The first time we set out to find this place (and by the first time, I mean: the first time after the four times I’d been there before while researching the first book), we got lost. I thought this old Banglamphu standby — located deep in the bowels of a covered-walkway market specializing in bits of fabric and ladies’ undergarments — was located in Little India. Pahurat somehow figured in the location of the place, I knew (I am not very good at directions). All I needed to do was to find the outdoor market.
Except … there are a whole lot of outdoor markets. All over Pahurat. And all around Banglamphu, too. Because the second time, we were lost irreparably — this time in a random alleyway around the corner from the old-style shopping center known as Old Siam (incidentally, a great place for coffee, juices and a bathroom break if you ever find yourself in the area). The third time, I found it. And it was closed. And the fourth time, I forgot where it was and found myself in the same random alleyway again. Yes, I know.
The fifth time, it was open, AND in the place we thought it would be (after going to the wrong market one last time. Because, we are us). It’s in a place called the Pahurat Market, yes, but really, how helpful is that? Better yet: across the street from the KFC at Old Siam (the actual KFC, not the sign, don’t use the sign). More specific? After crossing the street, turn right, and then turn the corner, and the market will be the first on your left. It’s a proper market — no listless little alleyway with cutesy stationery shop and a couple of sad old vendors selling incense here. It’s lined with fabric shops and jam-packed with stalls selling girdles and nightgowns and the odd touristy knick-knack or two. And it’s there — about 30 meters in to the left, or, if you want a shortcut, directly through the shop specializing in dancers’ traditional Thai headdresses and to the right upon exiting.
If you are still confused, there’s the voice — the proprietor of the shop has a very distinctive voice that really defies description. Any pedestrian within hailing distance will get an earful, exhorting them to come in and listing the specialties of the house: in this case, noodles, every kind, in a pork or tom yum or fermented red tofu broth.
My favorite order at these kinds of noodle places is yen ta fo — the red fermented tofu-based sauce paired with fish meatballs, slippery slivers of squid, deep-fried pork bits and blanched morning glory — without broth or noodles. I don’t need the yen ta fo garnishes to have to share the spotlight. I find yen ta fo is a maligned sauce even among Thais, many of whom say they won’t eat it because it’s too sweet. I find that funny because, well, have you had Thai food lately? I think that the real measure of whether you’ve transitioned to becoming a true Bangkokian today is when you start sugaring your noodles. Anyone can revel in the dirty trashcan stink of fermented fish sauce or bomb their palates to Neverneverland with the typical assortment of chilies and spices … but it takes a true Bangkokian to add a heaping spoonful of sugar to all that drama. No longer can we have the savory without the sweet, and (maybe) vice versa.
I’ll admit it: terrible yen ta fo is indeed too sweet. But the very best ones, like the bowl at New Chu Ros, throw in plenty of tart and a tinge of spice, making yen ta fo a literal party in the mouth of textures and flavors. So if you are intrepid enough to brave the Pahurat market, and willing to possibly get a little lost, try out the bowl at New Chu Ros. Girdle optional.
(All photos by @karenblumberg).