Among less common Thai dishes is kanom jeen sao nam, a summery concoction of rice noodles with dried prawns, julienned pineapple and whole pieces of chopped ginger, all swimming in a puddle of refreshing coconut milk. Traditionally served in the hot ‘summer’ season that is just about coming to an end in Thailand, they are available all year round at Somsong Pochana, a hive of noodle frenetics hidden down a quiet back street in Bangkok’s old town.
Variously made with the addition of ingredients like chopped pineapple and a boiled egg, the combination can strike many as slightly strange – but in reality it works. Unlike other kanom jeen dishes that are made up of rice noodles ladled with curries consisting of cooked coconut milk, here the coconut milk is served at room temperature, if not even slightly cooler, and the milk itself is the shining star of the dish. Its creaminess contrasts perfectly with the sharp hit of the ginger, and the whole plate is a refreshing palate pleaser that is truly reminiscent of the flavours of summer.
At Somsong Pochana, a small shophouse where various family member dart back and forth feeding the steady flow of loyal customers from the surrounding neighbourhood, a range of other dishes are also on the menu. Various rice-and-curry dishes alternate daily (including a famed dish of catfish stir-fried in red curry paste) but, along with the kanom jeen sao nam, the other star is the guay deow Sukhothai noodles, hailing from Thailand’s ancient capital city.
Just as with other Thai noodles, guay deow Sukhothai are available either dry or in broth; either way, these come loaded with beansprouts, pork, peanuts and an additional piece of deep-fried crispy pork, almost crackling-like. Though lacking the wedge of lime Sukhothai noodles are often served with, these come ready seasoned. Of course you can still use the caddy of condiments on the table to tailor the flavour to your own tastes, but we found these perfectly seasoned – if a little on the spicy side, such that you might want to ask the cook to go easy on the chilli if you’re that way inclined.
Things don’t stop with the noodles here, though. The two signature desserts are worth the visit alone – don’t miss the sticky rice and durian, drowned in rich coconut milk. In fact, a fondness of coconut milk seems to run through these parts; the other popular dessert, khao fah, is made up of white rice soaked in pandan-infused coconut milk. It’s best eaten, as advised by the granny waiting tables and then reaffirmed by friends we visited a couple of streets away, by simply swallowing – no stirring or chewing called for, given its inherent silkiness.
The setting at Somsong Pochana may be modest – there is limited seating inside the somewhat darkened dining room, and only a few more tables on the street outside – but this is a spot that has earned the right to be proud of the dishes it turns out. Eating here, you rightly get the feeling that these people know exactly what they are doing, and that they have been doing it in this same way for many years now. The clientele certainly seems to approve – this is morning food, and it’s popular enough for everything to sell out by lunchtime on a regular basis.
To find Somsong Pochana, from Phra Athit Road take the small bridge over the Khlong Banglamphu canal and along Lamphu Road, just before Phra Sumen fort (when approaching from Phra Sumen Road, and its junction with Chakrabongse Road). Once over the bridge, take the first left into Soi Wat Sangwech alley and you’ll find the restaurant a short way in on the right-hand side. Once you’re done here, you can follow the round around and you’ll emerge on Samsen Soi 1, which is the other end (and the alternate name) of Thanon Lamphu.
Soi Wat Sangwech, Phra Athit Road (Phra Athit express boat pier); 02 282 0972