By Chef Gene Gonzalez
One of my favorite alleys or soi in the area of Bangkok is Phetburi Soi 19. The street, from morning till dinner time, is alive with a good representation of all kinds of hawkers peddling their own specialties to the bustling population in the Pratunam wholesale garments area. Since the sellers are hawkers, they are able to concentrate on their limited specialty, which makes for good eating as the dishes are well focused on their quality.
The day starts with breakfast as the entire area contains all the food craze. Near the corner of or the main road, a wide variety of choices start with omelette sellers who have two or three different fillings to choose from with Thai characters such as ground pork fragranced with lemon grass and strands of kaffir leaf or makrut. One can walk the stretch and find fresh waffles and pancakes with varying spreads. There are big round takoyaki cookers, cooking inside are some golden crusted half-moons, the final product are these delicious mouth-scalding coconut cakes with their delicate crispy exterior and its smoldering hot pudding interiors.
Plakanong prik manaw—seabass with lime, fish sauce, and chilies
Som tam pooh pla-ra—papaya salad with salted marsh crab and fermented fish paste
Crispy roadside fried chicken
Different kinds of spiced and fermented sausages
Khanom krok—freshly cooked crispy coconut cakes
Traditional combination of gai yang (grilled chicken) and som tam thai (papaya salad with fish sauce dressing)
The light sweetness and creaminess of coconut is easily discernible. Added frills that border on sweet and savory can be corn kernels, chives, or cilantro. Almost every five meters are noodle sellers. One hawker on the entrance of the first 7-Eleven sells a fiery spiced broth with a choice of flat or round rice noodles, and transparent bean starch crystal noodle strands. Beside the stalls are sellers of traditional steeped milk tea and coffee with lots of ice to combat the coming noon heat. Sellers of freshly cooked food are out with trays of easy-to-eat items for employees or stall owners with steamed rice such as kua kling or spicy ground pork, chicken curry or basil chicken (where basil reigns as vegetable), northern minced pork, or even chicken salad with mint and herbs called laarb. Sellers sell only as supply lasts, many being delivered to stalls via text or call.
Lunch becomes interesting as the scent of frying chicken and pork mixes with the scent of grilling chicken halves, very tender marinated pork barbecue and ethnic sausages, or fermented meats that are eaten northern-style with sticky rice and papaya or bamboo shoot salads. The salad maker with her pokpok or bowl and pestle in front of the 7-Eleven is especially famous as she proudly does her northern style salads with some wild exotic fruit and strong fermented fish or crab that doubles the umami level of her dishes. Beside it, is a small grill that sells the traditional small walking catfish (genuine rice paddy hito) with yellow meat and other river caught fish or free range chicken. As one goes to the edge of the street after First hotel is the entrance to a courtyard filled with logistics (shippers). One is greeted by a throng of stalls selling crispy freshwater gourami, goby, wild tilapia, and homemade fried food-to-go with the papaya or rice noodle salad (knanom jeem). A stall selling traditional steeped cha-yen or iced milk tea doubles up with fresh fruit shakes while the whole street reflects the seasons as fresh juice sellers extract pure pomegranate or sweet green Mandarin juice. The fruit vendors does brisk business by now as their ice have chilled their fresh fruits (the best is on the corner of Pethburi and Soi 19) such as crisp guavas, mangoes, and green plums marinated with licorice syrup. These are absolutely tempting and divine.
Afternoons again will change the culinary scene of the soi. The crispy coconut pudding seller, fruit vendor, and new hawkers peddling grilled breads and mini barbecue sticks are doing brisk business as Thais like multiple mini meals. The most interesting of all is on the entrance of the cargo companies past First Hotel selling a fiery salad of live jumping shrimps writhing with the hot dressing of dried chili and the acidity of fresh lime juice. This is called yam pen pen or literal translation is salad with musical gyration.
Overall, part of the visit to Bangkok is the charm of trying street food. Recently because of clean-up operations, thousands of hawkers of this underground economy have been displaced. Two particular examples Sukhumvit Soi38 and the makeshift eating places serving salt crusted pla chon (dalag) across Big C are now only part of gastronomic memory.
Just remember the simple rule… If it touches fire it could be okay…