15 March 2011

Comfort Food

I was asked to write about Thai Dara – this little restaurant on Granada Street serving “Bangkok street food” – by its friendly proprietor, whose name, which I won’t tell you, is the same as that of a popular (and fictional) English spy, except it’s one letter short and ends with the letter “n” instead of “d”.

“Sure, why not,” was my equally friendly reply. “If an assignment for a food magazine comes up, we’ll certainly write about Thai Dara. But right now my editor is only covering sports and tech and corporate stuff.”

If you live in Manila, the place isn’t at all hard to find. If you don’t live in Manila, you might have to ask for directions from someone who does. Or you might need a map, and a friend who can point out the names of the streets on that map. Thai Dara is that sort of place: unassuming, unheralded, unpretentious (waiters wear shirts, shorts, and slippers), hardly advertised or publicized, perfectly content to place itself right next to an online gaming café, a bargain furniture shop, and a Chinese diner. There’s not much going on inside, which is to say it’s cozy enough: customers come in, waiters take the order, food is served, and videos of Thai musicians in concert are played on a flat-screen TV that hangs on the corner of a wall near the bar. On another wall is plastered a collage of pictures – of male models, city lights, and landmarks – torn from glossy Bangkok magazines.

I only ever order the hot basil chicken and yellow curry rice. Sometimes, the Thai green curry chicken, which is barraged with eggplants. That and some beers or, on a good night, mojitos, which are fatally yummy. I have also sampled the pork satay, of which not even a proper amateur’s assessment is possible, given my fundamental aversion to peanut butter. But servings are huge, and with two to three hundred pesos you’re likely to have on your table more than you can handle. If you have leftovers, have them wrapped in a bag and give them to the little boy in a white sando who waits outside and works for his dinner by flagging down taxis. If you have a car, let the kid assist you in maneuvering your vehicle out of parking, although if you live in Manila and have been driving in the city for years, assistance may not be necessary.

I have not been contacted by a food magazine, and I doubt if that will happen anytime soon. It doesn’t mean I don’t have anything worth writing about, because I do.

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