We don’t hear enough good stories nowadays. It’s all about stuff like “FBI” and “Russia” and moldy old mangoes in the discount bin that have come to life and become president. It’s about bans masquerading as cleanups, and dye jobs gone bad, and “oh yeah, can you make a 10-minute presentation tomorrow, my bad lolz” and panic attacks about public speaking (alcohol or Xanax? Which would be more effective in this situation?) And of course, there is story after story after story of a vendor who had to move, who went to a new place and no longer makes the money he or she used to, or the good food that they used to. There are so many of those stories. Too many.
So it’s nice to hear a good story, about a vendor who won a loyal and devoted following on Sukhumvit Soi 38, making buttery egg noodles (bamee) gleaming with pork fat and dreams. Thin-skinned minced pork wontons and barely blanched Chinese kale. Tangy barbecued red pork with a cracked boiled red crab claw. A clear, peppery pork broth and a scattering of deep-fried pork crackling, the best punctuation a bowl of noodles could ever hope for. This is what was lost when developers bought the area the former Sukhumvit 38 market stood on and the vendor was forced to move.
I should say vendors. They are a family of six, though the youngest, Khun Suthep with the ponytail, is the one I remember: taciturn and efficient, like a bamee robot but without the warmth. But the third son, Khun Sumet, tells me that they had all planned on retiring, until the flurry of phone calls from forlorn gourmets became so numerous that Khun Sumet finally relented: Find an appropriate vending space near his house, all the way on Chalerm Phrakiat, and they would start cooking again.
I guess I don’t need to tell you the rest of that story. Because here we are, a good 18 km from their original location, looking up at a sign that reads “The first bamee vendor from Sukhumvit Soi 38” (Sukhumvit Soi 103 in front of Suan Luang Rama 9, Chalerm Phrakiat Soi 30, 095-593-6146).
I would not be here, a good 30 minutes away on an evening of sparse Sunday traffic, if it was not for my dad, or his resourceful secretary Mine. They tracked down Khun Sumet and family at a time when I was still trying to eat the bamee that is currently on Soi 38, mistakenly believing that this was what my parents loved and attributing its blandness to my parents’ worn-out, enfeebled tastebuds. But a bowl here puts all of that to shame: as silky as remembered, with broth on the side and enough pork crackling bits to please even me. The only change is that there is no more crabmeat; at this new location, the customers cannot afford crabmeat, and don’t trust that it is fresh. Instead, the crabmeat has been replaced by generous garland of crispy deep-fried pork. The noodles, however, remain handmade.
It’s amazing that cooking of this quality is available at 40-50 baht a bowl (depending on size). Although there is little incentive or reason for street food like this to exist, pure pride makes it a possibility. This is what people mean when they say they love street food. It’s all about the discovery.