Ek Teng Phu Ki (เอ็กเต็งผู่กี่) is one of Bangkok Chinatown’s two oldest traditional coffeeshops, together with sister-coffeeshop Eiah-Sae (https://www.hungryonion.org/t/bangkok-eiah-sae-the-89-year-old-traditional-hainanese-coffeeshop/3544). And like good traditional coffeeshops all over South-East Asia, it’s run by the Hainanese-Chinese, just as it is in Singapore and Malaysia.
Whereas Eiah-Sae has “gentrified” to a certain degree, catering to “outsiders” - non-Chinatown denizens who come here for a cuppa, brewed Hainanese-style, i.e. pre-roasted with sugar, butter & sometimes cocoa, then served pre-sweetened, Ek Teng Phu Ki retains its strict Samphaeng (Bangkok Chinatown) character. Its clientele consists almost exclusively of Bangkok’s ethnic Teochew Chinese community, who loved nothing better than to gather there and banter among themselves in Thai and Teochew dialects.
Everyone here seemed to know one another, like a Thai working-class version of Cheers - the neighbourhood mechanic, the street’s carpenter, the road sweeper, the head chef from one of Yaowarat’s Teochew restaurants.
They stared at us when we walked in - two obvious outsiders who looked nothing like them, neither physically nor in the way we move, talk or even dress. My friend spoke to the proprietress first, in Thai and then in Hainanese - always an ice-breaker if you happen to be Thai-Hainanese. We placed our orders and sat down.
The regulars nearest to us started asking where we’re from. I replied in a mixture of Thai (thank God I had maternal grandparents who were Bangkokians before they moved down to Singapore) and Teochew, the lingua franca of Bangkok Chinatown’s Chinese, and one of the dialects I am well-versed in (P.S. - I can’t speak Cantonese). I’m surprised how easy it was for us to fit in right after that - we were probably a couple of novelties in their eyes - like the dreamwalkers in Avatar.
It was a hot day, and we ordered a glass of iced milk coffee (“ka fei yen”) and a glass of iced milk tea (“cha yen”). Oh Gawd, no one does iced milk coffee like the Thais do - ultra-caffeine-thick, ultra-milky-rich, and perhaps a bit too “ultra-sweet” for my liking. But I can drink this forever & ever. Thai iced tea is also in a league of its own. Compared to it, the iced milk teas we have in Singapore or Hong Kong or Penang, anywhere, paled into insignificance.
I spied the old water-boiler at the back of the shop - it resembled the antiquated contraptions we see all over Malaysia - the Hainanese dominate the coffeeshop industry everywhere, from Penang to Ipoh & Malacca, from Kota Bharu in the north to Johore Bharu in the south. And they’d all have this familiar old contraptions, charcoal embers burning to keep the water simmering.
So, if you want a change from Bangkok’s chic cafe culture, and want a taste of old-fashioned traditional coffee - and perhaps a toast spread with butter & sangkaya, pay a visit to Ek Teng Phu Ki.
Ek Teng Phu Ki
163 Thanon Phat Sai
Khwaeng Samphanthawong, Khet Samphanthawong
10100 Bangkok (Yaowarat/Phahurat)
Tel: +66 2 221-4484
Operating hours: 4am to 9.30pm, daily.