Mr. Right Now

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The khao soy vendor’s kanom jeen nam ngiew

Like a dog at a bone, I am constantly worrying at my love for the northern Thai dish kanom jeen nam ngiew, watching it fray at the edges as I sample dish after watered-down dish, chasing after the What when I don’t have the Where, Who or How. Because, you see, I live in Bangkok, where street food is wonderful, but northern Thai street food sometimes less so.

The Bangkok attitude to the north appears to be how Northeastern Americans view people living in the Southern US. They may be “charming” and “quaint” at best, or characterized as “rural” or “backward” at not-best. Both regions might house poorer residents and nurse chips on their shoulders about being looked down upon by the “educated elite”. The people of both areas might speak more slowly, in voices that might sound like sticky drawls. And both places certainly have incredible food where meat plays a major role, yet their cuisines might be looked at askance by the less adventurous as “weird” (please Google “The Ravenous Guide to Eating Like Elvis”) or just plain bad for you (ditto).

But the stomach-minded — and there are many of us out there — may see this food as achingly exotic. That is the case for me when I’ve been in Bangkok for a while. And although there is plenty of tried-and-true Isaan food to be had (the real stuff, not the sugary red candy posing as grilled chicken or pork shoulder at some Bangkok stalls) thanks to the city’s many Isaan residents, for some reason (and no, I don’t really know why this is), northern Thai food here is not as well represented.

So when a northern Thai food stall turns up just around the corner from the end of my street, in a barren expanse of concrete next to what appears to be a government compound, it’s exciting to me, the way a barbecue place in New York might be exciting to someone else. And it might not really be the same as what you’d find in its home setting (think of that NY barbecue place), but it’s good enough. Meet khao lad gang (curry rice) stall Khao Soy Chiang Mai (71 Ajnarong Rd., 02-672-7711) and its collection of northern Thai specialties like gang hang lay (Burmese-style pork stew), gang ho (northern Thai-style goulash), sai oua (northern Thai sausages), nam prik ong (pork-and-tomato chili dip), excellent larb moo kua (minced pork salad), and of course, khao soy and kanom jeen nam ngiew, without which northern Thai street food would be irreparably hobbled. Competent renditions all, with some green curry and shredded fish curry to go with your kanom jeen when you’re just not feeling the northern Thai food at the mo.

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The sign for Khao Soy Chiang Mai

It’s that little watering hole in the desert. The exit from a crowded dance floor. The guy who invites you out at 6:30pm on a Friday night. It’s not the end-all be-all. But it’s good enough for now.

6 Comments

by | 02/22/2013 · 10:51 am

6 responses to “Mr. Right Now

  1. Tommie

    Thanks for the review! Would love to try the place as we are always in search of North Food. When I search Ajnarong Rd on Google maps, I get nothing. We would love it if you would start adding Google map locations to your blog entries! Thanks!

  2. thomasvbrown

    kanom jeen nam ngiew – tried for the first time in Chiang Rai. crunchiness of the tree/root vegetable in there is unique. not sure that is being served in BKK

    • The dried kapok blossom (dok ngiew) is very important to a bowl of nam ngiew. This khao soy vendor (Khao Soy Chiangmai Mai), Yui Lee on Sukhumvit 31 and Maan Mueng in Ramkhamhaeng have proper versions that include the kapok blossom. They taste a lot milder than what you’d get in Chiang Rai though.

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