“So where are you going first?”
I’d just booked my ticket for a quick 10-day reacquaintance with my dear old friend Bangkok later this month (yay!), and my wife, who I’ll meet there a few days after my arrival, wanted to know which of our favorite restaurants I’ll head to first. Good question that I thought would be tough to answer… but then again, it’s really not: Jae On.
When I think about authentic Thai food, I think about Jae On. When I think about quintessential outdoor dining experiences in Bangkok, I think Jae On. If you’ve ever been to Bangkok, you know the type of place: bare bones decor, white concrete walls, folding aluminum tables spilling out onto the sidewalk, multi-colored plastic chairs held together in spots by duct tape, traffic fumes mingling with aromatic odors from bubbling hot pots, oscillating ceiling fans directing sticky humidity back and forth, and a legion of servers somewhere between 15 – 20 years old. Tableside trays with buckets of ice, sweating bottles of Chang, and half-empty bottles of 100 Pipers whiskey. Maybe an old TV mounted on the ceiling tuned to a Thai soap opera.
I’ve lived on Petchaburi Road, just down the street from Jae On, on two separate occasions. Before moving to Bangkok, we always ended up at hotels near the Ratchathewi BTS Skytrain station (Asia Hotel, Reno Hotel, Samran Place), which is just around the corner from Jae On. It’s one of the first “local” restaurants we ever tried, and it’s one where we’ve greatly expanded our Thai food palate over the years as we’ve delved deeper and deeper into a menu chock full of what you might call Thai Food’s Greatest Hits. There are hundreds of places like it in and around Bangkok, but this one, obviously, has a special place in my heart. It’s packed with locals almost every night, too, so I’m clearly not the only one with an obsession (though mine very well might run deeper than most).
To that end, I can’t tell you exactly what to eat: I hate to sound cliche, but this is a place where you can truly pick and choose just about anything that sounds appealing and be satisfied. We’ve taken many Thai friends and out-of-town guests here, and everybody has raved about it. The best plan of attack is to do it Thai style: order a bunch of different plates and share. (It’s one of my life’s missions, however, to introduce the concept of a serving spoon to Thais when it comes to communal dining: not into everybody digging into the food with their own spoon.)
One Man’s Feast
As a starting point, however, consider my go-to order of choice, which is pictured above. It’s a lot of food for one person and is probably enough for two, but, hey–once you get started it’s hard to stop, plus this lineup is all veggies so you can’t feel too guilty if you gorge.
Okay: to the far left, a spicy white mushroom salad, served with tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, and various other spices. I love the texture contrasts between the crunchy onions and the soft, squishy mushrooms, and insist it’s prepared spicy, or how Thais would normally eat it, but be prepared: like C&C Music Factory, it’s gonna make you sweat.
In the middle, my vote for the tastiest som tam in Bangkok, which again is best served as Thais would eat it as far as heat goes. That sauce… my God that sauce. I could slurp it like soup.
To the far right, stir-fried morning glory, a simple Southeast Asian standard stir-fried with garlic, oyster sauce, and super-hot chilis that retains a nice burned wok flavor. Again, I’ve eaten morning glory at many places in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand, and swear this is still the best version I’ve ever tasted. Complement the feast with a small rattan basket filled with sticky rice and, of course, a tall bottle (or four) of Chang beer. Jae On’s grilled squid is another favorite.
You’ll find me here on the night of December 11–just look for the table with a spread that looks exactly like the one pictured here, and the tall, sweating guy with a huge smile on his face.
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.
More on Jae On:
+ Revisiting a Favorite Old Haunt in Bangkok
More BKK Must Eats:
+ Early Evening Pad Thai on Soi Chidlom
+ Salmon Agemusubui at Sukishi
+ Spicy Tuna Roll at Yaki Ten
+ Grilled Squid at Pantip Plaza
+ Pumpkin Hummus at May Kaidee’s
+ Seared Tuna at Pla Dib
+ Mexican Food at La Monita
+ Salmon Mania Roll at Zen Cucina
Photo credit and copyright Brian Spencer