What a time I recently had in Bangkok, eating my way down the street. Foodwalking in the Big Mango means traffic, trains and life-flashing rides on the back of motorcycle taxis. And of course, lots of walking. As is often the case in foodwalking, it isn’t always pretty, but it’s always interesting. And if you’ve spent much time in Bangkok you know that principle applies here in spades.
Especially if hauled into a dank, 70’s sleaze bar along Soi Cowboy, where one can’t tell the provocative girls from the even more provocative lady-boys until they reveal their beer bellies (I’m talking about the girls here…). But the Belgian beer was great and vintage Rolling Stones blasting across a dark room always makes any place seem better, even if the only thing to see is, well, beer bellies….
It’s a funny thing when culinary explorers get together off the clock. Like the chefs who leave their kitchens after hours to eat and drink in no-name joints, we went to places off the food grid; tiny joints that we’re too selfish to tell anyone about.
Awesome food guru, Nym (left) and NY writer, Nawa made sure I didn't miss anything.
And just whenever it seemed the night was ending, my amazing food maven Nym, or buddy Luk or some sudden new Bangkok food friend would mention some little stall that’s open late and serves the best whatever in all of Bangkok and do I want to go check it out? Is a floating market on the water? Is sticky rice sticky? Of course I want to go!
At the famous Sukhumvit Soi 38, the nighttime street is lined with stalls selling exceptional food. Tables flood into the road as cars and scooters and people scrape by through the smoke and steam of the many stalls.
Your ears ring with the clanging of woks, sizzling of meats and calling of vendors as you work your way past stacks of fish, piles of meat, pyramids of gorgeous fruit, fresh-squeezed calamansi, sugarcane or pomegranate juice, cooked insects and tailless cats prowling the curbs. It’s a food frenzy here every night and for good reason. Stall after stall – each legendary in it’s own quiet way – is serving up one or two signature dishes that’ll scar your memory.
It’s impossible not to gorge yourself, moving from stall to stall, table to table, eating, drinking, pointing and asking questions in broken English and tragically-mispronounced Thai and shooting photographs rapid fire like a war zone journalist, until suddenly it ends in vacant darkness two blocks down the street. And all you want is to turn around and do it all again.
And here’s the crazy thing: all of this is just on one street. Hundreds of other streets are just like it, with pushcarts and scooter-grills and open-walled buildings with counters blocking the interiors, all cooking and selling food, crowded by small well-worn tables and plastic stools, hugging the curbs, blocking the path, taking over. Because that’s what food in Bangkok is all about –the street. Everyone here eats something on the street at least once a day because it’s fresh and hot and cheap and fantastic. And I haven’t even written about Chinatown yet! So Forget Sin City – because when it comes to food fun at night, it’s Bangkok, Baby!