Out of all of the guitar heroes in the rock pantheon, Eddie Van Halen may have been the most revered. I have not designed a survey, so I am obviously talking out of my ass, but judging from Twitter at least, the segment of rock fandom that is most vocal — the middle-aged man, rock music’s most ardent acolyte — appears to have mourned, genuinely and deeply, EVH’s untimely passing. For once, a brief blissful second during these fraught times, people seemed united (with just a few bizarre outliers): EVH gone, bad; Van Halen (with David Lee Roth), good.
It’s no mystery as to why EVH was the most loved of the world’s guitar heroes. Jimmy Page was a Satan-worshipping weirdo; Robert Johnson lost his soul at the crossroads; Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, chilly technicians both; Carlos Santana, always talking about angels; and Stevie Ray Vaughn, his work corrupted by beer commercials and football shows.
Meanwhile, the biggest hero of them all — “The Bat”, “The Creeper”, “Jimmy James” Hendrix — murmuring incantations over a flaming guitar, seemed too much of a literal rock god. No one could hope to truly mimic what this man did on the stage; one could only think to gape in awe and pretend they were there, wherever “Buster” was, when he was conjuring up musical magic, so self-serious and self-contained.
EVH may have had formidable skills, but he still presented a more accessible contrast to the esoteric, the strange, the weird. Unlike the black-clad nihilists or makeup-caked pretty boys of his time, EVH could have been you or me, dressed in the way that we would be if we were also on stage with David Lee Roth, avoiding one of his high kicks. Sunny and optimistic, EVH melted faces with an amiable smile, presenting a form of “hard rock” that could still be played in front of your mom. Indeed, my favorite Van Halen song is “Running With the Devil”: an ominous, pulsating low tone suggesting the beginning of a robot insurrection, the soaring guitar riff kicking in moments later, only to recede into a pop song that anyone could play at their 14th birthday party.
Ultimately, EVH was American in the way that Americans wanted to see themselves (even though EVH was Dutch). He wasn’t in music to get girls, or to get rich, or to get famous. He didn’t even really sell out in his old age, start shilling for Donald Trump, or go on a cynical world tour featuring “reinterpretations” of his greatest hits (although there was the Sammy Hagar era. Remember “When It’s Love”? Were they trying to be the hard rock Chicago?) It was obvious to everyone who saw him that this was the only thing he could have done. EVH was the real deal.
People also like Thai soup noodles for different reasons. Obviously, those reasons are not to get girls, get rich, or get famous. There is a purity in the clear-brothed fishball noodle, all the hard work involved in hand-whipping the ideal meatball that will bounce. There is tradition in every bowl of egg noodles, the Chinese callback to the garnish of crab claw and barbecued pork, a little shower of chopped fresh coriander when you want to feel fancy. Then there’s the heady, steakhouse luxury of a bowl of stewed beef noodles, the essence of the cow alive in every spoonful of broth, maybe thickened with drops of cow blood.
But no noodle is as Thai as the tom yum noodle, flavoured with hints of lemongrass and lime leaves and of course chili. Not even the boat noodle, created by the Chinese when they began to ply the canals with their wares, is as Thai. The tom yum noodle is a bowl of Chinese soup noodles with a Thai face. It has all of the flavors that Thais prize: sunny acidity, flashes of fire, a quicksilver sweetness, with a pervasive undercurrent of funk.
But no tom yum noodle I’ve found tastes like the one at this place on Asoke, crammed into what looks like was originally an empty space between two buildings:
Called “Guaythiew Luk Chin Taiwan Moo Nuea Pla” (Taiwanese noodles with pork, beef and fish meatballs), this spot next to Grace Baptist Church on Sukhumvit 19 serves noodles that bear no resemblance to the noodles I’ve tasted in Taiwan. They do, however, taste overwhelmingly of the Thai provinces, of the chili-laden back alleys, of the fish-sauced waterfronts. I say this with admiration. They are noodles for lovers of Thai noodles.
There are more variations than would be the norm here, not apparent on the menu above. You can have soup (nam) or without (hang). You can have noodles (thin, wide, egg or rice vermicelli) or without (gowlow). You can have with a clear soup (nam sai) or with blood (nam tok). You have have fish (pla), pork (moo), beef (nuea) or a mix thereof. You can even have tofu for 15 baht a piece. But I say go for the tom yum noodles and get a faceful of roasted chili paste, paired with whatever else is necessary to turn that dollop of paste into a bowl of noodles.
There is apparently another branch on Sukhumvit 22, but my friend Andrew, who lives nearby but dragged me in the rain to Sukhumvit 19, did not know this. Perhaps that branch is like the original, placed somewhere strange, where a noodle shop shouldn’t be. I guess, like the budding guitarist with dreams of girls and fame, noodle poseurs will be discouraged by all the work involved to search for it. Only the true enthusiast need apply. Neck scarves optional.