Bangkok is undergoing major gentrification of late. It has crept across the lesser-known Thonburi side where older communities and more authentic lifestyle thrive.
Suan Somdej Ya community by the memorial bridge on the Thonburi side was once vibrant and active. But it fell into decline as roads replaced rivers and canals. Until recently, the largely forgotten neighbourhood has changed as river life is booming again.
I just returned here for a creative event which provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with this hidden gem.
The alleyway in front of the park’s entrance leads to the community where a street food cart operated by a lovely old couple is located. They make ‘Guay Jab’, fresh rice noodles in a dark aromatic Chinese herbal soup.
People crowd around waiting patiently for their bowl of guay jab. The ‘operation of deliciousness’ starts around 4pm when the sun has softened and parents take their kids home.
Guay jab is a unique herbal soup. The noodles are thicker but soft and full of creamy rice flavour. Normally, the soup is dark in colour seasoned with five spices. There are a lot of goodies in the soup. Pork is always the mainstay: boiled pork, sliced pork skin, pork liver, crispy pork and pig blood with juicy tofu and hard-boiled egg to add breadth and depth to this delicious noodle soup.
Grandma measures the noodles into each bowl then slowly selects cuts of meat, laying them carefully on top of the noodles. Then she pours the aromatic soup into the bowls before handing them to the hungry customers.
When my bowl arrives, I catch the aroma of star anise, cinnamon and other Chinese herbs. I taste the soup which is perfect without further seasoning except for a pinch of roasted chilli. People around me wait to see the expression on my face, I smile and nod my head in satisfaction. They smile back with pride as if it was their food!
As I devour the dish, the grandma keeps on preparing and serving, and never pausing even for a moment. Before I finish my second bowl, she announces to newcomers, ‘today it is finished’ and invites them to return tomorrow. I’m happy I didn’t miss my chance, though I do feel a pang of guilt at the privilege of having two bowls.
Beyond the wonderful guay jab is the feeling of being here, being embraced by the community. I realise that it is not only the authentic flavours that I love but also a sense of being in the ‘real Bangkok’. The world that still exists in spite of modernisation and development that has transformed so much of my city.
Address: Guay Jab Suan Somdej Ya is at the entrance of the park. Opens Monday to Friday, around 4 pm-7pm.