When you get home from a day out in Bangkok you’re coated with the smells of sweat, oil, dirt, and cooking food. Eventually, since you’re sweating food fumes you think, “I should really eat this food too.” In order to taste some street food Alexa and I enlisted Andrew’s help—we can’t read Thai script and those places with English menus are clearly inferior fakers.
Andrew, as far as I can tell, has a few very particular favorite Thai foods and food stands. He likes 7eleven pandan bread, a bread roll stuffed with a bright green root paste, Thai omelets, omelets stuffed with pork served on top of sticky or steamed white rice, and whatever they are serving at the two street vendors across from his apartment in Sala Dang. He almost never cooks, despite occasionally threatening to make us steak, which Alexa and I smile and decline. Apparently most Thais order out so Andrew is just assimilating, plus, as he puts it, “I’m not a professional chef and I don’t have a wife who makes me chili sauce.” Indeed, the wife of the chef across the street does make some sick sauce. She doesn’t even watch her fingers as she swings and slams large knives around, dicing and blending mysterious colorful ingredients. She stares straight ahead, well armed, and somehow, incredibly unconcerned. Andrew loves this cart, I think he mainly loves studying the husband and wife who apparently go whole weeks without talking to each other and then suddenly the chef will feel inspired to puff his chest with pride and tell Andrew all about his chili-sauce superstar woman. As far as I can tell, she never talks to anyone other than her husband—if it’s a week where they are talking. But she has a really kind smile and appreciated our presence as Andrew’s phuans (friends). At this stand I discovered that Thai BBQ tastes pretty American and that I can’t tell any difference between Larb made with rice powder and without. Thais are adamant that these dishes, which look, taste, and smell identical, are different. Hmmm. I also learned about the green beans that come with your meal: eat lots when your mouth is ON FIRE. Thais say they are “good for your health,” I’d say that might be an understatement.
The next day with Andrew we tried some desert for breakfast. Thai breakfasts are a little too, well, fried rice, for my taste.
This is like cotton candy but wrapped in a pancake made of the same dough that when fried becomes the outside of spring rolls. Thais also use it to make crepe-like deserts and savories with ingredients as western as banana or as unexpected as chili and dried shrimp. The cotton candy wisps were a big hit with Alexa and she happily assembled three, peeling away a pancake from one bag, crabbing stringy sweet from the other, and finally making a little candy burrito.
Andrew’s favorite, another of his particular loves that I forgot to mention earlier, is Thai “Ice Cream Sandwich.” This is literally ice cream in a sandwich bun, salted. It seems like pop art irony but it’s food.
This one was mine. I’ll break it down by color: sticky rice flavored with beets (the purple beads), sweetened banana chunks (yellow), and candied strings of pandan root vegetable (green). I picked this combination mainly because it had pretty colors. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to ask for a different one. The woman selling them just kept shaking her head and pointing to this pre-chosen assortment. Apparently it was my destiny to eat this exact dish but you could also get ones, maybe if you had more gumption and Thai ability, with corn, licorice, candied cherries, coconut, ect. Everything gets topped with shaved ice and a ladle of coconut milk…surprisingly good. My favorite part was the beet rice, although as Alexa pointed out, this was also the purple part (my favorite color) so that wasn’t really surprising. I had some trouble with the texture of the green stuff that you would think would be soft like donut filling but was actually pretty set at keeping its wormlike gummy consistency. I’ve never been a big fan of worms.
We stopped for lunch while exploring the amulet market. Andrew figured out the menu at a noodle soup restaurant right on the edge of the dock so we ate with a nive breeze from the river.
I must report that we cheated at dinner. We gave Andrew’s Thai reading a break and went to restaurant with an English menu. I never thought I’d be so glad to see an English description and have my food back in my own ordering hands! I got a spicy papaya salad. Don’t underestimate that word “spicy,” it is no casual descriptor. My mouth was on fire for more than 20 minutes but it was my favorite thing we ate. Plus it came with a sexy little pink flower carved out of cabbage! I’m not sure how Andrew felt about his flower, or about our touristy decision to eat at a restaurant that offered things in our own language, but Alexa and I were glad to have a little control restored. Hours out in this city are like a slow progression deeper and deeper into the ocean. For a little while you can feel the sand at your toes and can enjoy the barrage of waves that nock you a little off balance. Then suddenly the salt is in your eyes, you can’t touch the bottom and your ears are stuffed with the meaningless echo of the ocean. You have to take little breaks back to your towel, away from the city’s heat and the soft background sounds of melodious Thai speech, otherwise you’ll go a little mad for lack of center.