Tucked away in the sois that lie between Srinakarin and Sukhumvit roads is a bustling community with a fabulous market of fresh produce and ready-prepared foods. Both the convivial atmosphere and the selection of inexpensive foods – it’s the only non-supermarket place I’ve found near home where I can buy beef, for example – make it a pleasure to shop here. There is a notable Muslim presence, and one of the plus points of that is some delicious southern Thai food.
One such place is this nameless spot run by Deen, the southern Thai owner from Nakhon Si Thammarat province. The inconspicuous little setup at the front of Deen’s modest home serves up awesome chicken and beef mataba. He makes them just the way he likes them – the same way he says he cooks them for his own dinner, in fact, to a traditional recipe from his hometown. “Not greasy like they normally are here in Bangkok”, he adds with the voice of someone who’s passionate about what he does. So passionate, and so apparently unconcerned with the speed in which he gets the food out (one chicken mataba took a good fifteen minutes for him to perfect, between phone calls in both Thai and English to a friend who sounded hopelessly lost on his way to visit), that you get the distinct impression this might not be something he’s actually reliant on for money but more of a hobby.
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Whatever the truth, his mataba are the business. Known in Malaysia and elsewhere as murtabak, these are stuffed pancake-like fried bread filled with minced meat, garlic, egg and onion. The name apparently comes from the Arabic word for ‘folded’. Google ‘mataba’ and you’re swarmed with results pointing to Roti Mataba, another southern restaurant on Bangkok’s Phra Athit Road with its own long history and cult following. I eat there for their divine massuman curry rather than anything else, though their mataba are pretty good too – but I’m going to stick my neck out and say they’re not a patch on these gems in Srinakarin.
Apart from the lack of grease that this mataba master is so proud of, they are over twice the size of those at Roti Mataba and loaded with small, bite-sized vegetables that seem to be often lacking elsewhere. Though lacking the dipping sauce that they normally come with, these mataba go down very nicely with the same cucumber and onion vinegar salad that accompanies satay.
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You have very limited choice here – it really does seem to boil down to chicken or beef mataba – but sometimes that can be a good thing. Washed down with a strong iced tea, or a more traditional hot tea that’s not as sickly sweet as the usual brew on the street, you’ll probably find your next choice – whether or not to have a second mataba – a whole lot easier to make than the first. Expect to pay around 140 baht for two mataba and two teas.
The mataba stall is just before Soi Supaphong 1, which runs off the tail-end of Sukhumvit Soi 101/1. You can walk for about 20 minutes down Srinakarin Road Soi 42, just opposite and to the left of Seacon Square shopping centre as you’re facing away from it – keep walking straight all the way to the top of the soi, then turn right and after about 30 seconds you’ll find the mataba stall on the left-hand side of the road. Alternatively, from Punnawithi or Udomsuk BTS stations take a taxi or motorbike taxi via Sukhumvit Road Soi 101/1 to Soi Supaphong 1.