Eating my words, chapter 2

Crab leg tom yum mama pot at Jeh Oh

So, I’m going bald. This seems like it should be private information, except that it’s 1. obvious, and 2. if you can’t tell a whole bunch of people you haven’t met in real life, then who can you tell, right? This hair loss, which accelerated after my bout with Covid 19, is obviously a curse from CP Corporation or an irate Thai tourism official, and I have to either find a witch doctor to fight this curse with a bunch of raw eggs, or complain about it on this blog. I have clearly chosen the latter.

Anyway, the “I’m losing my hair oh no” alarm in my brain has ratcheted up from an anxious hum to a full on roar, so if you are here for some info on Thai food, today might not be the day to stop by. I’ve got more important things to discuss. Like, what do you think I should do?

  1. Shave my head? Men do it, why can’t women? I can pretend I am bucking gender conformity. However, I recently hit my head very hard while watching my daughter pack for college and now have an enormous bump on my skull. That will go away though, right? Right?
  2. Develop a fondness for head scarves and turbans. This means I have to change the entire way I dress currently (ie like a color blind hobo). I might even have to coordinate the scarf to the clothing. That seems difficult.
  3. Wear a wig. I really don’t want to do this, because Thailand is hot.
  4. Wear a hat. I also don’t really like to do this either, for the same reason as number 3. Also my mom once told me Asians look bad in hats.
  5. Leave it alone. I don’t think I can bring myself to do this either.

In any case, I am wary of going out nowadays, because of the fact of said hair loss, and the fear of it being seen by anyone who is over the height of 4’9 (this is almost everyone). So when I do go out, I need it to really count. And what is more of a slam dunk, food wise, than the section of Bantadthong Road near Sam Yan market? (That said, we really need to find a new name for this neighborhood, like how people tried to rename Hell’s Kitchen in New York City as “Clinton”. Thaiton?)

On my second foray into this food paradise, I had grand visions of trying everything I had missed out on before: fish porridge, the aharn tham sung (made to order) shophouse selling great-looking stir-fries, the Chinese-style ice cream parfaits, even the black sesame dumplings in hot ginger broth at Ginger Soup. What we ended up doing: eating at Elvis Suki again. Still good!

But there was a reason why we went back. I mean, besides the seabass and the scallops. And it was because the line at Jeh Oh was a few people shorter than it normally was. In case you forgot, this is what the line normally looks like:

But this time, the line only extended to the red hanging lantern. That gave us hope. So we marched to the front of the line (or, rather, crept along obsequiously with our heads down so that no one would think we were trying to cut in front of them in line), searched for someone who looked like they knew what was happening (a man in a red sports shirt) and asked them how to get into the restaurant, after which he promptly asked us how many were in our party and then pressed a piece of paper with a number scrawled onto it in pen into my palm.

I asked how long it would likely take before our number would be called. “One hour,” he said.

So that is how we got to Elvis Suki. Because it is just around the corner from Jeh Oh, and we were likely to finish our little pre-dinner snack (if a whole seabass and platter of scallops can be considered a snack) before our hour was up. And it was! We got back exactly 50 minutes later, I scrambled up to the sports shirt guy to see what number we were up to, and it was a mere 8 numbers away. Even better, an ice cream cart had smartly pulled up right in front, so we had the option of enjoying Thai-style scoops while waiting outside. In the end, we waited maybe 10 minutes, tops. And when the man with the microphone attached to his face called out our number, it was exhilarating.

Now, I have been to Jeh Oh before, back in the time when Suan Luang Market still existed, and before the idea of serving a vat of tom yum mama was even a twinkle in Jeh Oh’s eye. This was back when Jeh Oh was most known for her duck porridge, which we ordered with a whole deep-fried fish and some stir-fried greens. We had a nice time with well-made food, and the crowd was respectable but quiet.

Today, Jeh Oh is packed with iPhone-wielding diners like Bungalow 8 was with cocaine-fuelled investment bankers in early-aughts New York. The feel among everyone is celebratory and self-congratulatory, mostly for having braved an hour-long wait on the sidewalk in the afternoon heat. The staff, for their part, are brisk and efficient. They do not sell beer (unlike in the old days, when you could get a beer woon, or beer slushy), but you can bring in your own. The duck is still good, served in a deep mahogany broth.

There are still other good things on the menu that are perfect for pairing with rice porridge, like a nice yum of cashews, a decent fluffy Thai omelet, ably stir-fried morning glory with red chilies, and squid stir-fried with salted egg yolk, a particular favorite of mine.

But who am I kidding? Obviously no one is ordering rice porridge here anymore. The star of the show, on every table in the shophouse, is Jeh Oh’s “tom yum” with two packages of Mama noodles, topped with a variety of items ranging from kebab-shaped pork meatballs to fresh crab legs. These bowls, most of which are large saucepan-sized, are then sent out to the tables with a couple of eggs cracked on top at the last minute, cooking in the hot broth as they are brought to diners.

I am a bit of a Mama noodle connoisseur. It’s almost always one of the first meals I have after I return from a long trip abroad. We always have several packets in the house for emergencies (ie I am too lazy to even order food). My husband favors moo sap (minced pork) flavor, while I think the shrimp tom yum flavor is the best flavor ever for any instant noodle. As Thais, we both prefer Mama brand noodles.

So I think I can be trusted when I say that there’s not a little tom yum seasoning in Jeh Oh’s broth. There may be a real tom yum base in there (it’s not unheard of for a rice porridge restaurant to have tom yum soup too), but it’s definitely zhooshed up with some MSG-laced magic courtesy of those little Mama packets. And that’s when I realized why Jeh Oh is so line-clamberingly popular: it’s like the tom yum Mama that you get at home, with some deluxe stuff on top. The “tart, spicy” flavor that bloggers rave about? That’s what can be found on your local 7-11 shelf. Thank you, Thai President Foods Plc!

Not that I’m complaining. I ate that whole thing up, almost singlehandedly. Gotta make my time outside of the house count, after all. But next time, I’ll remember that nothing is stopping me and my bald head from ripping open two packets of tom yum-flavored Mama noodles on my own, throwing in some shrimp and minced pork, cracking a couple of eggs on the whole caboodle, and calling it a day in the comfort and privacy of my own home.


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3 responses to “Eating my words, chapter 2

  1. I’m glad to know you made it! Very clever to enjoy an Elvis Suki / Jeh Oh bang-bang rather than melt in line!

  2. Alan Katz

    Your mom is wrong. Thai women look as good wearing hats as anyone else.

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