There are times when I think street food is a young person’s game. Constantly shifting and evolving, it seems happy to lie still for a while, lulling you into selecting “favorites” and casting yourself as a “regular”, a person who is in his or her own element.
But, like everything else, Time always tells, and things change, and before you know it, your favorite pad grapao (holy basil stir-fry) place is being replaced by a chi-chi Japanese restaurant and you are left, bewildered and alone, in desperate need of a new aharn tham sung (made-to-order) stall to frequent. Breaking up with your favorite places is hard to do. Time 1, you 0.
I didn’t know that a sort of Times Square for the Isaan transplants to Bangkok even existed, but it does — at the intersection of Rama 9 and Petchburi Roads, called “Petch Praram Road”. Here sits everything a homesick Isaan person could possibly want: grilled fish coated in sea salt, fiery shreds of beef tossed in chilies and lime juice, steaming vats of pork in a murky broth of volcanic intensity.
And at “Larb Ped Paw 4” (“Year 4 duck larb”) (25/15-17 Petch Praram Road, 02-719-7286, open 16.00-05.00), there is a minced salad of duck, chilies, lime juice and fish sauce that is both meaty and delicate, slightly gamy but fresh. It treads a fine line between light and dark, and heavy and light, but it does this in a way that seems completely natural and effortless. This highwire act is what duck larb is supposed to be. And that’s just one dish.
The roughest, most neglected cuts of beef become part of a nuea nam tok (spicy Isaan-style beef salad) of delicacy and restraint, spicy and salty and slightly tart. A thom saeb (spicy Isaan-style soup) with pork bones makes its point (spice) without being unbearable. The hoy klang (blanched cockles) come with a green chili dipping sauce that is dangerously addictive, threats of hepatitis be damned. And the chicken (gai yang mai madan), grilled in a halved stick made from a sour fruit tree so that the sap perfumes the chicken skin as it cooks, is almost similarly delicious (though one must ask for the jaew, or spicy/salty Isaan-style dip along with the sweet chili dip).
Go early, because cars are frequently double- (and even triple-)parked later in the evening. Arrive hungry. Eat compulsively. It won’t be hard to do.