Romancing Street Food in City of Angels, Part One!
Location: Pratunam District
Date & Time: May 2012 @ 7am
When I Google for ‘Bangkok Street Food’, over 14 million results appeared… where do I even begin?
*picture taken from here
A city renowned for its culture, shopping, entertainment and food, Bangkok, capital city of Thailand, is infamous for tourism as its top economic. Highly populated, it’s a hot and sweaty metropolis trying to inch its way to grow with its spurts of skyscrapers settling among little shops and buildings. Dusty, hot and sweaty, the pulsating city is a favorite for travelers all over who seeks adventure, entertainment, shopping, food and maybe a little more?
Nothing deters its tourist despite its many flaws… that is if you can call it flaws. To me, Bangkok is truly a gem at heart. Everything from its people to the culture, economic and heritage is priceless. A culture that smiles despite some hardships, one is really impressed at the might of its nation that holds the country in their hearts. Yes, there are some political issues but again where in the world would you not have such in any country? At least to say, the Thais are truly filled with respect for the King and Queen, shown faithfully almost everywhere I turned in Bangkok.
When one mentions Bangkok, shopping is the first (or even second to its infamous label of Sin City of Asia) that comes to mind. Through my eyes, neither one fits the bill! After all, it’s me, a person who chases food dreams like no other all the time. J
The City of Angels is a mecca of gastronomical industry. Despite the many times of my visits over the years, I still find inspiration and impressive admiration for Thai cuisine. At this moment, I am referring to the raw and audacity of Thai Street Food. Yes, I have dined at some of the best, but the best should not be categorized as the most expensive. Sometimes, it’s the original form of a cuisine that holds the elite title of the best in my books.
With a dense 12 million population all crammed up in Bangkok, eating surely must be a priority. This round, I chose to stay in a popular tourist area, Pratunam District, where shopping is the favorite sport. However, I found myself lost in oblivion of street food rather than its entire glorified bargain shopping ergonomic in that area.
Prior to starting my street food obsession, let me bring you a shopping fixation that had me at hello! As early as 6am, the whole Pratunam area is alive and kicking with mobile stalls filling up the streets with every fashionable sense one can imagine!
Picture taken at 7am and people are just shopping like nobody’s business! It seemed that everyone is out to grab the best and bargains are haggled ferociously yet with respect. Women and even men are seen to be grabbing huge bags of goods and dragging them effortlessly everywhere.
Once it hits around a little after 9am, these vendors will pack up faster than Speedy Gonzales and arranged their carts neatly and tightly along the side of the road for vehicles to start coming through. Some of the vendors will start to setup for the evening shoppers after work hours.
As I started my journey out of my hotel along the quiet street in the early morning, a sense of peacefulness touched my heart. Something so serenely beautiful at 7am where mobile stalls are seen quietly and carefully setup by owners whose faces showed lines of hardship and humbleness.
Walking further towards the main street is where I spotted the shopping marathon. Needless to say, I walked back towards the street grubs that magnetized my nostrils.
Ever since I had a taste of Thai Iced Tea (cha yen), I have always had a soft spot for the ultra-sweet and creamy concoction of densely brewed tea laced with a bright orange-brown hue. The Thais make Iced Tea truly unique in their own way. They love their drinks sweet, hence they spiked up their tea with sugar, sweetened condensed milk and round it up with a big dash of evaporated milk. So you get a sweet and strong tea concoction filled with a caramel aroma and a luscious creamy after taste. Another notable fact is that they really supersized up their drinks in large plastic wares filled compactly with crushed ice, making the drink icy cold and refreshing.
While one might stay away from the ultra-sweet tea, I love it with all my might! In fact, I can’t seem to get enough of it that I drank the Thai Iced Tea as much as I could get my hands on each day while I was there. Heck, I even bought a supply of instant ones back to Malaysia!
Seen all over the streets in Bangkok, these drink vendors are super famous as Thais (and not Thais like me) would be seen queuing up for a few orders of Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee, hot coffee and tea, Iced Chocolate, and more. Quick and working at a steady pace, drinks were churned out like factory production lines. I am amazed that this seller doesn’t even looked up unless he is taking order and the fact that he even knows whose turn it was when there wasn’t even a line formed. Another salute… the Thais is really patience as everyone is seen quietly and patiently waited for their turn for their orders.
Another drink vendor caught on my lens was taken much earlier in the morning. Seen setting up, it’s really no surprise to see that charcoal is still being used. It goes to show that the city still embraces its heritage where modern technologies are still used sparsely. Or could it be just that there is a preference in maintaining its roots in respect or maybe even the possibility of cost. Working in a gentle pace, the lady vendor neatly arranged everything despite the heady steam rising from the boiling pot to steam upon her face. She even has little light breakfast bites alongside her drinks for sale.
As it is a ritual to Thais that they offer food and clothes to monks, street sellers are seen parading set meals neatly prepared together with drinks to be offered to monks. There were plenty of monks around that morning and I did buy a few for them as an offering. Each time you give something, the monks will chant a blessing whereas you just held your hands and show respect by praying and bowing to them once they are done. Flower garlands are also seen beautifully stranded for religious offerings as well.
If you still haven’t notice, Thais are really good in making their food looked attractive. Presentation takes top notch here and every food stall has really neat and beautiful arrangement of food to attract diners, hungry or not. Everything is so synchronized and placed in such a pedantic manner that is such a sight to behold!
Still early and Thais are already seen enjoying rice! This lady was seen gently slicing up pieces of meat and distributing it equally on to packets of rice topped with a very delectable piece of crispy edge fried egg. A small packet of sweet and spicy sauce was also placed together. She proceeded to drizzle on a little sauce over the meat and neatly wrapped it with cling film. All these are meticulously done so the pre-packed rice looked really inviting.
