I try to write something here once a week, because life without forcing yourself to do something is a life far too enjoyable, but sometimes, things happen. Last week, and the week before that, and the week before that one, and, oh, this week too, that thing has been the Cold Monster. The Cold Monster rarely visits, so I had little idea what to expect, but it’s a stubborn creature, and pretends to leave only to show up in fuller force when you are at your most jaunty and hatching plans to make an ass of yourself in public again. So that’s what I’ve been up to. Fighting the Cold Monster.
Obviously, I have also been eating. Alas, the cold medication that I have tried all I can to avoid is the only thing between me and utter destruction at this point, but it renders everything I eat either tinny or tasteless. There are only a few things that have broken through this cold-medication curse, and sans further verbal tap-dancing, I have listed them below. Not surprisingly, they are from my favorite kinds of places: shabby, taciturn, and ancient. They are grumpalicious.
Pong Lee (10/1 Ratchawithi Soi 9, 02-644-5037, open 11am-9:30pm)
Why I like it: My grandfather, bless him, is no longer the gourmet he once was. But there was a time when he liked nothing better than to tell other people what or where to eat, and this was invariably one of his favorite choices. It’s changed little since we took him here last — the decor is the same (shabby unchic), as is the clientele (“vintage”). Not surprisingly, the menu has also undergone little renovation. Although people like to order the deep-fried duck, our family has our own little favorites.
What I like: Old-school Thai-Chinese versions of “Western” dishes are also represented on the menu by way of Pong Lee’s deep-fried pork chop, swimming in a thick tomato sauce and peas. It sounds kind of gross, and maybe is if you are not familiar with this very specialized subset of old-style fusion food, but it is the dish my brother invariably goes for. Steamed seabass and hae gun (Chinese-style deep-fried shrimp rolls) are standbys, as is the odd vegetable dish of what appears to be canned white asparagus garnished with a murky seaweed. Sometimes (only if I am there), we order the stewed goat. Pong Lee’s specialty, however, is said to be the Hokkien-style fried egg noodles, garnished with shredded pork floss.
Sanguansri (59/1 Wireless Rd., 02-252-7637, open 10am-3pm)
Why I like it: Is it habit? Is it the food? I can’t tell anymore. Sometimes I am absolutely appalled by the service (but cannot say anything because, let’s face it, some of the servers are my grammy’s age). And sometimes I am perfectly happy to sit there, ignored, serving myself water from the counter and fighting to pay my bill. All I know is that I first came here when, well, I first came to Thailand, and eating here makes me think of that time. Also, the food seems to have only improved since then (as illustrated by the growing and increasingly-ravenous lunchtime crowd).
What I like: What can I say? It’s all about the kanom jeen nam prik. Sure, some other places also have kanom jeen (Mon-style fermented rice noodles) with vaunted reputations, but Sanguansri deserves it. Their nam prik – a mellow, chili-flecked, coconut milk-based curry — is genuinely delicious, layered and complex, sweet and mild but with an earthy undertow. Noodles come pre-mixed with greens for convenience’s sake (theirs, not yours), and sometimes they forget silverware and/or dishes, but whatever. As for everything else, it … skews sweet. Another favorite is the gluay chuem (bananas cooked in syrup), which comes drizzled in coconut milk, a further play on the salty-sweet thing.
Silom Pattakarn (Soi Silom Pattakarn, the soi after Silom Soi 15, 02-236-4442, open 10am-9pm)
Why I like it: Among the oldest remaining examples of Thai-Western fusion food, Silom Pattakarn specializes in something that is increasingly in danger of becoming extinct (see: Restaurant, Carlton) — Thai-Chinese versions of “Western” dishes such as “stew” (tomato-based sauce, peas, and pork, oxtail or ox tongue), corn soup, Chinese-style “chicken curry” (the national British dish), and “steak” (here seared perfectly and cooked medium to medium-well — no bleu among germ-phobic Thais!) accompanied with a simple salad in a sweet vinaigrette. There are also “fancy” Asian dishes such as fish maw soup, either cooked dry or nam daeng (“red broth”) and mee krob boran (old-style crispy thin noodles), which, unlike the lacquered khunying hair-like confections atop so many “traditional” restaurant tables today, arrives simply and humbly, mixed with minced shrimp, touched only a bit with sugar.
What I like: Uh, I think I went over that already. But honestly, I also just love the place: it’s breezy in the wintertime, the ladies are lovely, and everything comes with a fluffy tower of white bread and ginormous pat of butter. With the loss of the Carlton Restaurant on Silom (another “fancy” place frequented by blue-hair types who remember its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s), Silom Pattakarn has possibly become the remaining purveyor of this slice of post-World War II Thailand, when the country was young and budding and the future seemed bright (I remember this time vividly, you see). The restaurant is up for sale (granted, for the past 6-7 years), so this may be the last chance you get to see, and taste, progressive mid-century Thailand.