When people ask me, “What do you do?”, I give varying answers depending on how honest I am feeling that day. Sometimes I say I am a “food writer”, which usually elicits raised eyebrows and a sense of bewilderment as to how someone could get a job like that. The real answer, of course, is that very few people can get a job like that, and in my case, only sporadically. So sometimes I tell them I am unemployed. To me, “food writer” and “unemployed” are frequently the same thing in that I eat food, I write about it, and I don’t get paid.
Very once in a while, I do get promises of getting paid. Which is why I dragged my friend Nong, who is always up for exploring corners of Thailand, south of the city to explore some floating markets — not the fun big floating markets guaranteed to yield things to do, eat and buy, no — but the smaller, lesser-known ones mainly patronized by actual Thai people. Markets like Bang Noi, made up of a series of vendors lining the Bangnoi canal and set up in the shadow of Amphawa. While the market is busiest during the waning and waxing moon, it’s open every weekend and offers enough action to warrant a visit from an inveterate market-goer and scourer of street food (me sometimes, Nong most times).
While the Tourism Authority of Thailand website recommends you visit the only roti shop in the market, we were not in the mood for something sweet. After trawling through every food vendor on one side of the canal (and buying more than a few woven baskets and pomelos that turned out to be flavorless), we stopped at a welcoming guay thiew moo tom yum (pork noodle with spicy lemongrass seasonings) vendor boasting a dining balcony set out over the river. We were early enough that we had the veranda all to ourselves, with a quiet and relaxing view of the disconcertingly large fish in the water.
But as we sat and ate, we noticed a persistent caterwaul across the canal from a rival noodle shop advertising guay thiew poo (crab noodles). No, it was not a cat, but a man, singing what appeared to be traditional Thai songs in between advertising various dishes at the eatery. It was when he mentioned hoy jor (Thai-Chinese crab-pork fritters) that I was compelled to brave the music and cross the bridge to the other side of the canal.
The fritters was not what I had been hoping for, greasy and accompanied by an aggressively sweet dipping sauce. But it was the scene before us that kept me riveted: a sort of karaoke club, made up of retired locals who took turns singing very old Thai songs for the assembled noodle shop throng. In between bites of our food, we ended up joining in with the egging on of various singers (as with any karaoke club, two people ultimately competed for the microphone) and clapping enthusiastically when they were done.
The noodles were okay, too.
And if I occasionally got shards of shell from the crab, so what? We also enjoyed something we hadn’t seen before, a plate of “purple pad thai” featuring noodles colored with dok anchan (butterfly pea) extract. After our pork noodle appetizers, both dishes were a lot for us to handle.
It was only when the singers began asking us for requests, and then asking us to sing, that we decided to pay our bill and get out of Dodge. Don’t let it be said that we would ever overstay our welcome. Besides, the only Thai song I know is “Sabai Sabai”. I had a feeling they didn’t have that one.