It might not be obvious to you from reading these posts, but I am an idealist. I like to think that, as long as I am coming from an honest, well-intentioned place, I can be as much of a weirdo as I want and people will still accept and even like me. Adopting this personal philosophy allowed me to take the “meta” out of all my interactions, to quiet down the observer who is always telling me I just did something wrong. It made my life a lot simpler.
Unfortunately, if several years of experience has taught me anything, it’s that people would prefer not seeing the authentic me. Acting like an honest, well-intentioned weirdo means you are acting like a weirdo. You gotta cover that shizz up. It’s not like no one else is a weirdo — it’s just that, if you are a normal person who must rely on other people for occasional help, layers and layers of deception are required to distract them from the bizarre, undigestible core underneath. Please, people, just keep that to yourselves. This is why rules for social discourse were invented. It’s also why the richer and/or more famous someone gets, the weirder they become. The world is not clamoring to really see me unveiled, or you, either. Let’s all just be perfectly civil to each other.
But if one dish were to be the antithesis to all that, the essential core pared down to what makes a noodle dish work and only that, it would be the Thai-Vietnamese hybrid popular in Isaan known as guay jab yuan (not to be confused with the Thai-Chinese pork noodle dish that is simply called guay jab). A simple mix of broth, noodles, and pork with a flourish of coriander and the haunting scent of deep-fried shallot, these Vietnamese-style noodles take what is prized in our eastern neighbor’s cuisine (simplicity, freshness, restraint, subtlety) and add a smidgen of what could be called Thai flair (scent, spice) to form something that is unlike almost anything else in Thai street food: unadorned, pure, naked. This is a dish unafraid to let its freak flag fly.
The best place of have these delicious noodles? Well, as sprawling as the Thai capital is, its Isaan food can’t hold a candle to the stuff you can actually find in Northeastern Thailand. All the same, my friend Chin of Chili Paste Tours (www.foodtoursbangkok.com) — originally from Isaan — showed me her favorite guay jab yuan place in Bangkok, on Soi Sukha 1 (also known as Trok Mor) in the Old City called, unsurprisingly, “Guay Jab Yuan” (081-623-0665, 085-149-1098). Blessed with an almost pristine cleanliness and wildly efficient staff, Guay Jab Yuan gets pretty packed at lunchtime in spite of the unrelenting midday heat. And of course, the Vietnamese noodles themselves are a mix of the fresh and light (broth, herbs) paired with the comforting mush of soft, thick udon-like rice noodles and rounds of moo yaw (Vietnamese-style pork sausage) that turn this dish into the best kind of nursery food, familiar yet slightly tweaked at the same time. It’s a mirror to the authentic in all of us.