Little had changed in my neighborhood between the time I left Bangkok in July ’09 and when I moved back in February ’11. The late-night chicken ‘n’ rice joint on the corner of Petchaburi and Rajadamri was still there, the pop-up restaurant just past Khlong Saen Saeb, near CentralWorld Plaza, was still there, and I recognized many familiar faces amongst the ranks of street vendors that camp out in Pratunam. My “squid guy”, however, wasn’t amongst them.
For weeks I held out hope that he’d return, and was perhaps just off visiting family in Nong Khai, but he never did. I was devastated, having dreamt about those chunks of squid for nearly two years. Perfectly crisped on thin wooden skewers over a charcoal grill, sliced into bite-sized cubes, and dumped into a pool of insanely hot green-chile sauce in a plastic bag–this was my quick snack or light lunch at least four or five times a week. It was somewhat out of convenience–his stand was on the same block as my condo–somewhat due to price (20 baht per skewer), but mostly because of the flavor and freshness.
I had to find a local replacement, and after some area taste-testing settled on one amidst the vendors hawking fresh orange juice, fried chicken, and banana roti just outside Pantip Plaza. She’s the only one with squid, and is usually located next to a woman selling fried shrimp poppers.
Bangkok locals may not see what the big deal is here–squid skewers are, admittedly, widely available in the city streets–but with so many warnings about street food floating around these days (“Don’t eat the ice! Don’t always trust the locals! Restaurants are usually better! You’ll get sick!), tourists eager to explore this vast culinary landscape can add this stall to the safe list. It’s fresh, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s cheap. If you’ve loaded up on bootleg DVDs inside and need to kill some time while the discs are ripped offsite, these squid skewers are a perfect snack to munch on while watching the insanity of Petchaburi roll by from a seat on Pantip’s steps.
Pick a few out, put ‘em on the grill, and make sure to get the spicy sauce. I still miss my old squid guy, but the new squid girl is just fine.
We could play the “Must-Eat Food in Bangkok” game every day for years and still have plenty of culinary fodder to feature. In that sense, the “BKK Must Eats” series will not be comprehensive, nor will it exclusively list dishes that are “the best” of anything (though it might, from time to time). The modest goal of this series is simply to spotlight, somewhat randomly, damned delicious dishes in Bangkok that I’ve indulged on many occasions, and that I recommend you indulge too.
Photo credit and copyright Brian Spencer