Author Archives: Bangkok Glutton

About Bangkok Glutton

Eating and writing in Bangkok.

I Don’t Like Doing This

There is a reason why I have a rule about never, ever (and I mean never) reading stuff that I have been interviewed for, or watching myself on any program, or reading anything that could possibly mention my name. And it is because I do not want to get pissed off. But it’s too late now, because Dwight (@bkkfatty) brought my attention to an article in SCMP about, ostensibly, the Thai dining scene that I am not going to link to, because I am that pissed off. You can just Google it, Google is there for a reason. Also I am hungry because I only had an apple for breakfast.

This is all Dwight’s fault. LOL (sort of but not really I still love you Dwight).

The premise is that Thai food is now being taken over by fine dining restaurants, and street food is a thing of the past. I think that is the premise, but I stopped reading when a real estate person was interviewed. Nothing against the real estate person, I have friends who are real estate people, and my husband is a real estate person. But interviewing a real estate person about Thai street food is like asking this lady about Donald Trump:

giphy

What the story appears to be doing is setting up a conflict between street food and Thai fine dining. Like, you could either eat street food or you can eat at Paste and Bo.lan, but you can’t do both. Like street food has usurped the role of fine dining in Thailand, and that conventional wisdom frames street food as the pinnacle of Thai cuisine. This is a false equivalency.

giphy1

No one is saying street food is the best that Thailand has to offer. Street food could never compete with Sorn or Saawaan, either for the investment involved in its making, or in its presentation or the time and thought spent in its creation. I don’t think there are any people who don’t welcome well-made Thai cuisine, be it organic, “farm-to-fork”, or expensive. As my friend Trude would say, the move from informal to formal is normal. Go crazy with the tasting menus. Feel free to grow your own dill and coriander. Break out the mason jars. No one is against that.

Street food is made by people in a hurry, for people in a hurry (unless, like Jay Fai, that becomes impossible, but that’s another story). It’s a bet on a vendor’s ability to make a couple of dishes well enough that they can feed their family off of it. And yes, when they do make it well enough, it becomes something that is passed down from generation to generation, and that becomes tradition. When it endures for long enough, it becomes imprinted in people’s memories and becomes a part of their childhoods and personal stories. That is what people mean when they think it’s the best. It does not mean it is the best expression of Thai cuisine. That is like saying Prince Street Pizza is the best restaurant in New York.

What this faux conflict between fine dining and street food ignores is that most Thai people can’t afford fine dining. That limiting options, in any way, not only cheats a whole bunch of people out of alternative ways of feeding oneself outside of a mall (run by a big-time real estate developer) or a convenience store (run by a big-time food company), but stifles the kind of creativity and entrepreneurship that has long fed Bangkok’s dining scene. Limiting options cuts down on the (very, very few) places where all segments of a highly stratified society can still mix, where they are all on equal footing (NOT at the mall). Limiting options means less avenues for the poor, who do not have the right last names or go to the right schools, to make a good living. If Jay Fai — the daughter of a mobile kua gai vendor — were to start out now, would she have thrived enough to buy up her own shophouse, hence escaping the current street food sweep? The problem with the street food ban is that it’s classist. It has nothing to do with food.

I have resigned myself to a future of eating noodles at food courts, but when it’s forced too soon at the expense of other people, and those other people are erased from a story that is basically theirs, it pisses me off. Of course, you can disregard what I say as someone who “profits” off of street food (55555555 all the 5s in the world). But there is still a space in Bangkok’s undeniably rich (HAH) and varied tapestry of food offerings to accommodate both ends of the Thai food spectrum, from R-Haan to non-prepackaged corporate sandwich options. To argue otherwise is disingenuous.

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ipoh-licious

blackpeppercrab

Crab with black pepper, curry leaves and dried shrimp at Crab House

Here are some controversial hot takes for you. One, Shawn Mendes is just not that good-looking. (Is he considered good-looking because he washes his hair, unlike Justin Bieber? This appears to be the sole criterion.) Two, the New England Patriots are cheaters. (It’s well-documented.) Three, open-air shophouses where all the cooking is done in front are still considered street food, both in terms of food and culinary tradition, according to me, a street food eater. And four, Malaysia has better street food than Singapore.

