To celebrate all things food-related in this issue, here are some of my favourite ‘hidden’ Thai food joints
Bangkok easily ranks among the top five cities in the world for street food, with someone tossing a blackened pan over bright flames on virtually every corner of the capital. Quality is generally high everywhere you go, but over the years I’ve collected a number of favourites which the average tourist probably won’t stumble across on their own.
In the midst of tony community malls and hairdressers on Soi Thonglor, Hoi-Tod Chaw-Lae (Soi Thonglor, about 100m from Sukhumvit Rd on the left) lays out expertly prepared fresh seafood platters based upon fresh oysters from Ang Sila and mussels from Pak Nam. The hawy malaeng phoo thawt (Chinese-Thai-style mussel omelet) here is the crispiest rendition I’ve seen anywhere. Phad Thai is given special treatment here by marinating fresh shrimp with sour plums, then batter-frying them to create a crispy raft to support the noodles, yellow tofu, and garlic chives.
At Pa Aew (Maha Rat Rd, in front of the Krung Thai Bank), a modest foodstall in Ko Ratanakosin near Wat Pho, an elderly auntie ladles rich, spicy central Thai dishes onto plates of steamed rice. Here I recommend plaa phat phrik khing, chunks of fresh fish and sliced green beans stir-fried in a ginger-chili paste, and kung thawt krathiam, jumbo shrimp pan-fried in plentiful garlic.
Khao Khluk Kapi Phra Athit (Phra Athit Rd), near world-renowned backpacker haven Khao San Road, serves one of Thai cuisine’s most classic specialties—a pungent blend of rice tossed with shrimp paste, green mango, egg, sweet pork, and Chinese sausage. The accompanying bowl of peppery soup is equally impressive.
One of the few Bangkok vendors to cook good khao soy, a Yunnanese-influenced northern Thai dish of squiggly egg noodles served in a mild curry broth, is Yuy Lee (Sukhumvit Soi 31). I also enjoy the shop’s khanom jeen naam ngiaw, rice noodles doused in a sweet-sour-savory sauce of fresh-ground tomatoes and pork blood.
Another northern Thai dish hard to find in Bangkok is khanom jeen sao nam, thin rice noodles topped with coconut cream, dried shrimp, slivered pineapple, ginger, and garlic. Somsong Phochana (Samsen Soi 1) near the river does this dish proud, along with kuaytiaw sukhothai, rice noodles swimming in a tangy tom yam broth with sliced pork, minced pork, boiled egg, and long beans.
The single cook-owner at Jay Fai (327 Maha Chai Rd), a petite, energetic woman in her 70s, turns out an amazing kuaytiaw phat kee mao thalay. Literally ‘drunkard’s seafood noodles’, this dish features thick rice noodles tossed in a super-hot, charcoal-fired wok with fresh squid, fish, prawns, fresh veggies, palm heart, mushrooms, holy basil, and fiery chopped chilies. I also love the crab omelet here. Bring plenty of cash, as it’s not as cheap.
Operated by the same family since 1927, authentically vintage Eiah Sae (103-105 Phat Sai Rd, off Yaowarat Rd, tel. 02 221 0549) roasts and grinds its own robusta blend to brew a strong cup of Hokkien-style coffee, served with condensed milk. Thick, charcoal-grilled toast served with tasty coconut-egg custard, coddled eggs, or butter and sugar, rounds out the experience.
Hidden away inside a one-story concrete bunker amid the embassies and high-rises of Wireless Rd, Sanguan Sri (59/1 Withayu Rd) has been a Thai culinary landmark for generations. The food comes straight out of the bosom of a Thai granny: green curry, soup with glass noodles and minced pork, crispy dried fish salad, crisp-fried noodles with chicken and Chinese gravy, and other traditional fare.
Kai Thawt Jay Kee (137/1-3 Soi Polo, off Withayu Rd, tel. 01 252 2252), more commonly known as ‘Soi Polo Fried Chicken’, does what I firmly believe is Bangkok’s best Thai-style fried chicken. The bird is fried whole, to keep the meat juicy, then hacked to pieces just before serving. It’s packed during lunch and dinner, and sends out hundreds of delivery boxes of takeaway on a good day. Order a side of somtam, spicy green papaya salad, available in both Lao and Thai styles, a spicy-tangy tom saep soup, and sticky rice, served in traditional lidded baskets.
A legend in expat circles, Royal India (392/1 Chakphet Rd, tel. 02 221 6565) is barely visible from Chakphet Rd in Little India, huddling in the shadows of a small alley. Honest, authentic dishes from northern India draw a crowd at lunchtime, when local Indian residents share tables with Thai office workers and travellers from different continents. Those in the know request achar, a pungent, fiery mango-chili jam, to take hot curries to the next level.
Finally, Naaz (Charoen Krung Soi 43) serves some of the city’s richest khao mok kai (chicken biryani) from a small living-room kitchen. The milk tea is exemplary, and daily specials include chicken masala and mutton korma. Another house speciality is firni, a Middle Eastern pudding spiced with coconut, almonds, cardamom and saffron.