Use your noodle

A trip to Bangkok’s Dusit district is a must for anyone who loves their ‘kui tio’

Here is a phenomenon unique in a way that only noodle connoisseurs will appreciate — a place where kui tio restaurants of many different kinds exist in the same area. Each has its own distinctive character. All were established many years ago. Each can boast kitchen skills that will be vouched for by anyone who can recognise a good bowl of noodles. And all maintain standards at an unchanging high level.

dusit delights: All of these different noodle dishes are available in the Si Yan neighbourhood.

The area that I am referring to is around Nakhon Chaisi Road, roughly from Rachawat Road to Samsen Road. The neighbourhood around one end of it, at Samsen Road, is known as Si Yan. In all it is about 2km long, and within that distance there are two intersections where other roads cross Nakhon Chaisi. The first of them, coming from the Rachawat Bridge end, is called the Si Yaek Phichai, the second, Si Yaek Ruam Jit.

If you go to this area to explore the noodle options and head in from the Rachawat Bridge end, the first restaurant you’ll reach, coming about 100m from the bridge and on the left, is an old beef noodle place. It has been in business for about 30 years, and from its early days has been a favourite with students from nearby Vajiravudh School. In earlier days they would sneak through the fence to get there. Then they called it Kui Tio Na Khao, or “White Face Noodles” because the Chinese man who owned it and prepared the noodles had a paler face than most Chinese.

Soldiers who worked nearby also liked to eat there, especially at noon, and after a time the restaurant came to be known as “Big Su Noodles”, after army commander Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon, although I don’t know whether or not the commander and former prime minister was among the soldiers who showed up for their lunchtime noodles.

When you continue on and reach Phichai intersection, turn right onto Phichai Road and continue along it for about 200m until you see a 7-Eleven on the right. You can turn in there, and behind the 7-Eleven is a car park where you will find a restaurant called Dara Dalay, It’s a simple place, open and spacious, owned by a Northerner who sells very good khao soi (wheat noodles with meat and condiments in a curried coconut cream sauce) and kanom jeen nam ngiew (spaghetti-like noodles made from fermented rice with a sauce that includes the red flowers called dawk ngiew, among other ingredients).

In addition to the khao soi there is a good selection of other Northern dishes including nam prik ong (a dipping sauce made from tomatoes, minced meat and seasoning), nam prik noom (a spicier dipping sauce made from grilled chillies, fermented fish and other ingredients), kaeng ho (a dry curry) and larb khua (a seasoned minced meat dish). It has only been open for two years, but is already quite well known. Closed on Sundays.

Return to Nakhon Chaisi Road and continue along it to the Ruam Jit intersection and then onto Ruam Jit Road. At the end of the row of shophouses on the left is a small alley at the entrance to which is an old restaurant, open for more than 50 years, that sells the noodle dish called yen ta fo. Originally it did business in a wooden shophouse on Nakhon Chaisi Road, although nowadays that location is taken by a post office.

The yen ta fo sold there is very good. The ingredients that go into it, in addition to the usual balls of pounded fish meat, squid and congealed pork blood, also include luk rawk — an omelette stuffed with steamed pork and then sliced. Customers like to order the luk rawk served separately on a plate to eat with Sriracha sauce. This yen ta fo restaurant is closed on Mondays.

From here, walk along Ruam Jit Road for about 100m and you will see a restaurant selling kui tio pet (duck noodles) facing the pavement on the right hand side. It is called Kai Kaew, and the duck noodles served there are good and tasty. Many customers ask for sliced duck meat served separately on a plate.

Kai Kaew gets crowded at lunchtime, but the service is quick. Customers have to write their orders on pieces of paper that are given to the cook. Most of the serving staff come from Myanmar, so there can be communication problems if orders are spoken. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Now go back to Nakhon Chaisi Road and walk ahead for about 50m. On the right you will see another very good pork noodle place. It is at least as old as the yen ta fo restaurant, and like that restaurant, adds luk rawk to the noodles. It is easy to spot, as it is right in front of the Krung Thai Bank. It is closed on Wednesdays.

From here we move on to the crowded, bustling part of Si Yan. On the right side of the street is Kui Tio Luk Chin Nuea Nam Sai Si Yan (Si Yan noodles with beef meatballs in clear broth), an older restaurant that has been in business for at least 40 years. Noodles with beef meatballs in clear broth is a dish that is extremely hard to find these days in Bangkok. There used to be a restaurant on Itsaraphap Road near Yaowarat that sold it, but now they have switched to pork meatballs.

As for the Si Yan Beef Meatballs restaurant, they have never considered changing to pork. There is a sign posted out front that clearly states that only beef meatballs are sold there. The broth and beef meatballs are delicious and are at their best when eaten with the very fine-gauge rice noodles called sen mee. The restaurant is open daily, but closes for extended periods during major holidays and festivals.

On the right side of the road, when you have almost reached the Si Yan Intersection, is Nakhon Chaisi market. It no longer sells fresh produce, meat and fish, but still functions as a market, with many stalls selling food.

At the Samsen Road entrance is a restaurant that sells Muslim food. The kui tio kaeng (also called kui tio khaek) is delicious. Also on the menu are khao moke gai (chicken biryani), tom nuea (beef soup) and the salad called salat khaek, as well as delicious beef satay. Closed weekends.

Leaving Nakhon Chaisi Road again you will see the Sote Si Yan (Si Yan fresh market) on the left. This market does still sell fresh produce. Walk through it then out through the back and along the row of shophouses you will see on the left. Among them is a restaurant called Mui Ah that sells kanom jeen Hailam (a Hainanese style noodle dish). Whether ordered with broth or “dry”, the version of the dish that they offer is the best to be had in Bangkok.

Authentic, original-recipe kanom jeen Hailam has to be made with beef. These days there is a pork version, too, although the flavour can’t compare with that of the one made from beef. Mui Ah is a kind of hidden gem that you could easily walk past without noticing. If you are not on the lookout for it, you can easily miss it, but anyone interested in kui tio Hailam, a delicious and very special noodle dish, should not miss it. Mui Ah is closed on Wednesdays.

If you continue walking you will emerge at the Top (formerly Edison) department store. In its car park is a bamee moo daeng (wheat noodle with Chinese red pork) restaurant called Ba-mee Hua To. It is a Cantonese-style place where the noodles are cooked by alternating hot water and cold water rinses to give them the proper texture. The noodles, pork and kio (stuffed, deep-fried dumplings) served there are excellent, but one of the things that makes them so good is the addition krathiem jio (garlic fried in oil) in which the garlic has been fried until it turns golden brown. This ingredient is an important part of really good bamee moo daeng. Besides the noodles, the restaurant also offers fresh or fried spring rolls. Ba-mee Hue To is usually open every day, but tends to close unpredictably for periods of two or three days.

So, one neighbourhood and a whole range of noodle dishes that won’t disappoint those who know what to look for in a good bowlful. There is one problem, though. None of these restaurants has a parking area, and Si Yan is a part of town where all available parking spaces are usually full. But taking a taxi or a bus should be no problem for anyone who appreciates great noodles, considering the pay-off. n

About the author

Writer: Suthon Sukphisit
Position: Writer