This could also be considered well-documented. A recent New York Times story on Malaysia and Singapore had enough burns to make me, an innocent bystander who considers both to be inferior to Thailand, want to write about it. Singapore is planning on petitioning UNESCO to recognize its street food as one of the cultural treasures of the world. But Malaysians are feeling salty about it. Take the opinion of Chee Kean, presumably of Malaysia, who tweets “I think they mean they want to protect their air-conditioned food court.” [fire emoji yikes]

In return, Singaporeans point to international arbiters of taste like Michelin to rub Malaysians’ nose in their relative lack of marketing savvy. “Perhaps this discussion can be carried out properly after a hawker stall in Malaysia achieves a Michelin star” says Coconuts Singapore, which, ok Coconuts lol.

 

giphy

 

I stopped reading after that because then it dawned on me Thailand was trying to be like Singapore and it was just too rich when Singapore said a successful petition would help “safeguard” their street food culture since everything is already in a mall and words mean nothing anymore. But I did not start out wanting to write about the death rattles of Thai street food. What I want to write about is Ipoh, where street food is still thriving.

Ipoh is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Kuala Lumpur and home to a sizable Chinese community, hence its reputation for great food. The hills, water and soil of the area are said to produce the biggest, crunchiest and juiciest bean sprouts in the world. But it’s not all dim sum and beansprouts — busloads of foodies from KL and Penang hit the town every weekend to sample all the local dishes that they prefer to the renditions back home.

For example, you can get “black pepper crab” in KL and even, yes, in Singapore. But is it like this: unbearably fresh, shells caked in a breathtaking sludge of pounded black pepper and dried prawn, lit with a tinge of curry leaf, hiding sweet soft flesh within? I hate to say it, but the version at the Crab House (32, Laluan Perajurit 1, Taman Ipoh Timur, 012-565-7723)  is my favorite crab anywhere, even better than the freshly steamed swimmer crabs I can get beachside in Hua Hin, toes in the sand and a cold beer at my elbow. Sorry, Thailand.

The Crab House also does a “fish skin salad” — egg yolk-coated deep-fried skins piled high in a deep-fried nest of taro beside a pile of lightly dressed veggies — that is inexplicably popular amongst Malaysians. If you are feeling adventurous or just want to try something that has yet to translate to anywhere else, the Crab House is a good place to start.

fishskinsalad

We were made to pose this way

That’s not all I have to rave about. There was the aggressively smoky duck, honey-glazed to a delicate crisp and smelling of lychee wood, at Yuk Sou Hin at the Weil Hotel (the owner’s name spelled backwards).

duck

There was also the fresh seafood at the well-named Lucky (266, Jalan Pasir Puteh, Taman Hoover, 05-255-7330). Fish head curry (with cockles, treated the way Thais treat fresh bird’s eye chilies), homemade fish balls, and the inevitable char kway teow (broad rice noodles wok-fried in soy sauce and garlic) finished off the meal.

charkwayteow

Char kway teow

The next day was devoted almost exclusively to street food: open-air shophouses jam-packed with tables and plastic stools, around which were grouped various vendors offering a whole range of dishes: curry mee (spicier in Ipoh than its cousins in KL or Penang), chee cheong fun (flat rice noodle squares in chili paste), hakka mee (curly noodles with minced braised pork), deliciously fluffy kaya-stuffed pau (steamed dumplings) and of course, laksa. Unlike Penang, Ipoh does not have its own laksa, but the Penang version (touched with tamarind and garnished with a raft of fresh herbs and veggies) is extremely popular.

cheecheongfun

Chee cheong fun

Feeling as stuffed as a foie gras goose, I still managed to wolf down a few helpings of kaya toast (bread smeared with coconut jam and butter) because that stuff is manna from the gods.

kayatoast

Kaya toast at Dong@22 Hale Street

We finished off our trip at a banana leaf spot, which ended up being a lotus leaf place called Tamara’s (36, Persiaran Greenhill, 012-642-8821), offering both Sri Lankan and South Indian specialties.

ipohsrilanka

Sri Lankan chicken curry at Tamara’s

Our hosts refused to partake in the especially Ipoh-ian dishes known as salted chicken (which I get, it’s like being forced to eat pad Thai in Bangkok), but we did get to sample it, along with the ubiquitous hor hee (fish soup noodles with fish won tons, meatballs and of course an avalanche of bean sprouts) at the home of local food celebrity SeeFoon Chan, who regularly writes her own food column on Ipoh cuisine for the Ipoh Echo.

