Chinese food has developed over millennia by combining herbs and seasonings to enhance various different meats. Some may tout the medical benefits of spices or how the aromas are turned into enticements, but taste has always been the most important aspect of Chinese cuisine.
Every Chinese spot in Thailand, from fine dining restaurant to casual eatery to street side vendor, will invariably feature recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. Tried-and-true delicious dishes rarely change, but they will always find new fans over the years. This is especially so at this 2023 Bib Gourmand recipient Somchai Ped Palo (Go Tae) Bang Len that was added to the famous red guide in March 2022. At this famous ped phalo, or five-spice duck, restaurant in Bang Len, recipes have gone from grandparents to parents and now to the current generation, as the grandchildren have taken up the baton of the area’s tastiest five-spice duck. It is rare that visitors to Bang Len, or even Nakhon Pathom, leave without stopping by for a meal or at least to pick up a dish or two to take home with them.
From boat noodles to five-spice duck establishment
Before we get to Bang Len, we have to go back 80-90 years to Go Tae (real name Tee Saeaiew), the original owner and creator of the original five-spice duck recipe. He lived along a canal in Nakhon Pathom and sold duck noodle soup from his boat that he took to his customers along the waterfront. He did this every day until a government eminent domain programme moved him and his family to their current home in Bang Len.
At first, he sold duck noodle soup just as he did from his boat, until his regular customers urged him to expand his menu. It was with his customers’ encouragement that Go Tae decided to move on from duck noodle soup to a full restaurant, even setting up Chinese-style round banquet tables.
Today, Go Tae’s delicious legacy is now in the capable hands of two successors, Amporn Charoennatpong (mother) and Nawatan Charoennatpong (daughter). This mother-daughter team is leading the charge in this modern generation, expanding Somchai Ped Palo to branches across Nakhon Pathom, even reaching the Noppawong crossroads in Pathum Thani.
The restaurant’s menu is filled with the same delectable delights you’ll find at any Chinese feast. The tastiness extends to the simple one-dish meals and appetisers for everyday dining, and, of course, no meal at Somchai Ped Palo, large or small, is complete without their five-spice duck.
Go Tae’s recipe
Starting with Go Tae, the restaurant sources almost all its ingredients from Nakhon Pathom. Even the ducks are from local farms with which they have developed a close relationship over the years. It is perhaps only the seasonings that come from Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown. And that is made to Go Tae’s exact proportions of mace, cinnamon, star anise, five-spice powder, and other herbs and spices.
The restaurant’s cooking philosophy, established by Go Tae, is consistency from start to finish. Pick the highest quality ingredients. Do not substitute them for a cheaper option. Every dish has specific preparation and cooking steps. You may be able to cut corners to save time, but if it takes away from the flavours, then don’t do it. They are dedicated to ensuring every dish achieves the deliciousness that will delight customers, old and new.
Scrumptious secret of five-spice duck
Along with the best, freshest ingredients sourced locally in Nakhon Pathom, the preparation of every ingredient and proper seasoning is essential in making the restaurant’s signature five-spice duck that is delicious, tender, and fragrant. Amporn explained that they only use ducks that are 50 to 55 days old because that is the ideal size for the best flavour and texture. Younger than that, and the flesh may get mushy. Older, and the meat cooks hard and rubbery. Either way, it won’t taste as good as it should.
Once they’ve selected the right ducks, they have to clean them with fresh water many times before boiling them in their five-spice mixture. They also add galangal to enhance the fragrance and pay close attention to the flames. It can’t get too hot; otherwise, the wings and legs may start to disintegrate.
On its own, the five-spice duck may be delicious, but it won’t be complete without the perfect dipping sauce. And this dipping sauce is. It has all the components for fabulous flavours – sour, sweet, and salty. Sour from freshly squeezed lime juice, salty from soybean paste, and sweet (and deep colour) from dark soy sauce. Adding fresh ginger and chillies gives it a special little kick.
What to order?
Hoi jo, or deep-fried crab rolls, is a must-try appetiser that harkens back to Go Tae’s old days. Its singular flavours have a place at every feast. The rolls are stuffed with firm crabmeat, celery, and spring onions. Aromatic from black pepper, there is also pork and water chestnuts in the mix for a satisfying crunch. Dipped in homemade plum sauce, every bite is better than the last and really gets the juices flowing for the rest of the meal.
The prawns fried in garlic and chillies, like anything fried in garlic and chillies, is a dish with mouth-watering aromas. Ideal with steaming hot rice, the prawns are tender and have a perfect bite of spiciness. One prawn will not be enough.
For this time of year, there is sheatfish. The kitchen team did not delay in adding chu chi sheatfish to the menu. They fry the fish until golden brown and crispy, but not oily. Then they prepare the chu chi sauce until it is perfect to pour over the fish. Finely chopped kaffir lime leaves and red and yellow peppers are added as a finishing touch.
Along with the five-spice duck, their braised pork tendon is very popular. Luscious, chewy chunks of pork tendon are braised in a red sauce made with soy sauce and Chinese liquor. The longer it cooks, the thicker the broth. Sip it up hot, then take a moment to savour it all before moving on to the next dish.
Hero image and other images: © Anuwat Senivansa Na Ayudhya / MICHELIN Guide Thailand