I'll never forget how amazed I was when I first arrived in Bangkok and a friend took me for my first meal. We sat by the side of a road on teetering chairs with friendly dogs waiting to see what we ordered and ate some of the best food I'd ever had in my life.
But I was lucky. I had a friend who lived here who helped initiate me into the wonderful world of street stalls. Even now, sixteen years later, when I go to a new neighborhood in Bangkok, I'm overwhelmed by the food choices and sometimes by the looks of the unfamiliar food carts. I know the food is going to be terrific but where to start and how much will selective blindness play in my decision?
I am a huge fan of eating on the street. Not only is it more fun than a food court, the food is usually fresher, since few food stalls have access to refrigeration. but I often wonder--if I hadn't been guided by a friend early on, would I have ventured into the joys of street food? How do travelers who have only a few days in Bangkok become immersed in this part of Thai culture?
The answer is easy now--they buy this book. Chawadee Nualkhair has made food pilgrimages to neighborhoods that travelers often frequent and has found places she loves there. In a city with "300,000 to 500,000 food stalls," she has narrowed the choices down to a manageable number, with dishes ranging from fish maw soup in Chinatown to samosas in the Sikh neighborhood, from mussel omelets to pork satay--and yes-- phad thai and papaya salad too. She offers a comprehensive glossary of Thai desserts and beverages (butterfly pea juice anyone?) with a dictionary of useful phrases like "Where is the bathroom?" written both in English transliteration and in Thai. (Essential for those of us who find tonal languages daunting.)
Perhaps the saddest part of this book today is her description of Soi 38 on Sukhumvit Road, which was once Bangkok's most convenient "food stall market", offering a splendid variety of choices as evening approaches and the night air turns cool(er). Providing food for the hungry from six at night until three the next morning, this is now gone in the name of progress
Yet there are also sections of this book that still thrive and will keep even those jaded Old Bangkok Hands happy as well, with food in the Hualamphong area and Chinatown--and maps to make the discovery process painless.
The perfect size to tuck into my bag, this book is my new best friend-read it and eat! Its wonderful photographs are sure to jump-start your appetite--and that's a good thing. If you're here for a week, you're going to want to try all 50 of Chawadee's choices. (Just be prepared to eat seven meals a day--and eight on Sunday!)~Janet Brown