Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chi-Thai-na-Town (Bangkok Chinatown)

When I was in Bangkok, I did what I do in all cities - I visited Chinatown.

You would think that someone LIVING in China would want to visit Thailandtown, or Wee Britain or Little Italy or Americaville or something other than Chinatown. You would be wrong.

I've always found that some of the best spins on Chinese food exist in other cities Chinatowns. For instance, my FAVORITE Chinese food meal was Indo-Chinese that I had in Mumbai. So I had high hopes to Chi-Thai-na-town in Bangkok. I arrived via the Ratchawong pier and dove in.

So how did Bangkok Chinatown stack up? Well, aside from having an awesome nickname that I made up (Chi-Thai-na-town - get it?!?), Bangkok's Chinatown was actually quite formidable. It was sprawling (covering many city blocks), it was bustling with street vendors (true to its continental Asian nature) and it was full of knock-off and cheaply made goods. Perhaps more than any Chinatown I've been to, this one felt a bit like China. That is, except for all the Thai people.

The similarities were many and compelling. The street food was very interesting - a lot of seafood, most of it live, all of it delicious. Stores sold dried herbs and mushrooms. Teenage girls hawked gawdy costume jewelery and imported Hello Kitty stuff.

To the right you can see a few street delicacies: street-sautéed crawdads, street-sautéed norway lobsters and street-sautéed prawns. The crawdads, though I'm sure they aren't called crawdads in Chi-Thai-na-townese, were delicious and dirt cheap.

Otherwise, Bangkok's Chinatown is a true Chinese expat community. But unlike many Western Chinatowns and due to its relative proximity to China itself, it feels more like China. Of course, when you round the corner and see one of Thailand's ubiquitous 7-11's, you remember you aren't in Guangzhao any more, Dorothy.

But really guys: Chi-Thai-na-town. I'm going to write the Lonely Planet people and see if they can relabel that section of their Bangkok tour book. Pure. Comedy. Gold.