The relatively famous Khao Gaeng Jake Puey curry and rice stall has been on my list of Bangkok food destinations to visit for some time. I first spotted the stall, located in the capital’s Chinatown district of Yaowarat, captured in an image at the Unposed Bangkok street photography exhibition held in late 2013 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. The shot, part of the collection curated by Manit Sriwanichpoom, was good enough for me to want a copy to hang at home – only the 9,000 baht (£180/$280) price tag put me off. At that time I paid little attention to the row of people eating, sat on pink plastic stools in a row facing the camera and with the front end of a tuk-tuk in the foreground. But I was at once attracted to the quirky backdrop of old, decaying posters pasted on the closed shutters of an old-style double-fronted Bangkok shopfront, attractive but nonetheless well past its prime.
The real novelty here, rather than the food itself, is in the fun and rather vintage backdrop and in the fact that there are no tables – just two rows of red plastic stools positioned barely on the pavement and pretty much in the faces of drivers in the passing traffic – expect a noticeable amount of pollution to accompany your meal, too. To be fair, though, when I visited things were just getting going and there were plenty of vacant seats, meaning some of those stools doubled up as mini tables on which condiment holders were sat to house the usual fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and chillies.
I came with high expectations – Mark Wiens has waxed lyrical about it – and in all honesty was just a little disappointed. Sure, the food is nice enough, but it was nothing that was going to blow me away. That said, my pork penang curry was pleasant, and unusual in that it contained both krachai wild ginger and pea aubergines – not the usual suspects for this type of curry (pea aubergines are a common component of a green curry, and I’ve used krachai in a homemade gaeng pla duk red curry with catfish). But the combination worked well here and the aubergines in particular added extra bite – that is, without being undercooked and bitter, which they so often are. Here they were done perfectly.
The chicken green curry we tried was also well made, relatively southern-style in taste and nicely packed out with lots of squash and generous chunks of pork blood jelly. But again it wasn’t stand-out – I like my green curries to be heavy on the horapa sweet basil that give them a strong kick of aniseed, and this one was a tad weak in that department. More fun was watching two wellington boot clad ladies cart an enormous fresh vat of the green curry down the street a few moments after we had ordered – their kitchen seems to be at the the opposite end of the soi.
The best part of either of the dishes was the gun chieng glazed Chinese sausage, slices of which were scattered on top of my penang – it’s an added extra and one you’re offered when ordering. These were fantastic – sweet and sticky, slightly fatty and just chewy enough. In fact they totally made the dish and I could have done with a double helping.
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The stall serves kanom jeen rice noodles as well as the more commonplace steamed rice, and one lady even had a bizarre combination of the two in her bowl, with curry slathered over the top. Prices are lower than reported elsewhere, and pretty much along the lines of other khao gaeng stalls – expect a bill of around 30 baht for a single curry over rice or noodles, plus an extra 5 baht for the gun chieng. Sticky sekong moo ob pork ribs are also on offer as another garnish to whack on top. Given the lack of tables, cups of iced water are brought around on a small crate after you’ve begun eating – based on our bill (67 baht for two people) the ice and water seem to come in at 1 baht. The stall also does a busy trade in take-away bags of curry to eat at home.
Khao Gaeng Jake Puey is certainly worth a visit, but come as much for the photo opportunities as you do for the food. It sits at the top of a very photogenic soi, full of character and rarely quiet – other vendors go about their business and the bumper-to-bumper traffic comes and goes pretty much constantly. The food is more than decent, but it’s not wildly memorable – except that gun chieng, perhaps. Think of it as just another neighbourhood khao gaeng stall – albeit a clearly popular one – and you are unlikely to be disappointed.
The stall sits on the corner of Thanon Mangkon, on the left-hand side as you face it from the junction with Thanon Charoenkrung which cuts Thanon Mangkon in half (on on the side of Thanon Charoenkrung opposite the entrance to Wat Kanmatuyaram temple). It’s just along from Charoenkrung Soi 21, in the direction of Thanon Mahachai (Thanon Mangkon is essentially Charoenkrung Soi 23).
To get there from Hualumphong MRT station, take exit 1 and cross the Krung Kasem canal to join Thanon Charoenkrung. Keep walking until you pass soi 21, and you’ll find Thanon Mangkon the next soi that crosses both sides of Thanon Charoenkrung; Khao Gaeng Jake Puey is to the right, and on the left-hand side as you enter the soi. It’s around a 15-20 minute walk.
Wat Mangkon MRT station is in the construction phase as part of the development of a new line, and will make getting to Khao Gaeng Jake Puey significantly easier – and probably therefore even more popular.