If you have spent as much time as we have eating, you've probably noticed many eateries use funny words to refer to their different portion sizes.
Your average street vendor of noodles, khao mun gai and khao kha moo usually has an option for you to go phiset, or special, by paying B5-B10 more for a slightly bigger portion. Bamee Jompalung at Talat Rot Fai Market in Chatuchak calls its biggest serving size khod phiset, which roughly translates as freaking special, and it is for customers who wish to eat a bowl of noodles weighing over two kilogrammes (khod works as an adjective to mean "very" in Thai and is rude in formal situations so don't use it as liberally as we do). We have spent so many hours queuing up for buy-one-get-one promotions at Starbucks that we use "short", "tall", "grande" and "venti" on a daily basis.
How about "are-you-crazy-to-order-something-that-big?" as a term for a boatload of food? It's literally and figuratively the case at the recently opened izakaya Chiba Cham, which actually serves some of its largest dishes in wooden boats. This restaurant chain from Chiba prefecture of Japan (next to Tokyo) offers "baka" and "obaka" sizes on some of its food and drink items, with the terms basically referring to big and large portions respectively. In Japanese, baka means fool, idiot, jerk and other unflattering terms along this line (which could be endearing when used to address close friends while you all are drunk).
From these terms, you've probably guessed that Chiba Cham isn't trying to be a zen-like and serene place where you dine in quiet to the tune of samisen under fake blossoming sakura trees. Lanterns and paper windmills in different colours give the place life and playfulness in contrast to the dark interior.
It comes across as a place where friends could get drunk and reasonably rowdy after work, true to the izakaya motif.
I'm off to a fattening start with Grilled bacon (B169; prices subject to tax and service charge). The thick pieces of pig are crisp on the outside and burst with delicious juice. Since I never plan to go on a diet, I have no problem with this oily sensation but it may be too much for some. Mustard and mayo on the side add some contrast to the powerful bites.
Chiba Cham's take on Yakisoba (B119, B249 for baka size, B359 for obaka size) offers thin but flavourful noodles in tasty sauce. The vegetables are still crisp, not having the life cooked out of them. I'm told the normal weight of this dish is about 190g. The baka portion here weighs three times that while the obaka option clocks 10 times.
Chiba Cham salad (B139, B349 for baka size) looks like it fell together by accident with its fried soba placed on a bed of coleslaw with tomato, but actually turns out well. The noodle is crunchy but won't chafe the roof of your mouth. The onsen egg hidden underneath the veggies adds some flavour and fluid into the mix. Tomato wedges round out this creamy and hearty salad with some sourness.
For juicy, hot and chunky bites try Chicken karaage (B89 for six pieces, B229 for 18-piece baka size, B359 for 60-piece obaka size). The fried chicken is already tasty on its own but you may want to add some lemon juice or chilli sauce to make it an umami tsunami.
Besides grilled and fried dishes, Chiba Cham also offers hot pots, sashimi and desserts. Doragon roll (B250) shows some finesse from the kitchen. Dried fish are placed on top of the rice roll which is coated with fried flakes of flour mixed with ebi. In the centre is more ebi and eel.
The drink menu is very long, featuring wine, cocktails, beer and more. The baka option also applies on some of the drinks too (and drinking too many could make you act baka too). Lemon sawa (B139, B329 for baka size) offers a fizzy, light and refreshing feel while Melon sawa (B139, B329 for baka size) is a sweeter option.
Although the pricing seems reasonable by Sukhumvit standards, there's a hidden cost in a fee called otoshi (table charge with appetiser), which is basically a surcharge of B29 per person. We're told it's a Japanese custom at this type of establishment.
The dishes I've tasted made my jaws drop by their size but not their taste. They are good enough but I don't think Chiba Cham is a place for you if you want to try something really novel, particularly in a city already teeming with all kinds and qualities of Japanese venues.
It's a place for friends to gang up on a boatload of food, conduct chopstick fights over the last piece, drink until their faces glow brighter than one of the many lanterns hanging above and have politically incorrect conversations after a few too many jugs of adult juice. If that sounds like your kind of place, then come on over.G
About the author
- Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter