, we haven’t forgotten last time”).
The interior is ordered yet elegant, with handsome wooden furnishings and bold kanji scrawled on the walls. Unless you’re unlucky, you also get your own booth. And for the garlic fiends out there, each table is furnished with fresh cloves of garlic and presses. Just don’t forget to bring some gum.
There are a few appetizers, such as gyoza, fried baby shrimp and crispy spring rolls stuffed with a meaty shrimp paste. But the absolute must are the marinated bamboo shoots, which are topped with chopped scallions and glisten with a piquant sesame oil. You could call these shoots the Japanese answer to artichokes, both being fibrous and tasty enough to provide the satisfaction of meat (without the murder).
There are three types of ramen bowl at Bankara, all of which feature great al-dente noodles, said bamboo shoots and chopped scallions. The “original” variety is a dark broth with soy sauce. That’s joined by a miso-based broth, which Coconuts has yet to try. But the star of the show is undoubtedly the tonkotsu, the creamy pig-bone broth. If you want to go all out (and who doesn’t want to do that?), opt for the kakuni tonkotsu(THB255), which comes with a slice of roast pork and a generous hunk of stewed belly meat. It’s a veritable symphony of pig fat, with the melt-in-the-mouth fat in the meat adding to the liquid fat already contained in the glistening broth.
For a few more baht, there are some extras you can throw in your bowl. In this writer’s opinion, you’d be a damn fool not to add a haniyuakajitsuke tamago (THB25). The menu translates this as a “seasoning half-done egg”. A much better rendering would be: “A delicious stewed chicken egg that oozes its semi-liquid yolk into your broth and makes it all the more amazing”. And if you really don’t give a damn about trivial issues like longevity (or you’re immortal or something), throw in a hunk of butter for good measure (THB10). As Bourdain points out – without such pleasures, you may as well be dead anyway.
Coconut’s Critics Table reviews are written based on unannounced visits by our writers and paid for by Coconuts Bangkok. No freebies here.
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