Settled snugly in a block of run-down buildings across from the Scala Cinema movie theater is Bangkok Shark Fin, a modest restaurant that my family has been visiting for decades. Next to a small entrance, a glass window displays rows of shark fins. Pushing open the swinging glass doors that doesn’t shut completely, you will find yourself in a dingy room with cheap wooden tables and overhead tungsten lighting. Nothing about the humble atmosphere screams elegance or exorbitance; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. But there must be something about this place to have kept it in business for decades, and that is the quality and taste of the food.
It’s my family tradition to have a big Chinese feast whenever we have get-togethers for someone’s birthday, and shark fin soup is a staple in those meals. I have a big family so I’ve tasted shark fin soup from quite a number of establishments over the years. Some of those experiences had been mediocre; a faint memory that is only conjured up as a reminder never to visit those particular establishments again. A few are more memorable although some still lack consistency in their food preparation, with the food sometimes being delicious and sometimes just average. At Bangkok Shark Fin though, I am comforted by the assurance that the shark fin soup here will not disappoint, and it hasn’t so far.
The waitress bustled around us, setting down the clay pots containing the shark fin soup (1,000 baht/pot) in front of us with a warning that the pots were extremely hot. Glancing into the pot, the dark amber liquid was boiling away madly like molten lava inside a volcanic crater. Shark fins shaped like Chinese fans lurked beneath the broth, almost as if too shy to reveal its beautiful golden threads. White tidbits of crab meat and morsels of shiitake mushrooms floated like islands in the rich soup. Fragrant coriander leaves and white needles of bean sprouts are served as condiments on the side. The gelatinous strands of shark fin, chewy mushrooms and crunchy bean sprouts add an array of texture to the deep-flavored broth, making this dish a party for the palate.
Quick-boiled Chinese kale came neatly stacked and dressed with glistening oyster sauce on a plate (300 baht). The thick stems had been carefully peeled, leaving only the tender, crispy light green stalks. It was a simple but classic dish that’s hard to go wrong.
This is quite a meal in itself but for those of you with a big appetite, you can try the Pomfret Steamed in Plum Sauce (400 baht). A large mound of ginger slivers and pork fat strips covered most of the fish, with plump, juicy plums peeking out from underneath. Chinese food can be a bit oily but the pungent ginger and tartness of the plums helped cut down the oiliness of this dish as well as adding sharpness to the mildly seasoned fish.
Crab Claws or Prawns Baked with Vermicelli in Clay Pots (800 baht each) are another popular choice here, although my family claims Uncle makes it better. The faint aroma of spices were pleasing to the nose, although I was so full by this time that I only tasted a mouthful of each. The crab claws were packed with meat that easily fell off upon biting into them, but the prawns were a bit overcooked, resulting in the meat being too mushy. The vermicelli were lightly seasoned with a hint of soy sauce. The verdict? My uncle’s version is definitely more flavorful. Looks like I’ll have to ask him for the recipe one day!
We polished off the meal (feast might be a better word) with Gingko Nuts in Syrup (180 baht), which was refreshing and had just the right sweetness. This experience just goes to prove that great company and great food can make up for what’s missing in the ambience.
Bangkok Shark Fin
218/3-4 Siam Square Soi 1
Rama 1 Rd., Pathumwan
Tel: 02-251 -0987, 02-250-0976
Open: Daily 10:00am-11:00pm