Curry rice bonanza

Honestly, this is a shot of just half of our lunch at Mae On’s Curry Rice, before they put the rest of the dishes that we ordered on the table

I have probably written about this before, but I am now officially at the age where I repeat myself over and over, forgetting that I have already told you the thing that I am currently telling you. So you will have already probably read before that one of my recurring nightmares is going to a gorgeous buffet, being unable to decide what I really want, and then upon deciding, being unable to find the thing that I wanted in the first place. Luckily for me, the buffets of my reality are much, much simpler, and I am more than capable of making decisions in the moment (although those decisions ruin me later, when I am unable to finish all of the food that I’ve ordered).

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that the Thai street food tradition of khao gang (or curry rice, in which you are given a plate of rice on which to adorn any number of already-prepared dishes) is one of my favorite things about Thai street food. When set out on the sidewalk or in front of the shophouse, the flurry of dishes on display — stir-fries, relishes, curries, even the occasional baked item — are indescribably, heartbreakingly beautiful, and that moment of pointing at exactly all it is that you want is, for me at least, one of the happiest moments I can imagine.

So I was overjoyed to be invited along with Adam, Daria, and Jasper of the @otr.offtherails team to sample one of Adam’s favorite khao gang spots, The Originals Mae On’s Curry Over Rice at Saphan Han. In business for over 50 years total (and over 20 years in its current location on Chakkrawat Road), the plethora of dishes available in the morning are an edible treasure trove of Thai favorites and hard-to-find gems like the kai khem puu jaa, or salted egg yolk planted like a giant staring eye into a mince of deep-fried pork and crab (I’m making it sound less tasty than it really is, but it is a visually striking dish).

Don’t forget the tart-spicy sauce, which I always end up doing

While the puu jaa and gang khi lek (cassia leaf curry) are hidden gems, the sweet pork and salted pork (moo waan and moo khem) are ordered by virtually everyone, as is one of the two (!) nam prik (chili dips) pounded daily. I was once told by a customer at a now-defunct khao gaeng vendor on my street that a nam prik option was the sign of a great cook, as chili dips are ponderous and labor-intensive; the presence of two of them, by that logic, means we are dealing with a formidable Thai food cook indeed. And that cook is one woman, a native of Phichit, who makes this veritable blanket of food from 4 in the morning to when the shophouse opens at 7:30 every morning. Such is the amount of food that she makes daily that the next time I complain about making a main, a cheese tray and a couple of side dishes for guests, I will conjure up this woman’s face as inspiration and remember that some people are far, far, far busier at far, far, far earlier in the day.

People like to think that Thai breakfasts are all eggs and/or congee of some kind, but this is the real way most Thais start their day: with a curry, stir-fry and rice (maybe even with a clear soup of bitter melon stuffed with minced pork!). And if they miss their curry rice hit in the morning, they make sure to have it at lunchtime. Hell, they may even pick up a plastic baggie or two of nam prik macaam and green curry for dinner at home, where the rice is already warming in the rice cooker. Curry rice is the lifeblood coursing through the veins of Bangkok. Taking a plastic stool and hunkering down with some son-in-law eggs and a ladleful of massaman curry is the simplest way to continue on in one of the grandest of Thai street food traditions.

For an in-depth look at Bangkok’s best curry rice spots, check out Adam and the gang here.

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