Chinatown is one of my favourite places to wander at night in Bangkok. It’s noisy, crowded, a little stinky at times, but boy is it fun! And the food! There are street food stalls that have been doing the same specialties for generations, and of course with heirloom recipes, shortcuts are out of the question. The main drag Yaowarat road is always gridlock with cars, bicycles, food vendors, packs of people, and rusty Vespas with gas tanks strapped to their rear. Though, through chaos comes a civilised sense of order, as everyone happily eases their way through the congestion ‘jai yen yen’ style – so cool and understanding. You won’t find me in a shark’s fin restaurant (not ever, ever) but you will find me at one of the many dessert stalls that adorn the sidewalks and small side streets of Yaowarat road. I like this particular mum-and-pop-run stall in an intersecting soi. They serve classically Chinese sweets that can be had hot or cold.
So first you choose your crunchies and chewies. There is usually a dauntingly expansive spread. Ginkgo nuts in syrup; glutinous rice balls filled with sesame or peanuts; water chestnuts; sweet red beans; Chinese red dates; corn; sliced lotus root cooked in syrup; tofu skin; fresh tofu; barley; sago; soaked basil seeds; and rehydrated longans (just to name a few). Once a combination of these textures have been spooned into your floral melamine bowl, you then choose your hot or cold topping. In the case of cold, shaved ice is scooped on top of everything. You then can choose between dark syrup, coconut milk, or ‘fresh milk’ (which is actually evaporated milk) to be poured over the top. If you go for the hot version, you have a choice of a back-of-the-throat spicy ginger tea, or freshly made soybean milk to drown your goodies in. If you’re like me and not a fan of super sweet things, you will ask ba (uncle) to hold the syrup! I always go for a classic: tang yuen (glutinous rice balls with sesame filling), ginko nuts, and ginger tea to de-stress and detox. Since Chinatown is all about family generosity, hot Chinese tea is served to your aluminium table that bows and wobbles when you sit down. It doesn’t get much better than this.
For my friends who go weak at the knees for donuts, I steer them to a partongoh stand. This is a deep fried dough fritter that can be sweet or savoury. When you have a good partongoh, it is crispy on the outside, soft, light, and has a slight elasticity to it when broken in half. I order a few of these with a side of sangkaya (pandan coconut custard) or condensed milk to dip them into. Good luck stopping yourself from reaching for more.