The Skinny and Wide Rice Noodles

Okay, I’m about to write a “normal” entry but first, let me give you just a bit of an update on the Thai political situation:

The information I gave yesterday about the Election Commission recommending the dissolution of the ruling People’s Power Party (PPP, which Prime Minister Samak heads), turns out to be correct.  Originally, I didn’t see it reported elsewhere but have now found several Thai sources that confirm it.

I’ve heard from supporters on both sides of the conflict as well as from people who are sitting in the middle, unimpressed by the extreme actions of both sides, and I’m thankful to all of them for sharing their insights and opinions.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD, the anti-government protesters) have made the first intimations of a possible compromise to end the confrontation, but their number one requirement is that Prime Minister Samak resign and dissolve his cabinet.  Not surprisingly, Samak refuses to do so.

Things are moving very slowly towards some possible resolution, emphasis on the “slowly” part.  The Election Commission’s recommendation, should it be approved by the Constitutional Court, would largely moot the conflict as the PPP would be dissolved and new elections would have to be called anyway.

If I was to try to give you some sense of the general feeling in the country about the way towards resolution, the Bangkok Post’s front page commentary in Wednesday’s edition might encapsulate it.  The full commentary is here but the bullet points are as follows:

  • Prime Minister Samak declaring a state of emergency was a wrong-headed ploy to retain power.
  • Kudos to the army chief for keeping the army out of the political wrangling.
  • Yes, the PPP did win the right to govern (Samak’s main argument), but the Election Commission’s recommendation notwithstanding, the Samak government has made many unconstitutional mis-steps in the past seven months since taking office.  For this, they should step down, allowing the coalition government to form a new cabinet.
  • Yes, the PAD has the right to protest (the PAD’s main argument) but their actions such as closing down three southern airports have gone too far.  Additionally, they must respect democratic principles.  The call from some of their leaders for a non-elected government is not acceptable.

So that’s where things stand: at an impasse.  We’ll see how the next few days develop but I’d place my money on an eventual resignation by the Prime Minister and the calling of snap elections.


How is this affecting you and Tawn?

This is a common question I’ve received and thank you for expressing your concern.  Yesterday I received a call from a friend who is to travel here next week for a conference.  Worried about what he’s seen on TV, he was going to cancel his trip for fear of his safety.

Let’s make this clear: there is no danger in visiting Thailand nor in living here.  There is no reasonable prospect of violence or danger in the near future that would effect visitors or residents.  Fears of a Rawanda-like genocide or a Balkan civil war are completely misplaced.

What you see on television is the narrow width of a camera lens, pointed at the most dramatic and newsworthy thing it can find.  If you could pull back to a very wide angle, you would see that life in the city and the nation are continuing as normal.


An old friend reopens

Long before I moved here, Tawn took me to “the red noodle shop” (real name, Yen Ta Fo) which was located next to a driving range further down Sukhumvit.  The shop eventually closed as development took over that area, but the owners continued to ply their trade at outlets in malls around the more suburban parts of the city. 

Recently, though, good news: Yen Ta Fo opened a branch in Ploenchit Centre, located a two-minute walk from Tawn’s office.  Taking over a defunct Haagen Dazs and a poor imitation of a NY-style deli, Yen Ta Fo is attracting the crowds for lunch.

Their specialty, the red noodles (below), is a mixture of wide rice noodles, mixed seafood, and a slightly vinegary sauce.  I don’t personally care for it as it is too vinegary for me, but Tawn loves it and lots of other people were ordering it, so I consider it a shortcoming of my tastebuds.


I had a great dish of pork spareribs (below) that had been stewed until the meat just jumped off the bones.  The sweet-spicy sauce is so satisfying and made for a perfect rainy afternoon meal.


On the side we ordered the Yen Ta Fo version of chicken satay (below).  They prepare their chicken with a spicy curry paste rub that adds a lot of flavor and a fair amount of heat, instead of the usual continuous basting of coconut milk.  Their sticky rice (in the basket) was a little undercooked, a bit more “tough” than “sticky”. 


Beyond the Yen Ta Fo restaurants, the family has a series of more upscale establishments with the name Mallika.  Website here.  No doubt we will be back to Yen Ta Fo regularly.


P1090742 On the other side of Tawn’s office is a block of traditional shop houses.  These four-story buildings housed a shop or small restaurant in the ground floor and then residences above. 

There was one restaurant to which we regularly went, and Issan (northeastern Thai) style place that served wonderful grilled chicken. 

Sadly, the shops have been closed down and the entire block is being demolished.  Not sure what will replace it but the property, on the corner of Ploenchit (Sukhumvit) and Whittayu (Wireless Road) is next to the Plaza Athenee Hotel, kitty-corner to the British Embassy, and is one of the more valuable locations in the city.

I predict another office tower / mall / condo complex.  Anyone know for sure?

On the left is a picture taken from the Skytrain Ploenchit Station platform.  It isn’t quite wide enough to show everything but the sidewalk is the dark strip in the lower left.  The stairs leading down from the Skytrain station are the white-lined area in the edge of the lower left.

People used to congregate on the outdoor patios where the umbrella still stands, eating at folding tables during the lunch rush.  Now it is being taken down, story by story, building by building.  You can see how much has already been done in the picture below.  The Plaza Athenee is just behind (to the left) of the low-rise pink building.


