There are very few meals in my life where I’ve immediately ordered a second serving after finishing my first. My introduction to Tom Yum Kung was one of those meals. Not just any Tom Yum Kung, but the Bangkok famous version they sell at P’Aoer. They do the more contemporary style of Tom Yum with added noodles, creamed by evaporated milk; the other being a clear variety filled with mushrooms and less than edible herbs.
Tom Yum Kung is usually one of the dishes most any tourist knows before touching down in Suvarnabhumi; even if it’s iterated as “hot and sour soup”. And with good reason too. To me it’s exactly what Thai food should be. A hot bowl of broth imbibed with the holy trinity (kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal). To make this dish without a single member renders it a good Thai soup, but not Tom Yum. Acidic from lime and emanating an aura of spice from the beads of chili oil floating on the surface. It is exemplary of what makes Thai food delicious the way it is. All tastes present in a harmonious balance; salty, sweet, sour, etc.
While I think this dish is best in Bangkok (see paragraph one about P’aor) I have finally a Chiang Mai eatery that does Tom Yum the justice it deserves. I mean, just look at it! you could practically pop the yolk on that soft boiled egg just by pressing on your screen. It even looks like tenticles from the squid are breaching the surface to get at those shrimp.
This Thai eatery can be found just west of Payap University and south of Big C. It primarily serves hungry university students and the inhabitants of Nong Pa Khrang, a sleepy mu baan I’ve called home for just shy of a year now. Poorly illuminated by fluorescent tubes and toned by a small radio spitting out Thai pop, it is what it is. Under its metal sided roof, the color orange is inescapable, and the world moves at a snail’s pace.
Being that the majority of customers are University students, the food is cheap, filling, and good enough to cut through the stress of that looming term paper. The kind of “drug” sought after by those that need more than just sustenance; rather, stimulants.
The other main fixture of this humble side of the road canteen is the pork bones. These aren’t just any pork bones. Irregular in shape, with fatty meat lodge in its crooks and crevasses. These are the vertebrae of the pig. Some may find them hard to stomach, but the same was true in their time with lobster, ox tail, hell even chicken wings.
It’s a sad reality that the same fate will befall my beloved pork spine. I’m not upset that, at a large scale, others will one day come to love this delicacy for the delicacy that I know it to be. I’m upset that with it’s inevitable popularity the people that eat it now, out of necessity, will no longer be able to afford it. A gourmet gentrification if you will. It’s like Anthony Bourdain once said “You’d be hard pressed to find ham hocks in Harlem these days, but Gramercy Tavern sure as hell has them on the menu.” Or something to that extent, I don’t feel like thumbing through my copy of “Medium Raw” right now. You get the point.
There are two version of pork bone soup on (spinal) tap here. One with the aforementioned Tom Yum broth. The other being a version of an Isaan hot and sour soup (I guess I’m the one that sounds like the tourist now. Excuse me while I go buy a Chang tank top and some flowy woman’s pants).
Gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you which I like more. I’ve guffawed enough about Tom Yum already… but that Issan one. Vibrantly acidic and heaped with chilies. It’s everything I want in a meal. Something that I have to tap into the lizard part of my brain to even eat. Stick finger in here and food comes out there, repeat. It’s a go to when I want to be given the amount of coriander I think is appropriate for a slurped spoonful. It’s really fucking good, ok.
Come here, eat this, be happy – while it’s still affordable to do so.
ตาแป๊ะก๋วยเตี๋ยวต้มยำ สาขา ม.พายัพ, ม.พายัพ
Price: Everything on the menu is between 35-60 baht
Open: 08:00-18:00 Everyday
The Good Stuff Chiang Mai