The 73-year-old SeeFoon is a former model and beauty queen whose work as a journalist and in the hotel industry has taken her all over the world. Yet she has chosen to settle down in Ipoh, despite not even being an Ipoh native. She is, in fact, Singaporean. What she looks for most, she says, is authenticity, a quality that the food in Ipoh seems to have in spades. Fingers crossed it doesn’t change anytime soon.

durian

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Postcards from the edge of the ballroom

sritrat

Chili paste at Sri Trat, a Michelin Plate restaurant

I arrived super early in the morning, as the Park Hyatt was still setting up. Executive Chef Franck Detrait, already a little disheveled from his early morning tasks, smiles a little when I ask him what’s for dinner. “It’s a surprise,” he says and I laugh, but it won’t be a surprise to me, because I wasn’t invited …

… and that is exactly the absolute last time I mention this, I promise.

It’s the day of the Michelin Guide 2019 launch, the second of its kind in Thailand, expanded from the original Bangkok to include Phuket and Phang-Nga.  Dinner tonight is for 280 people and a five-course affair, which will end with a coffee mousse, a tidbit I managed to pry from the more gregarious pastry chef. Looking at me, breaking news. You got it here first.

paste

A fish dish at Paste, a Michelin-starred restaurant

The focus of the celebration is the “little red book”, which has weathered its share of controversies since its inception in 1900 as a little motorist’s guide to decent restaurants and inns along the roads in France.  That hasn’t ended in Asia, where the idea of even having a Michelin guide has been questioned. Who are these people who will judge our food, went the familiar refrain, exacerbated by Michelin’s secrecy and committee of anonymous inspectors, features meant to keep the judging process sacrosanct but also frustratingly opaque. For example, one does not know where George R.R. Martin is in the “Winds of Winter’ writing process, aside from the hints gleaned from a few released chapters.  One can only guess, and in those guesses, allow one’s imagination to run rampant. Will we never see it at all? Will it be finished by a beleaguered editorial assistant working off of Post-it notes slapped to the side of a Vista PC? Will it be released in 50 years for our grandchildren to enjoy and then remake? No one knows these answers. Just like no one knows exactly who is making the decisions for who gets what in Thailand’s dining scene, but conspiracy theories and criticisms abound. And the results can change lives.

robuchon

A caviar tapas plate at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

For Thailand, the most striking example of the power of the Michelin Guide is probably still Jay Fai, whose business changed overnight. After a year of adjusting to the increased queues and working hours — and scrutiny — Jay Fai now says she has her schedule down well enough that she can work non-stop from 2pm to 1am, 5 days a week (or more if the pu yai request it). In fact, she plans on expanding her menu to include the dishes she neglected for the past year in favor of omelette after omelette, such as her blanched white fish with veggies or her sukiyaki with homemade sauce. She has even adjusted well enough that she can take on side projects such as the pending cooperation with Thai Airways, where she has already tried out adapted iterations of her stir-fried crab in curry and drunken noodles in their gigantic kitchen.

jayfai

A wok in motion at Jay Fai

It’s not just Jay Fai. Fried chicken noodle (guaythiew kua gai) vendor Nai Peng was practically saved by receiving a Michelin Plate award last year after gentrification decimated most of his Suan Luang neighborhood, and was awarded another Plate nod last night.

