In the course of doing an entry about phat thai for Lonely Planet's new travel blog, I found myself at Thip Samai, probably the most famous phat thai restaurant in Thailand (as well probably the only phat thai restaurant with a website). As illustrated by the interior:
it's also among the oldest phat thai shops in Thailand, and they've been frying up noodles since 1966.
In keeping with tradition, Thip Samai still makes its phat thai using old-skool charcoal-burning stoves. Controlled by electric fans, the cooks can increase the flames when necessary to provide an element of wok hei, or 'breath of the wok', a smoky essence that ideally should be present in all good wok-fried food:
Despite this, I was a bit disappointed to see that they don't do the phat thai to order here. Rather, they fry up a huge wok of the stuff and divide it among several plates. They only do phat thai here, although they do about five different kinds. I began with phat thai man kung kung sot:
This is phat thai where the noodles have been fried with man kung, shrimp fat, giving them the pinkish-orange hue. The dish had the savoury oiliness of the shrimp fat, but this being true Bangkok food, was slightly somewhat sweet.
I followed this with a dish of phat thai thammadaa, 'normal' phat thai employing the famous rice noodles from Chanthaburi:
Again, slightly sweet, with somewhat undercooked noodles.
All phat thai is served with a side dish of banana flower, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, sliced lime, and my favourite, bai bua bok, a green, slightly bitter herb also known as Asian pennywort:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, in my opinion, the phat thai at Thip Samai is good, but really no better than good phat thai I've eaten elsewhere. In my experience, phat thai is a dish that is either good or bad, but never great. On the other hand, I think that if they were to fry the phat thai to order (impossible, given the number of customers), each dish would be better-proportioned and have more of that wonderful wok hei, and could very well be the first great phat thai I've had.
Thip Samai is open from 17:30 to 1:30.
313 Mahachai Rd
(just off Ratchadamnoen, near Phu Khao Thong)
02 221 6280