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Nakhon Thong – Portrait of a Thai Community

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The Nakhon Thong community is situated just north of Sukhumvit Road and across the canal from the large municipal market and bustling town center of Samrong in Samut Prakan province.

(Note: scroll down for a slide show of images from Nakhon Thong.)

Samrong Canal

Samrong canal

My sister moved to this community about a year and a half ago along with my elderly mother whom she has been taking care of the past five years. It’s a convenient neighborhood with all essential services within a short walking distance, including two large, open-air fresh markets, a shopping mall with a big department store and modern supermarket, branches of all major banks, and the post office. Although it is in Samut Prakan province, the town of Samrong is only a few kilometers across the boundary line from Bangkok and is very much part of the greater Bangkok metropolitan area. Mass transportation systems and freeways make commute to jobs in the heart of the capital easy.

In many ways, Nakhon Thong is a typical Thai working class community with most of the residents living in two- to three-story townhouses or rowhouses along quiet dead-end streets and alleys. Many of the rowhouses have been converted into primary residences from machine shops prevalent in the area in years past. Most are homes to families with two to three generations living under the same roof, so it is common to see grandmas and grandpas visiting one another and small children running around the alleyways playing.

Offering Alms

Offering alms to a monk

Like in many communities, there are social programs for the residents sponsored by the district government. For instance, for several weekends last year, free cooking and craft classes were offered in the open area by the canal that serves as the community’s forum. Every weekday evening, a free aerobic exercise class is given in this same space. Neighborhood meetings are frequently held here as well with good attendance and most of the residents know one another and watch out for each other. Living in the community is a district representative who visits every home to make sure underweight children are provided with free milk and the elderly and the handicapped are given assistance in applying for the central government’s 500 baht per month welfare program for the disadvantaged.

As in many working class communities, there are cottage businesses operating on the ground floors of many of the rowhouses. Among them is a home that makes coconut ice cream in large canisters for tricycle street vendors. Another home sews striped fiberglass bags like the ones you see selling in most marketplaces around the country. Still another home makes beautiful cloth cosmetic bags for vendor stalls by the shopping mall.

Cooking on the Street

Cooking on the street

But perhaps the most common cottage business is food and there are many cooks along the alleyways of the community offering a range of either pre-made or cook-to-order food. Together with all manner of tricycle, motorcycle and pushcart food vendors who regularly come into the neighborhood, busy home-makers and the elderly need not leave their homes to be well-fed. For more choices, a short walk over a pedestrian bridge by the Sukhumvit Road overpass, or an even quicker and easier 2-baht ferry boat ride across the canal will bring you to a bustling marketplace selling all kinds of fresh produce and meats, as well as a wide assortment of ready-to-eat foods. From there, a short walk across the street takes you to another large open-air food market by the big shopping mall, in which are plenty of eateries on several floors. Busy commuters tired out by Bangkok’s notorious traffic have plenty of choices to pick from on their walk home from the bus stop and need not worry about cooking after a long hard day.

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.

Nahkon Thong Community – Slide Show

Community Meeting
Ice Cream Vendor
Ice Cream Sandwich
Chicken Vendor
Pork Vendor
Community Spirit House
Giving Alms
Making Coconut Ice Cream
Motorcycle Food Vendor
Motorcycle Food Cart
Cooking on the Street
More Prepared Food
Slicing Crispy Pork}
Pork Soup Vendor
Pushcart Vendor
Salad Vendor
Herbal Drink Vendor
Herbal Drink
Drink Stand
Ferry Boat
Samrong Canal
Pedestrian Bridge
Samrong Food Market
Street Vendors
Open-Air Market
Shopping Center Food Fair
Outside Food Stalls

A community meeting sponsored by the district government announces social programs planned for the neighborhood.

My sister waits for her turn to buy coconut ice cream from a tricycle cart parked in front of her townhouse.

The vendor makes a Thai-style ice cream sandwich for my sister.

Wan, a neighbor hired by my sister to help take care of my mother, takes her blood pressure. Wan is also very active in helping handicapped people in the community.

A pushcart fried chicken vendor visits the neighborhood.

