I have lunch with my friend Andrew about once every two weeks. We usually meet up at the same places over and over again (Luka, Sakuragawa), but once in a while one of us (and when I say that, I mean me) will feel adventurous enough to branch out and try something new. That happened yesterday, when I agreed to go to the little Thai-Chinese shophouse place near Andrew’s called Thong Li (Sukhumvit Soi 20 next to Millennium residence, 02-259-4649, open 9am-7.30pm except the third weekend of every month).
I’ve been to the place called Thai Diner in New York and enjoyed it, but to me, the dishes served at these little Thai-Chinese cookshops are what I truly consider to be “Thai diner” food. From its humble shophouse setting to the old man standing sentry at the entrance, Thong Li is the spiritual brethren to the Silom Pattakans and Florida Hotels of Bangkok, started by the descendants of the Hainanese chefs who once cooked for the palaces and embassies of old Siam. You won’t find the Anglo-Indian-inspired chicken curry of Silom Pattakan, served with a hefty slice of white bread, but you will find mee krob, the deep-fried noodle dish with tamarind sauce that is somehow ubiquitous in any cookshop worth its “Thai diner” credentials. Best of all, it takes the place of the much-lamented Yong Lee as nearest cookshop to my house, meaning that I no longer have to trek to Banglamphu to have some comfort food, Thai-Chinese-style.
One of the things that sets Thong Li apart from its shophouse brethren is its fondness for pork liver. Indeed, you can find this ingredient added liberally to more than its share of dishes, from the signature stir-fry above — umami and rich in its liverishness, studded with enough garlic to put Dracula away — to its supporting role in a big bowl of tom klong ruammit, a clear infused soup touched with tamarind juice featuring bits of chicken, pork, shrimp, mushrooms, and of course tranches of pork liver.
There were non-pork liver dishes on the menu, too, including a beautiful yum of mixed mushrooms (het) that unabashedly celebrates the potency of Thailand’s most important ingredient, nam pla (fish sauce), as well as a deliciously sweet-and-savory stir-fry of pork meat in shrimp paste (moo pad kapi).
And finally, ordered in a bid to remember our distant childhoods, an omelette stuffed with minced pork and doused in a ketchupy sauce (kai yat sai), kind of reminiscent of the omurice at Tameiken in Tokyo but without the mound of American fried rice underneath.
So come to Thong Li, order a bunch of food, and enjoy your lunchtime in relative quiet as an elderly Thai man does his best to not look at you as you stuff your face. Just don’t bring a laptop, notebook or tablet computer; they are actually banned from the tables to discourage the afternoon-while-away-er. There are the stairs of the Family Mart down the street for that, after all.