We can rage against the dying of the light all we want but progress continues apace, bringing with it a Starbucks and 7-11 on every corner. Soon we will become the shopping mall utopia that our ancestors had always dreamed of. Until then, we will still have to contend with food that does not come in plastic wrapping. The future cannot come soon enough for New Bangkok.
When I heard through the grapevine that Suan Plu was the next street to be cleared, I was confused. After all, this street is home to both the Immigration Office and the district police station. Why would they want to get rid of the places where they themselves eat, and where their own wives work? Not to mention that the quality of street food on Suan Plu is very, very good. But then I remembered that we live in Thailand (see: Thonglor) and that
our corporate overlords progress is not to be denied.
And then when I heard that a new market would be opening up on the corner of Suan Plu Soi 3 (right behind Isaan hotpot vendor Jay Ouan Moo Jum), and that it would be charging vendors 30,000 baht a month for a 2×3 meter area, it all made sense. This would be the new street food model to be followed in New Bangkok — how better to make money than from street vendors who need space to stay downtown?
So when Trude and I went to Suan Plu to check out the space earmarked for the market, we were surprised to find out (from the local grapevine, our friend Jason) that plans had gone Thai-style kaput: quietly, with no information on why. After pouring concrete and marking out the plots, the owner had decided to fence off the entire space. Rumor now has it that the lot will become a much-needed hotel.
But we still needed to eat. After asking a very accommodating server at a nearby wine bar (where else would I be) where to go, we learned that the cart vendor just across the street was improbably popular, setting up at around 6 in the evening and usually selling out by 8pm. She claimed it was the best place in the entire neighborhood for grilled pork parts: tongue, ears, short ribs and most importantly, pork neck.
I have always thought that the best pork neck on Suan Plu was Jay Ouan. For an idea of what I’m talking about, here it is:
It’s fatty and slightly sweet, paired with a spicy tamarind sauce. It’s what you’d expect from a good Isaan place in Bangkok.
But we probably figured out we were in for a treat when people kept cutting in line to place their orders to the pig parts vendor (unfortunately, I do not have a name and he does not have a card, but he is across the street from Wine Out and Smalls, which is on the corner of Suan Plu Soi 1). Don’t worry, I lost my temper and complained. And fear not, he was smart enough to tell me that we were next. I was very hungry, you know.
They had run out of pigs’ ears by the time we had gotten there, so we got grilled pork tongue and asked for pork neck served nam tok style (spicy salad garnished with shallots, chilies, fresh mint and roasted rice grains). He asked us how spicy we wanted it, which is a question that vendors rarely bother to ask, especially busy ones with a long line in front of their cart. I always ask for “klang”, or medium (which actually amounts to one half ladle of dried spice and ended up being not spicy enough).
We took our stuff and ended up eating it furtively at Jay Ouan, which was slammed with customers and didn’t have time to see what we were doing. We agreed: pig parts guy was the superior pork neck, fattier and redolent of smoke. The grilled pork tongue, too, smoky and chunky with just enough resistance to make chewing fun. And the tamarind sauce, sweeter and thicker than Jay Ouan’s, if you like that sort of thing.
To grab your own bag of delicious grilled pig, make your way to Soi Suan Plu on a day that is probably not Monday, after 5:30 but well before 8 in the evening. Find the mobile cart outfitted with a silver chimney thing about 5 minutes in, on the left hand side if you are walking from Sathorn Road. And if someone cuts in line in front of you, jai yen yen.