Rama VIII Bridge

Rama VIII Bridge at Dusk

I love Thai food. Spicy Thai food. It’s difficult to get a Thai restaurant to actually make your dish spicy. Even when you say spicy, they look at your pale face and know you don’t mean it. When I say spicy, I mean I want the degree of spicy heat that is so hot you get to experience it all over again the next morning when you’re sitting on the toilet. It took a while for Noom, my Thai bar boy friend and current love of my life, to catch on that he’d actually run across a farang who could handle Thai heat. So when we dine together, he clears up any confusion by telling the waiter to make it hot. I’m pretty sure the restaurant staff think he’s gonna pull a joke on the stupid farang. But I get my spicy food, so I’m happy.

Noom and I usually eat family style. Meaning like most Thais we order a few dishes and both share. Except for whatever I decide I want hot. Noom’s not a fan of spicy food. He has an immediate reaction to even slightly spicy food. As soon as he swallows the food, he starts perspiring and is drenched in sweat within minutes. That’s why people in hotter climates tend to eat spicy food; it causes perspiration which in turn cools down your body. Just never realized the result could be that instantaneous. Or that wet.

In typical bar boy fashion, where we dine is always up to me. I’ve given him the opportunity to choose in the past, but can see the gears grinding away in his brain as he tries to decide where I’d like to eat. I’ve tried giving him options, too. But you quickly learn asking an ‘either or’ question of a Thai is a lesson in futility. I normally pick the place and try to make sure I occasionally choose somewhere he’ll enjoy. Food courts are his favorite. He is frugal with my money. Food courts are cheap and there’s plenty of variety so we both are happy with whatever ends up on the table. The only food I’m not too thrilled with is fish. Noom loves fish.

Once, at his suggestion, we went to a floating restaurant a good 45 minutes away from Silom. Riverside, so fish was the speciality. And it wasn’t cheap. He pigged out. They didn’t have lobster, which is the closest thing to fish that I enjoy. Instead, I tried ostrich. It tastes like fish. I made a mental note: no more fish restaurants by the river. So his suggestion one night that we eat “Rama VIII” was not met with much enthusiasm on my part. I’d quickly figured out by ‘Rama VIII’ he meant the Rama VIII Bridge. Riverside. Fish.

I made some excuse: too far, too hungry to wait, needed a Big Mac. I don’t remember what. But we didn’t make it to Rama VIII. No problemo, plenty of great places to eat in Bangkok. I flew off to KL for a few days of Malaysian boys food. And was glad to be reunited with Noom on my return. A few days into the trip, he again suggested Rama VIII for dinner.

Noom and I usually communicate quite well. We are often on the same wavelength so when my Thai and his English fail, there is still an understanding. But not always. As in the case of Rama VIII as a dinner choice. My brain was concentrating on fish, or my desire not to have to sit down to dine at a fish restaurant. Having hid my aversion from him quite well, his attempt at explaining the allure of dining at Rama VIII was quickly getting us nowhere. His ‘by river’ only confirmed my dread. And his promise of ‘good food’ wasn’t quite subjective enough in my opinion. I think I used the pork medallions at Dick’s Cafe as my excuse for not going to Rama VIII that night. Dick’s uses a honey glaze/sauce on their pork, and by having a Farang somewhat involved in the operation, manages to serve the dish with mashed potatoes. Cooked like mashed potatoes are suppose to be cooked. A rarity in Thailand. So, yeah, I lied my little ass off and escaped having to dine at Rama VIII once again.

Three months later I’m back in Bangkok again and Noom and I are once again hungry. And Rama VIII pops up its ugly head yet again. Damn. By now it is obvious that for some reason he has his heart set on us dining there. And I love the man. So I’m willing to accede to his desire and suffer through what I’m sure will be yet another expensive yucky fish meal by the river. In retrospect, I should have known better. Noom has the ability to make the most extraordinary out of the commonplace. Shame on me for being in doubt.

Thewet Peir Fish

Fish at Thewet Pier dining before they become someone's dinner.

We took the express boat up the Chao Phraya River as dusk set. I’ve used the boats along the river as a taxi during the day, but never had a reason to do so at night before. It’s a beautiful ride. The Grand Palace and Wat Arun are lit with thousands of lights. The hotels and restaurants along the river compete for attention with colored displays of their own. We got off at the Thewet Pier, known for the huge colony of catfish that swarm amongst the pilings waiting to be fed. Many Thai come here, both during the day and at night, to feed the fish. It’s a form of merit making. The pier is also used as a fish market; plastic tubs fill the sidewalks showing off the day’s – still swimming – catch. I was sure one of those swimmers was going to soon be on my dinner plate. But after a few minutes watching the fish, we headed out to the main road to catch a taxi. A slight reprieve, our restaurant was on the opposite side of the river.

The area around the foot of Rama VIII bridge on the other side of the water is paved and extends the breadth of the roadway to the water. It was filled with locals out enjoying the cool evening air. To the right is a beautifully manicured park. Fenced in and devoid of life. But under the bridge the locals played. There was a group of Thai dancers practicing their routines. The ladyboy ;leading the group was unhappy with their performance. She demanded they do it over and over again. Teenagers on bikes like I rode as a kid in the 60’s were showing off their moves to one another, flying off the curbs, catching air. Two old Thai men sat against a pillar engrossed in a board game. Moms watched their toddlers learn to run. We climbed up a stone stairway to the bridge only to be met by a cop who told us the bridge was closed. The Queen was on her way and traffic had been blocked for her motorcade.

Finally, not being able to put off the inevitable any longer, I allowed Noom to lead me riverside for dinner. Hmmm. No restaurant. Some local folk reclining on mats, the paved walkway and concrete retaining wall, the river . . . but no restaurant. Undaunted, Noom led me upstream to where the pathway was blocked by a tumbled wood shack. We had to step out onto some submerged wood planking and squeeze around the edge of the building to get inside. A small building, more of a hut. No chairs, no tables. But there was a counter and a pair of old Thai ladies whom Noom greeted graciously. He chatted with them in Thai for a few minutes and then turned to me with a, “We go.”

Back out to the pavement he looked around and settled on a spot. One of the old women quickly appeared with a set of woven mats that she spread on the ground. The other soon showed up with a large clay pot and several small wood trays piled high with raw meat and veggies. The ladies lit a can of sterno beneath the pot, bowed, waied, and disappeared. And all of a sudden Noom’s whole Rama VIII thing and his insistence on us dining here made sense. It wasn’t a fish restaurant. It was Thai style riverside dining. And with only locals anywhere to be seen.

I’m pretty sure the meat was pork (Noom has decided he is Hindu; beef these days is a big no-no). I haven’t a clue as to what all the greenery was, though there was a good variety of it. Noom knew what to add to the boiling pot of water and when to add it. There were small bowls of spices, some chilies (YES!) and a brown sauce that he threw in just before scooping out a bowlful of the conglomeration for me.

The meal was delicious. Whatever it was. The setting, a perfect spot to end the day with cool breezes blowing in off the water. We ate. We drank. We laughed at the dinner cruise boats chugging by filled with touri who’d paid $40 a head for a meal of bland food and a two hour ride on the river. We made friends with a family dining next to us. They spoke no English, but that I was there was reason enough to include me in their evening. Lots of smiles. Lots of laughter when I attempted some Thai. The meal set me back 180 baht. Pricey by Thai standards. It was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had in Bangkok.

As we made our way back to the hotel, I thanked Noom for the wonderful time and the great dinner I’d had. He laughed. “Yeah, you worry it fitsh,” he snickered. Bastard. He doesn’t miss much.

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