June 5, 2013
By Johnny Lopes
Recently I took a trip to Southeast Asia, starting off in Thailand. I decided to make the trip up as I went. I didn’t even have a place to stay when I first arrived — a challenge when you land at 10pm. But my first post back has nothing to do with Thai food. Rather, I’d like to begin with Bangkok’s “ethnic enclave” — Chinatown.
I live in San Francisco so I tend to think we have the ultimate Chinatown; it’s one of the oldest in North America. I’m also originally from San Jose which is home to several communities, such as, “Little Saigon”, “Little Portugal”, and “Japantown.” But Chinatown in Thailand has a tremendous energy to it. Maybe it was the neon lights and the cars whizzing by, but it was exciting to say the least.
So on Day Two in Bangkok, I took a tuk-tuk ride down to Chinatown for dinner and started looking around. Not even a few steps into the journey, I saw two massive crowds huddling around opposing street corners. There were two stalls hawking some of the finest seafood around, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the patience for the crowds (I’ll leave that meal for my next post). I continued onward and ended up wandering down a small street.
And then I found it.
There was a little push cart with several customers huddled around it. On top of the cart were piles of cockles and mussles.
After a minute of observing the customers enjoying the food and noting the freshness, I jumped right in.
I decided to start off with the mussels. While I waited, the matriarch asked if I wanted the sauce spicy. While I love spicy food, there’s no point in ruining my meal by making something “Thai hot.”
It was time to give my mussels a little bath. The cook of the operation dipped them in boiling water for maybe 15 seconds before pulling them out:
And then it was time to eat:
The sauce that accompanied the clams was definitely peanut-based:
I dusted this meal in record time and I was only $3 deep, and still a little hungry. I never had cockles before — its blood-red juice was a little intimidating. But for another $3, why not try?
After another quick hot bath, they were promptly served:
Both the cockles and mussels all tasted really fresh and clean. Not fishy at all. Right about now was when I was wearing a stupid ear-to-ear grin and snapped away with my camera. The “Boss” of the operation was a sweetie and seemingly appreciated my behavior:
I am DONE!
After some back-and-forth Thai-glish, I figured out that this is a family operation. Not only that, but the stall has been in operation for over 36 years! 36 years at that same spot on the street. We’re talking about a cart no bigger than a hotdog pushcart with a staff of four.
They never leave that spot in Chinatown. They even have a Facebook page! Not to mention that they’re super sweet — they flatly refused my attempt at tipping.
Soi Phiphasa 2
*Johnny Lopes is back from his journey through southeast Asia and is enjoying his couch back in San Francisco.