This motorcycle vendor is well-known in the neighborhood for his delicious barbecued pork and crispy pork rice.

This is the community's spirit house.

Nan, an elderly neighbor, gives alms to a monk across the alley from the community's spirit house. The woman kneeling in front makes a variety of food (in the large pots) each morning for sale outside her home as alms offering.

A couple of doors down from where residents gather in the morning to give alms to monks, coconut ice cream is being made in large canisters for tricycle cart vendors who will come by to pick them up.

A motorcycle food vendor makes his way into the community, announcing his arrival with the sound of a peculiar horn.

A motorcycle cart sells fresh and pickled fruits and snack foods.

Neighbor Keow, who loves to cook, makes delicious dishes on propane burners outside her home to sell to residents in the community who doesn't have time to cook. She also makes some money on the side by selling transportation services with her pickup truck. We've relied on the convenience of hiring her to take us to the airport on our trip back to the USA, especially with our big pieces of luggage which wouldn't fit in a single cab!

Appetizing home-made food to go varies from day to day from neighborhood street stalls, giving busy residents choices and variety in their diet.

Jeng, who lives across the alley from Keow, is slicing up yummy crispy fried pork belly for me to take on my plane ride home. She cooks just about any standard wok dishes to order.

Dtia and Jae make pork soup noodles from a push cart parked outside their home.

A couple make green papaya salad and grill chicken and fish on a pushcart outside their waterfront townhouse.

Hohm is proud of her made-to-order Isan-style hot-and-sour salads, which sell out every day.

Across the walkway from Hohm's cart, Oy sells a home-made herbal drink of pandan leaves and butterfly pea flower, which she grows herself.

Oy's herbal drink is colored naturally with fresh green pandan bai toey leaves and the deep blue butterfly pea flower (dawk anchan).

Oy's brother sets up the tables along the canal, selling various cold drinks and snacks on a hot summer afternoon.

Petch and other members of his family operate a simple wooden boat "ferry" service to cross the canal to the marketplace for two baht per ride.

This view of the Klong Samrong is seen from the middle of the pedestrian bridge crossing the canal. The community is situated on the right bank where the ferry boat is seen at a distance in the middle of the picture.

The pedestrian bridge straddles the concrete Sukhumvit Road bridge. This picture is taken from the marketplace side.

The huge Samrong municipal fresh food market as seen from the bottom of the pedestrian bridge.

Vendors sell ready-made foods, as well as clothing and household items, to passersby from stalls beneath the Sukhumvit Road overpass

In another large open-air market across the Sukhumvit Road overpass from the municipal market is bustling with shoppers.

Weeklong food fairs are frequently held in the wide open area on the ground floor just inside the main entrance of the Imperial World shopping complex. This is another reason why residents in nearby communities hardly need to cook.

Outside the Imperial World shopping complex are more food stalls under tents along the sidewalk.

Community Meeting thumbnail
Ice Cream Vendor thumbnail
Ice Cream Sandwich thumbnail
Caregiver thumbnail
Chicken Vendor thumbnail
Pork Vendor thumbnail
Community Spirit House thumbnail
Giving Alms thumbnail
Making Coconut Ice Cream thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Vendor thumbnail
Motorcycle Food Cart thumbnail
Cooking on the Street thumbnail
More Prepared Food thumbnail
Slicing Crispy Pork thumbnail
Pork Soup Vendor thumbnail
Pushcart vendor thumbnail
Salad Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink Vendor thumbnail
Herbal Drink thumbnail
Drink Stand thumbnail
Ferry Boat thumbnail
Samrong Canal thumbnail
Pedestrian Bridge thumbnail
Samrong Food Market thumbnail
Street Vendors thumbnail
Open-Air Market thumbnail
Shopping Center Food Fair thumbnail
Outside Food Stalls thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011.

Pork Leg Rice in Hua Hin

Michael Babcock, Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Readers of this blog know of our love of markets and street food. Certain foods are more widely available on the street and one of the dishes that I especially love is Stewed Pork Leg Rice – Kao Kad Moo,. A recent Thai cook book categorized this as a Chinatown food – interestingly, I’ve seen it on streets all over Bangkok and Thailand but never come across it in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Pork Leg

How could we pass this by?

