When I’m in Bangkok, I go to Jaywalk Cafe on Phra Arthit and eat blueberry pancakes sandwiched with cream cheese.
It’s a habit that leaves you with a shameful, diabetic fear. The pancakes are topped with vanilla ice cream, blueberry syrup and graham cracker crumble. Plus maple syrup. It’s too much sugar in a serving for any sane person before noon. Yet countless times when passing through the city, solo or with passengers on my tour, I stop here. I insist it’s memorable, delicious, and worth the trek to the old part of the where city public transit doesn’t run.
I've came here for almost four years and have never ordered anything else. They have plenty else to order. (Cheers to you, Bacon Kimchi Fried Rice and your friend, the Spaghetti Shrimp with Japanese Sauce.) The woman who runs the cafe has been there almost every time.
And when I passed through Bangkok most recently, I know she recognized me. I was still asked what I would like to order (but I know, for 100% certain, she already knew it would be the pancakes). In fact, I am certain every employee in that cafe probably knew I was only there for the pancakes. But, because the Jaywalk team is so meticulous at their craft, they still ask for my order.
Some might call this being overly self-aware, but I like to think of myself as just a real cafe regular. A middle-class Cleveland girl from the outside, my heart, gut, interests and general approach to life are distinctly Southeast Asian. In my dreams, I was born in Bangkok, content in a career of streetside noodle soup service. So it shames me that my Bangkok layovers include a distinctly non-Asian cheesey pancake. Blame sugar.
A real Bangkokian eats a rice porridge or congee with egg, or a basic noodle soup. Differentiations in breakfast, lunch and dinner are largely a western concept. For most Asians, a meal is a meal, eggs are not exclusive to breakfasts and lunch isn’t a staple sandwich.
For this pseudo-Asian white girl, those blueberry pancakes weren’t just breakfast. It was confession. It was going to a westernized cafe, clean and modern decor and hand letterings of “i love you like a fat kid loves cake” on the wall, and eating distinctly non-Asian (and yet still not American, looking at you, Penne Cheesy Kimchi) dishes on the menu, and feeling like I wasn’t a horrible tourist for it.
Too often we search for this authentic, local experience, which has largely become something that mostly lives in our imagination. We vilify the McDonalds’ popping up in the region, and condone the affinity for more meat and more convenience in the East as well as anywhere. Go to Thailand and eat pad thai, but know that some Thais now enjoy it with the American twist of additional sugar and more crushed peanuts.
I used to hate seeing development, advancement, convenience, westernization. I hated seeing things I was trying to leave at home, now trending in the East. Why are we tarnishing them with these wants? Exposing, creating and commercializing desires for things their cultures have never known? And then bemoaning when we arrive to these places, and they're not as we expect them. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
I'm certainly ashamed of myself, I thought, as I ordered my blueberry cheese pancakes, this time with a latte because the barista's latte art game is strong, and then promptly forgot as I proceeded to Snapchat the lot of it.
Recently, I learned Jaywalk was doing very well, and so they are expanding to another location in Silom. They deserve the success, I thought. Perhaps they should franchise out west.