Bangkok trip 2006
I told myself that my next trip to Bangkok would include some on-the-street eating. Bangkok’s street food scene is a hearty subculture; major thoroughfares look more like food fairs and the hour of the day can be set like a sundial according to what’s on offer. There’s cheap eats to be had on these meals on wheels.
Every day begins with a visit to the coffee stall for a kaafae thung (bag coffee). Similar to the Singaporean method of brewing coffee, coffee is made by filtering it through a narrow cloth attached to a steel handle. There’s my hot coffee in the photo in a purple takeaway cup. Thai coffee is somewhat sour and is usually sweetened with condensed or evaporated milk. This find delights me. Portions of sticky rice (in large metal bowl at back) are served with slices of a custard (in bowl at foreground) similar to our leche flan. Garnishes are optional and there’s a heap of rice cakes and sweet breads ready to be taken away. Thais are prodigious fruit eaters and freshly peeled and newly sliced varieties of whatever fits one’s fancy are ready for the taking. Fruits are best when dipped in a salty-sweet mix with plenty of chilies, of course! Growing up in Indonesia, I ate a lot of salak, the odd-shaped fruit seen here with a snakeskin-like exterior. I’m fascinated to see that the Thais like salak too but eat it with chopped onions and a savory dip. Fruit can be fried too, and these fried banana fritters look especially tempting. I’m amazed at how clean the vendor’s oil is, a true indicator of his product’s quality. Nothing refreshes like coconut juice straight from the shell. Here, the coconut vendor deftly cleaves and hacks the shell while conducting a call on his cell phone. Fried chicken and all manner of fried foods, and below, grilled food too. Its hot scents permeates the air, floating into nostrils and stimulating appetites. As I stroll along Sukhumvit shielding myself from the sun, I chance upon a patch of tranquility: Benjasiri Park. There’s a monk here too, catching his breath and collecting his thoughts. In the Pratunam Market, bodies bump and overweighted bags bounce off one another. The best bargains can be had by haggling. Outside the market, more street food is to be found. This vendor is hard to find. She sells the creamiest coconut ice cream studded with green tapioca squiggles and corn bits. As if that’s not enough of a treat, each cupful of ice cream is garnished with sticky rice. Unforgettable! The Siam Night Market as seen from the BTS station. In Bangkok, a sidewalk is not for pedestrians but for more stall space. At this late hour, I can literally shop until I drop or my wallet begs for mercy, whichever comes first. In Silom, mired midway between clothing stalls and vendors touting all sorts of kitsch is a woman selling sticky rice and mangoes. After indulging in far too much of this, I’m convinced that there must be only one person in all of Bangkok who cooks this sticky rice. Ever consistent in texture with each grain separate and just sweet enough, it’s a reminder of the beauty of simplicity.
Klong Toey Fresh Market
A market is the best way for a tourist like me to understand the food culture of the country I’m visiting. There are numerous wet markets I can visit in Bangkok but after reading a short feature on Klong Toey in Saveur magazine and on other blogs, I decide it’s the market I’ll hit.
The Klong Toey area of Bangkok is known for several things, most of which are interrelated: it’s where Bangkok’s biggest slum area is; and it’s also where Bangkok’s main sea port is located, the point of entry for a great many things into Bangkok.
This is one massive market divided into wet and dry goods. The wet area is truly wet and muddy; each step I take invites yet another squirt of dirt onto my shins and ankles. My sandals are soaked and possess a stench of I’m-scared-to-know what. This is a market only for the most hardcore and dedicated food lovers. There are no tourists here – “God Lor, you must’ve stuck out like a sore thumb!” My sister exclaims when I tell her about it – and the sight of my small camera is treated with a mixture of amusement and curiosity by some of the vendors.
The magic that makes up Thai cooking: khrêuang kaeng (curry paste), pickled vegetables, and chili sauces galore.
But odors and stares aside, the wondrous sights and smells stoke my taste memory. Everything is alive and in full color, unwrapped and heaped high. Aromas simultaneously assault and allure, sights stimulate and intoxicate. Less picturesque but all the more memorable are the chicken carcasses feet high up in the air, like misplaced exclamation marks. In another alley, newly-slaughtered slabs of beef and pork.
Some of Thai cuisine’s remarkable ingredients:
Galangal, a member of the ginger family. I’ve gnawed on a few of these in my tom yum goong. Fibrous and astringent, they’re remarkable for sore throats. I’m not sure what the ingredient on the left is, though.
Thai cooking can never have enough chili, and this is an impressive pile. Over the years, I’ve built up quite a tolerance for heat and now I can eat a chili pepper like candy. I love the vibrancy of markets, all the colors that meld and mix together, both in their raw form and in the cooking pot. This is the most ubiquitous brand of fish sauce. Every roadside food vendor I come across has a bottle or ten of these in his arsenal.
Deeper into the dry goods market, the shaded area exhibits a cool, hushed silence. The pace here is less frenetic and most of the vendors are female. They converse in quiet tones or go about their chores with purpose. Here, I watch a woman peel a large wax gourd with a special knife. It’s got a slit in the middle of the blade. Thai pumpkins are also quite unique. Their skin is very wrinkled, its insides stringy but golden. The shot below shows a cross-section of the pumpkin; it looks like those designer bow sunglasses.
The allure of Thai desserts cannot be denied. Here, trapped in bloated plastic bags are green tapioca squiggles to be used in lod chong, an icy dessert drink mixed with coconut milk. In the other plastic bags on the right, tapioca balls or bua loy (floating lotus seeds) to be immersed in coconut syrup, a bottle of which is somewhere in this photo.
Eggs. How can I not love this shot?
Getting to Klong Toey Fresh Market
Take the MRT (not the BTS) to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center station. Using Exit 1, leave the station and upon reaching the street, head south toward the intersection on Rama IV Road. The market will be directly ahead and it can be accessed via either of the two pedestrian bridges. Alternatively, you can also take a cab. From the Chit Lom/Siam area, it’ll cost about 80 baht.