Running up that street (to the noodle shop)

The “Perfect Combination” noodles at Pe Aor Tomyum Noodle

I got my first copy of “Hounds of Love” during a hot 1985 summer from a Bangkok vendor selling tapes on the sidewalk. The lavender color of the cover, framing the beautiful woman with her hair spread out behind her, flanked by glossy dog heads with adoring lovestruck eyes, was what hit me first. I bought the tape, having never heard of Kate Bush before. It became my most-played tape for months on end, only to be replaced in my affections by XTC’s “Skylarking” in early 1987. Listening to it now, many many years later, brings me back to my 13-year-old self in the mid-1980s, sequestered in my bedroom with nowhere else to go.

So it was with a bit (or a lot) of surprise when I came upon the many, many, many stories on different media outlets discussing the Kate Bush “renaissance” sparked by the latest season of “Stranger Things”. Indeed, streams of the song “Running up That Hill” jumped more than 8,000 percent after the series debuted, prompting the singer-songwriter to release a rare statement thanking her new fans. There was also discussion about sad pathetic old Kate Bush gatekeepers who were unhappy about Kate Bush’s renewed success. These stories were probably written by people who know me, but honestly, I swear, I am happy for Kate Bush (even though my three favorite tracks on this album go like this: 1. “Cloudbusting”, 2. “Hounds of Love”, 3. “Running up that Hill.”) At least no one thinks Placebo came out with the original version of this song anymore. The gorgeously moody, atmospheric opening, the odd echoing synth blasts that sound like underwater war bugles, the tremulous soprano — these are all Kate (I am on a first-name basis with Kate, because I listened to her first).

I remember reading the original review of “Hounds of Love” in “Rolling Stone” magazine written by a man in a condescending tone that one would normally reserve for someone’s pretentious niece at St. Martin’s. He gave her three stars out of five. In attempting to dredge up that first review, I have since discovered that “Rolling Stone” has ranked “Hounds of Love” at #68 in its “Greatest 500 Albums of All Time” list, a stark example of retconning one’s own terrible opinions if there ever was one (although I like the part in the new review where the writer compares side 2 to David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd, then hastily insists that he didn’t mean it as an insult).

Pe Aor’s tom yum noodle shop on Petchburi Soi 5 has also never really caught the attention of critics aside from one Mark Wiens (@migrationology). Instead, outlets like Michelin have preferred to focus on the enormous vat of tom yum Mama noodles served by Jay Oh. That doesn’t mean that Pe Aor is bereft of her own cheerleaders; diners throng the shop at lunchtime daily, in search of the similarly enormous vat of tom yum noodles for which this shophouse is now renowned. Unlike at Jay Oh, these noodles are crowned with a veritable grocery store seafood counter, explaining why the most pricey of these options — “Lobster and the Gang” (and there is indeed a gang) — clocks in at a hefty 1,500 baht (aka Jay Fai-level prices).

I hadn’t been to Pe Aor since COVID hit, but I found myself there with a group of 5 last week, when we managed to skip the queues by rolling in at 5 pm (too early for most customers seeking dinner, too late for most lunch-havers). Upon entering, we saw only one occupied table, with one diner inhaling an order of “Lobster and the Gang” all by himself. Although there was a good-sized group of us, we were too cowed by the size of the gang and opted instead for the “Perfect Combination”, a lobster-less-yet-nonetheless-imposing bowl of tom yum noodles topped by mussels, salmon, squid, river prawns, and prawn roe.

The seafood was super-fresh, and tender, and the fact that the bowl resembled the seafood bar section of a hotel brunch buffet didn’t hurt either. There have, however, been comments online about how the popularity of Pe Aor — ushered in by Mark Wiens — has changed the flavor of the tom yum broth to something creamier, sweeter, and less spicy.

I cannot say if this is true myself (Mark is the person who brought Pe Aor to my attention as well!) but I can say that it’s the kind of broth that would be acceptable for any visitors you have who want to try tom yum and fresh seafood. In Pe Aor’s case, Mark was kind of like “Stranger Things”, and I am kind of like those people who just started streaming Kate Bush. I’m just lucky that the only gatekeeper that I know of is me.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Running up that street (to the noodle shop)

  1. I want to go! Thank you for showing me a city I love when I’m unable to see it for myself.

  2. Pamela Alexander

    You are such a gifted writer! Thank you for another excellent piece! You always inspire me.

    Pam Alexander Jonesboro, AR

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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