Mid-life crisis

Beef mataba (stuffed Thai-Muslim pancake) at Roti-Mataba

When people talk about having a mid-life crisis, they are thinking about something like a loss of identity or the mourning of things that have passed us by, never to return, like the opportunity to go braless. Or the ability to digest 1 kg of meat without any repercussions. Or a deep, uninterrupted sleep. Oh, so many things to mourn!

But there are other things, more insidious. Because I am all about listing bad stuff, over and over again, here’s another one: being taken for granted. Underrated. Your opinions rendered irrelevant. Low tide at sunset, and you the fish wriggling in the shallows, somewhere between a dead jellyfish and plastic bottle.

And it’s not just about getting annoyed by things that other people inexplicably LOVE, like that teacher on Glee, who, every time he opens his mouth, moves a part of me that wants to kick his face in, even though he hasn’t done anything to me ever (I’m not lying. He’s on TV now and I want to shoot myself. Yet I can’t change the channel. Is this the point of Glee?) It’s about being dismissed in spite of your successes. In this context, I am obviously not talking about me, sitting in front of the television on a butterfly chair borrowed from my grandma because I have no furniture. I’m talking about Greyhound Cafe.

Because, for whatever reason, Greyhound is not considered a serious place to eat, the “See Fah” of the contemporary Bangkok dining scene. But let me tell you a story about Greyhound. Once, 100 years ago, it didn’t exist. Emporium was new, rising up out of the rubble of the last Bronze Age. My friend Tutti and I were making the rounds of this new, glittering place and she got to talking to a gentleman hatching plans to open a new restaurant in the next few months. He said the menu would be a bit strange, a bit of this and that, a Thai-Italian mix. Being the wonderful people we are, we waited until we left him to laugh at his idea. Thai-Italian? Awful. Who would eat this dreck? Fusion suxx!

Today, this man is probably on a yacht in the Andaman Sea, snacking on “Sandwich in a Bowl”, in a T-shirt reading “Complicated Noodle 4Eva”. Spaghetti pad kee mao is commonplace, and cutesy versions of Thai food staples like fried rice, nam prik or khao pad are everywhere in the city. This place now has a gazillion branches. Yet it’s still “just Greyhound”, mired in the restaurant version of a mid-life crisis. It was the best sort of fusion — a look into the future, reflecting how Bangkokians really eat. But what have you done for me lately, Greyhound?

Roti-Mataba (136 Pra Arthit Rd., 02-282-2119, open 9am-10pm except Mondays) is not a fusion restaurant. But it’s also in a mid-life crisis.  Among the most popular places to try Thai-Muslim food in the city, this khao raad gaeng (rice and curry) standby is seen as touristy, a bit blah, ignored in favor of younger, newer Thai-Muslim places that are harder to find — hence, more “authentic”. Later, sometime in the evening when the rats are scurrying next to your table and your beef curry noodles are strangely flavorless, watered d0wn in a failed attempt to make them last longer, you think back to the cheery, well-lit shophouse that is Roti-Mataba, and the women who tirelessly make new roti throughout the day. Roti that would eventually be dunked into a peanut-strewn bowl of beef mussaman curry, or a green chicken curry, the surface flecked with fat and basil. Better yet, roti slathered in chocolate sauce, dotted with slices of ripe banana.

That’s when you start to feel regret. Roti-Mataba, I have been away for too long.

8 Comments

Filed under Asia, Bangkok, curries, food, food stalls, restaurant, Thai-Muslim, Thailand

8 responses to “Mid-life crisis

  1. Chissa

    Thanks for paying tribute to greyhound! It may seem cheesy to some, but it holds nostalgic snapshots for many (first time I tried coffee, first date, first decent burger in bangkok, first time I bought tight black pants). Thanks for reviving these sacred memories!

  2. Peter and Anney

    If you ever get to Chiang Mai, there is a great cafe on Numminhaemin called Guu that has lovey murtaba and many other lovely eating delightsl

  3. Specialkrb

    I love your proper use of the word “dreck” and your homage to my beloved “sandwich in a bowl” at Greyhound. Surprised you didn’t mention the perfection of their tiny, crispy, soy-sauce marinated chicken wings, though. They are like crack, and I can’t believe I have to wait until July for another fix.

    My photo tribute to Sammy in a Bowl: http://www.flickr.com/photos/specialkrb/4461567350/

  4. I think that mataba place is great, but the service sucks. I prefer the lower end of phetburi before it runs into phayathai road. There’s a mosque on soi 7 so you have quite a selection of muslim food. When you’re ready I’ll let you scope my favorite places and see if it does anything for your faux-crisis.

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