It will probably not surprise you when I tell you I think Bangkok street food is the best in the world. It’s not just the flavors or the “above-the-title” dishes: the pad thai, the som tum, the I’m-gonna-kill-you spices or soothing coconut cream. It’s the sheer breadth of it, the mind-boggling variety — from soups and salads to grilled hunks of meat to curries to porridges to desserts and everything in between; even the formats change, from shophouses to mobile vendors to cafeteria-like khao gub gaeng (curry rice) to aharn tham sung (made-to-order). There is so much variety that sometimes people argue over whether something is even actually “street food” or not. Having been to a few countries over the past few year, I can tell you that this is a great luxury, to get to argue over what category So-and-So place actually falls into. Thailand is very blessed, food-wise.
To me, naem tod is an example of the awesomeness of Thai street food: a recent discovery that I now can’t help seeing everywhere I go. Naem, the beloved sour fermented sausage originating from both the North and Northeastern regions of the country. Usually made from a mix of pork, crunchy piggy bits like cartilage or skin, chilies, garlic and a bit of sticky rice, naem is wrapped up and “cooked” by leaving it to ferment for a few days, lending the meat its characteristic tang (for the record, my mother’s favorite naem maker is “Naem Anchan” in Chiang Mai).
Thais like to make sure everything is presented in its own special way, and naem is no different. The “proper” way to serve it — the best way to offset its acidity and slightly gummy texture — is with whole fresh bird’s eye chilies, fresh ginger, bits of rind-on lime, slivered shallots, roasted peanuts and fresh cabbage. What naem tod does is to basically combine the shredded sour sausage (or, in some vendors’ cases, pork skin or cartilage) with its accompaniments, chopped salad-style, and top it with Northeastern Thai-inspired “croutons”: shredded bits of deep-fried sticky rice. The ensuing salad is then tossed lightly in a spicy yum-like dressing (a mix of fish sauce, lime juice, chilies and sugar).
Naem tod vendors can be spotted by the glimpse of croquette-like deep-fried sticky rice balls they usually place on their carts — these vendors are almost always ambulatory. The fixings that go with naem are also included, alongside “fresh” veggies like the aforementioned cabbage, sawtooth coriander and/or betel leaves. As for the name, well, the naem is occasionally wrapped in the sticky rice and deep-fried, which I think is ingenious. But sometimes it’s just shredded, or there is an approximation of it via just using the crunchy pig bits, and that’s ok, because the flavors and textures are all still there: fiery hot and tart, mitigated by some crunch and a bit of bounce.
The vendor I photographed here is in front of the Kasikornbank near Sukhumvit 33; he is on Sukhumvit 23 in the afternoons. There is another one at the entrance to the shortcut to the Polo Club from Rama IV Road, next to the Esso gas station by the muay Thai stadium there. My favorite, though, is at the entrance to Petchburi Soi 14.
10 responses to “Just Delish”
Conversely, dear Glutton, my little tongue is hanging out at the prospect of eating Thai street food again …. and bring on the chillies! I love them in all their incarnations – I toss down the little ‘mouse shit’ ones with gay abandon and have no thought for any consequences! Thanks so much for reminding me that I need to get myself back to Thailand toot sweet!
I am not able to eat chilies as much as I used to. Because there can be terrible consequences. Which does remind me — this dish (I am talking naem tod here) is wickedly spicy. It must be Isaan.
If you do come back to Thailand let me know!
Thank you dear – I will be sure to! We were just about to book and we heard that a friend has some health issues that she would like us to be here while she gets through them – as soon as that we will be there – would dearly love to meet you at last!
Thank you so much for being so passionate about thai food! I will be there for one month December 2012!!!! Look so forward to that awsome food!!! Where in Bangkok shall I start??
You should probably start at Sukhumvit Soi 38, which is open after 8pm. There is a wide range of different vendors available, and you can sample your way through all of them.
Very interesting – a dish I have not heard of. I look forward to checking it out upon my return. Oh, and we have a northern style restaurant to visit, no?
Yes. So much food to try out. Coming back after so few options in Tibet and Kathmandu, I just re-realized last week that Bangkok is a really great food city, with so many options that are impossible to exhaust. We need to explore more!
Sometimes the best way, pick a route and keep going ’til you reach the end 🙂 Thanks so much for your thoughts, but I totally wasn’t hinting haha, just meant if you’ve done a blog in the past and I’ve missed it. BUt any suggestions massively appreciated. Thanks again 🙂
May I just say the last two blogs have been brilliant. Like super-uber-brilliantly written. Totally agree with this blog… spent 10 days in Japan and although food was tasty, I was eager to come back to Thailand for some nam bplaa, a shed load of sugar and a squirt of lime. I’m totally intolerant to chilli so sometimes feel a little bored of phad-see-eew, khaow phad, khaow dtom, etc… but after Japan I was desperate for it. Out of interest have you ever done a total-chilli-free blog of recommended eats? Loving, as always, your work, Johnathan
Thanks Johnathan! I’m sometimes not sure which direction to go until half of the blog has been written and I can’t figure out a way back. So thank you for your nice words.
I will think of some places to check out there rely less on chilies.