Thong Lor Sukhumvit Soi 38 Street Food
Sukhumvit Soi 38, located right below the Thong Lor BTS station is known for its amazing street food. Its location makes it incredibly easy to get to, especially since we were staying on Soi 29, only two BTS stations away. This street food night market of sorts came highly recommended by everyone from travel writers to Trip Advisor to locals and residents. While street food such as this is generally not for the first-world squeamish, I come from the Philippines, and from the University of the Philippines at that. Less-than-stellar hygiene doesn’t bother me if the trade-off is fantastic food. Besides, you don’t know what goes on behind the kitchen doors of your favorite restaurant anyway. Here, you can actually see the preparations being done and how the food is being handled and decide for yourself if it’s worth the risk.
I wanted to try something unique from as many stalls as possible so I decided to go one by one, counter-clockwise. I began my street food binge with some grilled squid, drowned in spicy vinegar. This was cooked just right. The squid was tender, not chewy, and the heat from the vinegar and chili really woke me up and set the tone for the night.
A lot of the stalls cook your food only upon order, but they do provide seats for you to dine and wait. While waiting, I opened a large bottle of Singha, the preeminent Thai lager (comparable to the local San Miguel Pale Pilsen in terms of popularity, but I find Singha much smoother and less astringent). I found this the best among all the Thai beers I tried. I know I’m an advocate of craft beers, but I do believe in drinking local whenever nothing else is available. Thus, while my preferred drink in the Philippines, San Miguel, was also readily available in Thailand, I decided to try what the former Kingdom of Siam had to offer.
At one of the more popular pad thai stalls, they also offered some fried oysters. This was a huge sizzling plate of shucked oysters, beansprouts, eggs, and a gooey, viscous substance which I found out later on was cassava starch. At around 100 Baht for a serving that no man can finish alone, this was a good deal. The oysters were plump and healthy (especially compared to the ones we get in the Philippines) and surprisingly fresh. This went best with some Thai sweet chili sauce.
The pad thai finally arrived, but I think the stall ran out of noodles because the thick, flat noodles they usually served were replaced with much thinner ones. To be honest, I found their pad thai quite plain. I’ve done the rounds of the Thai restaurants in the Philippines, and the most “authentic” ones all put this one to shame. Of course, I paid four to five times the price for those, so I understand the trade-off. The standard Thai toppings of dried chili flakes, white sugar, fish sauce and vinegar all helped to make this dish better. Sadly, during my trip I wasn’t able to try what many regard as the best pad thai in town, from a hawker near the Victory Monument.
One of the best things I tasted on my trip to Bangkok was the mango and sticky rice, topped with some coconut cream and puffed rice. I had my doubts about this dish because in my opinion, it is impossible to beat Philippine mangoes. While that theorem held true, it was the divine combination of the sticky rice, coconut cream and pinipig (to use the Filipino term) that made this dish. I’d tried sticky rice in Thai restaurants in Manila, but none really compare. I’d say the rice was inferior, either due to the recipe or the grains themselves. I regret that this was the only time I had this dish my entire trip. I should have had mango and sticky rice for dessert with every meal.
After the first stop, we moved to a small food court style setup with several stalls outside an open building with tables inside. Here, I had the best roast duck since I visited Hong Kong almost a decade ago, and for a mere 80 Baht. A healthy portion was served on a bed of something that appeared similar to Filipino kangkong, or swamp cabbage, and surprisingly, some pickled ginger. The skin was razor thin and crisp, the meat was bursting with juice and complemented perfectly by the hoisin and plum sauce. I spent the rest of the trip looking for more roast duck, but nothing equaled this one. By the time we left Soi 38 at around ten p.m., the stall was all out of their delicious fowl, with only the bare carcasses hanging.
Two stalls down was a noodle soup place, serving hot noodle soup with your choice of toppings. This particular bowl of fiery goodness had some “abalone” along with the noodles. It’s not the real deal, of course, because the real shellfish costs hundreds of times more than this awesome dish. It was the soup that made this a winner, though. And with the level of capsaicin it boasted, it was definitely not for the uninitiated.
At that point, I was full beyond recognition. We bumped into an old friend and colleague of my companion’s who was with a couple of other friends. This was our first night in Thailand, and it would turn out that we would have similar experiences every day of our trip. People are friendly here, no matter where you are from, or what you do. We shared one last beer to cap our meal, while I contemplated pushing my tummy to Kobayashi-esque limits. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed and I decided against (even more) gluttony. The night was still young, after all, and Soi 38 was just the first stop.