Oct 21, 2012
The experience of eating outdoors in Bangkok comes complete with eye-watering whiffs of pungent spices, the sizzle of food on hot griddles and the heat of leaping flames. -- ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI, NIRMAL GHOSH
By Nirmal Ghosh Thailand Correspondent
Pungent blasts of red chilli, waves of redolent spices, hot griddles, the hiss of gas and the sizzle of hot oil, huge vats and woks and leaping flames are all part of the crowded, noisy Bangkok sidewalk experience.
Most of the city's population eat outdoors, where you can get a good meal for 30 baht (S$1.20) - and a positively excellent meal for around 60 baht. This makes Bangkok one of the cheapest big cities in the world to eat out in, if one sticks to the street. And the flavours are the envy of many a five-star chef.
Thai food may have been refined in the royal court, but it is alive in the streets. Food stalls normally start with simple trolleys with a built-in stove and storage area. Once established, food stalls expand. The sidewalk fills up with light foldable tables and chairs.
Thais are fussy about hygiene, which makes street food fairly safe; raw food is normally protected at least by a glass pane. But check the surroundings before eating; avoid the place if there are open drains or gutters around, for example, or if the dishes are being washed in a tub of dirty water by the roadside.
Where: Petchaburi Road, at the Prathunam intersection opposite the new Novotel hotel
Open: 24 hours daily
The only dish this 15-year-old stall serves is khao man gai, a variant of Hainanese chicken rice; the rice is cooked in a lighter chicken broth and shaved ginger and green chillies give the light body a sharp edge. A standard plate is a light lunch or dinner for 30 baht. Another 10 baht will give you some extra slices of chicken. Owner Chaveewan Jirachaithorn smiles modestly when asked how many dishes are served every day and says: "I can't say."
But as I sit speaking with her, every three to four minutes, she receives payment from a customer - and it is not even peak lunch hour. As the saying goes, if there are lots of locals in a food place, you know it is a good one.
JOK SAM YAN
Where: A short walk from Sam Yan MRT (underground station); walk from the MRT past Chamchuri Square building and then turn right. If you get lost, ask in the area - everyone knows the stall
Open: 5 to 9am and 3.30 to 9pm
Tel: +66-02-216-4809, +66-08-5846-1110
This stall has been in business for more than 60 years and serves about 1,000 bowls daily of jok, or soupy rice porridge with a generous helping of pork morsels at 35 baht without an egg, and 40 baht with an egg. Extra pork can be had for 45 baht to 50 baht. The porridge is given a kick with shaved ginger and a sprinkle of coriander. Add red chilli flakes and a lashing of soy sauce and the character of the dish is developed. The pork morsels are especially succulent.
It is not surprising that Jok Sam Yan is a byword for porridge. Asked what makes it so special, owner Arun Jongatimart only says with a laugh: "We are the best. But I'm not sure exactly why."
KUAY JAP ANUSAWAREE
Where: A short walk from Victory Monument Skytrain station, take the rightmost walkway and the first flight of stairs down to find it right there on the corner
Open: 24 hours daily
A bowl of kuay jap, a peppery soup full of kuay teow noodles and bits of pork offal, liver and blood tofu, will cost you 30 baht. This place has been operating since 1967. "They know me in Japan, in America," one of the family informed me proudly.
Victory Monument is a major intersection and is always busy, ensuring a steady stream of customers. A cauldron of soup is constantly on the boil at the small stall. No wonder the fast food giants - companies such KFC and McDonald's - face stiff competition in Thailand.
Where: On Rama IV road at Klong Toey, about 200m from Klong Toey MRT station and opposite the Klong Toey Metropolitan Electricity Authority
Open: 11am to 10pm (Mondays to Fridays) and 2 to 10pm (Saturdays and Sundays). Closed on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month
Tel: +66-08-1917-6871, +66-02-225-0301
This stall has been in business 20 years, serving up to 150 dishes of pad thai - arguably Thailand's national dish - on an average day. Pad thai is a mix of rice noodles, banana flower, garlic, ground peanuts, tiny dried shrimps, shallots, sugar, tamarind paste, ground chillies, a slice of lime and chives - but there are dozens of different ways to cook it and balance the different flavours.
Mae Am owner Nang Kaewpikoon uses a special ingredient more than others do - tamarind sauce, which gives the dish a pinkish hue and a tart edge. She also puts in a couple of large pieces of squid. A nice supplement is a delicious dessert, bua loy, made of an egg dropped into boiling coconut milk, shavings of white coconut and little sweetened balls of flour. A dish of pad thai will set you back 30 baht to 50 baht, and a bua loy with an egg will cost you 25 baht. Without an egg, you get it for a mere 20 baht.
Where: Soi Rang Nam, off Phaya Thai road about 250m from Victory Monument and opposite the offices of King Power and the Pullman Hotel
Open: 11am to 10pm on a typical day, but operating hours are flexible
This place (rod ded means "tasty") cooks up traditional dishes from the north-eastern region known as Isan. There is less sugar in Isan food, though there can be a lot in som tam. Som tam is essentially a raw papaya salad with tiny dried shrimps and peanuts.
At Isan Rodded (pronounced rod dead), a dish of half a roasted chicken, a som tam, a sticky rice with fiery dark red jim jaew sauce and a bottle of water, all good for two, will set you back 150 baht. The place has been in operation for 30 years and is always packed.
By li xueying hong kong correspondent
Dai pai dongs are emblematic of traditional Hong Kong street food. They have been around since the 1940s, when the government began giving out licences to families of injured or deceased civil servants so they could hawk food on the streets. But from the 1950s, concerns over hygiene and traffic congestion meant that such licences were no longer issued.
