Everyone has a comfort food. For a lot of people, it’s something bland and baby food-like — khao thom gub (plain boiled rice porridge, traditionally served with sides like minced pork omelette, dried salty fish and stir-fried morning glory) is a popular one among Thais, the Thai version of mashed potatoes. For others, it’s something that reminds them of their childhoods. Personally, I have always turned to spaghetti bolognese in times of stress, because it reminds me of the Italian-American town where I grew up.
But as disparate as comfort food dishes usually are, they are almost all invariably one thing (er, two things): starchy and filling. For a lot of people, Thai Chinese-style rice porridge (jok) usually fits the bill. An old-style fusion between Thai and Chinese cuisines, Thai jok differs from its Chinese counterpart in terms of seasonings used, and is set apart from the more Thai-style khao thom by the smoother texture of the porridge and runnier rice grains. Thai jok almost always comes with slivered ginger, chopped scallions and chiffonaded coriander leaves, and is usually studded with pork meatballs, pork innards and, if you wish, the inclusion of a hot whole egg, added at the last minute and meant to poach gently in the hot porridge as it is brought to your table. The final touch: deep-fried dough squiggles for crunchy texture, or Chinese-style flat doughnuts (pathongo), for their extra-oomphy starch power.
Because variations on jok are fairly limited, it’s pretty hard to find a terrible jok vendor (but they do exist, they just have to work hard at being bad). It’s equally as difficult to find a truly outstanding one. Many Thais will say that the jok at the Greenhouse Coffee Shop at the Landmark Hotel is exemplary, simply because it is clean, air-conditioned, and hews most closely to the porridge found in Hong Kong (it’s also relatively expensive).
But another great vendor — found on a side-street off of Sam Yan wet market — is Jok Sam Yan (Chula Soi 11). What sets it apart? Tightly wound and reasonably hefty meatballs, made of pork so well-seasoned that this vendor does a brisk trade in minced pork sales alone (180 baht/kg).
Also drawing kudos is their version with preserved, or “century” egg ( Thais refer to it as kai yiew maa, literally “horse pee egg”, an especially apt name).
But don’t forget the best supporting actor: those lovely, pillowy cushions of deep-fried dough so soft, so comforting, that Thais often order them on their own, with a side of sweet custard, without the porridge. Among the best vendors is, inexplicably, Kanom, a poncey Thai cafe more known for its egg tarts. Their pathongo are rolled and cooked outside of their Sukhumvit 39 branch, and served hot and fresh from the wok with a choice of plain, green or pink custard dipping sauces. As you can see, they are hard to resist, especially by people with a penchant for deep-fried dough (and who doesn’t?).