Bangkok street food

Thai Fast Food

You guys are too easy. Suggestive title and your fingers start clicking. Sorry, this one is about street food in Bangkok, not street trade.

I’ve been blessed with a strong constitution. Anything I see that looks tasty and tempting along the streets of Bangkok, no problemo. My problem with Thailand’s street food is that there is so much of it available and so much of it is good. I end up eating too much. I have no self control.

The problem is even worse late at night and in the early morning hours. Coming out of a club after a night of dancing and drinking the tantalizing scents wafting down the street, enticing charcoal fires giving rise to the aroma of freshly barbecued meat; everything just seems to taste a bit better. It’s difficult not to pick up a few skewers of meat or a bowl of whatever in the hell that is. It’s so damn cheap. I have favorite street foods and favorite carts. I haven’t a clue what half of the stuff is, but that’s probably a good thing. I don’t concern myself with food prep, cleanliness, purity of the water being used; if a few locals are chowing down there, that’s good enough for me, I’ll give it a try. But I do keep away from the friend insects. Even I have my limits.

My friend Noom took me to visit his sick brother one afternoon. We had been on Khaosan Road and his house was nearby. After the quick visit we headed out to the main road to stop, meet, and say Hi to the wife, Noom’s sister-in-law. She has a food cart selling those little pork balls lined up on a stick. One of my favorites.

Eat at a variety of street carts in Bangkok and you’ll quickly learn not all Thai fast food is created the same. Often it is the sauce used that is different. That’s why locals will walk two blocks out of their way to grab a bag of fried bugs from a particular vendor. They know who has the best bug sauce. With the pork balls, sometime they are great, sometime okay, and occasionally so bad after taking a bite I throw them away. Turns out there is a reason. Most vendors buy the balls from a wholesaler. There are three grades available. All have pork, though what part of the pig a Thai decided would only be edible if ground up and processed is scary to contemplate. The grades, then, are determined by the amount of filler added. Less meat, cheaper balls. (Knock it off!)

Noom’s sister-in-law’s cart is outside the touri area so her customers are locals. She uses the highest grade of balls to ensure repeat business. At six baht a stick, it’s cheap food and she does a brisk business with many of her neighbors stopping buy and picking up ten to twenty sticks at a time. But it’s not just that she uses the best quality of balls, her sauce is incredible too; her secret weapon and secret recipe.

Of course being Noom’s friend she wouldn’t allow me to pay for the food she insisted I try. Not that she had to bend my arm to try some. When she realized my comments about how ono her food was wasn’t just me being polite but that I really enjoyed the barbecue, she kept cooking me more. Her sauce impregnates the pork with a sweet, slightly tangy flavor that packs a bit of a punch. After the third skewer full, I couldn’t resist and asked, “Mango & chili?”

Ooops. Damn farang just hit on her secret recipe. Noom was amazed hearing her confirmation and gave me one of his incredulous looks, “How you know dat?”

My taste buds are not that acute. Safeway, back home, used to sell a mango/chili glaze that I loved and would pour over the top of just about anything. I mourned the loss when my local grocery store quit selling that glaze. Her’s matched it to a T. Sweet, spicy hot, with a hint of tropical fruit. Every trip I make to Thailand now, Noom’s sister-in-law has a quart of her sauce packed and waiting for me to take home to the U.S. And on my last day of each trip, I buy 20 lbs or so of ripe mangos and make Noom shlep them across town to my favorite street side food cart vendor.

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