There used to be a certain type of person you would always bump into in Bangkok. This type was a real Bangkokian, the same way you expect to only find a certain type of person (black-clad, highly strung) in New York, one in L.A. (glossy, tanned, a believer in detox cleanses and crystals), or in Paris (grumpy). The Bangkokian is the person who will gauge your street food knowledge upon first meeting you, gently probing whether you have been to hotpot in Sutthisan (yes) or Nai Ho near Mahachai Market (no) and slot you into the food knowledge hierarchy accordingly. Like rival dungeon masters comparing arcane Dungeons & Dragons lore, these Bangkokians equated more knowledge with more power, and treated you accordingly. It was a rivalry, but it was also a shared language. A person who knew their street food spots was a cultured person.
That type of Bangkokian is disappearing, the food knowledge now pushed aside in favor of K-pop bands, handbag designs and where to find the best Korean dessert cafes. Fewer people care about where to eat street food, making it easier for that street food to disappear. Already, rumor has it that plans are afoot to clear up Suan Plu and Convent, adding to the grim list of places (Asoke, Sukhumvit, Thonglor/Ekamai) that are deleting older spots from their landscape in the name of progress. Unfortunately, it happens everywhere.
Win (not my husband) is one of this dying breed, even though he is young. It’s a rare combo, this youth and knowledge. Win is good for a quick spin around the boat noodle area canal-side, good for sussing out the best spots for beef noodles (his favorite), good even for making confident foodie suggestions in cities abroad. He is also good for correcting me, like when he tells me that the Joke Samyan at the actual Samyan is not really Joke Samyan, but an imposter like the Black Swan who comes in at the third act and steals the prince’s attentions away (I am the prince in this scenario okay). It’s an example of what happens when intermittent attempts to “clean up the streets” are carried out, vendors are chased away, and others take their place. It’s a cycle as old as Bangkok street food.
This spot, helpfully also named “Joke Samyan” and all the way in upper Sukhumit (Udom Suk Soi 9, 081-350-6671), features the silky texture and highly seasoned meatballs that congee aficionados prize. The atmosphere is pure old-school shophouse, replete with a loud soundtrack of ’80’s power ballads (Air Supply and Richard Marx figure prominently), sung along to by one accommodating shoplady as the other critiques your congee-slurping technique in between stabs at her knitting. Who would want their joke any other way?
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