naipeng

Nai Peng’s fried chicken noodles

New entrants to the guide are also hoping to haul in that Michelin largesse. They include first-time Michelin stars for Methavalai Sorndaeng (my grandpa’s fave, don’t forget the gratong tong or deep-fried pastry bags), R-Haan, Saawaan, Canvas, Ruean Panya, Sorn and Suan Thip (Chef Bee of Paste’s fave); a doubling of the Bib Gourmand ranks to include newbies like Thai sweets extraordinaire Kor Panich, Lai Rot (but only on Rama 6), and the dudes at 100 Mahaseth; and Plate newcomers like Sushi Masato, Jidori Cuisine Ken and my fave Thai-Chinese raconteur, Chef Jok of Jok’s Kitchen.

chefjok

Chef Jok in his tiny kitchen with groupie

There’s also Phuket, where you see welcome names like La Gaetana, Thu Gub Khao and of course the ever-delicious Raya. Entrants from Phang-Nga look thin on the ground but that actually might be a good thing for now. And the street food sections in the guide look robust, although obviously I have some complaints (still no Chia duck noodles or Sainampung chicken noodles? Come on guys).

sornthong

An oyster at Sornthong, a Michelin Plate restaurant

There are more women this year, which would make sense given that there are a total of 217 restaurants this year, up more than 81 over last year and with 10 new stars. This probably also makes sense given that Thai food makes up fully half of the cuisines in the 2019 guide. Still, need we single the female chefs apart for their own photo shoot to cries of “girl power” from the audience, a la the Asia’s 50 Best “Best Female Chef” award? Is this a European guy thing? It’s not like they are horses walking on their hind legs. Women have been cooking for at least as long as men. Hopefully soon, maybe even sooner than “Winds of Winter” come out, the recognition of talented female chefs will not be treated as such an anomaly.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A reason to leave the house

fish

Pomfret in a pickled plum broth at Hia Wan Khao Tom Pla

It’s taken me a while to recognize that the nearly month-long period I’ve spent on my couch watching Netflix is not, actually, mental health “me time”, but really depression. The reasons why could be any number of things (my husband blames CNN), but that’s really secondary. It’s the realization that counts.

It took me long enough.  I mean, the signs were all staring at me in the face. Binging the first season of “Gilmore Girls” and forming strong opinions on the sub-par quality of Lorelai Gilmore’s friendships with other women? Watching and re-watching “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” for fashion tips from Aunt Zelda and Madame Satan? Watching any episodes of “The Good Witch” ever, at all? (1. These are all Netflix-related; 2. yes, I have watched every episode of “The Good Witch” ever made; 3. and no, I have not found a suitable replacement, Netflix suggestions be damned). It’s become obvious I have been depressed, and for a while now. The silver lining is that the sooner it’s recognized, the sooner I can find a solution. Of course, my solution mostly involves food.

I unpeeled myself from my couch long enough to trek to Chan Road yesterday, a heroic Odysseus-like journey that for me involves a couple of motorcycles and multiple Skytrain stops. The reason why stemmed from an iPhone message I saved from February 2017 courtesy of my friend Nat, who said that fairly authentic (what a loaded word) Teochew food could be found at Hia Wan Khao Tom Pla (2 Thanon Chan, 02-211-0829). I am no expert on the cuisine of the Teochew region (where most Chinese-Thais hail from), but I can say with certainty that this spot checks all the boxes that one would expect from a great fish porridge place: the ice-laden front counter bearing all the fresh varieties of fish on offer (in this case, grouper, regular pomfret and deep-sea pomfret), the gentleman owner overseeing all from a perch behind the cook station, fresh bateng (soy-glazed pork) to accompany every bowl of porridge, and brown bean sauce (here, two varieties: regular and slightly spicy) on every table.

pork

Bateng on display

There’s more. The place is almost strikingly clean, even by Thai shophouse standards: gleaming tabletops, obsessively tidy dining accoutrements. Besides the namesake fish porridge — heavy on the deep-fried garlic flavor, rife with thin-cut slices of fresh pomfret, perfect with the slightly spicier brown bean sauce — “recommended dishes” include a plethora of spicy salads (yum) of various varieties of seafood as well as different seafood steamed with glass vermicelli (ob woonsen). There are special soups of gently poached pomfret in a pickled plum broth, fragrant with lots of ginger and Chinese celery. They even allow you to make-your-own-porridge, mixing and matching all of the ingredients displayed in front. And it’s a Michelin Bib Gourmand eatery, a fact I discovered from the cover of their menu. It’s hard not to find something to like, as long as it’s seafood.

