Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was clear: five different dishes over the course of a stroll down Yaowaraj Road, the main drag running through Bangkok’s Chinatown. First, a plate of guay thiew lod, flat rice noodles stuffed with pork, doused in a sweet-n-dark soy sauce and slathered with deep-fried garlic and bits of coriander; then a bowl of ga po pla, viscous fish maw soup studded with shiitake mushrooms and more coriander; a stop at an award-winning lard na stand, serving quick-fried rice noodles mixed with slices of tender pork, bitter-salty Chinese kale and bits of egg; next, guay jab, a Chinese hand-rolled rice noodle in a hot pork-filled broth; and a parting bowl of bua loy nam khing, rice flour dumplings filled with sesame paste in a gingery syrup.
But first we had to get to Chinatown, a trip which started off inauspiciously when I became transfixed by the sight of a grilled corn stand and, after shouting “Corn!” to no one in particular, tumbled down the stairs out of the subway stop. We then endured a toe-curling ride in a lopsided tuk-tuk with a driver who appeared to mistake our shrieks of terror for squeals of delight. It was worth it, because what met us after our ride was this:
This flat steamed noodle (available on Yaowaraj Rd. in front of the Seiko Watch Shop) is a popular option at many a Sunday morning dim sum table, stuffed with pork or diced shrimp, but none is as satisfyingly over-loaded as this Chinatown version, dripping in sauce and extraneous toppings, the Tacky Showgirl to the more demure and understated traditional type. It was hard to limit our Gluttonous party (which included @Specialkrb, @anuntakob and @aceimage) to a couple of dishes, but more stops awaited, including the following:
Because of its bath sponge-like appearance, fish maw soup is often misunderstood, and its slimy texture often a turnoff for otherwise-adventurous diners. But when cooked well, it can be a feathery mix of tang and salt. This version here, available at the stand next to the guay thiew lod vendor, is exceptional.
Next, a quick stroll down the road to Jay Oun Rard Na Yod Pak yielded plates of some of the best fried noodles in gravy in the country. It’s not me who is saying this; these noodles have actually won awards (because Thailand is the kind of country that gives awards for this kind of thing. You’ll read about some award-winning pad thai later on).
Options included sen yai (big noodles) or sen mee (angel hair noodles), but the big noodle version stands up best to the thick gravy here. The inclusion of “yod pak” in the name means this stand serves only pork, which appears to be the reason why these noodles are a stand-out: the pork is thin, tender and velvety. We were not able to restrain ourselves here and ordered four plates of this dish.
Almost-full, we trundled further on down the road to one of the most crowded spots on the road (Guay Jab Oun Pochana. “Oun”, which means “fat”, appears to be a popular nickname on this road, for obvious reasons). Now, I am no guay jab fan, but I can see why these scrolled noodles are so popular; they are obviously hand-made and the broth is full of porky, piggy goodness. Pick your table well, since we ended up sitting over some sort of subway grate that made our visit here even more uncomfortably humid than normal.
Finally, a trip to a variation of those thao tung iced dessert stands that I love so much. This one, Jay Oun (in front of Heng Lee Goldsmith), serves the aforementioned bua loy (which literally means “floating lotus”) but also great chao guay (a black jelly that tastes a little like black coffee and is served with shaved ice and syrup) and nam khing, served with deep-fried dough squiggles and dollops of freshly made tofu, shown below:
If you have some space left in your stomach, order your black jelly with pa guay, or yellow gingko nut, which is not only delicious, but also supposed to make you smarter. We all can use a bit of that.
A trip to Bangkok’s Chinatown requires a lot of planning and persistence: it’s hard to get to, especially amid this city’s notorious traffic, people will open their car doors on you while you are eating, and you will get hot, sometimes uncomfortably so. But for Chinatown’s mix of great Thai-Chinese food and great scenery, it’s worth it.