Nomjit Grilled Chicken

Wherever you are in Bangkok, find the nearest BTS train station and get a ticket to Ekkamai (N7). A twenty-minute walk from the station will take you to a joint not different from the ones you can find in storied restaurants in Binondo: rickety chairs and tables, plastic plates, floor-to-wall tiles, dusty old portraits of grandmothers and/or the restaurant’s founders in sepia or old rose, and a local clientele. Only when you see the framed photo of their illustrious King Bhumibol Adulyadej behind the cashier will you know you’re in Sukumvhit – at Nomjit Grilled Chicken. The store’s sign won’t say this – nor would Google Translate, nor would their menu, nor would the delivery boy hauling off absurd amounts of takeaway food at the back of his motorcycle when we bumped into the restaurant – so a little faith in Google Maps goes a long way. Or: beam the Thai name (Nomjit Kaiyang: น้อมจิตต์ไก่ย่าง) on your smartphone to trusty 7-Eleven cashiers whenever you’re lost.

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The woman in a dress apron

photos by A Dela Rosa

An old woman grunted that she could barely manage to stand up: she said the ginataang tilapia, whole tilapia and mustard leaves simmered in coconut milk, was just too good (and too much?) for her. It’s a compliment she wanted the clientele – an interesting mix of students, bank tellers, construction workers, traffic enforcers, grocery baggers from the nearby mall, the occasional bus inspector – to hear. She gave another unsolicited remark aimed – it turned out – at me: “You know… I’ve been telling her to get a loan from a bank and start her own food business.” Her skill in cooking, the old woman said in Filipino, is put to waste!

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We moved offices last year from Ortigas to Taguig, and the spirit within the office was similar to that gnawing anticipation people have during New Year’s Eve, and the resolutions that come with it: less clutter, more space thanks to minimalist interiors, better view of the city, new lockers, etc. It’s about revisiting old habits as it is about discarding unused and underappreciated condiments, the latter paving the way for my discovery of – and an officemate had to point out this bit of trivia – a John Cena favorite.

During those hazy days I found a bottle of an unfamiliar condiment at the office pantry. I checked the label closely: everything is in some sort of Chinese, save for the word LAOGANMA next to an authenticity seal similar to the seals we see on paper bills. I found a poker-faced grandmother staring at me, a stare that imparts the wisdom of that Chinese cooking show anyone would have seen while flipping channels back in the 90’s. From the looks of it, the bottle looked unscathed; no one dared touch it. I learned that it’s from a former colleague who probably stocked up his kitchen with this condiment – I imagine it’s from his trips to Beijing. He probably thought it best to donate it to our pantry before he left for another job.

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