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Bangkok: Street food

The trees along the backstreet of Thanon Sangkhalok were looking forlornly bereft — a little too pruned, considering the suntrap that was in effect that late morning.

Bangkok: Street food

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“Well,” my friend tells me, “a couple of weeks ago, a storm bought the power lines down — all the power lines. Luckily, no one was hurt. Just as luckily, the Crown Prince lives around here, so repairs were done in double-quick time, but they had to cut back the lovely trees.”

You can imagine the street as a shady boulevard, providing dappled cover for the 50 or so food stalls that line up here every day. The sun beats down, but creative parasol application keeps the cooks comfortable and the array of smells is tempting enough for early lunch (or in our case, late breakfast) customers to brave the solar onslaught.

We’re the only Westerners this morning. This part of Dusit is a predominantly residential neighbourhood in north Bangkok. Apparently, guests from the neighbouring The Siam Hotel — a hotel four times more expensive than any other in Bangkok — often forgo the gourmet restaurant there to sample the wares of these stalls.

It holds true across the world: for the best street food, head to places where workers and students congregate — in this case, the Kueakarun College of Nursing and workers from the ornate mazes that serve the regal residences of Dusit Palace.

The stalls may look identical, but my friend tells me no two are exactly alike — the dumplings at this one are more Korean-influenced, the noodle soup here is less spicy than its neighbour…

I want to stop at all of them, try the curried chicken sticks and the fried rice balls and the mysterious broth, but I’m lead through the culinary gauntlet. “It took me a long time to get to the end, as everything is so amazing,” my friend says. “For months, I’d get caught up on this or that stall in the middle, but eventually I made it to this place.”

This place is a run-down-looking shop house, with a couple of plastic chairs and tables, a basic counter and aromas that slap you around the chops as you sit down. A couple of nods to the owner has two ‘usuals’ coming out in plastic bowls: a noodle soup with both tender sliced and crispy pork and a sprinkling of vegetables, with extra seasoning – chilli sauce, lime – left to us.

We wolf them down with requisite appreciative noises — as students, cab drivers and office girls mull around us — pay the bill of around one pound, and leave. A couple of stalls down, we pick up sweet coffees with condensed milk.

Walking back along the alley, the lunchtime crowds are now in full effect. Among them, smartly uniformed palace minions are queuing for pick-up orders. You wonder if, even with the array of finery available to him, the Crown Prince sends his people for take-out every now and then. You couldn’t blame his majesty, really.