There’s a book in most Bangkok bookshops called “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls”. You can also check out the author and her blog at http://www.bangkokglutton.com. It was high time I visited one of these places.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that one of these rated culinary street vendors might have gone out of business since publication, but that’s a risk you’ll just have to take. Having sourced this book for the Diplomat, I decided it was opportune that we actually sampled one of these 50 and so I picked Hai SomTum on Soi Convent, just off Silom. It is a restaurant specializing in Isaan food. I did this for two reasons: 1) because it was close to the Canadian Embassy and the route to it took us down what the Diplomat fondly calls “the back soi” meaning I could get a copy of “Iron Man 3” and “Jack The Giant Slayer” for £100 Baht (£2.10) at the covered market there; 2) because the guide indicated it was indoors and had menus – which makes life a trifle easier. After all, one of these 50 recommendations is Jc Yen Ta Fo, a wheeled food cart that the author fondly labels as “The noodle Nazi.” There is time aplenty to deal with food hawkers with a “brusque” attitude once we’ve done a couple of these.
So, I got a taxi down to the Embassy – which in itself was a joy, for once, as the taxi was clean and the driver both knew English and the destination immediately. I tell you, after living here and in New York I have a great respect and admiration for London cabbies. In NY at least most of the streets are numbered and in a grid so it’s not terribly hard, here in Bangkok they’ll either refuse to take you or call someone to tell them how to get to it – no GPS in these Toyotas!
I met up with the Diplomat and we wandered through the parking lot of Abdulrahim, 990 Rama IV, onto the back soi which was its usual heaving bustle of mopeds and office workers bargaining for clothing and food. I picked up my two DVDs, the Diplomat spotted a carbon copy Karen Millen for 1,500THB (you do the maths), and we sauntered off, crossing Soi Sala Daeng and ambling down Sala Daeng 2 with its barbed wire back walls of condos. Here’s a few shots of the ‘back soi’ market and the route:
As we walked the air was full of the aroma of Thai lunchtime cooking. People often say Bangkok smells of khlongs and sewers and whilst that can be true if it floods, the usual daily aromas are primarily the saliva-inducing ones of cooking. Maybe the air is crisper, cleaner, purer in the likes of Canada and the U.K. but…. the aromas of sanitation mixed with car fumes in those towns and cities is more unpalatable (I think) than Bangkok’s heady mix of car fumes and cooking spices. Every so often you have to blink furiously as a liberal dose of chilli powder is tossed into a hot pan and a gas of eye-watering proportions leaks into your lachrymal glands. More often than not you find yourself stopping and gazing at food as it is prepared freshly in front of you. Believe me, it usually tastes better than it smells.
Anyway, we cut round the back of Silom and onto Soi Convent where we found our destination. It looked full but we were ushered upstairs to perch at a table with two stools. Most Bangkok street-style restaurants look like they got their tables and chairs from a UK primary school. You know the chairs I mean; the ones that irritated teachers force parents to awkwardly perch on whilst listening to a monologue about how wonderful little Timmy or little Josie is at finger painting. We immediately got given two metal cups (think WWII soldier cups that were made from tins) full of ice cubes ready for whatever drink we wanted.
At this point I proudly asked the no nonsense, older Thai lady who was our server “Mee arai piset?” (What’s the house specialty?) and waved the book at her which drew smiles and an indication of two items. The first was a Somtum Thai which consisted of a papaya salad and peanuts, the second was Sai Gok E-Sarn – Thai grilled sausage. We nodded our acceptances and added two sticky rices (kao niew), a spicy sliced pork salad with roasted rice powder (Nam Tok Yu) and a Gai Yang Lek which was a small grilled chicken. Plus some nam plow (cold water) and two cokes.
It all arrived, was darn tasty, very filling, just the right amount of mouth searing spices and served in a friendly manner. Even the decor fit well (and there wasn’t any) so we emerged two happy farang. Oh and the cost of all that food? 300Baht (with tip). £6 for all that? Makes me realise how much of a rip-off Western food can be. Serve it simple, serve it tasty, and you’ll get a thousand happy lunch time customers. So…is this worthy of a spot in the Top 50 food stalls in Bangkok? No idea, but I’ll let you know after a few more have been sampled. It was an auspicious start…so here’s the pictures of what we ate.
Here’s another blog by someone who visited which I quite like. Gives you a different perspective on it and tells you that Som Tum is actually the food choice of the dieter. Who knew?
Is this what diplomacy is all about?