Race to Gaggan

It was 5:35 pm. We were standing on the corner in front of our hotel. A wall of cars in front of us, not moving.

I tapped the Uber icon again, the car spun in circles, not moving from the same spot, just spinning in space like an icon that tells you your computer is slow.

He was so close we could walk to him. But then what, sit in the car for an hour, not moving, waiting for everyone in Bangkok to leave?

Our reservation was for 6 p.m. at Gaggan. The number 1 restaurant in Asia. The 23rd best restaurant in the world. The one that I had emailed for weeks and called at 1 in the morning multiple nights in a row from America, trying to get a reservation after seeing it featured on the second season of Chef’s Table and learned that I would be traveling to Bangkok.

I made sure I booked our hotel within a safe distance of the restaurant. Without traffic it would have only been five minutes away, but nothing was moving. All my punctuality nightmares were coming true.

My boyfriend used his American phone to call long distance and let them know we would be running late. This is a restaurant that times dishes for a three hour seating. There is no late.

A man answered the phone, “How long are you going to be?”

“Thirty minutes.”

James was answered with silence.

“Realistically 30 minutes,” he repeats.

“Try to get here sooner,” the man hung up.

I canceled our Uber. I would try for another. 8 minutes and spinning. I watched the minutes creep by and we were still on the same corner. All the cars were moving in one direction but the road on the other side was completely empty as well as the direction we needed to go.

We crossed the street and I hailed the first empty tuktuk that passed by. I had my map at the ready. “Here. Can you take us to here?” I point to the restaurant on my Google Maps app, “Gaggan.” All the taxis drivers in Thailand always want to call the place that you are going and have someone explain to them in Thai where they have to go. We didn’t have time for that. We needed this tuktuk driver to know Google Maps.

He looked at the map. He nodded his head.

“How much?”

“400 baht.”

Way too much, but I didn’t care. We hopped in and started down the road, my hope that while not as fast, a tuktuk could maneuver between the cars like a motorcycle.

A minute later we were stopped again. A new wall of cars. Another blockade of traffic. There was a wide gap between two cars, motorcycles flooded all around us with girls in miniskirts hanging off that back.

“Can’t you go between them I asked?’

The driver just laughed then turned his motor off and waited like he had all the time in the world.

“Why go so far?” he asked in the rearview mirror. “Good places to eat here. I can bring you.”

“No, no we have to go to Gaggan. We have reservations.”

He just shrugged and calmly turned back to stare at the rear lights in front of him.

I watched our non-movement on Google Maps. Our driving trajectory was still thirty minutes away and it was already past 6. I switched it to walking. We could literally walk to the restaurant in twenty-five minutes. I looked down at my nice dress, my heels, thought about the hour I wasted getting ready, doing my makeup. Could I do it? Could I really run to the restaurant in this Bangkok humidity. What other choice did we have?

We came up with a plan. We would walk until we got to the next clear road, the blue one only five minutes away, then hop in another tuktuk until the end of the park and walk the last five minutes. Easy.

“We’re going to get out.” I told the driver. We had only made one turn and had maybe been in the tuktuk for five minutes, at most ten, not even half way, not even a quarter to where he was suppose to take us. “How much?”

“300 baht.”

I have never been a haggler. I hate haggling. I understand the concept but I have never in my life been able to confidently do it.

Until now.

“What? You said 400 for the whole way. We haven’t even made it half way. I will not pay 300 baht.”

“200.”

Every minute that I spent arguing was a minute wasted.

“Fine.” I pulled out the bills and we hopped from the cab into the stream of, essentially, parked cars and began our run down the road. James took my hand to pull me out of the way of another onslaught of motorcycles. (I can never get that driving on the opposite side of the road thing down–always looking the wrong way.)

As fast as a pair of Tom’s heels could take us, we ran down the tourist-crowded streets. Me muttering under my breath at old white men to get out of my way and him checking to make sure I don’t get myself ran over. At a six lane intersection we turned back to take the pedestrian overpass and I clipped my ankle on a pillar. I couldn’t concentrate on the pain but as we made it to the clear street without a taxi or tuktuk in sight, I could feel the ankle start to swell.

We kept moving, turning to look back every few feet. Is there a taxi yet? My dress was soaked with sweat and clung to my chest. We just had to keep moving. It was already 6:30.

Would they give the reservation away? Did people wait for cancellations like buzzards circling a fresh kill?

The park ended. The final street was in our sights. We could do this. We could run through the streets of Bangkok from our hotel all the way to the number one restaurant in all of Asia. We had to. What other choice did we have?

We were so close. I watched our blue dot move closer and closer, two minutes, one minute…we passed it. We turned back, in an unassuming alley was the large sign reading “Gaggan.” We were there.

At 6:45 p.m. those doors pulled back and air conditioning never felt so good. Not one but four people greeted us, laughing at our spent breath, our soaked clothing. They happily took us to our table and brought us chilled, wet towels and the first starter, a pickled plum soda with cherries. It was the best thing I ever tasted, not because it was Gaggan, not because it would cost us 200 dollars a head, but because we had worked so hard to get there, because we wanted to be there more than anything, more than the pain in our feet, more than the price to our clothes or our dignity. We wanted to eat at Gaggan enough to run through a city to get there.

I propped my swollen ankle up against my other leg, sat back, had a chug of water and a sip of wine, and I enjoyed every single one of the 18 dishes we were served over the course of the next three hours. Because I could.

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A few courses from dinner
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A dish named “Charcoal”

Side note: We later surmised that we could have rented a ride on the back of one of those motorcycles as if it were a cab and probably should have done it. We also saw another group of girls come running into the restaurant late and equally soaked so we weren’t the only ones and it must be a common occurrence with the regular traffic of Bangkok.

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