Beauty contest

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Dry suki and sauce at Manop Sukiyaki

I know it’s not very cool of me, but I don’t like to watch Woody Allen films. It always ends up (excuse my French) pissing me off. This is just the stuff on the screen that I’m talking about, not even his personal life. Watching Husbands and Wives was downright excruciating.

Call me shallow, but I just can’t get past the fact — especially with the mid-career Woody Allen stuff — that he got away with casting himself as a romantic lead in most of these movies. Even in the Annie Hall era, this requires more suspension of disbelief than I am capable of exerting. His movies require that you believe this man — who is constantly complaining, who always needs taken care of, who weighs less than me — is capable of drawing beautiful, frequently younger women to his side. Wassup with that? All those dry, pursed-lip onscreen kisses he has forced us to endure all of these years, like watching someone finish off a chicken wing while still trying to keep their lipgloss intact grossgrossgrossgrossGROSS. I mean, are all these women blind? And deaf? Juliette Lewis, what are you doing? Come on Diane Keaton, you got other options, gurl! Julia Roberts … well, ok, it already looks like she’s thinking of throwing herself into the Grand Canal. Just go ahead and do it, honey. Maybe a gondolier will sweep by and rescue you. I’d take my chances.

Of course, I can say this now, before my husband leaves me for a 24-year-old. I know this is the likeliest post-breakup option for him, because he has actually told me, to my face (“I won’t lie. I would go younger.”) Meanwhile, we live in a world where I would be forced to marry an octogenarian with (hopefully for him) impaired hearing because I have no marketable skills of my own. We could watch tennis and talk or not talk about soup all day. Maybe Woody Allen will be available by then and I will be forced to eat my own words. But who am I kidding? Woody Allen could get a 24-year-old if he wanted to, too.

I can’t say I’m the only shallow one around. People use appearance to figure out what food they want to eat, too. It shows in their choices: grilling chicken or fish, smoking on the grill or glowing white on the skewer over charcoal. Fresh chunks of mango piled sloppily over grains of rice glistening with coconut milk. Steaming noodles in broth with fish meatballs or a splash of bright pink fermented tofu sauce. It’s not hard to figure out why you would want to eat this stuff.

Unfortunately, the pleasures of Thai sukiyaki — adapted from the Japanese noodle dish but even more slatternly, sloppier — are not readily apparent. Ordered dry (hang), it’s a mess on the plate, a mixed-up melange of glass noodles, egg, green onion and whatever protein you’ve opted for, pork or chicken, beef or seafood. Even with broth (nam), it’s like Asian ribollita, an indiscriminate stew that suggests instead of shows. Yet the best versions of this dish make you forget that it’s a mess. Like a lot of Thai street food, the secret lies in the sauce.

At Manop Sukiyaki Rod Kraba (622 Soi Charoen Krung 27, 02-332-5516), suki is king, and the sauce (based on fermented tofu, spiked heavily with chilies) is the queen that made it all possible. Sure, there are dishes like guaythiew kua gai (chicken-fried noodles) and roast pork (chewy during rainy season because of the increased humidity), but they assume you are there for the suki. From 6 in the evening on, the back of a truck turns into a kitchen capable of churning out some of the best suki in the Chinatown area. The location is similarly as homely as the dish: an otherwise-abandoned alleyway with the occasional cat or cockroach. But unless you are absolutely sure this dish is the Woody Allen to your Mia, don’t turn back, don’t be deceived. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Beauty contest

  1. Chris

    “like watching someone finish off a chicken wing while still trying to keep their lipgloss intact”

    Brilliant

  2. One of the primary melange of Thai tastes…..BITTER.

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