Soi 38’s location, however, is a different matter. It’s in the former office of a multi-storey car park, with views limited to the entry/exit ramps, boom gates and lifts. Raw concrete surfaces reflect the stark glare of industrial fluorescent lighting – direct sunlight does not penetrate this far into the car park. The café interior is a bit gaudy with inexpensive Thai-themed decorations draped around an otherwise utilitarian space, and metal tables and stools (not chairs) painted bright red and blue.
Boat noodles pork sen lek kruk krik
The good news is that what Soi 38 lacks in ambience, it makes up for in the food and the prices. “Cheap and cheerful” sums it up nicely.
Soi 38 sells the Thai equivalent of Vietnamese pho – wonderfully fragrant soupy noodles that are a full meal in a bowl. Its headline item is Boat Noodles: street food so named because it is traditionally sold by vendors operating from small boats along Bangkok’s many canals and rivers, served with either beef or pork. The other soup options at Soi 38 are Duck, Tom Yum with pork and prawn, and Thai Laksa – either vegetarian or with beef.
Boat noodles with beef sen mee nahm
To the chosen soupy base, you then add one of seven different types of noodle, and pick whether you want it served Nahm (soup), Haeng (dry) or Kruk Krik (half soup). Just like pho, some tasty inclusions add texture and freshness – crisp bean shoot, fried pork crisps, fresh coriander and spring onions. And at the table you can help yourself to extra fish sauce, chilli, vinegar and sugar. All dishes are $10, or you can supersize for an additional $5 if you are extra hungry.
Over two visits, first with Big Fil and then with Bilby Blue, we tried the beef soup with both rice vermicelli noodles and egg noodles; pork soup with rice stick noodles; and tom yum soup with pork and prawn with glass vermicelli noodles.
Tom yum pork prawn woon sen nahm
All were very enjoyable – a good depth of flavour in the soup, tender meat, a good crunch from the fresh bean shoots and pork crisps, and nicely al dente noodles. Only the tom yum needed a bit of fine tuning with a splash of the chilli vinegar to bring it to my expectation of sour and chilli flavours.
And the name? “Soi 38” literally means “side street number 38”, referencing one of the most famous locations for street food in Bangkok.
We really liked it.
OverallSoi 38 serves good, hearty Thai-style noodle soups that easily qualify as Asian comfort food. Recommended for cold winter days to warm the soul, and also good for evoking memories of Bangkok’s vibrant street markets.
Service is quick, but basic – your dishes are delivered to the table, but you have to order at the counter. At just $10 per serve, this is good value for the CBD.
Find it atSoi 38
38 McIlwraith Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: 0490 396 382