I was at the back of the bunch, so I couldn’t see where we were going. Our party of 20 or more had disembarked from the hotel in search of dinner. We were a worldly group — Canadians, Americans, South Africans and Ecuadorians — gathered in Bangkok from the far reaches of the world to celebrate the nuptials of our wanderlusting friends Mike and Chelsea.
The road from our hotel wasn’t particularly impressive. Frankly, it was the same as any other soi off the Sukhumvit Road. Mid-range hotels and bars abutting shanty-like buildings with a minimum of three bustling 7-Elevens and countless ATMs make up the bustling streets branching off the longest road in Thailand. With the cacophony of Western influence intermingling with the street vendors frying meat at curb level, I barely noticed the constructions site we stopped at.
Two food carts were stationed on the sidewalk, pumping out food to five tables of people eating inside the entrance to the active construction site. We were looking for a good meal, which honestly isn’t too hard to find in Bangkok — known as the street food capital of the world, mind-blowing cuisine can literally be found in the gutter — but I thought to myself: “Here? This is where were going to eat a good meal?”
The cooks/owners didn’t break a sweat (any more sweat, at least) upon the request our table of 20 eat dinner at the epitome of pop-ups. Foldable tables appeared from thin air and just like that, cold Singha beers with koozies materialized and our restaurant was set up for the night. Half-broken plastic chairs teetered on uneven pavement (in this case, on a 45 degree angle) and faded plastic bowls and bent metal spoons served as our dinnerware, accompanied by toilet paper for napkins. The cracked laminated menus were the length of a book (they were at most places we ate), but one learns quickly in Bangkok you can order anything you want if you know how to ask.
Towering plates of grilled prawns, fatty pork neck, spicy green curries, whole blackened snapper and overflowing dishes of clams with thai basil and chili arrived when ready. Lofty platters of sloppily seductive pad thai were shared around the table, while steaming bowls of sweet, sour, salty and hot that constitute tom yum soup were coveted in corners. Spring rolls were demolished.
Like most meals we ate as a group in Bangkok, we over-ordered and dishes kept on coming: more massaman curries, more papaya salad, and way too much prawn. It didn’t matter that I saw a rat scale the fence ten feet away, it didn’t matter that bathrooms are not a thing. The food was just too good to care. The heat of the curries, the sweat of the night and beer flowing with friends negated any cognizance for cleanliness.
Just as the first round of dishes began to disappear from the table, part of the construction site’s giant sign revealed a secret passage from which dozens of workers erupted, donning hard hats and end-of-the-day-get-me-out faces. They wanted to get the hell out of there. Did it matter their motorcycles were parked amidst the tables of the pop-up restaurant? Nope. Tables teeming with dishes were parted by Moses-like vendors, and dinner resumed as normal.
The next morning, Adam and I wandered down Sukhumvit 11 in search of our new favourite indiscriminate pop-up. We almost walked right by; all that was left was the motorbikes; our fantastic meal but a memory, until the sun goes down and the food carts show up do it all over again.