Down a tiny little alley in Bangkok — so narrow you might walk right past — you’ll find 5-star dining in the form of a beloved curry shop. That’s because Nid, the owner of Khrua Luk Niang, worked as a hostess in Bangkok’s prestigious Mandarin Oriental Hotel before deciding to open her own restaurant serving up a variety of southern-style curries.
Nid moved to Bangkok from the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, bringing with her the cooking styles that she grew up with and would eventually turn into a business. While working at the Mandarin Oriental, Nid met her future husband — and after her first maternity leave, she opted not to return to working for someone else and to instead work entirely for herself.
She opened a curry shop near the hotel, attracting many of the workers in the nearby government offices during lunch hour. In 2003, she moved to her current location — and brought many of her customers with her, who now trek out of their way for her khao gaeng, or various curries.
Southern curry is spicy — very spicy — and Nid’s food certainly comes with a kick. The standard basket of cucumbers, long beans, and greens like antioxidant-rich centella (a leafy green frequently used in naturopath medicine) and bitter hok palm leaves all provide some cooling between bites of hor mok plah (fish mousse) and khua kling (minced meat in a dry curry). But it’s Nid’s khao yum that is her signature dish. Her spicy rice-based salad is made with bean sprouts, long beans, shredded mango, lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, wild betel nut leaves, ginger flower, and centella, tossed in a dressing of pungent fish sauce, roasted coconut, dried shrimp, and chili powder.
Despite being a must-try dish in southern Thailand, khao yum is notoriously hard to find in the central and northern regions. “But in Bangkok, you can find everything,” says Soon, my Urban Adventures guide for the day and a local foodie.
Nid starts cooking at 5am every morning, opening up her shop by about 6:30am. During lunchtime, the entire restaurant fills up with customers — many of them frequent visitors, based on the warm familiar greeting she gives to so many walking through the door. Her simple shop may be easy to miss if you don’t know where to look for it, but it’s clearly popular with those who know that 5-star food hides in unexpected places.
How to find it: Near Wat Noranarth Soontarikaram, on the south side of Samsen Road. Look for Soi Wong Phakdi, which is a (mostly) pedestrian alley next to Top Charoen Optical, between Krung Kasem Road and Soi Satharanasuk.
What to order: hor mok plah (fish mousse), khua kling (minced meat in a dry curry), khao yum (southern-style rice salad).
Bangkok’s old town may be tourist central, but there’s way more than just bad pad Thai to be found – that is, if you know where to look. That’s because hidden among the overpriced restaurants and mediocre food carts are secret gems that locals love, and many of these spots have been around for decades – since way before backpackers started gathering on Khao San Road.