In the morning, we flip-flop to the pavement-level cook shop a half-dozen doors from our hotel. Cooking happens over open flame at the street while the cook’s two-year-old son, bells on his ankles, has free run of the back of the house and its five small tables.
We order something different each time we visit—crispy pork and Chinese kale, chicken and basil, bamboo shoots—whatever we can get the cook to do. “Delicious! Delicious!” we chant in our pidgin Thai. When the little boy flops down under our table and plays the Siamese equivalent of peek-a-boo, Alison digs into the phrase book and comes up with “What a cute baby!”
By the third morning the cook is invested in our Thai, supplying words we don’t know, and correcting my listening. “Ten five Bhat,” she intones in her native tongue several times, getting slower each time after I mistakenly try to give her fifty Bhat. “Not five ten Bhat,” she says to emphasize the point, “ten five Bhat.” She flashes five fingers three times—I must seem like a tall, pale version of her two-year old.
By the third morning she is also invested in our palates. When I point to a dish translated to English on her menu as “Herb Curry,” a smile bursts onto her small face. “Phet!” she exclaims, using Thai word for pepper and knowing that each day we’ve been adding extra pepper sauces and dried pepper from a caddy atop her folding tables.
The dish is exquisite, one of the best we’ve ever had in Bangkok. Its red, almost translucent broth is rich with Kaffir lime leaves, a fresh pepper paste, and greens whose names we do not know. Accompanying the broth are savory chicken slices, green bean bits, and segments cut from a green eggplant about the size of a falafel. The eggplant slices are toothsome and complex, combining elements of summer squash, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.
Three doors beyond breakfast is the coffee lady. She stands behind her cart—stainless-steel, two-wheeled, with a boiler tucked under the hood—and brews sweet, milky Thai coffee by the cupful. Yes, a conventional cup is an upscale option, but those in the know, those on the go, get theirs poured over ice in a plastic bag and take it on a stroll, sipping through a short, wide straw.
Your breakfast biographer,