Thai people are the ultimate food hipsters. If a place has gotten too much press, has become too popular, or is too convenient, it is automatically devalued in the eyes of the food hipster. That gets you less “food cred” (i.e. the mental points you give yourself for posting a photo of a hard-to-get culinary trophy on social media), therefore rendering it a waste of time. Nothing is more excruciating to the food hipster than posting a photo of an out-of-style dish (say, tuna tartare) from a passe, all-too-accessible eatery (think hotel restaurant). It would be the hipster equivalent of killing yourself, or professing your love for Imagine Dragons or Taylor Swift (unless you are being ironic, like wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of your cat on the front, or actually marrying your cat). (That said, I enjoyed Ryan Adams’ version of “Bad Blood”. I AM NOT ENDORSING TAYLOR SWIFT, signed, hipster).
I am too old and fat to be a hipster, yet — like every other Thai — I otherwise fit into the basic definitions of the “food hipster”. To the Thai food hipster, if more than 10 people have heard of the food place you are raving about, then “everyone already knows about it”. The breath you have used in talking about it has already been wasted, stealing oxygen that would have otherwise been successfully utilized by someone else. What you have just done is useless, and, by extension, immoral. OMG PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT POLO FRIED CHICKEN, a thousand food hipster voices cry out in anguish. MY GRANDMA LIKES THAT PLACE. You don’t even have to be Thai to be a Thai food hipster. After I emailed someone a suggestion to try Jay Fai, the reply was “Isn’t that in the Lonely Planet guide?” (FEEL THE BERN).
I’ll admit it: I regularly eat at Krua Apsorn. The food is reliable, the service is fast, and some of their most popular dishes are my favorite renditions of that dish, anywhere. A case in point is the crabmeat and long bean stir-fry, a dish you will probably find on every table in the restaurant (alongside the cowslip creeper stir-fry, the green curry with homemade fish meatballs, and/or the pillbox-shaped crabmeat omelet):
Many, many legit Thai food lovers eat at one of the Krua Apsorn branches (on Dinsor Road, or preferably in Dusit) every day. But it’s not cool to say so. It’s like saying to a room of Williamsburg 25-year-olds that “hey, this Missy Elliot person is pretty good.” OK MOM.
It’s like being reliably good, easy to find, and comfortable to sit in (aka air-conditioning) are actually bad things that should be actively avoided. Food hipsters like to flirt with danger. Oh, the fried chicken is hand-foraged from a dumpster out in back? The oil in the wok hasn’t been changed since the vendor’s mother opened her doors in 1956? The restaurant is located on top of a tree in the Kanchanaburi jungle? These are all risks that true food-lovers are willing to take. Take the Ruenton Coffee Shop in the Montien Hotel in Bangkok, which appears to have been last renovated in the spasm of economic hedonism that accompanied 1980s Thailand. The food here is not only excellent, the service is efficient and the portions are BIG. Also, it is deserted.
Perhaps the most naff place you could think of as a food hipster is the one that everyone in the world already knows about. Someplace like Blue Elephant, which even has a branch in London, that’s how well-known it is. Does this mean the food is something to turn your nose up at? I was so confident of having a decent meal there that I allowed my friend Susie to comp my lunch, so I can risk looking like I sold my soul for a deluxe multi-course meal of butterfly pea dumplings, warm duck salad, stir-fried stinkbeans in shrimp paste, a green curry, and a side of mango with sticky rice (it’s mango season after all).
This is probably the least food hipster-y thing I’ve done in a while (aside from lunch today, which was at Greyhound Cafe, come at me haterz) so I wanted to make sure I got my stomach’s worth. Maybe next week I’ll be back to slurping beef blood noodles in an alley and risking malaria riverside as I down raw prawns plucked from the Mekong. Or maybe I’ll be eating hotpot for dinner at 5:30 at MK (it’s so healthy, you guys). There’s a whole city of food out there.