One of the nice things about knowing Chow, the author of Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, is that I get exciting offers like, “Oh, there’s this really good beef noodle vendor on Sukhumvit Soi 16 I’ve been dying to go back to. When are you free?” To paraphrase Renée Zellweger’s character in Jerry Maguire, “You had me at beef noodle.”
Sukhumvit Soi 16 is this stubby little street near the intersection of Sukhumvit and Asoke Ratchadapisek Roads. It branches off Asoke about 100 meters down from the main intersection and then forms the back exit for all of the office buildings and condominiums that line Asoke Ratchadapisek Road, overlooking the beautiful Benjakiti Park next to the Queen Sirikit Convention Center.
Lining both sides of the soi at regular intervals are these street vendor stalls, the classic types of Thai street food that hug the street and, where one exists, generally push pedestrians off the footpaths. Across from the street vendor pictured above, on an unpaved shoulder lined with a masonry wall, we found our beef noodles.
The tables were overflowing and since we had arrived about 1:00, the tail end of the lunch rush, the wizened old uncle who runs the stall told us that he was out of everything but the thin rice noodles and the stewed brisket and beef balls. We ordered one bowl apiece and one of the other people working there – a relative, no doubt – found us a spot as a table of office workers finished up the last drops of broth in their bowls.
A few minutes later our order arrived: a simple bowl of thin rice noodles swimming in deliciously rich cardamom-flavored broth, with slices of brisket, beef balls, green onions, and bean sprouts. As we were eating, the uncle came over and apologized that the brisket wasn’t as tender as normal – the meat vendor had arrived late this morning so it hadn’t stewed as long as he would have liked. We assured him it was not a problem – and it wasn’t – especially as we enjoyed the wonderful broth.
After finishing our noodles and paying – including weak tea we paid something like 28 baht (US$ 1) each. Chatting with the uncle after the lunchtime rush, he explained that he’s been in business at that location for 40 years, gaining his reputation during the Vietnam War with American servicemen who were stationed nearby.
He explained how one building just down the soi, which is now the home of a nice brunch restaurant called Kuppa, was the headquarters for the American FBI. They found this out when one day a stray soi dog was clipped by a vehicle and was lying in the street, howling in pain. After a while, an American came out of that building, pulled out a gun, and put the dog out of its misery. And that, uncle explained, is how they found out the FBI worked there. Never mind that the FBI was a domestic agency and probably wasn’t here in Thailand during the Vietnam War, it was an interesting story that provided a spicy not to the end of our lunchtime adventure.