There comes a time … when I actually have to talk about street food. Yes, I know. I know you actually want to hear about my day, and how my minders are making me eat cardboard for lunch, and how my life is a Jennifer Aniston movie if Jen put boot polish on her hair and gained 30 lbs. But I’m going to save all that good stuff for my widely anticipated TV movie screenplay for the Hallmark channel. All you get to read about are these two relatively undiscovered gems.
Emphasis on “relatively”. Because Nai Soi (100/2-3 T. Phra Arthit, 081-487-9359 or 086-982-9042) is well-known to any journalist who works for the Manager group or general traveler-in-the-know who makes Phra Arthit Road his or her base of operations. This Banglamphu standby is popular for its gorgeously amber-colored beef noodles — slightly chewy rice noodles bathed in a garnet-colored broth and tender, flimsy slices of freshly blanched beef. Unlike my other beef noodle favorite, Raan Anamai, the broth here is thickened with blood (known as nam thok, or “water falling”) and not crystal-clear; nonetheless, it doesn’t make it any less yummy. OM NOM NOM NOM.
Too bad I can’t eat there right now. Another place where I can’t eat is the incomparable Aisa Rot Dee (the beginning of Thanee Rd., 02-282-6378, 081-401-1326), purveyor of most things delicious and Thai-Muslim. Mounds of soft and fragrant yellow rice, perfumed with cumin, atop hunks of slightly charred barbecued chicken; bowls of aromatic beef noodles smelling slightly of star anise; comfortingly substantial oxtail chunks in a fiery broth; sweet-salty beef satay coated in coconut milk — the offerings here turn other Thai-Muslim eateries like the nearby Roti-Mataba into mere whispers of an afterthought. There is no way you would be able to leave this hole in the wall hungry.
And I mean “hole in the wall”. The only suggestion that there is a bustling “restaurant” somewhere behind all the touristy knick-knack shops hawking fishermen’s pants and flip-flops is a sign on the sidewalk — in Thai — reading “Aisa rot dee” (Aisa good taste). In the narrow alleyway behind the sign, two forbidding faces manning a beef noodle stand, and as you approach the darkness, the hint of more. After passing the khao mok gai and tripping over two or three people on the way, the darkness becomes the light, and the alleyway opens into a substantial open-air courtyard, tables, chairs — even waiters.
Aisa is a leap of faith for a hungry Indiana Jones-type searching out answers in a culinary maze. Don’t let the darkness fool you.
(Photos by @SpecialKRB)