Ever tried a Khao Tom (pronounced ‘khao thom’) restaurant in Bangkok? They’re like the greasy, late night Thai-Chinese izakayas of Bangkok, and they’re commonly missed by most travelers to Thailand!
There’s no bigger influence on Thai cuisine than that brought by a giant influx of Chinese to the country. Thais complain about Chinese tourists now, but over hundreds of years Chinese merchants and settlers flooded the country, bringing along their cuisine and customs with them. In present day Thailand you can see their influence everywhere, even without making a trip to Bangkok’s over hyped Chinatown. Just take a moment and examine the most popular street food across Thailand, think about the Thai idea of breakfast, or peer into a Thai kitchen, and you can’t miss the Chinese footprint apparent in everyone’s wok-loving cooking techniques.
One of my favorite expressions of the Chinese influence are the ‘khao tom‘ category of restaurants around Thailand. I don’t mean the breakfasty types of khao thom, an important sub category of this Thai-Chinese genre (such as khao thom pla the rice porridge with fish or it’s relatives jok, thom lued moo, khao tom talay, and so on). Instead of those common Thai-Chinese morning meals, I intend to refer to the phenomenon of khao tom thorung (ข้าวต้มโต้รุ่ง), or the evening until late night eateries serving boiled rice accompanied by all sorts of salty, greasy food and beer. This is Thailand’s version of the izakaya and they aren’t flashy spots, but they’re usually cheap, always beer filled, and unapologetically Thai-Chinese.
On the genre of restaurants serving the hungry and hungover, Thai blogger Bangkok Glutton explains:
This is food that, in a sense, thinks it knows its place. It’s the backdrop to what you are doing: picking yourself up after an evening of drinking maybe a little too much, or hashing over ideas, or mourning your lost youth, or simply waiting. When you are done, you forget about your meal and go your separate ways. This must be what food is like for most people who don’t think about food all the time. To me, that is an awful place to be in for too long. But it’s food that’s OK when your friends have finally arrived.
Although these type of restaurants get mentioned in the guidebooks on Thailand, they’re not usually as popular with tourists. This could be for a few reasons, such as language barriers, google translated or nonexistent menus, and the sweaty open air seating. There’s also food, such as khao tom itself, that could be intimidating to foreigners because outside these humid restaurants, they almost never appear in the context of Thai cuisine.
In other words it’s not the stuff white people are used to seeing at their local Thai restaurants in the West. Khao tom (ข้าวต้ม, pronounced ‘kow thohm’) means boiled rice and references the small bowls goopy wet rice or at laziest, rice with plain water ladled on top. The thought of wet rice wasn’t just puzzling to me at first, it just sounded outright dumb for dinner. This better be chicken stock and not just water, I thought indignantly the first few times I indulged in the soggy rice. The bad news is no, it’s never chicken stock, and the good news is the khao tom eventually grows on you. Thais may tell you they love it because it’s comforting or have a sentimental moment reflecting on how it’s associated with so many childhood memories. Not me. I think you should try it mostly because the flavor packed and usually also MSG packed food is meant to be tapered with this important condiment.
If you have a bowl at somewhere like Yod Khao Tom (ยศข้าวต้ม ลาซาล) in Sukhumvit 105, you’ll find the boiled rice is starchy and goopy. This is the perfect texture for dropping in endless spoonfuls of the salty dishes you order, each flavoring the rice mixture as you go along. I don’t think dishes like moo pad nam liap (หมูสับผัดหนำเลียบ), a minced pork stir fried in Chinese olive oil, are meant to be eaten any other way.
Besides Yod Khao Thom, there’s tons of similar places all around Bangkok where you can get well fed for cheap. Often you can spot them because of the ingredients displayed in the front of the shops and people frequenting them to watch football games or other sports. They’re not for everyone, but if you can overlook the MSG and mosquitoes, you just might discover cheap, cold Thai beer as the remedy for both.
YOD KHAO TOM (ยศข้าวต้ม ลาซาล) LOCATION AND HOURS
Address: Soi Lasalle 18 (Sukhumvit 105) ลาซาล 18 (หัวมุมซอยลาซาล 18) บางนา
Directions: Take BTS to Bearing and head down Sukhumvit 105 Rd. (aka Soi Lasalle) where you’ll find the restaurant at the mouth of soi 18.
Phone Number: 02 749 1624
Hours: 6:30pm – 1:30am, Daily
Price Range: 100 – 200 THB per person