Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is popular among locals and visitors alike for its almost endless maze of vendors selling everything from fashion to frogs, souvenir trinkets to silverware for your dinner table. Shopping isn’t the only reason to visit the market, though. Hidden amongst all these vendors are several restaurants that are worth a trip, even if you have no plans to shop. A few weekends ago, we ate at Prik Yuak, a popular place whose good food and convenient location makes it worth a visit.
Prik Yuak is a Southern Thai style khao gaeng place. Khao gaeng refers to the prepared curries (and other dishes) that are served with rice. I shared a bit about this type of food in the third volume of my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series.
Ordering at Prik Yuak is both easy and hard: easy because all you need to do is point and they will plate the dishes up for you. Hard because you have to figure out what each thing is. My advice: so long as you have no allergies, religious dietary restrictions, or adverse reactions to chilies, go ahead and point away!
Portions are small – think “Thai tapas” – and this allows you to try many different tasty dishes even if you come to the restaurant by yourself or just one other person.
The restaurant itself is modest, located next to the edge of the market, immediately adjacent to exit 3 of the Kamphaeng Phet MRT station. In fact, make a u-turn to the right as you exit from the station and then continue back as far as you can go (40 meters or so) and you’ll have reached the restaurant. Grab a table after ordering and they will bring the food to you.
Plaa kem tod – The name of the dish refers to the salty fried fish that is the main flavoring ingredient. In this case, it is being served along with broccoli, although it is also served with other greens. Salted fish is a popular ingredient in Thai food, especially in the south, where it is an easy method of preservation for a region that is close to the sea. For foreigners, the taste can take some getting used to because it is very salty. The saltiness is balanced by the clean, unseasoned flavors of the vegetables, though.
Kai palow – This dish of stewed eggs and pork belly is often prepared with a Chinese five spice sauce. In this case, Prik Yuak uses a palm sugar caramel and soy sauce. This dish is ordered to accompany spicier dishes, as the sweet richness of the dish helps to counter the spice.
Kuag gling moo – Shredded pork fried with spices, most notably turmeric, with a garnish of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaf. This dish, which is spicy hot, has very assertive flavoring, making your taste buds come alive. The texture is also very fun to eat, small shreds of slightly crispy fried pork and fried shallots.
Gaeng tae po – This vegetable dish features something known locally as “morning glory” – not related to the flowers – a tubular green that grows near the water. It is served in a curry and is quite spicy but in a way that is very pleasant.
Panang moo – Panang style pork curry, which is milder than many other Thai curries. It has a heavy dose of coconut milk which provides some richness on the tongue, countering other spicier dishes. What makes Prik Yuak’s version of this dish unique is that they braise the pork first before cooking it in the curry. The result is a bowl full of very tender pork.
Pad prik king gai – Shredded fried chicken, cooked southern style with a dry curry (i.e. no coconut milk). At first glance, this appears similar to the kuag gling dish, above. But the flavor profile is very different. Instead of having turmeric and lots of spices, this curry is made mostly of chilies, ginger, galangal root, coriander root, and lemongrass. It is much more herbal and has a kick to it.
Kai tom yang matoom – A common condiment for the khao gaeng shops is boiled egg. Here we have boiled duck eggs done to a soft, creamy yolk. Again, the richness of the egg helps counteract the spiciness of several of the dishes. It is also an easy source of protein.
To provide some more veggies, a little crunch, and some cooling relief to your mouth, a platter of crudité is served. From left: kamin khao (white turmeric), long beans, and cucumbers.
And to drink? How about a coconut bowl of the favorite local cola: Pepsi. While I normally don’t drink sodas, it is a very refreshing accompaniment to a meal like this.
Conclusion: The food at Prik Yuak is first rate in terms of quality, price, and flavor. Best of all, the small servings allow you to try so many different things. I hope that as you read the descriptions, you noticed how varied the dishes are and how they complement each other. Something spicy, something sweet, something salty, something rich, something astringent – this is the quality of a balanced Thai meal, a feature that is lacking in a lot of western cooking, particularly in fast food America. When I go for too long without Thai food, I find that my palate is bored from the lack of different flavors in a single meal!