Although we sometimes make this at home, to do it right you need a pork leg with skin on, and a single recipe makes quite a large quantity. The skin is what really makes this dish so delicious: with the skin on, the dish contains lean meat from the leg muscle combined with the rich, fatty, gelatinous skin and fat.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Hua Hin Food Vendor

Pork leg rice vendor in Hua Hin

It’s not hard to make: you essentially stew the pork leg with spices until it’s nearly falling off the bone with tenderness. Add some pickled mustard greens, hard-boiled duck eggs and then serve over rice with a hot and sour sauce and blanched Asian broccoli on the side. Usual cost is about 30 to 40 baht for a fairly substantial plate of succulent, delicious food.

There used to be a pork leg rice vendor right outside our hotel an Sukhumvit Soi 55, where I could easily satisfy my craving. Unfortunately, she now makes blended drinks and I’ve not found another nearby pork leg rice vendor, yet.

Chopping Pork Leg

Vendor chopping pork leg

This past January we were headed down south to do some snorkeling and decided to stay overnight in Hua Hin, a sea coast town on the east coast (Gulf of Thailand) about 200 kilometers from Bangkok. It’s one of the closest resort towns to Bangkok. About 25 kilometers north is Cha Am. Cha Am has always been more of a resort for Thais and Hua Hin is more popular with fahrangs (Thai word for Caucasians). Years ago we had really enjoyed the night market at Hua Hin and, since we didn’t want to miss the morning market (Chatchai Market) either, we decided to stay overnight.

We found a hotel about two blocks from the morning market on Thanon Sasong (Sasong Road). The next morning as we walked to the market, about a half a block from the hotel we spied a street vendor selling pork leg rice from a cart and, both having an immediate Pavlovian response, walked over in wordless agreement. We both love pork leg rice; we love the richness of the dish, the lovely feel of varying textures in the mouth (from the lean meat, the fat and the skin). (Note: It’s anyone’s guess if this vendor is still there, 9 years later (May 2020). With luck the market will still have a pork leg vendor.)

Pork Leg Rice Set-up

All the ingredients

Chopping Pork Leg

Chopping the pork

This is a fairly typical street set-up that you see all over Thailand. He has a cart on wheels so he can move it on and off the streets along with a couple of (flimsy, metal) tables to hold everything else he needs. Heat is provided by a canister of gas. Seating is provided for customers by incredibly flimsy plastic stools and metal tables. Everything can be packed up and carted away in short order.

The dish was every bit as delicious as we expected. The pork was rich and tender while the pickled mustard green added a slightly sour counterpart. It was also served with a light broth with melon in it – good for clearing the taste buds after the rich pork.

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice with duck egg

If you are in Hua Hin and want to try to find this vendor, here’s how to do it. As you are heading South on Highway 4 (Thanon Phetkasem), you’ll drive past Chat Chai Market (the morning market) on your right. The southernmost boundary of the market is Thanon Dechanuchit (Dechanuchit Street) – turn right there. Go down one block to Thanon Sasong (Sasong Road) – turn left there. Almost immediately on your left is a 7-11 store: the food stand was directly next to the 7-11 store. Be warned, though, street food vendors do come and go.

For information on Hua Hin, check out Thailand Hua Hin dot com (offsite, opens in a new window). It comes complete with maps and photos of many attractions.

Vendor and Customer

Getting Pork Leg Rice to go

This vendor does a pretty good business of selling the item to go, as well. Here we see a Thai schoolgirl picking up her lunch in a convenient plastic bag. (See our post on Thai Food To Go.)

There are restaurants that serve pork leg as one of their dishes. It’s usually served as one of many dishes, without the pickled mustard. Here’s a picture of Stewed Pork Leg served in a restaurant in Northern Thailand. We’ve also come across deep-fried pork leg, a particularly tasty treat.