Ranging from grilled pork and chicken to deep fried meat to noodles and more, I was itching to get my hands on one but stopped as I wanted to check out other stalls. Even the eggs in Thailand looked inviting with its beautiful bright orange yolk contrasting brilliant with its white. Sadly, when I did return for this, she was gone…
More packed rice, this round with Chicken and Holy Basil with Fried Egg (pad gra pao gai kai dao), Rice and Fried Pork (khao moo tod), Thai curries, and Tomato Macaroni. Pad Gra Pao is spicy stir-fried minced pork with Thai holy basil. It’s the herb basil that makes this dish so distinctively aromatic and a popular comfort dish in Thailand.
At the end of the small road before the main road, a stall with two sellers was busy grilling meat and fish. Most of the meat and seafood were already cooked but they were finished or reheated on the grill upon order. Ok, I caved in and ordered grilled pork skewer, sticky rice and two sides. Somehow the whiffs of the smoky and sweet aromas are simply too irresistible…
The smoky and sticky salty flavors of glutinous rice mixed with minced pork and spices stuffed into sausage casing and grilled to perfection also lured my senses out of control. Buying one to try was a challenge but I had to save room for others to be fair.
Pre-packed Pork and Bamboo Shoot with Holy Basil (pad gra pao moo saap sai normai) and Chicken with Holy Basil (pad gra pao)
Walking out to the main street, check out the achingly luscious sight of more dishes to be served with rice! Either the Thais are packing this for lunch or they really eat breakfast like a king!
Ok… tell me how to resist this Grilled Pork Skewer (moo ping) at 15 baht each??? Every bite was a sweet sensation on the taste although I have to admit that the meat was slightly chewy and quite fatty. Looking back at this picture was a mistake as I was practically drooling all over my keyboard on the pork…
Then I also saw Thai Fried Pork Skewers, stacks of golden fried pork in various flavors. 10 baht each and justifying to myself that it’s so cheap, I bought a few simply because of my adulterous pork addiction.
I spied a noodle stall across the street and also gave in to temptation. Ordering a bowl of instant noodle topped with several kinds of meatball in a dry sauce, the young lady and I had trouble on communication. Oh well, sign language comes in handy in such cases. Just point to what you want and cross your fingers she gets it right! 40 baht a bowl, I cautiously added condiments and brought it to find my family to join them.
Along the way, I spied another seller bustling with action in serving big bowls of Porridge (jukh). She has so many pots that I couldn’t even identify what some of the items are in the pots. I spied a huge cauldron of porridge filled with minced pork balls bubbling ferociously away.
Also looking highly sexy were little golden fritters, Pa Thong Kor, swimming in a deep huge wok of oil (strangely dark but producing golden fritters). Also known as Thai Crullers, these little crispy fritters are usually served with Sangkaya or sweetened condensed milk. Lots of handwork going into these fritters but the sale price is really cheap. Beautifully golden, I was glad my hands were quite full so I didn’t manage to buy them. Boy, it’s just so hard to resist as there just a mind-boggling array of temptations everywhere I looked!
Curry Noodles and Tom Yam Noodles…I came, I saw, I walked away despite the aromatic coconut milk and spicy Tom Yam spices luring my senses. Tried to buy this the next day and it was sold out so I didn’t get to try this…*sulking away….
Found my family and was glad to know that they did their own ordering of goodies that I get to pick on theirs of course, wink!
My breakfast on the first morning consisted of Thai sticky rice (khao neow), Grilled Pork Skewer (moo ping), Deep Fried Pork Skewers, Minced Pork Salad (larb moo) and Thai Omelet with Acacia Shoots (cha om kai). I certainly ate like royalty! Sticky rice was tasteless but when paired up with the pork skewers, it was just heavenly. The flavors of the pork skewers were heavy and quite salty so the rice even out the flavors beautifully.
Larb Moo, a tangy and spicy minced pork salad was so good, my family kept stealing this from me. Fighting them off was a big chore that day. The minced pork salad has a list of ingredients including mint, crushed toasted rice and lime juice. Thai Omelet with Acacia Shoots was not too bad except it was too salty even when eaten with rice. The tender acacia leaves have an aniseed and almost minty aroma and taste although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. After all that said, I would still repeat this all over again… J
Since I also bought the Dry Noodles loaded with balls of sorts, I had pumped it up with crushed peanuts, chili flakes, pickled chili and coriander. The impact of flavors was so powerful at first bite! It was a huge hit of sourness, spiciness and sweetness that makes this noodle so desirable. Those alienated forms of pork balls and fish cakes were also astonishingly scrumptious. Loved the nutty peanuts in the noodles while hints of pungent fish sauce make the noodles distinctively Thai!
Thais seemed to prefer their food in small portions. The noodles were barely a few bites and thus left me craving for more…
Family ordered the glorious porridge I saw earlier. Served with a raw egg yolk, fried garlic bits, ginger, spring onion, pepper and pork balls, the porridge was excruciatingly silky smooth. The starch has blended so well from the rice till the texture of the porridge was just creamy and savory in every spoonful. It was so good, my family went back for another order of this!
Another rice noodle dish, this time with soup, was ordered from the same stall I had my noodles. This was purposely left plain for my little one. A little savory and sweet, the broth was pretty good and with clean flavors. I simply preferred my dry version, although I did steal the leftover balls…
Every bite of my breakfast was as equal to one in awed of a Van Gogh impressionist painting! Something so humble and ordinary to Thais has led me on a flavor roller coaster ride. Despite the many months since I was in Bangkok, the vivid memories of each dish still remains fondly in my mind and heart.
Stay tune for more Bangkok Street Food Part Two…