Thursday, April 10, 2014

Two Street-Seafood Stops in Chinatown, Bangkok

An obvious theme in Asia is the ability to eat cheap to reasonably priced seafood on the streets. We did it in Hong Kong and in Chiang Mai, and now in Bangkok. If you Google Bangkok's Chinatown and dig in to the results a bit you're bound to read about Nai Mong Hoi Thod and Lek & Rut. These two stands are just around the corner from each other in the area around busy Yaowarat Road and make a great, mini Chinatown food crawl.
It's almost guaranteed that NO cab will want to drive you to this area of crowded streets (at least not for under 300 baht) but the more versatile-sized tuk tuks will happily cart you there for around 200 depending on where you're starting from. This is still a rip-off, but well worth the splurge. If you're staying near the MRT, you can walk to Yaowarat road from the most westerly stop.
Start first at the more specialized Nai Mong Hoi Thod, where hoi thod, or oyster omelets, are the name of the game. This guy's running, like, a two man stand where there's basically nothing more than a few portable tables, stools and a super-hot wok. You must go for a soft oyster omelet, but if you have enough eaters, choose also a crispy oyster or mussel omelet. The oysters here are much larger than the tiny mussels used, so I'd just stick with that.
The soft oyster omelet comes out in a pile of gooey, eggy, oystery, soy saucey, scalliony goodness. Caralee found the tapioca texture a bit strange and I can see where she was coming from there, but an effort to get past that is rewarded by briny oysters and salty, golden brown egg. 
The crispy version is just as nice but much less gooey. The mussels in there are seriously miniscule, so like I said, go with the oysters. Crispy's got a salty golden crunch but if I went back and were only going to get one omelet, I'd go with the original soft. Both versions would go great with a beer, but unfortunately when we visited Nai Mong, Thailand was in the midst of an election and consumption of/selling alcohol was not allowed. Apparently that's a thing in Thailand. It happened to us a week before in Chiang Mai, as well. 
To find Nai Mong, take tons of pictures of the address, the storefront and the address pinpointed on a map on your phone and count on your tuk tuk driver insisting on just dropping you somewhere random in Chinatown instead of at your requested destination. It's not hard to find once you get your bearings on Yaowarat. 
Next, head back down to Yaowarat and hit up Lek & Rut Seafood. This place has a storefront with indoor tables somewhere but has basically just inundated a spare corner with seriously crowded tables and a big ice-bed of fresh seafood. We had to wait for maybe 10 minutes to get a seat and I was originally a bit wary that the dishes may be overpriced, but this ended up being one of the nicest seafood meals I've ever had. 
We ordered a few dishes to share – barbecued prawns, steamed cockles, squid with vegetables and crab curry. Unfortunately we didn't have enough room for Lek & Rut's famous tom yum soup, especially after our omelet starter around the corner. 
Barbecued prawns were popular at almost every table on the corner and it was easy to see why. Huge, reasonably priced shrimp got a nice lick of flame before turning peachy pink and heading to our table. These were hot and meaty. Just really fresh, clean and tasty. Suck on the heads if you want to look local. (In practice, not in a physical sense. I, for one, will never look local in Thailand, and that's a fact that ruins me every day.)
A generous heap of little gray cockles presented a puzzle. How do you get these suckers open? Don't all clams open when cooked properly? Nah. I asked our Thai neighbors and they demonstrated. Just dig your nails into a cockle shell groove and pry them open opposite the hinge. It's kinda hard, really, but you'll get the hang of it.
I'd never had cockles before, but they're great! The little orange shellfish had a sweet, sea-salty taste and a tender bite. These are hot, though, so let them cool before attacking.
I was most apprehensive about Caralee's squid, and subsequently most surprised when I realized it was some of the best squid I've ever had. I have a serious love-hate relationship with squid that usually leads me away from it on a menu (it just gets tough so easily), but Ca went ahead and we were so glad she did. These rings were SO tender and doused in a sweet, spicy chili sauce with morning glory, soy beans, onions and other fun little bits. Lek & Rut def knows how to deal with squid and for that, I will be forever impressed.
Finally, my crab curry. Large chunks of freshly cracked crab meat were tossed with a spiced yellow sauce that rightly stood aside to the crustacean. Some pieces of meat still had bits of shell but to me that just ensured that the crab was alive and swimming at some point in the recent future. The whole dish was based on crab meat – no filler vegetables were thrown in there to bulk it up. 

So, Lek & Rut really was some of the best seafood I've had on the street in Asia. It certainly beat my Hong Kong dai pai dong experience, and somehow seemed more exciting than our tilapia meals at Lert Ros in Chiang Mai. They also have some funny waiters – ours got seriously into the mission of finding our table-mate's retainer that somehow made it into the garbage. After digging in crumped napkins and checking dustbins, he found it! Anything for a tip. Don't skip Lek & Rut if you're in Bangkok and are willing to eat how you should in that city – on the street. 

Nai Mong Hoi Tod: 539 Thanon Phlap Phla Chai, Bangkok, Thailand. 

Lek & Rut: Corner of Yaowarat Road and Soi Texas, Bangkok, Thailand.

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