As for the depression, I am taking it day by day. I have stopped listening to Post Malone, or reading about Lena Dunham. I am making time for friends. I am trying to limit my CNN time. I still find Chris Cuomo sort of attractive, but I am working on it. There is no cure-all for something like this. There is just the motivation to find a reason to peel oneself off of the couch, every day, whether it is fish porridge, or going to the gym, or buying a bag of Doritos.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Winter is coming

chormuang

Pink-hued “chor chompoo” stuffed with salmon and macadamia nuts at Blue Elephant

(Lunch courtesy of Blue Elephant and the lovely Susie H. at Krinbourne Kommunications)

This is going to be a post about women’s stuff, so if you’re not really into that, feel free to nope on out of here:

giphy

My husband tells me that winter is coming — this weekend, in fact, when the Thai weather service apparently predicts the temperature will fall to a relatively chilly 16 degrees Celsius. Of course, this is the same weather service that said the rains were going to stop two days ago.

This will be a nice reprieve for me, since I’m so het up about other stuff. Stuff like douchenozzle dudes who get to rest easy, secure in the knowledge that they will always prevail, their bumps and bruises smoothed away by people tripping over themselves to apologize for any hurt feelings. At the other end of the equation, all those scary elevator screamers who are shouting without smiling or even putting on makeup or bothering to look nice, well, they are very rude and, of course, paid, but so bad at their jobs that they aren’t paid, which is even worse than being paid. That nasty George Soros, always stiffing those contractors at his lousy casinos! The pretext behind all of this, for women only of course, is SHUT YOUR MOUTH. This system was not designed for you.

This is stirring up a lot of stuff for me, so I’ve had a lot to chew on (in every sense) for the past couple of weeks. I’m remembering all sorts of stuff, from the iffy (interviews scheduled in hotel rooms, corporate comms types who pulled me aside at conferences for one-on-one interviews with their bosses) to squicky (the PR exec who made me climb over him to get out of a taxi, the fund manager who freaked my editors out so much they drove me home) to totally gross (the groom’s friend who dragged me onto his lap). I know I’m not alone.

So now is a time for some self-care. Some things I’ve been doing, in no particular order:

  1. Listening to a lot of Rage Against the Machine, especially “Know Your Enemy” and “Wake Up”. I find it relaxing.
  2. Yoga. Lots and lots of yoga.
  3. Drinking like I’m Brett Kavanaugh at Beach Week, brah!

It’s also a good idea to celebrate and support strong women who are working to do good things for other women and are, quite simply, good at their jobs. Every year, Chef Nooror Somany Steppe of Blue Elephant presents a “Go Pink” menu to mark “Breast Cancer Awareness month” in October, with proceeds earmarked for the National Cancer Institute of Thailand.

scallops

Grilled baby scallops with turmeric

The menu is available for all of October and offers up a good-looking pile of food. Not only do you get to drown all your feelings in deliciousness like grilled fresh river prawns, dressed with a tart grated salad of Jerusalem artichoke, or a rich Rama II-era beef curry stewed in cinnamon and coconut milk, but you can also tell yourself this is all good for you — the ingredients are specifically selected for their antioxidant or health-affirming properties — while helping to boost the fight against breast cancer in the process. It’s a win-win situation, which is becoming increasingly rare.

dessert

Dessert of sago with gingko nuts and young coconut

(Photo by Susie Hansirisawasdi)

 

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Noodles from a gentler age

noodles.jpg

Boat noodles without broth at Guaythiew Ruea Gati Sod

I left my house this morning in a foul mood following a few hours’ worth of CNN, prepared to kick in the face of any man who gave me cause. After reaching my destination and spending a mere few minutes discussing the ins and outs of Thai food, I returned home in a far rosier mindset. Food can do that for you. That’s what I like about it. It’s the equivalent of puppy and kitten videos and an afternoon spent watching Youtube videos of people attempting yoga moves that are far too advanced and falling, but not falling so badly that they seriously injure themselves, because we are nice people and not gaslighting douchebags who get defensive when asked about beer.

