Thai food in the USA or wherever you are is all very nice, but the “real” Thai food has no bells and whistles, can be a lot spicier than the Westernized version, and is often cooked up in wheeled cart on the sidewalk or attached to the side of a motorbike. I don’t mean this as a condescending remark on the local Thai Orchid, Ban Thai, My Thai or Thai Me Up Thai Me Down down at the strip mall. I like that too, but to watch a person whip together pad thai in a battered wok over a gas can with an open burner on the broken sidewalk is about as authentic a Thai experience as you can have. Many apartments don’t even have kitchens or they are small enough to appear as an afterthought by the designer. Why cook when you can eat a whole meal in the street for about a dollar? Or carry home tomorrow’s lunch in a plastic bag twisted shut with a rubber band? (Thais don’t seem overly concerned with their food getting “cold”)
Bangkok is full of cart vendors and they often congregate in certain streets or corners, or for example in Chinatown. But my new favorite location is Sukhumvit Soi 38 just under the SkyTrain at Thon Lo station (or “Tone Loc” as I like to refer to it, accompanied by me uttering “Funky cold medina” then dunh, dunh-dunh, d-dunh “Wild thang.” I consider it a sort of mantra, my transformative chant if you will.)
There are various metal tables and plastic stools around each vendor, but I don’t come here for just anybody. I’m here for an artist, a wok zenmaster (or zen wokmaster?), Confucious over an open flame. And as an artist he is given to his own rules. Where other carts are up and running at 6 pm, his is locked up and tied down until 8 or maybe 8:15 or 8:30. No one knows for sure when his pickup truck will roll up with the coolers full of fresh shrimp, squid, vegetables, ground meats and spices. Not even his assistant who I have seen sitting there patiently for as long as an hour beforehand.
Thai is a difficult language with its five tones and tricky pronunciation. But some things are actually sort of easy. There is a dish of fried basil and ground pork served over rice with a fried egg on top. What’s it called in Thai? Rice basil ground pork fried egg (khao krapow moo sup kai dao). Simple enough.
Across the narrow walkway is a good place to get fresh fruit juice, excellent mango and sticky rice, and even the odiferous not-allowed-in-the-hotel fruit durian. If noodles and soups are your calling, the next cart does a good job of them.
Find this place yourself and build your own free printable PDF Bangkok guide/itinerary here.