Sungai Besi is known for its industrial factories, workshops and heavy duty manufacturing, this area is synonymous with gruff tradesmen, cold steel and dismantled car parts. Anthony Bourdain once sang praises to the famed steamed fish head, but there’s little much else that would draw me from the comforts of PJ to this industrial heartland cum nightfall... or is there?
Great Thai in the middle of nowhere...
Next to Sungai Kerayong,
Off Jalan Chan Sow Lin 5,
Tel: 012 234 1640
Delicious and authentic Thai food in a very unique setting (doesn't feel like KL at all!)
No Thai dessert, cheesy Thai pop music could be a tad annoying
Folks, set aside your presumptions, I certainly did when I headed off for Jalan 5 off Jln Chan Sow Lin. With China Press on my right I hunted for the grimy landmark along a small river. Voila, the rubbish heap next to Sg Kerayong is there and I subsequently turned left into the little lane which ran parallel with the river. The sheer darkness and many stray dogs can be intimidating but do soldier on. Be prepared to give way to vehicles coming from the opposite direction, fortunately there were some grassy space to veer the car to the side. A 4WD would be best to handle the potholes. A short bumpy ride later, we entered a little green oasis, complete with fishing ponds and fresh fish for sale.
Sawadee 88 is so off the beaten track that I doubt it’s a place people would bump into unless by sheer determination and word of mouth. Despite its obscure location, the many parked cars attest to its reputation and popularity. We are greeted by friendly Thai staff and a local Chinese lady who took our orders while handling the cash register. With cheesy Thai pop music playing in the background, chefs shouting orders in foreign accents and tables set in individual attap huts complete with fairy lights, it felt like I’ve landed slap bang into little Bangkok town. There’s also a grilling charcoal station at the back manned by a dedicated grill boy.
Our orders arrived pretty quickly. First up was the siham bakar and the addictive dipping sauces. The first had chilies, belacan and some dried shrimp (reminds me of nam prik), the second was a sweeter chili sauce with peanuts. It was perfect for dipping the cockles into. Portions were generous though I did stumble across one or two with a muddy aftertaste. The somtam or Thai papaya salad arrived and was faultless. The shredded papaya was crunchy and had the right balance of sweet, sour and spicy. You also have the option of adding shrimps, crab or squid to it but we preferred ours plain.
Next up was my favourite of the lot - white tomyam which came in the traditional steamboat apparatus. I detected cili padi and dried chilli in the soup with hunk loads of seafood (prawns, fish, squid and crab), tomatoes and mushrooms. The soup was clear with hues of red, deliciously spicy sour to the last drop and went perfectly with plain rice.
Our salt-baked tilapia arrived and was it huge! We attacked it with vigour and noticed herbs stuffed into the belly for added aroma. It was coated in salt, so I would not advise eating the skin unless you want a salty shock to your system. It came with a spicy green chilli sauce to eat with the fish. The dish yielded lots of meat though its texture was not as firm as I expected. I love the green chilli sauce as it gave a really nice buzz to the tastebuds.
The Siamese steamed sotong is good too though I had a better version on my prior visit. The roe filled sotong arrived sliced with a spicy sour sauce poured over it to simmer in the metal steaming apparatus. I thought the sotong was a bit tough this time and there was not enough heat to keep the sauce warm. I liked the sauce though which had bits of cilantro, mint, chilies, lemongrass, galangal and other stuff. Watch out for the cili padi though, those timebombs are lethal!
I forgot to order the seafood otak which comes highly recommended so do not forget to have that if you make it to these parts. Dinner ended with complimentary dessert which was sliced cincau jelly. We checked if there were other Thai desserts but none were available. The bill was extremely reasonable considering the generous portions could easily feed 5.
This place also serves beer and has a pool table which makes it a perfect place to hang out with friends/family and enjoy the cool night air. We were spared from swatting annoying bloodsucking mozzies, thanks to the nearby fishing ponds which were excellent larvae deterrents. With the ponds just metres away, I also spied a table of uncles who gobbled through their food, only to dash towards the pond with their tackle boxes and rods in tow for that elusive ‘one that got away’. Avid fishermen or not, Sawadee 88 is the perfect spot to chill out over an authentic meal, lovingly made and served by friendly staff.