Three generations must be doing something right
Owner of a third-generation street cart business, Mae Akarawan specialises in the hard-to-find peanut, pork and rice dish known as khao Phra Ram long song, or “swimming Rama.” Perhaps no dish better exemplifies the blend of culinary cultures that come together in Thai cuisine.
The yellow-fronted street cart is now run by a daughter of Mae Akarawan, who operated the business for several decades after inheriting it from her father. A couple of dented steel tables and plastic stools sit in the shade of a shophouse selling khun chiang (Chinese preserved sausage). The ambiance is streetside Chinatown at its best.
Phra ram long song literally means “King Rama takes a bath,” though the dish is better known in English as “Swimming Rama.” We reckon that the boiled pork strips, pork liver and shrimp represent “his highness,” while the “bath” would be a generous topping of rich and creamy peanut sauce. Mae Akarawan’s sauce almost tastes more like a mild coconut curry with peanut in the background. The dish is completely drenched in the stuff — unusual in a country where the “integrity” of rice is usually only compromised by spoonfuls of soups, curries, meats or stir-fries served on the side.
The friendly chef prepares the proteins along with a handful of morning glory in a pot of broth that’s kept boiling for hours. These are placed on a mound of steamed rice topped by the peanut sauce and a dark-red dollop of nam prik pao, a relish made of roasted red chillies, garlic and onion. The earthy and crisp morning glory offsets the richness of the sauce, while the nam prik pao adds a savoury burst of heat. Diners can also spoon on some chillies and vinegar for a splash of sour and spicy.
Khao Phra Ram long song sits at a crossroads of different cuisines. The boiled pork, morning glory and loose-grain rice are typical of Chinese food. The peanut sauce derives from the Malaysian varieties served with satay but also seems to include some Thai twists. Finally, the punchy spoonful of nam prik pao steers the dish back towards the bold flavours of Thai cuisine.
Mae Akarawan also cooks up khao niao bing: a mix of banana, taro or mung bean encased in coconut sticky rice, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal. Start with khanom jeeb from a nearby street cart that fronts Wat Yuan, move on to khao Phra Ram long song and finish off with khao niao bing for a full three-course meal that will cost you less than 100 baht.
The cart sets up towards the north end of Plaeng Nam Road, on the left if walking north from Yaowarat Road towards Charoen Krung. Look for the yellow sign across from Soi Phiphaksa 1. The namesake dish costs 45 to 65 baht, depending on whether you order it with pork (muu), shrimp (kuung) or everything (sai tuk yang). Khao niao bing goes for 10 baht a piece.
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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