Street food reigns supreme in Bangkok. Sure, there are plenty of colossal malls with well-known restaurants that have air-conditioning and other fancy amenities such as restrooms or walls but if you’re only in town for a short time, skip all of that and make your way onto the streets so you can pull up a plastic stool instead.
Thailand’s street food culture is vast, eclectic, affordable and convenient, to say the least. The New York Times declared that the scene “may boast the finest street food on earth,” and after roaming the streets of Bangkok in search of a meal, one is not left disappointed nor feeling hungry. And whether you’re able to sit and enjoy your meal while basking in the soi’s energy or left with no choice but to eat on-the-go, your vendor has got you covered with the help of the mát-bpàak knot.
The mát-bpàak knot plays a vital role in Bangkok’s street food culture. Translated into Thai, mát-bpàak is a moniker that combines the terms “to tie” and “mouth.” From noodles and soy milk to rice dishes and soups, anytime food is ordered to go, or as “take-away” (which is how many Thai people refer to it as) everything is put into portion-sized bags and that’s when the mát-bpàak knot makes an appearance. In that final moment after the food has been placed into the clear plastic bags, the top is quickly closed and practically sealed airtight with a thin rubber band and a few quick moves of the hand, thus completing the knot.
When ordering food to go in Thailand, all components of a dish are always contained separately. Walking home with an order of boat-noodles might have you carrying a bag that includes four smaller mát-bpàak-knotted bags: One for the noodles, one for the broth, and one or possibly even two for different sauces. With the mát-bpàak knot working so diligently to keep food fresh and as delicious as possible, I thought I’d pay homage with the following tutorial on how to produce the knot.
STEP 1. Grabbing the opposite ends that are not the natural creases of the bag, fold down the top until you can no longer do so because of the trapped air.
STEP 2. With air trapped inside, clinch the top-fold together until it’s bunched up.
STEP 3. Loop the rubber band a single time around the cinched top towards its base, and then twist the rubber band upside down before proceeding to coil it over and over until little remains.
PERSONAL STYLE AND FLAIR IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR THIS PART.
STEP 4. Loop the remaining part of the rubber band in a way that will create tension and withhold the pressure of the already entwined rubber band.
From my many Thai street food experiences, the mát-bpàak knot seems to be overlooked and under appreciated. Thinking about the knot’s environmental effect alone is quite substantial. Instead of food being stored in Styrofoam or other wasteful containers, any form of liquid or solid, whether piping hot or icy cold, can be transported to its destination with the simplicity of a small plastic bag and rubber band. And for any of you who’ve always dreamed of emulating your favorite Thai street vendor’s mát-bpàak swagger, I’m happy to report that you can now do so since already made kits of the plastic bags and rubber bands can be purchased at any major supermarket.
SWEATING IT OUT IN BANGKOK
by Tae Yoon