Archive for June, 2010

What 30B will buy you on Soi Cowboy

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

On a trip to Bangkok a few months back, we stayed at a hotel on Sukhumvit 23. (We left  on the  Saturday the red shirts were setting up camp at  Ratchaprasong.) So going anywhere, the most convenient route to and from  the BTS or train station was  through Soi Cowboy. Honestly.

In the late afternoons, food sellers set up shop along the soi to feed the resident community—noodle stalls, stalls selling BBQ skewers, papaya salad carts, the usual street fare. Returning to the hotel one evening, a cart  caught my eye, its glass case filled to the brim with all manner of mushrooms. I asked the stall owner if it was “larb hed,” a mushroom “larb,” the Northern Thai salad from the Isaan region. He shook his head  and pointed towards his dented, well-seasoned aluminum saucepan, saying something I couldn’t decipher.

I had no idea what it was, but since I’d eat  pretty much anything that has mushrooms in it,  I ordered a serving of whatever it was he was selling.

It turned out to be a mushroom soup, made with handfuls  of fresh herbs, a medley of mushrooms, and a thick green soup base which he ladled out of a large plastic jar (visible in first photo above).

The soup was  utterly delicious; earthy and pungent, bright, with a spicy muay thai  kick  to the throat. And for only 20 baht.

None of my Thai friends has been able to tell me what the soup is made from, only that “it’s some Isaan soup” or “tom hed” (mushroom soup).

We had the soup every day from then on, often having it for late-night supper in our hotel room. Mushroom soup to-go-go.

Click to view larger-than-lifesize!

On one visit, I noticed  a steel bowl of pale white, um, things on the worktop. Scooping up a spoonful,you could see that they were larvae of some sort: albino maggot- or grub-like creatures. “Aroi mai?” I asked the stall owner, to which he nodded and said it would cost an extra 10 baht. (Asking stall owners if something is tasty is just plain dumb, I know. As Warren Buffet would say, “never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.”)

Since I was in the mood to splurge, I asked for the alien grubs. He obliged by plonking a heaping spoonful into the soup towards the end of the cooking process. The boiling soup then goes straight into a plastic bag—free BPA with every order!

Walking back to the hotel, I inspected the bag, raising  to eye level like a 2-year-old inspecting a bagged funfair goldfish. And it became clear what  the larvae were—wasps. There they were, little soup fairies—wings, cinched abdomen and all—floating in suspended animation throughout the grassy green liquid.

The wasp larvae  didn’t contribute anything extra to the flavour of the soup; but they had a nice, soft crunch, not unlike the bite feel you get when chewing on the heads of enoki mushrooms. And I’m sure that they’re also rich in protein.

And ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. The tastiest treat on Soi Cowboy.

(Wasp larvae are a treat in the North-eastern parts of Thailand, as well as parts of Indochina and China/Burma (huge image at bottom of linked page). I remember there being a documentary  where they show how villagers tie a feather to a wasp and follow it through the jungle back to its nest, but I can’t find it anywhere. But this is also pretty good.)

Soi Cowboy Spicy Mushroom Soup

Address: Soi Cowboy, towards the Sukhumvit 23 end, on the left-hand side if you’re entering from there.

Nearest BTS: Asoke

From about 4pm–7pm

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