Before my trip last year, my sister gave me Thailand’s Best Street Food (Amazon.com), and since I wasn’t able to work my way through the entire list then, I’m going to resume my work today and try to eat as much Bangkok street food as possible. I think I’m ready for any eventuality: I brought Tums, Pepto-Bismol, and a Z-Pak.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Sleeping wasn’t as easy as I expected considering how tired I was, but I got a few hours in between periods of wakefulness. After an 8:00 AM call with a potential new client, I was ready for breakfast.
Breakfast in a Bowl
While the area where I’m staying (near Soi Thonglor) is known more for its night market, there are many street carts and “shophouse” restaurants, the latter generally featuring more abundant seating and a food cooking/assembly area right at the entrance that you can ogle and, risking sour looks, photograph. Saew specializes in hot and sour pork noodle soup, a classic breakfast staple. After crossing the street through the elevated train station, and wandering a few blocks West, I was warm enough that I started to doubt my need for a hot soup.
But even if fighting fire with fire is illogical, the aromas were too enticing to resist. I needed few vocabulary words to place my order. Bamee are egg noodles, in this case ribbons of narrow flat noodle that could have passed for a homemade ramen noodles and had a nice bite. Moo is pork, which came in both slices and ground form. My soup also included fishcake (one round ball and one slice) that I assume were friends with the pig. Tom yum refers to hot and sour flavor.
I was directed to share a table with a pretty Thai woman. When my bowl arrived (within a minute), I checked the tray on the table for crushed peanuts to sprinkle on top. Ground dried chillies, white sugar, and fish sauce also were available for doctoring the bowl to one’s taste. My tablemate skillfully worked her chopsticks with her right hand and spoon with her left hand to neatly and silently work her way through her noodles. By contrast, I was awkwardly switching utensils between hands and slurping my noodles. Fortunately, I will have many opportunities to practice eating noodles Thai-style.
After breakfast, I wandered the nearby streets looking for a sweet treat. What most appealed to me was a snack of stuffed tapioca balls (sakoo sai moo). Stuffed with pork seasoned with peanuts and coconut, and doused with garlic oil, they are a chewy, sweet and savory treat that is hard to find back home — and tricky to make. Since I didn’t take a photo, you’ll have to take my word that fourteen balls were packaged with a sleeve of oily fried garlic (do not approach without a napkin or two), lettuce leaves, cilantro sprigs, and numerous tiny but mighty spicy Thai chillies.
Stomach burning, I finished yesterday’s blog post. And now, it’s already time for lunch!
Lunch in Two Bowls
My quest for pork noodles is nowhere near its end. I took a 15 minute walk to Rung Reung Pork Noodle on Soi 26. This name does not appear on any sign, but can be found across the top of the handwritten menus on each table. Section “A” lists the various noodle options, section “B” lists the regular and spicy broth and dry options, section “C” lists the protein options, and finally you choose small, medium or large. I placed an order for bamee in a tom yum dry style with moo, medium sized. The main difference from this morning would be that there wouldn’t be a broth. After a bit, a couple joined my table and a much more assertive waitress came to take my order. So I did the natural thing and ordered again, this time taking her suggestion to get the “mixed” proteins, as well as a side order of deep fried fish skins, a snack I’ve previously tried on Northern trips. Wouldn’t you know it: I got two bowls of noodles, and looks of wide eyed surprise from my tablemates. I didn’t know how to translate the word “mistake.”
In my first bowl, the egg noodles were very thin, and the serving modest — the quantity of pork overwhelmed them. There was just enough drainage from the noodles to create a large tablespoon of broth, which was delicious. I wonder whether the large size would have had more noodles, because that really would have been the only way to improve this dish. I took my second bowl up to the counter and had them add spicy broth for a change of pace, which might have made it doubly spicy. In addition to pork and fishcake, the mixed bowl included, according to the menu, “entrails (heart/liver/chitterlings).” I recognized the liver from its taste and color, and I think the heart could be identified by its color and texture (it didn’t taste unusual), and then there were the other items. After eating something translucent and chewy with some goop of mixed colors in it, I hid the remaining mystery bits under a napkin. I think I’ll definitely stick with the pork next time.
As the thermometer had hit 90 degrees, I paused on the way back to peruse an air conditioned Tops Market. The neighborhood has many businesses that cater to Japanese customers, and this market features many foods imported from Japan. Naturally, I prospected the bottled tea section seeking the holy grail: unsweetened tea that actually tastes like tea. I’m somewhat tempted to try one of the Japanese restaurants, too, but time is short and my list of places to get pork noodles is so long. Maybe “next time.”
The new Marriott hotel nearby has a rooftop bar famed for its sunset and evening views. With the overcast afternoon sky, it was difficult to predict what might be visible, and keeping my eyelids open had become a chore so I set an alarm and napped. About 15 minutes before sunset, I struggled to the window and saw some interesting colors in the sky. It was too late to hike over to the Marriott, so I rode the elevator to the roof of the Crest. I expected to find other sunset seekers, but it was convenient that I had it to myself because the protective bars did not even allow a dSLR lens to pass through — I had to stand on a chair with my camera above my head. Upon returning to the room, I noticed the view from the balcony was just as good and completely unobstructed.
Dinner in Two Bowls and a Styrofoam Tray
Nearby Soi 38, renowned for its night market, doesn’t come alive until 8:00, so I grabbed another nap before dinner. When the time came, my street food book pointed me to a cart well down the strip that offered egg noodles with pork, crab, and dumplings (probably wonton). Despite the absence of English-language signage, I found Bamee Soi 38 but missed one of the menu cards and my order for “mixed” hot and sour soup ended up having sliced red-cooked pork and fishcakes atop rice noodles. The texture of the noodles and the flavor of the broth were superlative but because this wasn’t what I came for, I had to place another order, this time for take-away, without broth. The egg noodles were portioned into a plastic bag, followed by the proteins and garnishes. Unfortunately, this makes for an upside-down presentation when removed from the bag. Perhaps next time I should open it from the bottom? I couldn’t resist picking up a package of sticky rice with sweet mango and rich coconut cream sauce from a cart along the way back. Not surprisingly, after such a huge load of carbs, I became too drowsy to blog.
Tomorrow I will be taking my first cooking class in Thailand with some idealistic young people from Courageous Kitchen. Maybe they can teach me some shortcuts I can use at home in my own, more timid kitchen?