There goes my mood again. Let’s focus on some other things that make us happy when we’re in a bad mood, like (many) glasses of wine or 45 minutes of extremely mild cardio. Watching Lifetime channel specials featuring gourmet detectives or witches with magical powers whose most serious problem is when a rare flower gets cut in the public park. Listening to Aretha Franklin’s version of “I Say a Little Prayer”. Hugging my children. Did I mention wine earlier?

And of course, stuffing my face. What is so great about Thailand is that there are so many different ways to go, and they are all good. One of these ways is boat noodles, which sprouted up around the 1940s as small bowls served by canal-faring vendors who thickened the broth with a splash of pork or beef blood. These noodles remain popular, renowned particularly in the Victory Monument area, but they also have a following in other waterborne areas such as Ayutthaya.

Nakhon Nayok is another such place, generously studded with waterlogged rice paddies and shot through by the (what else) Nakhon Nayok River. Not surprisingly, then, boat noodles also figure here, but there is a type of boat noodle that is not served anywhere else. Called “Guaythiew Ruea Gati Sod” (boat noodles with fresh coconut milk), the vendor claims to make it from an “ancient recipe”, but a little questioning will tell you that she actually invented the noodles herself.

Adding the coconut milk to the noodles is not for everyone: it smoothes over all of boat noodles’ hard edges and sweetens the broth, sort of like khao soy without all the texture or garnishes. But if you are looking for something different, or if you prefer your noodles sans broth, simply a good bowl of boat noodles, trek over to Thanon Yai Lumlukka between Klongs 9 and 10, soak in the view out over the river, and treat yourself to a bowl or three of noodles, both with broth and without. You will probably leave in a better mood than when you came.

noodles2

In coconut milk broth, with shredded basil leaves

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Back to the Future

samosas

Samosas at Klong San Market

Whenever I tell people I am a freelancer, someone invariably busts out the decrepit old joke about “working hard, or hardly working hahahahahahah” like I have never heard that one before. I think of it now because I have barely been able to post much over the past few weeks, and the normal temptation is to say that I have been hard at work. The truth is, I have been hard at work watching Netflix. Specifically, the show “Lords & Ladles”, with which I am obsessed in the way that Naomi Osaka is obsessed with “the villain from Black Panther“. As in, totally.

If you don’t have as discerning taste in Netflix shows as moi (or don’t have Netflix, I’m sorry), let me fill you in: It’s three Irish chefs with a nice, easy rapport who cook old-ass recipes from dinners held in centuries past at old-ass ancient houses. It’s a brilliant concept because it’s food porn, Fear Factor-grossness porn (offal plays a big part in every meal), real estate porn and snooty family history porn all wrapped up in one, and it is irresistible. I cannot stop watching it.

Here is where you realize that: 1) Aspic really does play a huge role in these meals; 2) Testicles loomed large as a source of protein; 3) You can eat lambs’ ears if you work really, really hard at it; 4) “Hedgehogs” are the name for a type of dessert; 5) Anything can be served if you encase it in dough; 6) Everything was served “a la Francaise” (all the dishes of a particular course served all at once instead of in succession, which makes me look more favorably on Suhring’s tasting menus); and 7) Booze has always been an important source of calories.

In the last episode I watched, “pepper pot” was served as the first of 13 dishes, which is freaking insane because pepper pot is basically chili con carne with a bunch of crazy-ass off-cuts thrown in. In the US, pepper pot is most associated with Philadelphia — a bone-warming stew of tripe, veal knuckles and whatever vegetable you could lay your hands on, said to sustain George Washington’s troops as they endured winter at Valley Forge. That would become a huge enough selling point that vendors could sell it on the streets of Philadelphia years later, when those sorts of things were still sold on the streets.

