Table Talk and Tapas
Soi Nana is a veritable hotbed of activity. Within a 250-metre stretch of macadam off westbound Charoen Krung, galleries, bars, and boutiques are opening by the day. Behind all this growth, behind the evolution of the neighbourhood, stand a gregarious Spaniard, his Spanish-fluent Thai wife, and a slender shophouse whose transformation begot a movement.
On the face of it, El Chiringuito is a tapas bar. The menu lists nine items in chalk on a side wall. Sangria and Spanish gin distinguish the selection of drinks, also written on the wall. Small dishes and high-quality alcohol, an atmosphere defined by antiques and handicrafts: it’s an implant from Madrid dropped neatly into the Bangkok beehive. But limiting El Chiringuito’s import to food and booze would be criminal. It’s the local, a community hall for all manner of urban aesthetes.
From Thursday to Saturday, Victor Hierro and Pupe Sae Ia unbolt the padlock around blue-gray doors, place a couple of wooden chairs and a table on the berm, and hit play on the soundtrack. Before long, their narrow venue fills. Many come for the pincho tortilla (B90), a classic made with caramelized onions and slow-cooked potatoes. “[Spanish expats] love it. They say, ‘It’s just like my mother’s!’ They don’t know it’s made by a Thai,” says Hierro, laughing. “She’s very good.”
After the couple met, they moved to Madrid, where in five years Pupe mastered not only the language, but also the cuisine. “The tortilla takes two hours to make,” she says with a kind of maternal pride. Her food is as honest as it comes, especially her cojonudo (B100) — rustic bread topped with morcilla (blood sausage) imported from Burgos, a slice of roasted red pepper, and a fried quail egg. Hierro handles the pizza, which is made from scratch, from the dough to the tomato sauce. It comes topped with chorizo (B190) or as a margarita pie (B160), although occasionally there’s a wonderful mushroom, potato, and black truffle option.
Conversation rules here. Couples and friends chat into the night, popping croquetas (B180) that melt on the tongue and burst with flavour, sucking down piquant cocktails of vermouth and cola called calimotxo (B130) or glasses of authentic gin xoriguer (B220). “All the time my friends ask to stay with me, so I say, ‘Okay, but you have to bring olives, you have to bring lots of morcilla,’” Hierro admits, beaming, his insatiable joie de vivre on display, a glimpse of the livewire boldness that helped spark the Chinatown revival. “It’s super-good.”
221 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Rd | 08 6340 4791
Facebook.com/elchiringuitobangkok | 6pm-midnight