My friend Noy brought my attention to an interview with Andy Ricker in Eater Los Angeles published earlier this month. It was thoughtful and interesting, and because it was mostly in Q&A format, wonderfully straightforward, allowing a glimpse not just into the U.S. Thai food scene, but into the restaurant business in general. It’s hard, y’all. Unless you are wildly lucky, it seems a lot like being on a restrictive diet for the rest of your life, only your body keeps trying to find ways to trick you into stuffing your mouth hole with more delicious fat. People who open successful restaurants over and over again aren’t flukes. As much as I like to eat and then complain about it afterwards, nothing I could ever do would match up to maintaining even one food outlet.
And even if your family has managed to successfully steer your street food eatery for nearly six decades, you may still find yourself facing an uncertain future. Gong Thui Gai Yang (Chula Soi 11, 086-166-2084) has served millions of Thais its delectably juicy grilled chicken for three generations, even sending over 3,000 boxes to the royal palace almost every month. The marinade is the usual Thai-style: crushed coriander root, garlic, two types of peppercorn, fish sauce and palm sugar, but the secret lies in the amounts — Gong Thui isn’t stingy, and they go through 60 kg of garlic a week (i.e. my weight, post-election). The chicken meat — split thighs, breasts, gizzards, livers, and best of all, butterflied chicken halves — is tied into bamboo “skewers”, placed over a low open flame and then fanned continuously for about 15 minutes until the meat is juicy and tender and the skin takes on the smoky scent of peppery barbecue. The finished product is intensely flavored and reminiscent of a chicken custard, absent the kind of tough fibers that find their way between your teeth and torment you while in polite company.
That’s not to mention the ubiquitous grilled papaya salad (som tum), pounded to order. Oh, and they also have grilled pork shoulder, cooked to a mahogany sheen in a soy sauce-based marinade. I haven’t gotten to that yet, but I’m sure it’s good, if the lines on weekend mornings are any indication.
Unfortunately, like its neighbor Nakorn Pochana (and, incredibly, Joke Samyan, which, alongside Polo Fried Chicken and Chicken Rice Pratunam, is probably the most famous street food vendor in Bangkok), Gong Thui may find itself kicked out of its digs in three years’ time, as landlord Chulalongkorn University develops the area further. Progress is a fact of life, yet I have to say it saddens me, since much of this neighborhood’s street food scene has already been decimated over the past two years alone. Rush, rush to Samyan while you can.
And while you’re at it, stop by Raan Aharn Nuea Pa Porn (Chula Soi 50), where — wonder of wonders — she serves khao soy (curried Northern Thai noodles) with beef or chicken and kanom jeen nam ngiew (fermented rice noodles with Northern-style pork stew), along with a rotating roster of daily specials including sai oua (Northern Thai sausage, available Mondays), gang hang lay (Burmese pork belly curry) and the ever-elusive thum kanoon (pounded young jackfruit salad, both served on Tuesdays).