Christmas Eve Meal
Ahhhhhh … It's Friday and not only TGIF, but Christmas Eve no less. I've just finished a punishing 90 minutes at the Tee-Off driving range getting my weekly lesson and my weekly blisters (for which I always seem to forget to bring Band-Aids) and am looking forward to something special to eat. After all it's Christmas Eve. The wife is out shopping for a feast she will prepare tomorrow at home for a gathering of friends, so I am given my freedom to find or make my own dinner.
I shower and think for a while. Hmmm what special place? Since it's Friday how about the roast suckling pig special at the Old German Beerhouse on Suk11? I still have my President Hotel chain discount card for 10% off and I love that wonderful crunchy pork flavor washed down by a litter of beer. Brings back memories of my business visits to Munich 20 years ago.
Getting there will not be easy. I live near Suk 26 and Rama IV and the traffic on Suk 26 and Sukhumvit road is usually horrendous around 8 PM. But fear not, I can take the nameless one-way back street from Carrefour to Suk 22, then down to Sukhumvit, then to Asoke and BTS from there to Nana.
All goes reasonably well and by 9 PM I'm walking down Soi 11 toward the Beerhouse humming Silver Bells, la la la, Silver Bells, la la la, it's Christmas time in the Citeee … I enter the restaurant which seems to be doing a roaring business and find the last table in the back area which is air-conditioned. Instantly a waitress comes and plops down the menu. No hesitation here .. I open to the front page and with a big smile ask for the Friday special almost tasting it in my mind. This is going to be GOOD! I look up expectantly to her face and see a shadow there. "Solly .. too many order … all gone" In an instant I am crushed. All the taxi money, all the traffic planning … the hopes and dreams that give us joy in life. Gone. Finished. Ended.
An idea bursts anew in my mind! They always have the roast pig knuckle every day and while it's more expensive than the Friday special, it's almost as good. Hope springs in my bosom and salivating in a way that would make Pavlov proud I confidently and once again with a satisfied smile order the roast pig knuckle. The hairs on the back of my neck begin to rise as I stare up to see a new shadow join the previous one on her face. no no …NOOO. DON'T SAY IT!
"Solly Pig knuckle all gone. Velly busy today."
Keep in mind these two items are the Beerhouse's signature dishes. For them to be gone is like Swenson's running out of ice cream, KFC with no chicken, Micky D's with no Big Macs, Thailand running out of rice for Buddha's sake. I am astounded, floored, flummoxed, stunned, speechless. Then slowly certain American figures of speech begin to form in my mind. Before the invective begins spewing out of my mouth, I desperately try one last gasp attempt to get sustenance at this Restaurant-that-seems-to-have-no-food. "The roast chicken special" I murmur grinding my teeth at the last grilled item on the menu and their final signature dish.
Below me the ground begins to tremble and a brilliant starburst of light goes off like a rocket in my head as I hear "Solly all gone tonight." Wordlessly I stand up hoping to knock over the table as I exit with my Christmas Eve dinner plan in tatters.
The amazing thing about humanity is our resiliency to setbacks. Yes, this place showed me TIT (This is Thailand). But am I going to let one lousy restaurant ruin my Christmas Eve Dinner? niet non anee nein … NEVER!!
I struggle to get my senses back and then think. Hmmmmmmm… A few sois down on soi 5 is Foodland with Took Lai Dee – the most famous all-night cafe in Bangkok. I remember their "rib special" with one of the nicest pictures of a cooked pork chop I have ever seen. Whenever I grocery shop in Foodland I always stop to look at this picture and as I walk south the image grows in my mind accompanied by more Christmas music. I stop in the Beer Garden on Soi 7 to check if they have a live band and sure enough they do AND they are playing Christmas music. My mood rises. I am again overflowing with good will toward my fellow men. Life is good and a special rib dinner soon awaits me at Took Lae Dee. God. It's SOOO wonderful!
I'm humming Deck the Halls as I wander down the tunnel connecting Soi 7 and 5 smilingly accosted by the massage ladies and beer bar girls from the joints along this way. Out onto soi 5 and then across the street to Foodland. Through the door and to the right I see the Took Lae Dee counter is buzzing. Nearly every chair is taken, but luck and the Christmas spirit is with me and I see an open seat next to an Isaan cutie who may be searching for Santa Claus. Ho Ho Ho … Merrrry Christmas my child. Here .. sit on Santa's lap and tell me what you want he he he. The lusting mind quickly shuts down while I search for a waiter.