Today, there are just 20-something dai pai dongs left, mainly in Central and Sham Shui Po, while the rest have been hustled into indoor food centres.
Meanwhile, street food has evolved to include food sold at kiosks at the front of shops, as well as open-air eateries selling humble - but oftentime sublime - fare, all around the city.
In Hong Kong, they are not just delicious carbs. For the locals, street food fills tummies on the cheap at the end of the month when wallets are running low on cash. And in a city of notoriously high rents, they are a relatively easy stepping stone for intrepid entrepreneurs.
HOR SI SIU CHU
Where: Hang Hau Chuen, ground floor, off Chap Fuk Road. Take the MTR to Hang Hau. Walk for about 15 minutes, or take a cab
Open: 6pm to 2am daily
Topless old men, smoking in the open air as they inhale dark ale. Construction workers with leathered skin, chilling after a hard day of labour. Dating couples. Families. Celebrities. They all flock to this former village on eastern Kowloon for a rustic meal of the rib-sticking variety.
The chicken, cooked Sichuan style, is plump and succulent, the burn of the peppercorns subtle. Then there is a mixed dish of intestines, sausages and tofu, braised in a Teochew-style soy sauce. The omelette with white bait is decent.
But the best is the gu lok yok. Each piece the size of a lime, with a barely there batter doused in a tart sauce, the sweet-and-sour pork is a winner.
So too the price, weighing in at HK$280 (S$44) for the four dishes.
LAU SUM KEE
Where: There are two outlets - 80 Fuk Wing Street and 48 Kweilin Street. For both, get off the MTR at Sham Shui Po. Exit D2 and walk for five minutes.
Open: Noon to 1am daily
Sham Shui Po is Hong Kong's poorest district, but it is one of the richest in its street food offerings.
Among them, Lau Sum Kee is one fine specimen, with noodles made the traditional way by kneading the dough with a bamboo pole.
It harks back to the 1940s, when owner Lau Fat Cheong's grandfather sold wonton noodles on the streets of Guangdong, before moving to Hong Kong where he and his descendants continued the craft - first in a noodle cart, then a dai pai dong, and now, two tiny eateries.
Try the dry noodles sprinkled with shrimp roe (above). They are firm, with some bite, while the wontons and shui jiao are fresh.
And at HK$30 a serving, they are one of the cheapest in town, given the lower rents here. When done with that, explore the neighbourhood for traditional desserts - either toufu fa or ma lai gou.
BING KEE TEA STALL
Where: Next to 5 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang. Take the MTR to Tin Hau, get out at Exit A, and walk about eight minutes.
Open: 7.30am to 4.30pm, closed on Tuesdays
Do not get off the MTR train at the perennially overcrowded Causeway Bay. Instead, ride it to the next stop, Tin Hau, so named for its temple to worship Mazhu, Goddess of the Sea.
After paying your respects there, walk over to the Bing Kee Tea Stall (below), where you can have pork chop noodles (you have a choice between instant noodles and bee hoon) for HK$22 and milk tea for HK$13. Alternatively, order the sliced pork sandwich, where the meat nestles nicely amid dollops of margarine.
Mr Fung Yiu Tong, 60, one of the lo bans (bosses) today, declines to say what goes into the marinade - except the obvious ingredients, pepper and soy sauce.
Whatever it is, the sauce - and the cheap rent of HK$30,000 a year - has fed three generations of the family, starting from his mother and extending to his nephews learning to take over the business.
LOW KEY MASTER BIG STREET SMALL FOOD
Where: 76A Shau Kei Wan Main Street East. Get off the MTR at Shau Kei Wan; it is right by Exit A.
Open: Noon to 10.30pm daily
Eggs, milk, flour, sugar, fat – one of the most heavenly combinations ever, especially when they are puffed up and baked into multiple tiny balls of air, so that you get maximum crisp fragrance with minimum dough.
Mr Michael Chan, 43, has perfected the art. It began in a prosaic manner - the former IT executive was retrenched three years ago when his job moved north to the mainland, and he was shopping for a low-cost business to enter.
An egg puff kiosk, he reckoned, would work. Ingredients are cheap, and he could rent a tiny shopfront space for a few thousand Hong Kong dollars a month.
Using recipes from the Internet, he started making egg puffs at home, eating up to 10 a day. After two months, he opened shop, and today, sells up to 300 egg puffs, costing HK$12 each. The waffles, stuffed with condensed milk, sugar and peanut butter, are good too.
As you nibble on your egg puff, explore the area, a lower-middle-income residential area near the Shek-O beach.
It houses a number of solid eateries including Lui Chai Kee which makes its own siew mai out of fresh fish every day, and On Lee, recommended by the Michelin guide for its fishball noodles - and patronised by the city’s chief executives past and present, Mr Donald Tsang and Mr Leung Chun Ying.
CART NOODLE’S FAMILY
Where: Shop A, 1 Anton Street, Wan Chai
Open: 7am to 7pm, closed on Sundays
Synonymous with cheap Hong Kong street food, cart noodles (che zai meen) are also colourfully known as rubbish noodles (la zhar meen) - for good reason. Odds and ends, such as pig intestines, pig skin, beef balls, fried gluten and squid, are thrown into a mix of noodles and robust, spicy soup.
One of the best-known purveyors of this blue-collar staple, Cart Noodle’s Family brings quality and passion to an otherwise humble dish. Its squid and pig skin are legendary; the intestines carefully washed.
There are no chairs in this hole-in-the-wall eatery. You stand and slurp the noodles from a steaming bowl alongside plumbers and tycoons. Avoid lunch time. Prices below HK$40 attract foodies like flies to top-class rubbish.