The metal tables and plastic chairs that spill out onto the sidewalk are still there; they’re practically on top of traffic-jammed New Petchaburi Road. The concrete walls are still barren, save for a few merciful fans set to medium that help counter the humid evening air. The dirty-dishes station is still off to one side, next to the bin brimming with fresh green beans, cabbage, and other greens on ice. Opposite is the grill, the som tam stand, bubbling cauldrons of aromatic soups and broths, and a cooler full of beer bottles.
Three-liter towers of Chang beer are still available. Checks are still configured the old-fashioned way with hand-held calculators, a pen, and pads of paper. The bathrooms are still to be avoided if at all possible–the splashed-over squat toilet has me thinking about Karl Pilkington’s escapades on An Idiot Abroad–and I’m pleased to see that a copy of an article I wrote nearly 2 years ago for Time Out Singapore, in which I named Jae On Restaurant as one of five hidden treasures in Bangkok, is still taped to the concrete column near the accounting table. It’s a little torn and a little dirty, but it’s still there and it’s still the only clip on display.
Jae On is still packed with locals feasting from communal spreads of enticing Thai food and drinking from bottles of 100 Pipers whiskey. There’s still a Chang beer girl working, dressed in a wraparound silver-grey Chang top and black tights. The staff is still endearingly shy, eager to please and quick to smile, but politely and innocently trying to avoid dealing with us, the farang, due to the language barrier.
Eyebrows raise in surprise and delight when we order some of our dishes in Thai (sticky rice = cow knee-ow, papaya salad with 3 hot peppers and no baby shrimp = som tam prik sam met, my ow goong-hang, etc); the rest of our order is written on a small pad of paper with numbers on the menu that correspond to the dish, a clever way for both parties to get around the language issues. The bargain prices are still pretty much the same.
Still, some things have changed in the 17 months that have passed since my last visit. They’ve installed a corrugated tin roof that hangs out from the main dining area and protects much of the outdoor patio from rain. Many of the servers we came to recognize and who came to recognize us, don’t seem to be here any longer; the staff’s makeup is still largely comprised of young girls and boys aged somewhere between 14 – 18. The menus are new, with more English descriptions in the front and a few different dishes (though I’m happy to see my old standards are still available).
There are more farang here tonight than I recall seeing in total for weeks at a time, which may be as much a product of the Ratchathewi area’s rise in popularity as it is Jae On’s reputation for good food and good times, though I’d like to think it’s the latter. When we find local spots like this that grow to hold a special place in our heart, we selfishly want to keep them to ourselves–though, admittedly, writing about this place in Time Out Singapore, Lonely Planet, and now Perceptive Travel isn’t exactly an attempt to keep it secret. But while I’m admittedly not thrilled to see other farang here, I’m happy that Jae On is thriving and has been successful for long enough to afford the roof and menu upgrades. Plus, honestly, it’s not like this place has become touristy–there were only three tables of foreigners–and I doubt it ever will be.
We pour two glasses of Chang from a sweating bottle, and our food starts arriving. Baskets of steaming sticky rice, plates of som tam–some of the best I’ve had in Bangkok–perfectly blackened grilled squid, and a spicy white mushroom salad that has me working up a sweat by the time I’m done devouring it.
Yep, there’s one more thing that hasn’t changed since I lived here and frequented this place at least once a week: Jae On still has some of the best food in the area and is still one of my favorite places to go to after the sun goes down. It feels great to be home again.
Food photos by Brian Spencer