Written by Michael Babcock, March 2011

Thong Lo Grilled Pork

Michael Babcock, Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Thong Lo View

View of Thong Lo from Sukhumvit road

We love the street food in Thailand and Thong Lo has its share of delicious things to eat, including grilled pork. Since Kasma had her small-group tours stay in the Thong Lo area, I’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the years. Thong Lo (pronounced closer to “Tawng Law”) is the name for Sukhumvit Soi 55. Thong Lo is generally considered an upscale neighborhood; nonetheless, as nearly everywhere else in Thailand, there is ready availability of all kinds of delicious street food. In addition, there are numerous store-front restaurants that are well worth a taste! Note: Even in February 2020 there are still street vendors there, though not as many as when this was written in 2011.)

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Street Vendor

Getting closer to grilled pork

I like to graze along the street. Some of my favorites are the grilled bananas, the sticky rice with mangos, pork leg rice and Northeastern-style charcoal-grilled sticky rice (Kao Jee).

There’s one vendor who I have extreme difficulty just walking by, without stopping to make a purchase. It’s found on Thong Lo just a little ways in from Sukhumvit Road on the lower-numbered soi side, just a little bit further in than the shop with Mangos (and Sticky Rice); a bit further down what used to be my favorite place for Duck Noodles.

I think most Westerners thinking of grilled meat on sticks in Thailand would immediately think of satay. This vendor sells another kind of grilled pork called (Moo Bping), translated by Kasma as Grilled Marinated Pork on Skewers.

Grilled Pork Vendor

Grilled pork vendor

Grilled Pork

Delicious grilled pork

Moo Bping has wider slices of pork than satay and a different marinade. A good Moo Bping includes a small slice of pork fat, grilled in with the other slices of meat. Rather than being served with a peanut sauce (as with satay), it comes with a hot and sour dipping sauce. Actually, I don’t mind eating it without the sauce: at least at this street stall, the meat is quite succulent and already well-flavored from the marinade.

Unless memory fails, it is 10 baht for a fairly substantial stick. Try a couple!

Update: As of February 2020 this vendor was still to be found in somewhat the same location, though not every day. Also the price increased.

The following articles are also about Thong Lo street food.

Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011 & May 2020

Thai Street Food

Kasma Loha-unchit, Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Thai street food is definitely one of the highlights of a trip to Thailand.

Grilling Fish

Grilling fish at Nong Khai market

Every winter for the past sixteen years, I have been taking small groups of Americans traveling around my homeland. [Note: Kasma retired from doing these trips in 2020.] A tour guide I am not, but a friend in food I am, and we literally feast our way around the country. There are only so many times one can visit historical parks, museums and temples before losing interest, but I never tire of taking people on market walks and introducing them to the exceptional delicacies that are only available from street and market stalls.

Chive Dumplings

Chive Dumplings at Don Wai Market

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

On one trip comprised mainly of foodies, every time we made a stop, whether to visit an art gallery or a temple, a number of people in the group quickly disappeared as soon as they got out of the van. I know where to round them up, as they would invariably be found among street stalls, either watching food being cooked or sampling food. You’d think that I don’t feed them enough, but that’s in addition to the three big meals and countless snacks I provide every day. Some of them weren’t even very discrete, causing me worries of them getting sick. But courage they had and plenty of trust in the local herbal pills to overcome stomach problems.

Prepared Food To Go

Prepared street food

Because of the Thai penchant to please, many western tourists miss out on the finest of the country’s cuisine when they limit their food intake to restaurants. Establishments frequented by tourists automatically water down the Thai dishes served to fair-skinned Caucasians. Enough of them through the years have demonstrated that they cannot take the full range of exciting flavors Thais enjoy. Many restaurants translate only those dishes on their menus that they think foreigners like – those sweet, rich foods with little spice.

Roast Duck

Roast duck in Chinatown market

Without a good command of the language to communicate your desires, you can assure yourself of getting real Thai food by dining off the streets, where you are, more frequently than not, treated like everyone else. In the huge metropolis of Bangkok where traffic is horrendous, most working Thais have little time to cook. They purchase ready-made food from sidewalk vendors on their way to work and on their way home from work. Many of these sidewalk operations offer a wide selection of curries, soups, salads and desserts in huge pots and trays. From them, you may be able to get some fine, home-cooked food untempered for tourists.