This is food ephemera in the way that recalls the origins of the dish “syllabub”, another former street food of sugar and bourbon enriched with a splash of milk straight from the udder of the street vendor’s cow.  This particular dish was so popular that the vendors (and their cows) would be invited to dinner parties so that the syllabub could be made as fresh as possible. A good hostess would often milk the cow herself. Street food in old-timey America was something else.

Today of course, street food in America is often characterized as something slapdash and dirty, meant for tourists or people with little time or respect for themselves. It’s not something you travel a long way to seek out; the stuff you travel for, like pizza in New Haven, a burger at Shake Shack or Chinese food in Flushing, has long passed the point where it could be considered street food. Also, the existence of places like McDonald’s make working hard for your “street food” to seem incredibly self-indulgent, something for a dilettante with nothing better to do. And of course, many people in America no longer depend on that street food to survive.

This would be a nice future for Thailand, when street food would be an optional thing that could be sampled as part of Thailand’s rich cultural heritage and a fun pastime for tourists. We aren’t there yet, however. We are still at a place where a vast majority of Thais buy something off the street every day. Occasionally, Bangkok authorities get the message. After public outcry following the decision to “clean up” Khao San Road (please check out the tags on this linked Bangkok Post story), the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has reportedly capitulated and decided to leave it as is.  But the message has not been lost: if developers have major plans for an area, the BMA — like reverse-Samwise Gangee-type handmaidens, or real estate Dementors — can be called on to assist them on their quests.

Few projects have as much potential impact for an area as Icon Siam, expected to open later this year (!) on the Thonburi side of the river. Fang Thon (the Thonburi side) has been percolating for a while now, thanks to new developments like Duangrit Bunnag’s Jam Factory and Lhong 1919, establishing the area as a true hipster successor to crowded Aree and played-out Thonglor/Ekamai. The opening of a huge mixed-use shopping mall like Icon Siam will tip the area over into a real hub, a full-day destination just like Siam and Emquartier have become.

Of course, this inevitably means gentrification. So the stakes facing long-time markets like Klong San Plaza are high … but you wouldn’t be able to tell from asking the vendors there. A former railroad station for goods on their way to Bangkok, Klong San is today the kind of covered market you see increasingly less of: earmarked exclusively for Bangkok locals on the lookout for crazy-good deals. Think jeans at 250 baht, designer knock-offs, discounted makeup, and the inevitable scourge of streetside Thai-style sushi, you get what I’m saying.

fish

Isaan-style steamed fish

The vendors here, who pay a fairly hefty rent at around 18,000-30,000 baht a month depending on your proximity to the river, obviously see enough foot traffic to make it all worthwhile. To them, Icon Siam and Klong San are two completely different markets, aimed at two completely different segments of the public. They can only serve to help each other. But the fear among people like my friend Trude, who is studying commercial spaces, is that Klong San’s “hyper-local” nature is what makes them so vulnerable to being taken over eventually by a neighbor with far more money, eventually to be replaced by an ersatz “street market” that really markets to the hipsters that occupy Jam Factory. Eventually, the market for bargain-hunting locals will be only what is siphoned off to them by big corporations like 7-11 and its myriad instant noodles. Think chicken rice courtesy of Burger King, congee a la McDonald’s, sticky rice and Thai-style fried chicken from KFC. Don’t pretend you haven’t already seen it.

Until then, Klong San will give you culinary bright spots like any other local market: southern Thai-style samosas stuffed with cauliflower or bamboo shoots; Isaan food catering to the construction workers next door offering spicy chili dips, pork intestine spicy soup and herb-stuffed steamed fish with sticky rice; the usual soup noodles and crispy pork on rice alongside goong ob woon sen, or steamed river prawns in glass vermicelli. And, if you have had your fill of the cheap snacks and knick-knacks, finish your jaunt across the river with something a little more substantial at — you guessed it — Jam Factory, because gentrification is here to make noobs of us all and we are nothing but the human handmaidens to our corporate overlords, but at least in this case they are Thai corporate overlords and not Hilton Worldwide. Yes, the winged bean salad is that good.

salad

Winged bean salad at Never Ending Summer

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized