There are tons of roadside food vendors in this city which explains why Bangkokians can eat around the clock (ruining any chance of diets). So it should be considered nothing less than a feat if one shop can stand out amidst the sea of street eateries. Well, you're in luck, because we've found four vendors that have managed to cook up ways to get noticed and attract the crowd. Here's what they have to say about their unique businesses.
MOVES LIKE AD
MOVES LIKE AD
Food vendors appear along Charoen Rat Road on the Thon Buri side of Bangkok at night. Here's where 44-year-old Ekkarin "Ek" Sae-guay rocks a noodle pushcart called Guay Tiew Heavy. Besides delivering stewed pork with noodles, he also serves his customers some high-spirited performances as he mixes rocker moves to the tunes of Carabao.
Why? Because Ek bears a striking resemblance to Carabao's frontman, Yuenyong "Ad" Opakul.
This likeness has resulted in Ek's shop being affectionately nicknamed Guay Tiew Carabao. The supporting members of his "band" are two helpers and his father.
Ek knows how to put on a show as he strums his noodle strainer like a guitar and puts his foot on a wheel as if it were a speaker. He also sends out love to his customers with hand signs and talks to the crowd like a band's frontman would: "Everyone, give me a smile," "Sorry to keep you waiting" and "Thanks for coming." He also hugs some of his customers, especially the aunties.
Now a star vendor, Ek says, "I've always been a fan of Ad Carabao and wanted to become a musician. I bought a guitar and practiced it." At the request of his father, however, he reluctantly agreed to carry on pushing the noodle cart.
"I'm the youngest son and, by that time, my older siblings already moved out and no one wanted to carry on this family business. I was embarrassed to work at the pushcart at first because it isn't exactly a cool job or my dream," he admits.
It was 1988 when Ek first donned hippie/rocker attire and headed the pushcart: "One night a car with killer speakers was passing by with Carabao songs blaring out of it. Something in me clicked and the next day I bought a stereo and tried to copy Ad's look and onstage mannerisms. I decided to perform my own kind of concert."
Ek found a way to mix his reality and his dream. "If I'm going to do this job, I will do it my way," he says.
"Business dipped a little because people preferred their cook to wear an apron and look clean. Pa actually said, 'Who would want to buy food from someone who dresses like you? Stop this nonsense!' But I kept it up."
It paid off when he appeared on Channel 7's evening news. The real Ad Carabao contacted the channel for his information and later visited his shop. "His visit was the real turning point. After that, my shop became more well-known and other celebrities have eaten here too."
Besides his very own concert, he also takes his cooking seriously. "We use good ingredients and spend hours preparing the stewed pork. We don't use MSG."
When asked what he thinks wins him fans, he says, "If you think of customers as your relatives it is easier for you to serve them and it will come across as sincere."
V8-11pm. Guay Tiew Heavy, Near Charoen Rat Soi 1, Charoen Rat Road, Thon Buri.
C081-734-2974 (after 6pm).
PFrom B35 per bowl.
NO TABLE NO PROBLEM
NO TABLE NO PROBLEM
Khao Gaeng Jek Pui proves you don't need a single table to run a 70-year-old eatery when your food is that good. It stands on a narrow stretch of footpath on Mungkorn Road in Yaowarat. Along the wall of a shophouse, which the shop is next to, there are numerous red plastic chairs and very few of them are empty. What's missing are the tables.
Thammarat "Rut" Thananchaikul, 38, says his family business was founded by his grandfather who migrated from China. "We began as a hawker with only two curries on offer in each basket. The customers sat on small wooden stools that he also carried in the baskets."
Now those two baskets have grown into a stainless stall with 10 dishes to go with rice and it draws a constant flow of customers. On good days for the shop, customers have to wait for a free chair.
When he was tasked to take charge of the shop, Rut didn't think about adding tables. He explains, "First, we have very limited space already. I feel having tables may slow down our service as well as turnover of customers. Strangely enough, no one has complained about the absence of tables. They can just hold the plate in one hand and spoon with the other. Or simply place a cup or seasoning rack on another chair. People also remember us for the absence of tables. Some nickname us 'musical chairs khao gaeng' so why change that?"
It doesn't mean there's no customer service, though. People can buy dishes that are already in plastic bags ready to take home. They can also call in advance and swing by to pick up their orders later.
"I think what has kept us in business for this long is our good and cheap food and fast service. It's as simple as that. Sure the gimmick makes people remember us and draws people who are curious but ultimately that's not the most important element of success," he adds.
V3-9pm. Khao Gaeng Jek Pui, Mungkorn Road, Charoen Krung, Near Wat Leng Nei Yi.
PFrom B30 per dish.
Aey Uttasara, 35, serves old-fashioned coffee, using cloth strainers, in a new way. He wears an apron and pants but vows never to put on a shirt (just for you, ladies). His body sports some tattoos, one of which is the logo of his shop on his back and it reads "Aey Kopee".
If these strange attributes aren't enough, his eclectic-looking stall is adorned with old artefacts and Aey amazes his customers by doing small stunts such as spinning around his stainless dipper (with hot water in it), spinning bottles on his hand, and tossing cups high up in the air and catching them with one hand like a drum mayor. Many customers can't seem to resist capturing his moves with a camera.
You may think he charges extra for putting on the show but he actually has a single price - B25 - for all of his drinks. In his strange approach, he has made a name for himself and received some media attention but it wasn't planned in the beginning.
Aey says, "My mother ran a coffee pushcart from our house but she did it as a hobby more than a serious source of income. I inherited it along with her drink recipes. Back then my dream was to do anything to earn enough money to buy a Harley Davidson."
Unbeknown to him, his first dream led to a second. "I naturally like to play with and tease people so I started developing my own moves. My no-shirt policy came because I personally don't like to wear any. I want the customers to know me as myself. Screw formalities. I'm not that kind of guy.
"My shop is not perfect but I'm really happy when people see my moves and they stop to look. It's fun to make people smile or make a face that makes them think, 'What the heck is this guy doing?'"
Being a minor celeb himself, Aey is also occasionally hired to make appearances and sell his drinks at events.
"My motto in life is to have fun with what you do and you will do it well. I'm planning to create a coffee-on-a-motorbike shop and touring the country on it, combining what I love and the job that I love. Can you imagine how crazy that would be?"
VFri-Sun 6pm-midnight. Aey Kopee, Warehouse 3, Talat Rod Fai, Kamphaengphet Road, Chatuchak.
PB25 per cup.
STREET CART CHARISMA
STREET CART CHARISMA
The 42-year-old Sam (pronounced the same way as "three" in Thai) turns people's heads at Chalerm Buri intersection of Bangkok's Chinatown. He does so simply not because he sells the usual spicy Thai salad but because he's French. He tells us his story in a mixture of Thai, Isan dialect, French and English.
Sam is no stranger to Thailand. Before settling here with his Thai wife, he had visited Thailand to buy clothes and resell them at a market in a small French town. After falling in love with Maem and working together on her family's farm in Khon Kaen, they moved to Yaowarat.
The beginning of their stall is accidental. Another vendor who used to sell spicy salads or yam gave up her spot and Maem took her place. The business was doing so-so, until they decided to put a farang face on it. Sam suggested he should make salads to sell.
The resulting gimmick is obviously the unexpected factor: How does a yam prepared by farang taste?
But that's not all Sam offers. While preparing the orders, he also serves customers Thai-style hospitality despite his limited knowledge of Thai language. He wais customers, makes small talk, offers high-fives and asks them to taste their yam to make sure it's spicy to their liking. One Singaporean customer gave his spicy salad a thumbs up while his Thai regulars also showed up.
We all know that Thais are easily impressed when others subscribe to our culture, so if you're curious about what farang-made yam tastes like, buy a bowl of glass noodle salad from him. You won't be disappointed.
VFrom 4pm. Chalerm Buri Intersection, Yaowarat Road.
PB40 per bowl.
About the author
- Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter