It’s been a hard transition back after three weeks of being a guest to other people’s lives. Now, it’s back to my own, and as great as it is, it also bears its own strange frustrations. For example, I’m working on a project that will never be finished. It just won’t. I have made a handful of sacrifices to edge it along to this point: throwing good money after bad, poisoning what used to be healthy relationships, transforming into a dyspeptic harpy. I have decided that these sacrifices are not worth it. I have moved beyond denial and anger to acceptance. TIT. This Is Thailand.
Is this bowl of comfortingly soggy rice, doused in pork broth and topped with a dusting of sliced scallions and indifferently poached egg, the taste of resignation? If so, resignation tastes pretty good to me. Located at the entrance to Charoen Krung Soi 16, this no-frills food cart employs a similarly Spartan approach to its rice porridges: good quality broth, stewed with pork bones for so long it has taken on an opaque, cloudy quality and a generous spoonful of bone-in pork pieces to guarantee a bowl full of piggy flavor.
Regular pork-rib porridge with egg
Regular (tamada) bowls are 35 baht, 40 baht with egg or for an extra-big serving of rice or pork (piset). And the guardian of this enterprise comes in the form of a gregarious gentleman, partial to form-fitting white tank tops, who is patient with questions and with giving directions. What more can you ask for? Thailand can confound and frustrate, yes, but it also harbors the path toward your own redemption. I am eagerly awaiting mine.
Khao Thom Gradook Moo, entrance to Charoen Krung 16. 089-682-0016.
Yummy grilled pork on skewers with cucumber relish and peanut sauce
Satay is an iconic dish in Thailand, but may have gotten its start in Indonesia following an influx of Arab traders there, according to food researchers. Whatever its origins may be, this dish has fully incorporated itself into the culinary fabric of Southeast Asia, burrowing into the food cultures of Malaysia and of course, Thailand (what else is in Southeast Asia? Ha ha. Just kidding. Sort of.)
There are tons of great satay places out there, but I think any satay-lover worth his or her stick would naturally gravitate toward the great vendors of Chinatown, where cooks manage that delicate balancing act between art and commerce, churning out thousands of bamboo skewers of grilled pork (it’s almost always pork, although apparently the skewer started out as a vehicle for beef or mutton) a night.
Jay Eng, on the corner of Plang Nam next to the Canton Shrine, is a favorite of my parents’ and I understand why — it’s grilled porky perfection with a spicier version of the peanut dipping sauce and quick, efficient service. But such dinky little pieces of pork! You know that’s not enough for Glutton queens like moi.
Which is why I prefer Chongki (84-88 Soi Suthorn, 081-615-8733), on the border between Chinatown and Hua Lumphong, and purveyor of the meatiest pork skewers around. Each order comes with a plate of peanut sauce and a bowl of ajad (cucumber-shallot relish with peppers), and slices of freshly grilled bread for just a little extra.
Even better, diners can order from the khao moo daeng (barbecued pork rice) vendor next door for a full-sized meal (but not the chicken rice vendor down the road; apparently the servers won’t walk that far…)
The old man looked at us under a thatch of eyebrow hair that would move Frida Kahlo to tears.
“Just so you know — the fish porridge here is at least 250 baht,” he warned my mom.
I know I’ve written about Sieng Gi, the khao thom pla shop in Yaowaraj, before, but I can’t help but love this place. Every visit there is like entering a land where ancient beings stalk the tiny storefront dining area, flinging delicious bowls of porridge onto the marble-topped tables and bellowing at each other. @SpecialKRB, who loathes this place with a passion, said it was like spending a night at the Chinatown chapter of the AARP. But I take a more benign view; it’s a place conducive to happy accidents. That night alone was worth seeing the look on my mom’s face.
Sieng Gi has seen a lot of competitors rise up and subsequently fall by the wayside. Yet no one can touch this place. The broth is ever so much more more, rich with a fish flavored muchness. And the brown bean dipping sauce, its deeply concentrated flavor worth three bowlfuls of its lesser rivals’. That’s not even getting to the fresh dollops of pomfret, seabass or oyster, garnished with cubes of batheng or sweet pork, tiny dried shrimp and deep-fried garlic. If you are inclined toward soupy seafood rice (and not everyone is), there is nothing better.
Oyster porridge with strips of deep-fried tofu
So find a way to go here. That is, as long as you have 250 baht.
(Sieng Gi, Trok Ma Geng, behind Grand China Princess Hotel)