Sometimes unforgettable experiences start with the willingness to go outside your comfort zone. Such was our experience eating lunch at a noodle shop in the Sao Ching Cha area during our visit to Bangkok, Thailand.
When I did an Internet research to find lunch options after our visit to the Grand Palace, we found a website that seemed to be a great location to check out. It’s within walking distance from both the Grand Palace area where we were coming from and the Khao San Road area where we needed to go afterwards. There is also an easy to spot landmark, the Giant Swing, so we thought we would just find the Giant Swing, then follow the hand-drawn map from the website from there to locate the lunch options.
When we arrived in the area, I asked Kristi what she would like to eat for lunch. The guide from the website mentioned many places to check out, each specialized on a particular dish, and they all have the commonality of being local, street-level vendors that have been in the area for long time. Kristi said she wanted to have some noodle dish, so we picked several options from the list, and started following the map to find these stores. I had the description of the stores as well as map printed from the website to a PDF, and then sent to my Kindle. So conveniently we could look at my Kindle and looked around the neighborhood to find the streets and locate the stores.
Finding the streets on the hand-drawn map was not a problem, but once we reached the street, in some cases we saw several restaurants in a row that all seemed to sell the same thing. We couldn’t figure out from reading the description and looking at these stores which one is the one that’s actually featured on the website. To make it more discouraging, pretty much all of these stores didn’t have any writing in English, so not knowing how to read and speak Thai, we were not sure even how to approach ordering lunch there.
We continued our walk, and after finding a couple of the restaurants featured on the website, but refraining from entering/trying as we didn’t see anyone else around (it was around 2 pm, so it could be that lunch hour was already over), we finally found one small restaurant that was also on the review, and seemed to have good food. It smelled good from outside, and we saw many people (all locals) eating inside. We hesitated, but the lady who was cooking at the open kitchen at the front of the shop saw us, smiled, and motioned with her hands to invite us to come in. Still not sure, we decided to go ahead and try it out.
The lady didn’t speak English, but we could communicate with her with hand gestures. We pointed to the noodle soup dish that seemed to be their specialty, and she nodded and started preparing the food. We had no idea what we ordered, but we went along, waited for the soup bowls to be served. I still don’t know what the dish was called, but it was noodle soup with red, tomato-based soup and an assortment of meatballs, seafood, and pig’s blood pudding. Fortunately both Kristi and I had had these ingredients elsewhere before; it would’ve been a shock for some Americans who had never seen or tried these before.
I also ordered one item from their menu written on the wall in Thai. This particular one is recognizable from its logo.. Coca Cola. As we’re finishing our lunch, I looked at the page on my Kindle to read up about the place and compared the photos on the website with the surroundings to confirm that we’re indeed in the restaurant mentioned on the page. The shop lady noticed I was looking at my Kindle, and she pointed to it and smiled. I looked around, and then noticed an old lady coming from the back of the restaurant. It was the same old lady whose picture was on the website page. I showed the photo to the shop lady, and she called the old lady and showed the photo on the Kindle. Both of them smiled — very happy and proud to see their store on this electronic gadget brought by a couple of strangers who don’t speak their language. It was a memorable moment from this trip that I definitely treasure. And, in the hindsight, it would’ve not happened had we not gone outside our comfort zone and eating at this restaurant even though we didn’t know the language to communicate.
The photo below was taken from the outside of the noodle shop. I learned later on that the logo of the green bowl on the top left is ‘Shell Shuan Shim’ which is kind of like Michelin star or Zagat review that indicates recognition of the food quality at this place. The funny thing is that even the website simply called this shop as the ‘Shuan Shim noodle soup place’ — kind of like naming a restaurant as ‘the one with the Zagat logo’.