Let’s hear it for ongoing development.  It is a shame that old buildings and family-owned small businesses end up closed to make way for progress.  The only positive to this is that the location, adjacent to a mass transit station, is a good place for denser development.  Unfortunately, the development will benefit primarily those with money, not the lower income families who used to earn a living there.


One final construction shot, this one from the huge site next to the Asoke Skytrain station.  The excavation has started and I was tickled to see that one of the cranes bears a warning in Japanese.  I imagine it isn’t much help for the construction workers, who primarily come from upcountry Thailand.


Do you know what it says?


29 thoughts on “The Skinny and Wide Rice Noodles

  1. It’s always sort of bittersweet to see old buildings and establishments get demolished for plans of a newer (and presumably more profitable) center. I’ve seen so many angry people at Planning Commission meetings contesting new constructions. I feel bad that they’re losing some of the heritage of what was their “home-town” but progress has to be made and as ideal as it would be to make everybody happy, I think we just have to try to make minimal negative impact as possible. And I hope the political drama comes to a resolution soon! I always feel uneasy during tumultuous political times.

  2. It’s sad to see these small business closed up. It’s too bad the urban planners can’t find a creative way of putting a food market right by some of the busy Skytrain stations. I wonder if the King will get involved somehow to resolve this situation.

  3. Hi Chris,Must give you major kudos on your reporting your last trip and how things have gone since you returned to the ‘Big Mango’ I’m putting in my 2 cents worth about the fact that these political maneuvers rarely have any impact on the life of citizens at large unless an uncontrollable violence were to break out. NOT something seen in Thailand often at all. If work schedule permitted it, I would be on the plane (with a friend) right now to go visit my old tailor on Suhkumvit across from the old Ambassador hotel (or whatever if there now) to get new fantastic clothes run up.This is something we definitely have in our plans over the next few years. Just have to get each other’s money and vacation plans on track.A trip to Phuket to relax after coming all the way from East Coast USA would also be in the cards…just got to hope to get it done.Best regards to both you and Tawn,Rob Robinson1-(703) 203-9393PS: I’m a long-school Foreign Service Brat who lived in Bangkok in the late 80s and returned several times during the 90s with all the World Bank mileage I was running up on UA…..

  4. I remember that in 2006, when my parents visited Bangkok… the coup happened the day they landed. We back in India were really worried about them (after seeing the news), but they called us and told that life is pretty normal there and it hardly seemed like a major coup happened save for the tanks on the road! Anyway, lets hope that this crisis will resolve soon.PS: I really love that basket for the rice! It’s so cute.

  5. 1.I am glad you and Tawn are safe and doing well.
    2. The food looks more than delicious….( it is Ramadan and I am fasting.) I don’t think drooling taste buds is a controllable situation.
    3. No I do not know what the sign on the pole says.
    4.Much love.

  6. Great to know you two are safe!The food sounds great, can’t wait to try it next time I visit. And more construction pics. What about them that fascinates you and me so? Perhaps it’s an opportunity to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. Or simply to witness change.Stay safe!

  7. I’m happy to hear that the Haagen Dazs (I remember when the first one opened on the east side of Manhattan in the mid-seventies and I was in love with the ice cream) place has been turned into a good lunch spot. My daughter worked at the BBC and they were tempted to go in there but never did.It would be great if that Burger King went as well.On the shop houses…parents of friends of ours (she was an expat from Rhode Island, married to a prominent physician who was once the Dean of Chula Medical School) lived in a teak house next to the US ambassador residence. I remember when Florence bemoaned the fact that those very shop houses on the corner were going up. “How many shop houses do we need in Bangkok?”I’m sure she would be quite shocked to see Wireless Road of the 21st century. Progress! I hope that people will continue to be able to live in the city. It is getting more and more difficult. I wish that shop houses could be restored as they have been in Singapore. Those spare ribs you had looked quite delicious. Hope the rains have stopped for now – stay safe.

  8. @ElusiveWords – I would imagine that the King will try to stay out of it, at least directly.  One thing he’s done very well is to stay above politics in terms of the projected public appearance.  Only one time (1992) when he had to call the heads of the two parties onto the carpet, literally, and admonish them on live television.

  9. @DCRobbie – Hi Rob, nice to virtually meet you.  I agree with your assessment: things would have to get really unprecedentedly bad before widespread violence breaks out.  The vast majority of people are more frustrated with both sides rather than supporting one or the other.  Let me know when you end up heading back over here.  Cheers!

  10. @blue_beau – Thank you for correcting me; I didn’t realize that “yen ta fo” is the name of the dish and that the restaurant has a fuller name.  Tawn explained to me the whole meaning of “yen ta fo khreung song doi Ajarn Mallika” this morning.  I’ll have to clarify that in the next entry in case anyone is looking for the restaurant.
    We’ve seen you once or twice at Ploenchit Centre but have hesitated to say hi since we only know your Xanga name.  Seems a little silly to address someone by their Xanga user name.

  11. @khaodhom – Wow, so those shop houses have come and gone.  They aren’t so old, after all.  The HD and BK I think you’re thinking of are the ones near Chidlom Station next to the BBC offices and Foreign Correspondents’ Club, right?  Both have closed down although Burger King is on a tear of an expansion throughout the city.  So is McD.

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