Taste two sides of Thai street food in Bangkok
IT’S MIDDAY IN BANGKOK AND EVERYONE is contemplating the most important decision of the day: where to go for lunch. Some people will head to a backstreet noodle stall for pad thai; others might dine in an old-fashioned shophouse on khao soy, a meaty pork broth, or kôw pàt, Thai-style fried rice, sitting on plastic chairs beside the pavement as tuk-tuks and taxis buzz past. For diners at TheCOMMONS, the choice is more international, as this community space offers a smorgasbord of cuisines within its brushed concrete walls, along with a yoga studio, play centre and a rooftop garden with grass lawn. Founded in 2016 by a Bangkok-born sister and brother, Vicharee and Varatt Vichit-Vadakan, TheCOMMONS is located in Thong Lor, a neighbourhood known for its trendy bars and high-rise apartments. ‘The idea behind TheCOMMONS was to provide space for restaurateurs and producers who would otherwise struggle to pay the city’s rising rents,’ says Witsawawit Chantaweesomboon, or Tam, who works as a barista at Roots Coffee, TheCOMMONS’ in-house espresso bar. ‘It’s like being part of a big family.’ A more traditional version of street food is on offer at Rot Fai Ratchada Night Market, where every evening rickety stalls fill the former train yard and vendors cook up cauldrons of noodle soup, their hissing woks filled with fried rice, green chillies and shrimp, platters stacked with razor clams, mussels, cockles and soft-shell crabs. At one stall, diners sample chicken skewers in a spicy peanut sauce. Next door, the chef stirs a vat of deep-fried fishballs, while his wife fries up house crickets, bamboo worms and giant water bugs to a crunchy crisp, and tosses in salt and spices. It’s loud, chaotic and packed with office workers, teenagers, sightseers, families and locals, all eager to taste the evening’s offerings. At her curry stall, Kanokwan Teplert cooks recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother – dishes like khua kling, a fragrant dry meat curry, and gaeng phed gaang, a spicy red curry cooked with coconut milk. ‘People travel from all over Bangkok to eat our curries,’ she says. ‘We give them the homecooked taste they remember from their childhood.’ As night falls and neon lights begin to blink overhead, diners migrate south towards Yaowarat Road, a traffic-thronged thoroughfare in Chinatown. Here, street carts specialise in Thai-Chinese cuisine – crispy-skinned roast duck, spicy curries and steamed pork dumplings. Smoke plumes out from the canvas awnings and the warm air is thick with the aroma of barbecuing meat, hot oil and frying spices. By dawn, the diners will have eaten, the streets will have been swept and the stalls will have pulled up their shutters – but tomorrow night, the feast will begin again.