It’s January, so obviously I have been on a diet. After a few weeks of abstaining from all sugar, starchy foods and alcohol, I have managed to gain 2 kg. This, of course, serves to highlight the fact that my body has become trash. I will stick with this for now though, because I am dieting for my health. Like the Trump administration’s sliding scale of guilt (never talked to Russians = saw some Russians once = OK we talked but it’s not illegal = OK it’s illegal but I didn’t know about it), I now have a sliding scale of what will make me happy vis-a-vis my body (I need to lose weight = I am doing this for my health = I’m fine with being called “handsome” by people who are trying to be nice).
Unlike my body, some things change for the better. Khao Sarn Road, which was once in danger of being cleared of all its vendors despite hosting a high concentration of backpacker tourists, has seen a return of food carts, but the pad Thai and spring rolls of a few years ago have been replaced by Isaan-focused som tum-filled mortars and pestles and meat grilling on skewers. This, to me, means that the tourists coming to even the most touristy areas of Bangkok are growing more sophisticated with their Thai food knowledge. They are now basically eating like everybody else in Thailand.
But you know that old saying, “Plus ca change … and I forget the rest”. There are things that you can count on, even amidst all of the change and chaos that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us all. The longstanding vendor in front of Baan Chaophraya, Raan Nai Ngow (112 Phra Arthit Road, 087-021-0213), is one of those things. Nai Ngow serves up highly sought-after helpings of khao pad nam prik long ruea (rice fried in sweet pork chili paste) and kanom jeen sao nam (fermented rice noodles with a sauce of coconut milk, shrimp powder, pineapple, ginger, garlic and chilies). But their specialty is khao kluk kapi (rice in shrimp paste with Chinese sausage, sweet pork, egg, mango, green beans, dried shrimp and dried chilies), a central Thai dish that acts like a fried rice dish but is actually a salad. Combining the fresh crunchy snap of fresh veg and fruit with the comforting sweet fat of sausage and pork, acidity of fresh lime juice, and the complicating umami of dried shrimp and shrimp paste, this dish has something for everyone: a feast for every sense except for maybe the ears. Just mix like your life depends on it and resign yourself to the fact that some stuff is going to end up on your shirt by the end of the meal.
In a food world dominated by Chinese-derived dishes like soup noodles and stir-fries — Thai street food’s origins come from Chinese immigrants, after all — Nai Ngow specializes in actual Thai food dishes that are becoming more of a rarity on the street due to the profusion of ingredients and complicated assemblage. If you find yourself in the area with a few minutes to kill (and are no longer on a diet, note to future self), it’s worth it to take some time out from all the change coming at you and shelter your face in a plateful of some shrimpy-sweet rice.