Latest posts by Dante Scarano (see all)
- Culinary Explorations in Bangkok - June 8, 2017
- Into the Land of Fire and Ice: A Road Trip in Iceland - May 13, 2017
- Torii: The Structure of Japan - March 31, 2017
Sitting in the waiting room of a clinic, scrolling through my phone and checking on who’s pregnant or getting married – when finally my name was called. During the meeting with my doctor we started to discuss all the great illnesses that will most certainly kill me, while I secretly hoped that I didn’t have to shell out large sums of cash. The doctor spoke with a strong Eastern-European accent (Ukrainian or Russian – I had no idea) while I nodded my head in accordance to each sentence he said, to give out the perception that I knew exactly what that he was talking about.
After getting injected with countless vaccines, and my arms beginning to swell up, we had one final discussion. When the doctor quickly listed all the activities that I shouldn’t do in Southeast Asia, I attempted to piece together each bit of the last sentence. Continuing to nod in cadence to the beat of his sentences, I heard a string of words that almost killed me: “Stay away from street food and you’ll be fine”.
I may not have died at that moment, but my inner Anthony Bourdain sure as hell did. This was the main reason for me going to Southeast Asia after all – it offered a cuisine, un-parallel to any other places in the entire word. The doctor droned on about other activities that I should limit myself to, and I thought of a big draw that attracted me to these places crumbling right in front of me. I mean I didn’t expect to “Eat, Pray, Love” my way through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but I wanted to sample the local, extremely cheap, eats. I bet the question that your thinking of now is: “Did you listen to him?”, and to put it bluntly – hell NO!
(The following is a quick and awesome experience that I had while eating street-food and coming out ‘mostly’ unscathed).
The story begins where many had before – in the great city of Bangkok, with a group of my traveling companions – Kyle, Jeremy, and Mike, once we met up to grab a dinner. After a few days of getting to know the city in and out, we decided to strike out on our own, to look for the more undiscovered locales, dotted throughout the vast corners of the city.
With a quick Google search of the various and most noted food markets in the area, we began bickering at which one to choose from (it seems that one never really realizes how difficult it is to find a great place to eat, until one begins the endeavor. There must be something in our own subconsciousness that prompts us to always disagree with whatever it is being suggested, or at least exclaim a simple: “I don’t know”).
As the hunger slowly crept up among my comrades and me, our ‘hangry’ personalities showed up and picked the spot for us. After scrawling the address on the back of a piece of a torn receipt, and hailing a cab, we set out with our heads high and our stomachs slowly empting. We were on our way to one of the most desired food spots in all of Thailand… or so we thought. Exiting the Old District of Bangkok felt like a big breach of comfort – gone were the luxuries of a touristic area, English speakers, and the index finger became the only recognizable form of communication.
While my compatriots sat in the car discussing what kinds of crazy food they would like to indulge in, my mind slipped and I was in my own world for a couple of minutes. Transporting myself to the most romanticized food market that I’ve never been to, with foreign languages being hurled across the common place on the cheapest value for a foreign meat, with an intoxicating aroma. Ducks hanging from the rafters of food tents of vendors like their own personal duck gallows, and a curious smell of some unknown spices wafting through the air.
Wiping the drool from my mouth, I came back to reality – only to realize that a millennia had passed by, and yet no forward progression was made in the cab. An hour later, after a nightmarish rush hour, we finally reached our destination. Though a quick examination of the surrounding area made it clear that there was… no food market in sight.
As an optimistic group of wanderers, following only out guts and our noses – we navigated through the streets to search for the market that has never been there. Miles of searching (while looking completely lost) and there was no stall in sight to be seen, and the looming hunger has set in our group. My perfect idea of a food market seemed to slip in to the abyss and disappear, while the sun began to set in Bangkok. We were cowboys in an unknown desert, searching for any sort of oasis (or at least a… McDonalds).
Finally we spotted it, to our left hand side, just to the right of a 7/11 gas station – an outdoor restaurant. It may not have been a food market or anything even remotely close – but we had to settle, given our growing appetite. Our group scouted around the outskirts of the eating area looking for a free table, much like the middle-school boys at their first dance, eager to boogie down with their young crush, and having no notion of what to do.
Eventually we found some seats, and a Thai woman appeared out of thin air right before us with a smile, obviously knowing that we didn’t speak the language at all. Quivering and pondering how exactly we were going to order out food, when she asked: “Coke?”, and we nodded. That was quickly followed by another question: “Chicken?”, and again we nodded, as if we were under some kind of spell. Relief washed over us like a rushing tide, since we knew that our rumbling stomachs were soon going to be satisfied.
I took in my surroundings, the sights, and the smells. To my left there was a small 7/11, with people pouring in and out, filling up their mopeds and grabbing a quick bit in the convenience store. To my right I could see the whole kitchen – delivering fried rice to every hungry customer. A slight tinge of gasoline floated through the air as we waited patiently in the classic red plastic chairs (the ones you’d sit at at a kid’s table, on the fourth of July).
With our knees pressed firmly into our stomachs, I thought to myself how this was the epitome of a place that my doc had warned me about. I had no doubt in my mind that it’d be completely worth it, since I was at the mercy of my deep hunger now.
The feast made a timely arrival at our table, steam dancing lively around the plates, revealing how quickly the food had come out of the wok. Promptly digging in, my taste buds were assaulted with a vast array of flavors – savory, sweet, and spicy, all entered my mouth within one shovel of the fork. “It’s just fried rice”, I thought as I swallowed another huge bite, chasing it with the classic taste of Coca Cola. Everything about the dish that I was eating was accented and complimented to perfection.
We never reached the food market, but what we had on that street corner was not of this world. It was as if God himself was cooking on the wok that very night. This hidden gem would eventually disappear into the black night of Bangkok, and live on through the stories and tales passed down for generations.
What makes great food truly wonderful are the people that cook from their hearts, with the purpose to feed, to fill that basic requirement for staying alive – and not to impress their guests with the finest foods in the land, or to show off a fancy award. That’s what took me back home while eating – the raw desire of being nourished rather than being impressed with what I was eating. Without a doubt, I would take a meal like this one over a Michelin star-rated garbage any day.
Quick note: I am sorry that I don’t have any photos from that night, but you just have to use your imagination!!