First off, my autocorrect has been acting really strangely and tries to change “seabass” to “seabags” every chance it gets. Second, I arrived in Bangkok during the Vegetarian Festival period, when Thais go meatless for nine days. This would normally not affect me, except when my go-to Isaan food provider (it’s Polo Fried Chicken, because they are reliable and they deliver) decides to also take nine days off to be vegetarian as well. So I had to order from another Isaan place, and it was not a provider of the flavors that I had expected. That sort of disappointment got me feeling kinda sassy, like this:
(From Getty Images)
I didn’t want to waste my meager food holiday back home all hot and bothered! I needed to decompress a little bit and get my head back on straight. So I called my friend Winner up and said, remember that place that you warned me was closing down at the end of this year? (Winner knows to warn me of these types of things because I like to use my stomach like an obituary). Well, I finally have some time to go. When are you free?
That was how I found myself on a stress-free (!) MRT subway ride from Sukhumvit all the way to Sam Tok, past Chinatown’s Wat Mangkhon (where I was sorely tempted to get out and have a look around). It was my first time on the subway extension, and while it hasn’t changed my life to the extent I thought it would, I was pretty thrilled not to have to get out at Hua Lamphong and take a white-knuckle motorcycle ride for 10-15 minutes to the Old Town with my head encased in a smelly used motorcycle helmet. Indeed, the Sam Tok station lets you out right in front of Old Siam — not necessarily the beating heart of the Old Town, but close enough to Phra Arthit Road, which is. Here, there are tuk tuks aplenty.
There is an old saying among some Thai-Chinese that it if you were to ever find a mole with a hair growing out of it on your face, you shouldn’t pluck it, because these types of moles are lucky. I think these hairs truly are lucky, because the owner of Kim Leng (Tanao Road, 02-622-2062, open 10-20.00 except Sundays) has enough to form a makeshift beard, and his restaurant is delicious. It’s a substantial menu, full of the kind of home cooking you would get in a really wonderful friend’s house (if that friend, and you as well, were also lucky), similar to Krua Apsorn, but without the muted, polite Central Thai balance (for the most part.) One dish that did seem on the muffled side was the hor mok (steamed seafood curry), one of my favorite Thai dishes anywhere, but even then, it was still beguiling enough for me to stuff my face with in 1-2 minutes flat.
Also recommended, the springy fish cakes, a mochi-like mousse deep-fried to discs the size of a baby’s hand and garlanded with deep-fried basil leaves. And the tom som pla grapong, a soup of fresh seabass that is reminiscent of tom yum save for the dollops of tamarind that sweeten the broth.
If you want to cry, Kim Leng has that covered too. Its pad sator (stir-fried stink beans) comes with fresh shrimp and a thin sauce of minced pork that seems less pungent or shrimp paste-y than its Southern Thai counterpart, but is still sneaky enough to pack a punch courtesy of the slivered green chilies that hide like bombs amid the rubble.
Long story short: it turns out Kim Leng is not closing at the end of the year. It appears to have been a ruse by Winner to get me to the Old Town. But the food is good enough that I did not fret; in fact, I plan on going to Kim Leng again, once I return home.