Yesterday I discovered something quite magical; I experience Bangkok as it was 100 years ago. A trip to Yaowarat, Bangkok’s China Town, transported me back in time to the days when old folks met at dusk over a cup of strong coffee and a pack of cigarettes just to sit together silently and ponder about the years they spent together, the days when people used bikes to get around little alley, savoring food from one familiar street cart to the next, and the day when you could get a decent meal for under 50 baht – the Bangkok life before my time.
The evening started off with a bang, literally – bangs of lightning and thunderstorm that is. It was raining so hard we almost called off our Yaowarat trip but since everyone starved for the whole day just to prepare for this trip, we could not let stomachs down. So we put our bravest faces, grabbed lots of umbrella, and headed towards China Town. The raindrops were so big we could barely hear the sound blasting from the stereo.
As we approached Yaowarat, the rain showed no sign of stopping; yet, amazingly, people outside did not seem to care the slightest! The locals were still eating at street stalls under tiny umbrellas that were barely holding themselves up to the amazement of tourists that were snapping away with their, presumably water-proofed, digital cameras. If they can do it, we can too, we thought as we approached out first destination, the almost a hundred year-old coffee shop called “Ear-Zair” (เอี๊ยะแซ.)
We entered the packed Ear-Zair, soaking wet and the shop owner quickly found us a table in the corner. As we looked around the shop, we definitely felt like we just stepped into a time machine. Not only was the décor super old-fashioned (but the wall was bright purple!) but the average age of the people inside was at least 60. Apart from a table of Japanese tourists in the corner, everyone definitely lives around the area and frequents the coffee shop on a regular basis. They blended in with the atmosphere so well that it felt as if they all probably sit at the same table, at the same spot, and drink the same coffee every day.
The iced coffees we got were cheap, strong, and tasty. We also ordered some toasts with condensed milk and Milo (malted cocoa powder.) The bread was nice and toasted but didn’t really satisfy our taste buds that were so used to consuming copious amount of butter. My dad also ordered some poached egg, old-fasioned-style, that came in a coffee mug and looked really gross in my opinion. We ended up ordering 4 coffees, two toasts, and one egg – all for a price of a Starbucks frappuchino, awesome, huh?
After the pre-dinner feast, we moved to the highlight of our evening – a meal at “Tung Jai Yoo” – an old-school Chinese joint. The restaurant was bustling, each table was occupied by large families. It’s nice to see grandparents, parents, and little kids enjoying a meal together. All the tables were different, some were plastic and some were wood. Others may call this bad décor but I think it’s charming. It’s as if you are eating dinner at someone else’s house.
The menu was seafood-heavy, which I could not really eat. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed their salted fish fried rice and vermicelli hotpot (I just ate the carb and avoided the marine animals.) I’m always amazed by how the Chinese cook their fried rice. I guess really high heat and the giant steel work really does magic at barely coating each grain of rice with just enough oil to make the rice so satisfying while not being the slightest bit oily. All the other dishes were delicious too; I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!
After this large meal; we decided to go for a walk around Yaowarat since the rain had stopped. As we stepped out of the restaurant with our clothes feeling a size smaller, we ran into this “Tao-teung” cart. Tao-teung is a type of Chinese iced dessert where you can have a large variety of bits and bops – red beans, longans, water chestnut, and lotus root to name a few – to be enjoyed with hot syrup or topped with ice. I especially liked the tao-teung found at Yaowarat since it was not too sweet. And you get to eat all the good stuff where as at other stalls you are usually limited to three toppings. We also had a serving of “Bua Loi Nam King” or black sesame dumpling in hot ginger soup, which was extremely tasty too.
Now that we were completely full, we really needed the walk more than ever despite there being dozens of totally tempting stalls left to right. The weather was nice and breezy after the rain. We enjoyed walking around the busy streets. We walked past old movie theaters, imported fruit stands, and stores selling various types of salted and dried food, everything was so exciting and new to us. What a nice change from eating at a department store Japanese restaurant!
We ended our little adventure at the night flower market, where my mom bought large bunches of divine long-stemmed roses and hydrangeas to take home. As we drove away from the brightly lit Chinese letters and approached the familiarity of my neighborhood, we all agreed that we should do this more often. I realized that there are so many parts of Bangkok that I have not yet discovered, so many street stalls I haven’t enjoyed, and so many more minutes that I need to spend on the treadmill. But isn’t that such a wonderfully exciting realization to have =)
Lord-Chong Singapore: 680-682 Charoenkrung St., Mor Mee intersection, Opposite UOB (ถ.เจริญกรุง สามแยกหมอมี ตรงข้ามธนาคาร UOB) Tel 0-2221-5794,
Ear-Zair Coffee: 58-60 Soi Mungkorn padsai (ซอย มังกร พาดสาย สัมพันธวงศ์ สัมพันธวงศ์ กรุงเทพฯ 10100) 0-2221-0549,08-1573-3388
Tung Jai Yoo: 85-89 yaowapanich Rd. ถนนเยาวพานิช Tel: 02 224 2167 , 081 753 010
Tao-teung stall: near the entrance to the alley of yaowapanich Rd.