Jan 18 2012
Walking down any Bangkok street, you’ll be bombarded with vats of pork soup and made-to-order som tam. So many options; how do you choose? For a mouthwatering Thai lunch, I avoid the obvious tourist traps and do as Bangkokians do: eat in a “tent”. Around business districts, like Phloen Chit, Silom and Asok, lunch spots that even locals might miss are tucked away, hiding behind skyscrapers and popping up in car parks. These street-food style joints cater to masses of hungry workers during lunch hour, and are only open weekdays from noon to around 15:00 (the earlier you arrive, the better).
These lunch-time gems don’t have formal names and are usually referred to simply as a “tent”. Don’t expect air-con or a Terminal 21 cafeteria ambiance, just long tables reminiscent of grammar school days and smokey, fumey air. People come here just to eat, and it’s worth it, as the food is as authentic and fresh as it gets.
If you do manage to find one of these tents, you’ll be faced with a thousand food options once you step inside: pad Thai made with an egg cracked onto the pan, halal fried chicken and turmeric yellow rice, tom yum soup, stands with fish, squid, shrimp, and clams laid out on ice for you to select from, just for starters. Also: freshly-squeezed carrot and beet juice, yoghurt smoothies and bubble tea are among the drinks offerings.
Utensils, including chopsticks, are in communal trays. Just pick up what you need; when you are done, leave your dishes at the table, as cafeteria staff will collect them and clean off the tables.
And a speedy lunch in Bangkok would not be complete without some shopping on the side. Next to or interspersed within these food areas, you’ll typically also find jewellery, clothing, home goods and electronic vendors, set up to greet the lunch-time crowd.
In Asok, I’ve found two tents, both easily accessible by public transportation (and I probably walk by many others every day without knowing it!).
The first is off Soi 21. Look for the Grand Park View Asoke/Mid Town building (it has a KFC in it), and a metre after turn into what looks like a driveway with orange traffic cones. At the end of this driveway, you will see an entrance sign in Thai with a Pepsi logo below. Once inside, you’ll find multiple lanes with shopping vendors, and beyond, a gigantic seating area with food stalls lining each side. To the left of this main area, past more food stalls, is a second, smaller seating area with additional vendors, which I prefer. (The proper address is 189/1 Soi 21, Sukhumvit Road).
The second tent seems to be part of the Srinakharinwirot University (Prasarnmit campus), so you will find both students and businesspeople on their lunch break here. This tent is a little bit trickier to find but offers an even more delicious selection of food.
From Soi 21, you can enter by walking through Grammy Place Plaza (there’s a Starbucks inside). Walk through the parking garage and out the other side, and turn left onto Soi 23. You will immediately see a granite sign for the university and hoards of people walking by. Turn left into this narrow street, and you will pass by shopping vendors then reach a food tent. You can also reach this tent by entering on Soi 23.
To access both spots, use BTS stop Asok or MRT stop Sukhumvit.
If you make any Thai friends on your travels here, be sure to ask them to fill you in on their secret spots — and report back, please!
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