By Brian Spencer
Traffic is still a nightmare, but it’s balanced by long taxi rides that are still dirt cheap. Package tourists are still visiting in record numbers, even during Bangkok’s “slow” season of October, but thankfully they still mostly graze in the same handful of areas. Thais are still Thais — those generally fun-loving, sweet, silly Thais — and Bangkok, as ever, is still Bangkok.
As much as things change in my part-time home, they always stay the same. Bangkok is a city under constant transformation on the surface, but it all mostly amounts to little more than public-facing lip service. Bangkok never compromises its core, well, “Bangkokness;” to flip a common local saying, “different different but same.” Bring your trendy, Western-friendly restaurants and bars, your tattooed expat chefs making authentic Thai street food (yawn), your whatever — Bangkok has a unique capacity to digest everything thrown its way and spit it back out with a distinctly Thai-flavored polish. It’s a phenomenon that’s a little hard to describe.
If I had my druthers I’d still call Bangkok my full-time home (one day, one day…), but the beauty of being a short two-hour flight away in Singapore is that I get to check in every two or three months, keep tabs on everything and everyone, and take note of those surface changes, both sizable and small, as they happen in relative real time.
With that in mind, following a five-night stay last week filled with revisits to favorite old-school haunts I’ve previously covered in this space, a few quick updates:
Kuu – First, the bad news: the last entry in my running “BKK Must Eats” can now be sadly rebranded as a “BKK Can’t Eat.” It seems that small Japanese bistro chain Kuu, which previously had outlets at K-Village on Sukhumvit 26 and Central World Plaza, has called it quits. It’s no longer listed on K-Village’s website, and while losing myself in a small serving of Buddhi Belly’s creamy natural yogurt, my heart broke as I walked by the Central World space for years occupied by Kuu and saw it boarded up, with a sign announcing a new forthcoming sushi joint.
Japanese curry, grilled seafood and veggie skewers, fresh salads, savory ramen, and of course the crab-cream croquettes of which I wrote about for “BKK Must Eats:” Over the years my wife and friends and family and I ordered myriad items off the menu at Kuu, and nobody was ever disappointed. It was always fairly popular, and packed when I last dined there in September with my dad, so I’m a little surprised to see it gone. Sad times.
Red Sun by Tawandang – Another unfortunate closure, particularly since I just wrote about it on August 30, but honestly not a surprising one. A spin-off of still-going-strong Tawandang German Brewery, Red Sun’s downfall, I think, can be pinned primarily on its location, a remote top-floor space with very little foot traffic at fading Siam Discovery mall. It was dead every time I went here, but I chalked it up to daytime lull. It was a good idea, but the execution and location just weren’t quite right; perhaps they’ll resurface in a better location, but in the meantime you can at least still get your ass out to Rama III to experience the real deal.
Talad Rot Fai – Though it’s been closed now since June, it’s still a heartbreaker to lose this laid-back weekend night market, at least in terms of its original location and young, entrepreneurial spirit — especially after so many people had put so much time and effort into the space. Following a lengthy battle with the SRT and, apparently, the local mafia, Talad Rot Fai has now regrouped at a new space on Srinakarin Road behind Seacon Square. I haven’t seen the new lot yet, but it’s hard to imagine it having the same easy-cool ambience.
Feasts at Jae On – Enough bad news: Jae On is as good as ever, and I have scores of friends and family who’ll back me up on that. My favorite restaurant in Bangkok? Yeah, I think it is. Bang that link for recommendations on what to order.
La Monita – The topic of another entry in my “BKK Must Eats” series, La Monita has branched out from its original Ploenchit location with its new La Monita Taco Trunk, which is parked in the dizzying first-floor food hall at Siam Paragon. It’s part of a significant, ongoing refurbishment of just about the entire food hall, and certainly a welcome addition. As I and many others have said, La Monita leads any discussion of Bangkok’s best Mexican food.
Grilled Squid Skewers at Pantip Plaza – Charcoal-grilled squid skewers are a fairly common street-food snack in Bangkok, but I’m partial to the vendor camped out in front of Pantip Plaza. His squid is always chunky and fresh (and I’ve never gotten sick), his green chile sauce is crazy-hot and flavorful, and there really aren’t many better people-watching spots in Bangkok than on the front steps of this electronics madhouse. When I first wrote about the Pantip squid skewers they were grilled by a young woman who has since moved over to a different cart; her replacement is a fine one.
Look for him right next to the elevated walkway stairs, usually next to a long-time regular vendor selling fresh orange juice–orange juice that also happens to be quite delish itself.