THAILAND – CHRONICLE: Street Food, the flavors and colors of Bangkok
For Gavroche, Patrick Chesneau observes and comments on current Thai customs. Never forget yesterday…
As flames gushed from the belly of the rickety wagon and soared in the gusts of gale, we shuddered with pleasure… The roofs of the adjoining houses turned purple. The pillar of fire crackled and instantly warmed the heart. The audience’s eyeballs shone in the night. In Thailand, street food is first and foremost an awe-inspiring spectacle.
That afternoon, an almost common sight occurred in Yaowarat, the emblematic artery of Chinatown. Dream setting to express one’s amorous impatience to a special lover. But, to be honest, street food is everywhere in the City of Angels. Without it, what would this gigantic city be like? Perhaps, a bodyless quadrangle. Because, everywhere, stuck to his skin. Outdoor cooking is even the throbbing meat of this insatiable megalopolis.
Open-air Liturgy, on the corner of a winding alley, right on the sidewalk, sandwiched between a flashy 7-Eleven and a mom & pop store (small traditional grocery store) withered.
Protected only by an awning, a bunch of beer-branded umbrellas, Chang or Leo in most cases, and oilcloth stretched with three clips between two electric wires. As fame grew, the cramped sales pitch had the allure of developing into a kiosk. Two rickety tables and three flashy-colored plastic stools are enough to set the stage for the nourishing bliss it promises. Summary but smart, almost colorful. Common in this latitude that stretches leisurely between the Mekong and the Chao Phraya, the feeder river. Better than an object of curiosity, traditional catering is a consummate art. Recognized by all. Whatever the time of day, in a heatwave or monsoon, with nostrils quivering, the unwavering loyal customers flock together. Men, women, young and old, all generations share a triple form of attachment to this eternal legacy. In the middle of the urban jungle, when your stomach is rumbling, street food stalls become a saving oasis.
It must be admitted that these odds and ends decorations always picture a party.
Behind the very simple cookware, we activate a rhythm of frenetic movement. In an instant, a ritual choreography is set between the makeshift stove and the grandiose brazier. Equipment performs proper aerial ballet. Each elbow lift has a registered trademark value. Prepare dishes that represent simple and ordinary gastronomy, unaffected but always delicious. This is the challenge that the poka mèka (traders) face a thousand times a day from one end of the land of smiles to the other. In various cooking methods, almost forms of esoteric science, noodles, rice, pork, chicken, fish, eggs jostle in steam bowls or stainless steel dishes… in spite of modernity. . Peppers, meanwhile, are always redder, vermilion for the bravest, so vibrant they burn your throat.
In a large container, the famous wok that is inseparable from Asia, the most diverse ingredients and seasonings are involved in a constant sabande. They jump, twitch like a trampoline to guarantee a mean spice. Especially if the merchant has agile hands, is generous beyond reason. For the crowd of customers of the place, the fun is mainly visual and olfactory. Instead of a menu, it’s a festival of flavors and aromas. Taste and color. Express identification in front of a row of pots, casseroles, basins, buckets. Facing such an assortment, there was no way out but to salivate. We licked our flesh before setting our sights on a certain dish. The call of pad kaw mu or khaw paad is suddenly unbearable. Ditto for another legendary dish, tom kha kai, pad kpaw, khaw man kai or pla krapong tot nam pla, all washed down with refreshing cha nom yen. Aroy…aroy maak (delicious, delicious). This refreshing food, to be eaten on the spot or klap baan (take away) in tumbling plastic tungs (plastic bags), became the cause of this revolution of millions of palaces in the Kingdom of Siam.
For a modest budget, the taste buds are guaranteed to delight. Granted, there are plenty of Thais who have succumbed, moreover, to the international fast food siren, a worrying source of obesity among young people, but the fact remains: without fail, they continue to love this extra gastronomy that is so inventive. Especially when city dwellers take root in the provinces. Their cute dosa is a typical food that smells of countryside, most often Isaan (Northeast of Thailand) or Lanna (former Northern Kingdom). Make way for fun: larb moo, nam tok moo, kor moo yang, kai yang, sai krok. In the soup section, special mention is made of tom saep or khao soy.
For the traveler with a curiosity as keen as the taste buds, this sabir farandole can be confusing but what a windfall of fun! To be immortalized in a flood of selfies. From this informal restoration, with Thai sauce, travelers from the West have no a priori code. In the end, it doesn’t matter. All you have to do is sample in double bite mode to instantly capture the identity of the city and the soul of the people.