Somewhere in the Bangkok suburb of Nonthaburi, past the gorilla statue and the bright turquoise terraced house, an old man cooks Thai food.
I heard rumors around school – whispers through the hallways, quiet chats in the teacher’s office – about this particular street food vendor. He’s a legend.
My coworkers repeatedly claimed he served the best street food in Thailand, to which I cocked an incredulous eyebrow. The “best“??
I obviously had to investigate the matter myself.
My coworkers and I walk down the street in our matching black and white outfits during our lunch break, glowing farang clones in a traditional Thai neighborhood. When we approach their stall, the Old Man smiles a toothless grin and his wife asks us in Thai what we want to eat today.
“Penang gai, kha,” Penang curry chicken please.
“Khai dao?” Do I want a fried egg with it?
“Kha, khap koon kha.” Yes, thank you.
We huddle around the little cement table under a canopy of green vines. Some old folky country song that I’ve never heard before is playing. The flies and the sweat aside, it’s a pretty relaxing little nook. And what a wonderful escape from the screaming Thai children back on campus! I sip my ice water through a straw and rearrange my belongings on the table in front of me in preparation for the food’s arrival.
There she is…I marvel at the presentation: I had before me a plate of Penang curry chicken, a bowl-shaped mound of white steaming rice, topped with a fried egg that was, astoundingly, more egg than fried (a rarity in these parts).
Penang curry is one of Thailand’s milder curries, made with coconut milk, lemongrass, and chili peppers. It’s named after the Malaysian island, Penang, although I’m not sure of the dish’s relationship to Malaysian cuisine. Nevertheless, it is not easy to find curries sold on the streets of Bangkok so I consider myself very lucky to have this opportunity.
I savor the satisfaction of mixing the rice and egg with the chicken knowing that soon there will be nothing left on my plate.
The sauce is creamy, spicy, and perfectly balanced. The chicken is tender and not weird.
We go up to pay and I’m shocked yet again to only be paying 40 baht (just over a dollar) for my meal. How…?
I smile at The Old Man and his wife. He’s wearing what I now know are his signature fake tattoo sleeves. It’s rumored that he spent some time working as a chef in Australia. “I thought it was New Zealand?” one of my coworkers suggests. The mystery of his name, his background, and his silly fake tattoo sleeves only add to the wonderment of the whole experience.
I now eat lunch at The Old Man’s food stall every day and, trust me, the pad prik gaeng gai, kra prao gai, and tom yum are just as incredible as the penang.
Best street food in Thailand?
My incredulously raised eyebrow falls into its natural place as I smile and nod my head in affirmation.
The best address I could get for the Old Man’s street food stall is: corner of Soi 10 Moo Ban Buathong, Nonthaburi. Near Kasintorn Saint Peter School, Nonthaburi.
This post originally appeared on Waegook Tom’s blog in September 2012.