Street Food Sweets

Street food sweets at Chatuchak

Note from Michael: Although many westerners claim the best food in Thailand is street food and although you can get fantastic food on the street, Kasma does maintain that the very best Thai food is to be had in excellent restaurants, if you know how to order. Two of our particular favorites are Reun Mai (in Krabi) and My Choice (in Bangkok). However, as Kasma mentions, there are some foods  found almost exclusively at street food (such as the chive dumplings in the second picture, above).

As of these days (February 2020) there is somewhat less street food in Bangkok, though it can still be found in some areas.

We have many more posts on street food:

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2010 & 2020.

Ice Cream, Thai-Style

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Ice cream in Thailand? Readers of this blog know our love of street food. I’d like to talk a bit today about one of my favorites – coconut ice cream.

Thai Ice Cream Vendor

Thai ice cream vendor

We do get excellent coconut ice cream in several restaurants: My Choice in Bangkok has a particularly good one.  A. Mallika (see Favorite Bangkok Restaurants about mid-page) has a good one as well, served in a young coconut, if you desire.

Aside from restaurants, though, you quite often see street vendors with ice cream carts, and there’s some very delicious ice cream to be found here.

Serving Out Ice Cream

Vendor serving ice cream

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Typically what they serve is coconut ice cream, though occasionally you’ll find other flavors, such as mango. On rare occasions you’ll find a commercial product but more typically the carts are selling home-made coconut ice cream, probably made by the vendor himself (or herself). I’ve seen these carts nearly everywhere – on busy Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok right at Soi 55 (Thong Lo), in national park areas, in sleepy country villages and on the street next to major markets (such as a particularly tasty and memorable coconut ice cream vendor outside of Worarat market in Chiang Mai) or in the market itself (as at Don Wai market, in Nakhan Pathom). The cost is usually 10 baht for a cup of ice cream, so about 35 cents U.S.

Ice Cream Accompaniments

Further close up

Usually the ice cream tastes dairy free to me, so made completely with coconut milk. The texture is usually not the same as a milk/cream-based ice cream and not quite that of a sorbet – it’s a refreshing cross between the two. Sometimes what is sold as plain coconut ice cream will have little bits of fruit or coconut in it.

Cup of Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut ice cream in a cup

There does arise the question: “Is it safe to eat this ice cream.” My rule of thumb is to make sure that the cart and the vendor look clean. By all means, if you are nervous about eating street food, be careful. Personally, I’ve tried these ice creams all over Thailand and never suffered any un-desirable effects.

All of these pictures were taken from a single vendor who happened to walk past the door of my sister-in-law’s townhouse in Samut Prakan in February of this year (2010). It’s a quite typical operation. One option is ice cream in a cup, as seen in one picture. Another, not always available, is in a cone. The third option is an ice-cream sandwich, Thai-style. This, in fact, is a real sandwich, with the ice cream being placed directly on a puffy, white bun or roll. In both instances you have the option of getting the ice cream plain (as in these pictures) or with toppings. The toppings include: sticky rice, candy sprinkles, palm kernel fruit and peanuts. Hopefully in a future Wednesday Photo I can post a picture of the Thai ice-cream sandwich in all it’s glory rather than the plain version shown here.

Thai Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice cream sandwich, Thai-style

After I finished writing this post, Kasma made a trip to Thailand to visit her mom (in June 2010); here are some pictures she took of the same vendor.

Ice Cream Vendor

Ice cream vendor

Ice Cream Vendor

Serving ice cream

Thai Ice Cream Sandwich

Thai ice cream sandwich

Thai Ice Cream

Ice cream with mung beans

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2010

Thai Fast Food (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Pre-made Food at Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok

Pre-made Thai Food

Pre-made food at Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok

Kasma sent this picture to me when she was at Or Tor Kor (pronounced Aw Taw Kaw) market in Bangkok enjoying herself and I was back in California taking care of things here. I am such a sucker for pictures of street food / market food. I loved the picture: just seeing it brought up the feel of a Thai market, with the delicious looking pre-made food amongst interesting stalls, the smiling vendors and the jostling crowds. It would be very hard to just walk past this delicious looking crab. Yum!

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Previous blogs on Aw Taw Kaw: