Most nights, the roti vendor camps out near the western, street-level stairway for the Ratchathewi BTS Skytrain station on Phayathai Road. He’s behind the bus stop there, to be specific, black-plastic cartons of eggs stacked on one side of his wheeled metal cart, a griddle on the other side, and all the necessary tools of his trade organized neatly in between. Here are silver cans of condensed milk and a plastic bucket full of dough, there is a wastebasket filled with paper liners, and a wooden spoon planted, like a flag on the moon, in a plastic tub caked with neon-yellow butter.
The Ratchathewi Roti Man, a name which nobody but I calls him, first showed up behind the bus stop on Phayathai Road years ago, though at this point I cannot tell you, in the sake of specificity, how many years ago that was. It may have been four years ago and it may have been six, but what matters today is not when he first appeared, but that since he did, he has not left. Go there tonight or go there three months from now and you will find him there, probably, squeezed in along The Famous Street-Food Vendor Row of Phayathai Road.
Of course, that’s a name that I just now coined and will never use again, so let’s just say there’s a nice little food scene on Phayathai Road, between and along Soi Phaya Nak and Phetchaburi Road, of which the Ratchathewi Roti Man has been an integral part for years now. I’m happy to say that The Phad Thai Guy, a founding member of this happy little food scene, is still an anchor tenant, too. I first acquainted myself with the man’s culinary majesty in 2006, and he’s done so well over the years that he’s recently fancied-out by posting proper signage and working his magic in an adorable food truck, an upgrade over his old silver cart. Here there are also street chefs hawking fruits, steamed corn, grilled meats, Thai salads, Thai sweets, kebabs, and much more. A few full-service street restaurants are clustered nearer the corner of Phetchaburi, though the very best one is around the corner, at Soi 15.
As for the roti vendor in question, he’s a mild-mannered fellow too gaunt to fill out his medium-sized polos, the ones in which you can sometimes make out the faint shape of a cigarette pack in the breast pocket, though to be specific I cannot say whether they are tobacco or candy cigarettes. I have never seen him smoke or eat candy.
What I have seen him do, however, is spread his batter in circular swirls on the sizzling griddle, with a gentle, one-handed wax-on motion, spill the contents of an ill-fated egg on top of it, then arrange fresh banana slices within the thing like, uh… like, um… like a skilled roti man stuffing his roti with fresh banana slices. (Yes, yes, he does savories, too, but don’t interrupt me.) The mixture congeals and the batter hits puberty before maturing into bread, by which time the man has already swaddled in batter the eggs and bananas.
And when it’s all done on the griddle, when the bread is crisped delicately and pocked with beautiful brown bubbles, the man drops his baby on the floor of styrofoam plate lined with paper. The paper is there to address the grease, but to be clear it will be your arteries that sops up most of the grease. Before that happens, though, before you purchase this wonderful man’s work of art for 35 baht, he first drizzles it generously with condensed milk and sprinkles it with more sugar, because why not.
Pair, beforehand, with sweaty bottles of Chang Classic—and make sure you get Chang Classic, because Chang Export is shit—exceptional Thai foods (oh, their saucy som tam Thai is special), and the roar of Phetchaburi Road traffic at Jae On, at Soi 15, just around the corner. It’s one of my favorites in Bangkok and they’d love to see you.