If you spend enough time eating in Bangkok, particularly at old-school-type restaurants, you’ll undoubtedly begin to notice an abundance of faded and often framed restaurant reviews, written in English, by a certain Ung-Aang Thalay. The name — it translates as “Sea Toad” — may seem familiar even if you’ve never visited the city, as Ung-Aang Thalay has featured in Jeffrey Steingarten’s It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, as well as in this now-classic 2005 New York Times article about eating in Bangkok by R.W. Apple Jr.
Ung-Aang Thalay — who has another name that his parents gave him — was born in the US, but has lived in Bangkok since 1968. He began writing restaurant reviews for the Bangkok Post in the days long, long before blogs, listings magazines and online restaurant guides, and is the guy responsible for having put now-institutions such as Soi Polo Fried Chicken, Chote Chitr and Jay Fai on the map. I’ve known Ung-Aang Thalay for a few years now, and his passion for Thai food is clear, if not by anything else, than via his rhetoric; who else uses phrases like “I was slobbering like a Mastiff” or “It was so good we were flopping on the floor like trout” when describing his reaction to a bowl of noodles?
Yet despite the love, Ung-Aang Thalay can also be disarmingly skeptical about the current state of Thai food. Like those of his friend, another Bangkok Post writer, Suthon Sukhphisit, Ung-Aang Thalay’s sensibilities for Thai food can often seem to be locked into the Bangkok of the past — a hopelessly conservative viewpoint for some, but a perspective that I sympathise with, and one that offers a window into a culinary world that is quickly disappearing.
That’s why I was surprised when, after a hiatus of several years, Ung-Aang Thalay recently revealed that he was reinstating his food column. So, if, like me, you’re partial to the flavours of Bangkok’s past, buy or log onto the Bangkok Post on Fridays; Ung-Aang Thalay’s recent columns have revealed a delicious-sounding Chinese-Thai eatery, a visit-worthy noodle restaurant and a central Thai restaurant in Bangkok’s suburbs. His upcoming review, a dish of which is illustrated above, was consumed with me at a central Thai-style restaurant in Bangkok’s northern suburbs. It was delicious, and frankly, I’d like to write about it, but I’ll leave that to the expert.