The one Thai waiter who seems to be serving the whole counter makes his way toward me and with a manic smile I order the "rib special" and a big Singha pointing to my favorite picture. With no hesitancy he scribbles my order down and whisks it over to the cooking station. I sigh … and hear Etta James in my mind …
At Laaaaast … dum dum dum … dum dum dum… My looooove has come along. God my lovely rib special is coming and I am by now utterly and totally starving.
My reverie is interrupted by a tap on my shoulder. I turn and look into the eyes of the waiter. Has he been saving a little each day? Putting together a little nest egg for the wife and the mia noi? Does Foodland provide him with life insurance and are any other policies fully paid up? He probably doesn't know that the next words from his mouth may be his last. These thoughts flash through my mind as I hear "Solly, rib all gone".
An explosion rips Took Lae Dee and Foodland apart, a raging inferno consumes all Thai cooks and all Thai menu writers. I see a vast bleak wasteland with ashes riven up in a mushroom cloud. Blood is everywhere and I am smiling and asking ARE YOU SURE as I slowly return to my senses back in the what is now the cafe from Hell. Then I remember…..
If they can't do anything else, they MUST have the famous Chicken-in-a-basket I had at the Foodland on Suk 16. Remembering how the guidebooks to Thailand say to keep calm, I calmly order TWO Chicken-in-a-baskets through molars ground smooth from the effort of keeping calm.
My waiter smiles and scribbles something in Thai on the order form while saying "Two Chicken-in-a-bashket" and rushes the order out to the cooks who survived the rib holocaust. God save me, they can't blow this one can they? The waiter brings my Singha and a glass and I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I drink. And drink a little more.
For those unfamiliar with it the Chicken-in-a-basket is a half chicken (four pieces) fried on top of a lot of big well cooked fries in a good sized simulated wicker basket. Very Tasty and only 78 Baht. The dark meat pieces which I prefer are juicy yet crunchy. Two orders will put an end my starvation and the unremitting series of letdowns I've had since having the crazy idea that a Christmas Eve meal at a restaurant in Bangkok was what I needed.
Finally the food is coming. What's this? A bowl of salad?? I check the order form and can't decode the Thai but note the price is north of 360 Baht. Way more than what it should be. I flag over the waiter and explain again "I ordered two chicken-in-a-baskets. Why the salad?" He looks confused and calls over Mamasan manager who at 100 kg weighs in with her observation "Chicken-in-a-bashket comes wit salad and flies and chicken."
Now it's decision time. Clearly the order is wrong, the price is wrong and maybe something else will go wrong. On the other hand the beer is right, I am starving, it's getting later and the salad looks good. So I start eating the bread that mistakenly comes with the misordered salad and wolf it down in approximately a nanosecond. Finally finally finally the chicken comes.
It's not in a basket, it's on a plate. The fries are pitiful little skinny things that are actually better described as flies. Mamasan is an evocative communicator after all. There are no pieces of dark meat. In fact there are only three pieces per plate and they seem to be baked rather than fried. Exactly as expected. You don't have to hit me three times with a ball peen hammer to teach me this is Thailand. Each not-a-basket plate has a side salad making the earlier salad redundant. Bottom line. Not even an iota of similarity between what I ordered and what I got. But hey .. I'm starving so I order another large Singha which comes exactly as ordered.
As I savor the meal I didn't order, an Aussie sits on the other side of Miss Isaan, chats her up, and they go off the to prove that yes Miss Nok, there really is a Santa Claus. A German gent, Franz, joins me and it turns out he is from Munich and we share the warm nostalgia of real beergardens in a real country where they never run out of pig knuckle, or ribs, or properly cooked chicken.
Before I stumble out with a well lit beer buzz, I pay the over-the-top bill and conclude that while Took Lae Dee is supposed to mean "cheap and good", they missed it by a mile tonight. Nope, not even close, partner.
Despite all this and for sure with the aid of the beer buzz, I am filled with Christmas cheer. I still love my fellow man and especially the women. As I wander back to Nana station and cling to the up escalator I review my Christmas Eve experiences through true beer meditation and hear the Rolling Stones …
"You can't always get what you want …. but sometimes… but sometimes… you get what you need."
Maybe they never visited Thailand. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Hehe, yep, that is the Bangkok I know! Nice story and yes, it is totally believable!