We took the SkyTrain to our late afternoon lunch. Inside the packed car, we stood shoulder to shoulder with lanky German tourists, an elderly woman with a deeply seamed face, and an army of dark-haired teenagers swiping and tapping at smartphones.
Multiple screens flickered above our heads, displaying a relentless series of inscrutable Thai advertisements: skin clarifiers, facial whiteners, brain boosters. In Thailand, a pill or potion exists for every conceivable purpose, and, at least in the ads, everyone who samples the products experiences an orgasm of suppleness, whiteness, and intelligence.
When the train slid into Asoke station, the doors snapped open, and we moved from the passenger car’s chilly air into the slick humidity of an October afternoon. We followed signs and concrete stairways down to Sukhumvit Road, minding our step on the cracked and jumbled sidewalks.
At ground level, the city felt like steam room. The Thai, immune to the heat, went about their business without perspiring. Street vendors dumped gobbets of raw chicken into bubbling woks. School children in crisp uniforms plunged sharp red straws into clear plastic bags, then sucked down the thick, sweet iced coffees sealed inside. Tuk tuk drivers, hoping to snag tourist dollars, saw our sweaty faces and shouted, “Tuk tuk! Happy happy tour! Cheap cheap!”
We turned onto Sayam Samakhom Alley. Traffic was lighter here, but the sheer number of street vendors on the sidewalk forced us to walk in the street. We ducked our heads, avoiding the low-slung patio umbrellas over each stall. Did we need DVDs? Flip flops? T-shirts? Fake headphones? Pork on a skewer? Sliced pineapple? Not today.
An explosion of green — potted palms, broad-leafed tropical plants — obscured the entrance to Big Mama’s Pizzeria so completely, we missed it on the first pass. But when Clyde saw Big Mama’s Tapas across the street, we doubled back, spotted the odd yellow sign affixed to the balcony above the main entrance.
The entire staff, perhaps twelve teenagers in starched white shirts and black pants, sat at communal tables out front, slurping down bowls of hot and sour soup. A friendly tuk-tuk driver had joined them, downing two beers and eating spicy stir-fry from a paper plate.
The staff waved us inside. The ceiling — painted white, striped with thin wooden beams, and studded with halogen lamps on metal goosenecks — soared high above our heads. Shelves affixed to the brick walls held cylinders of dry pasta and framed awards. Massive paintings depicted overfed cats, Khalo-esque women, and misshapen chickens, all rendered in bright Mexican hues. Tiny red tables for two packed the dining room; we merged two of these to accommodate our party of three.
We were the only customers. A young woman who could have been any age from thirteen to twenty-three brought us laminated menus. We browsed our options, ignoring the old standards; we hadn’t come all this way for cheese and pepperoni.
I didn’t expect much. I’d had pizza in Thailand before; even in upscale restaurants, it had been soggy, limp, and gummy. But twenty minutes after I placed my order, our young server reappeared, bearing a jewel of a pie. The cracker-thin, crispy crust had just enough char. The tomato sauce, buried beneath a generous layer of cheese, tasted faintly of lime. And on top of this: eight ounces of ground, juicy, white-meat chicken, stir-fried in tangy fish sauce and garlic, and garnished with fresh mint and green onions.
Clyde’s tom yum pizza featured the same exquisite crust and sauce, but, beneath the blanket of cheese we found a hefty serving of shrimp and calamari. The steam wafting up had notes of lemongrass, kaffir lime, and pungent galangal.
I took a bite and burst into a smile. “It’s the best of Italy and Thailand on one plate.”
Clyde nodded. “The calamari is really tender. I wouldn’t expect to like a seafood pizza, but this … “ He took another bite. “… this is really something special.”
We took our time. We finished our pies, washing them down with bottled water and lukewarm SingHa beer. By the time we paid the check, the late afternoon had turned to early evening. The early dinner crowd streamed in. Our quiet dining room filled up with chatter, and, when new pies arrived, exclamations of delight, which sound the same in any language.
Back outside, the street vendors hung florescent lanterns under their dingy umbrellas. Thai diners crowded around tiny plastic tables, noshing on stir-fry and satay and bright cucumber salads. Young people on motorcycles weaved past us, headed home from work.
The walk back to Asoke station took eight minutes. We ascended the steep concrete stairs, merged with the crowd of passengers, and disappeared into the humid night.
Location: 21 Sukhumvit Road, near the Asok location of Heath Land Massage, and across the street from Big Mama’s Tapas.
Take the SkyTrain to the Asoke BTS or the Metro to the Sukhumvit stop, then follow Asok Montri Road 5-8 minutes to the intersection with 100 Pi Sayam Samakhom Alley and take a left. Mama’s is just around the corner and a bit easy to miss, as it sets back off the street. Dress is casual to very casual.
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