THERE ARE TWO REASONS we decided to return to Bangkok. One is that flying out of Siem Reap is unavoidably expensive; the other was bread. But not just “bread” in the generic; rather, a very particular bread, a paragon role model—really, the Platonic form of bread—baked at a mystery bakery just off the Wang Lang Pier, across the main river from the infamously filthy tourist spots.
V and I stumbled upon this bakery by chance last February while wading through a nearby musty vintage clothing market. Locals were huddling around a gorgeous aroma flowing out from a little stall staffed by five or six men and women, casually dressed and quickly unloading boxes of flour and sugar, tossing loaf pans into ovens, pulling them out and slamming them into bags. Really slamming them. The bread was of such a hypnotic fluffiness that it stuck to the aluminium pans, forcing the employees to, in one swift motion, flip the pans, whack them on the table, and slide the floppy loaves into plastic bags. At $1.50 each, people were ordering them by the half-dozen.
We bought one, assuming it would be good. It was. It was very good. Injected to the seams with a delicious creamy egg custard, the softness of crumb and tenderness of crust was a marvel of such previously thought impossibility that we immediately went back and bought a second one, savoury this time, a ham salad mix wrapped in the stuff clouds are made of, which made for a sumptuous dinner later that night.
The resulting seven months were depressing. We knew then, in February, that we would not be able to indulge in this delicacy ever again, and the spectre of its perfection has haunted us ever since.
That is, until we decided to return to Bangkok.
In advance of our visit I emailed Leela Punyaratabandhu of the excellent Thai food blog She Simmers, describing the loaf in depressingly longing detail and hoping for insight as to its name and whereabouts. Her reply:
“That’s the famous Wang Lang Bakery… It’s actually just white bread with different mix-ins. Breads made by Asian bakeries tend to be soft and fluffy to cater to the locals’ preference, but Wang Lang has taken it a step further and made their bread extra soft and fluffy. What I’m saying is that it’s not a unique type of bread that has a name, so you’re not going to get any information on it on Google. What makes it special is the (secret) recipe that the bakery has been using for years.”
Mission accomplished. Our target has a name. The Wang Lang Bakery was about to get some very eager repeat customers.
We returned on our first day in Bangkok, asking if they had the egg custard. The lady behind the counter shook her head, pointing to their only current stock, sausage or raisin. We got the raisin loaf, which turned out to be utterly packed with rum-plumped raisins, but which left us longing. We returned an hour later to ask if they had anything else, but the same woman smiled sadly and shook her head. Our options now were between raisin and pineapple jam or sausage. I frowned and told her we’d be back in another hour.
After V scoured the nearby vintage markets for 50-cent floral-print granny shirts, we decided to tour the rest of the Wang Lang Market, which is a veritable heaven for street food lovers. Mini coconut pancakes, crispy crepe tacos, peanut rice cakes, fruits juiced or doused in syrup and dried shrimps, fried bananas, iced coffee and bubble tea, not to mention the pots of green curry and tom yam soup that emit thick billows of steam between the crowded alleyways.
We returned to the Wang Lang Bakery just before heading back to our hotel. They were putting out a batch of new loaves, filled simply with butter and sugar. We resigned ourselves to the classic combination, until a man with better English popped out, arms akimbo, and asked:
“You want egg custard?”
My eyes widened. “You have it?”
“One,” he said. “She kept it for you.” The woman beside him smiled.
We thanked the woman profusely, made our way back to the ferry terminal and sat down, hungrily devouring the pastry as old Thai women stared at us disapprovingly. It wasn’t as good as we remembered—it never could be—but we were so elated by the employees’ kindness, and fell in love all over again.
And, before we leave Bangkok, I think we’ll go back to try that butter loaf.