There is no “wet market” in Bangkok that comes close to “Aor Thor Kor” in terms of variety, quality, and cleanliness. This is probably why we brave the 40+-degree heat and washrag humidity to vie for the very best gaengs (curries) and pads (stir-fries) with scores of other helmet-haired matriarchs and their bag-laden drivers.
And it’s not just a place for stuffing your face and emptying your pockets. Markets are always the places I head for first when I travel. There is no better place to find out about a country than through its markets; no truer mirror to the aspirations of a people than their stomachs. Here at Aor Thor Kor (the Thai abbreviation for the market’s full name, the “Marketing Organization for Farmers Market”, or MOF), those hopes and aspirations come neatly wrapped in banana leaves, enclosed in pudgy plastic bags, garnished with a handful of deep-fried basil.
But even in this nirvana of ready-made curries and coconutty sweets, there is a hierarchy — the creme de la creme. In this bewildering matrix of fried food and sifted spices, where to go? Below, the best of the best:
1. There is no gaeng (curry/soup) vendor better than Mae Malee Gaeng. In Bangkok, period. From the tried-and-true old favorites (green chicken and beef massaman curries) to regional specialties (gaeng thrai pla, or spicy Southern fish entrail stew, and the bitter, piquant stir-fried sator) to hard-to-find gems (like the veggie-heavy gaeng liang, meant for breast-feeding mothers) — Mae Malee has it all, a one-stop shop to covering every inch of your dinner table.
2. But it would be boring to live by Mae Malee alone. Sudjai Gai Yang is known across the country for is succulent grilled chicken — be it factory-raised or gai baan, referred to in English with the euphemism “traditional”, but better described as “free range” (of course, some Thais also refer to them as “scrawny”). There is no country that loves its poultry more.
3. In a sea of nam prik (pounded pepper dip) vendors, Nawanporn nam prik gapi stands out (and a proper Thai doesn’t throw a dinner without some sort of nam prik). The namesake offering (shrimp paste pepper dip) is earthy, fresh, full of the deep bass note of flavor that leaves some in rhapsodies and others with a grimace. Funny how shrimp paste has become synonymous with Thai food; it was brought to Thailand centuries ago by the Chinese.
4. Mae Prapaisri sells the best mango sticky rice in the market. Sure, it’s a well-loved treat known to anyone who has ever had a mouthful of pad thai, but there are circles within circles, differing degrees of excellence in an already excellent dish. Here, the mango is always ripe and succulent, the rice glossy and firm, the coconut milk rich and robust.
5. For the very best of “old-style” Thai eating, look no further than the end of a Thai meal, where the food becomes its richest and sweetest. And the richest, sweetest dessert vendor of all is Gao Pi Nong, purveyor of all that is drenched in coconut milk, fashioned into eggy golden threads, stuffed with coconut custard, or boiled in rice flour.
And that’s it. Check out Aor Thor Kor and sample these wares for yourselves. Or find your own favorites. You won’t be disappointed. (Open 6-20.00 daily. MRT: Kampaeng Phet, BTS: Mo Chit).
(Photos by @SpecialKRB)