Take a bustling footpath lit by glowing red and yellow signs after dark. Add a street cart with steamer, brass pot and one very dedicated chef who treats his ingredients like a musician would a century-old violin. Throw in a few dented tables and stools; add chilli-vinegar to taste. What you get is one of Chinatown’s most beloved noodle stalls: Kuay-tiao Lod Phra Thep.
Always donning a clean white apron and chef’s cap, owner Pornchai embodies the seriousness with which Bangkokians approach their food. His single focus is to consistently offer the best kuay-tiao lod known to humankind. When done right, this Chinese-inspired noodle dish hits like a warm gale of flavours and textures, more like Fleetwood Mac than a symphony: a thing of working-class beauty.
A finished plate of kuay-tiao lod resembles common wok-fried noodle dishes like pad-see-ew, but it’s in fact a collection of steamed, simmered and fresh ingredients that come together, only at the last minute, in proportions that would make a chemical engineer proud. It’s fitting how the Thai name for the type of steamer used by Pornchai, sueng, also means “touched” or “moved” in the emotional sense.
Each portion of wide, flat noodles are steamed in little baskets along with a hint of dried shrimp. One of these is emptied on to a dish along with a spoonful of broth flavoured by sweet soy sauce, shiitake mushroom, bites of lean pork, slices of squid and seasoned tofu (the secret ingredient), all simmering in a shiny brass pot atop the cart. A generous dollop of fried garlic and sprinkling of scallions and bean sprouts finish things off.
Slippery but not oily noodles embrace hearty hunks of pork and squid. Each mushroom works like a sponge, soaking up the subtle sweetness of the phenomenal sauce that defines the dish. Bold fried garlic adds another layer of depth, punctuated by a green chilli and vinegar condiment that, unlike at most noodle stalls, is blended at the start of each evening and poured into clean cups.
We devoured our 50-baht dish as quickly as it takes a roller coaster to round a track, the experience akin to a thrill ride in other ways as well. Pornchai’s kwit-tiao lod commands the fullest attention, naturally distracting you from Chinatown in the same way that an intense scene in a film might make you forget everything else for a few moments. We ordered two more portions to take home.
The street cart has no official name; locals call it “Phra Thep” after the title of Thai Princess Sirindhorn, one of the better-known customers. Modest Pornchai looks as serious as any five-star chef when he works, but he cracked us a quick smile on our way out. Since there’s only one dish available, it’s easy to order without knowing any Thai. A krapoh pla (fish maw soup) vendor sets up next door and shares the footpath tables.
Despite being quite famous locally, the streetside eatery blends into Chinatown’s countless vendors and is easy to miss. It’s located on the north side of Yaowarat, just west of Shanghai Mansion and east of T&K Seafood, which sprawls on the corner of Soi Phadung Dao (aka Soi Texas). The cart sets up under a white “SEIKO” sign that can only be seen from the footpath.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
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