While researching the street food book, I spent a lot of time formulating some sort of tried-and-true criteria that could be used to determine the kind of “street food stall” perfect for the book. I did this because I got a hella annoyed at stories that would claim to explore “Bangkok’s most authentic street food”, and then take you to the Food Loft at Central or something. I mean, I like the food there too, but come on. You are supposed to “suffer” for street food. You are supposed to wander aimlessly in the street as people say “there she goes again, that farang” and pretend you don’t understand, acting out the role of “clueless foreigner” in this bizarre trade-off people call “social discourse in Thailand”. You are supposed to sit at a rickety stool as the sweat pours off your face and people point and laugh and say, “Look at how uncomfortable she is! So funny!” or they politely pretend not to notice, which might be worse. Street food is an enterprise where the awards are commensurate with what you put into it. That’s just the way it is. (I know. We are all now wandering aimlessly down the length of this paragraph, wondering “When does this road end? The book did say it was supposed to be RIGHT HERE…”)
The thing is, I hardly had the wherewithal (or the stomach, to be frank instead of Glutton) to explore all the kinds of proper street food stalls that there are in Bangkok. That included aharn tham sung (made-to-order stalls, marked by raw ingredients arranged in front of the cook) and khao gub gaeng (“curry rice” stalls, marked by ready-made curry vats arranged in a row in front of the cook). I did briefly discuss, amid all the purple prose, the awesomeness of made-to-order stalls in a post here. Now, I’d like to talk about the tantalizing roadside buffet that is the khao gaeng stall.
Of all the stalls out there (except for maybe the nam kaeng sai, or iced dessert stalls), curry rice stalls are the most inviting Thai stalls around. Their purpose is to beckon to the grumbling stomach — here, you could be having this RIGHT NOW — instead of suggesting the promise of the future, as a made-to-order stall does. It appeals to the immediate in all of us, which is why our book features a particularly famous one on its cover (Mae Malee at Aor Thor Kor).
That said, there are so many stalls out there, on practically every street corner, most offering a variation of the following: green basil curry, usually chicken and/or chicken feet; stewed bitter melon stuffed with minced pork in a clear broth; stir-fried long beans in red curry paste; some sort of stir-fried Mama noodle or glass vermicelli with pork and chilies; stir-fried veggies; fried pork with garlic and black peppercorns; and fried eggs, yolks ready to break open at the slightest slash of a spoon. If it’s a particularly good one, you’ll also get maybe a yum (spicy sour salad), usually seafood, a gaeng jued (bland clear broth soup to counteract the spiciness of everything else) and something cool and ornamental, like kai luk kuey (son-in-law’s eggs, which are deep-fried and slathered in a sweet sauce. I once wrote a story about Thailand’s “foreign son-in-laws” for, oh, let’s call them Schmeuters, and my editors misunderstood and thought I was referring to “luk [something else]”, which was really, really annoying. Minds in the gutter, much? Anyway.)
You might be wondering where the best place to find a khao gaeng stall may be. I would once have said the one on Sukhumvit 24, across the street from Emporium, but it has since disappeared, taking its green curry spaghetti with it. So let’s go with Krua Aroy-Aroy (it’s a favorite of Ferran Adria’s, after all!) at Thanon Pan, across from Maha Uma Devi Temple (Wat Kaek), 081-695-3339, open 8:00-21:00 daily. The laminated menus are gone! The massaman curry and nam prik platu are still there … just don’t order the nam ngiew (I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. It’s a sickness).