Bangkok is a city of extremes, from beautiful ancient temples standing side by side to modern day luxury high-rise hotels. It doesn’t do things by halves, and that includes food. Food is an essential element of Asian culture and in Bangkok the dining options are nearly limitless.
Thai cooking places an emphasis on strong flavors and usually balances three to four sensory tastes in each dish: sour, sweet, salty and bitter. While dishes may look wonderfully simple, don’t be fooled. Thai food revels in complex flavors and aromatic spices, blended together to create a fantastic, cohesive taste.
With Thai street food famous worldwide, it is impossible to walk more than 10 meters in Bangkok without coming across a new stall and one of the most difficult things for the uninitiated is knowing how to order Thai street food. The best advice is to go with the flow, approach a stall, ascertain what their core ingredient is, ask for that and see what is made. It’s a great way of discovering new dishes and sampling local food.
Popular street food dishes include kaao laad kaeng (curry on rice), kaao pad (fried rice), pad kaprao (stir-fried meat with holy basil leaves), kai jiaow (Thai-style omelette) and moo kratium prik thai (stir-fried pork in garlic and pepper). Common herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, Thai basil and mint elevate the dishes and often add freshness. For something sweet, don’t miss sticky rice and mango.
Chinatown, particularly along Yaowarat Road, offers some of the tastiest, least expensive and best food stalls in Bangkok, particularly at night. Although prices will be inflated around tourist areas, the average street food dish should cost 30-40 baht ($1 = around 30 baht).
Victory Monument (Sukhumvit BTS line) is famous for boat noodles (noodles in soup) and a popular game is the boat noodle challenge. There are so many stalls located close together that offer miniature portions of their noodles for 9 baht – the winner of the game is the one who manages to collect the most bowls by the end of the evening.
The night food market on Sukhumvit Soi 38 (Thong Lo, BTS station) helpfully posts most of the menus in English. On the right hand side of the soi (street), close to the entrance, you will find the famous stall Pad Thai Fire Look. Its elderly vendor fries his noodles every night, and he is known for being one of the best pad thai cooks in Bangkok. Just as well regarded, the street food stalls found at the bottom of the Golden Mount are known by locals for cooking amazing pad thai.
A fun way to come to grips with the food in Bangkok is to try a food walking tour with Bangkok Food Tours – explore an area of Bangkok while simultaneously trying the best of the food that is on offer. Led by a Thai local who explains the dishes, their background and ingredients, it can help build knowledge and confidence trying Thai street food in the future.
Food courts in shopping malls can be a great place to come to grips with the sheer variety of dishes. They offer authentic street food at street food prices, but they have proper menus, which are also in English. Try Terminal 21, MBK, Food Loft at Central Chit Lom or the basement of most Robinson’s department stores.
There are also more upmarket Thai restaurants, often designed with tourists in mind thanks to the inflated prices, but it is sometimes quite nice to enjoy the local cuisine in a more luxurious setting. Try Kinnaree (Sukhumvit Soi 8, Nana BTS), Blue Elephant (next to the Eastern Hotel at Surasat BTS), Bo.Lan (Sukhumvit 26, Asok BTS) and Soul Food Mahanakorn (Thong Lor BTS). One of the most popular Thai dining experiences is at the unique, beloved Cabbages and Condoms on Sukhumvit Soi 10. As well as offering tasty Thai food, they promote family planning and AIDS/HIV awareness. La Table de Tee is well worth a visit thanks to its daily tasting menu.
Bangkok equally offers great International cuisine – here are some recommendations:
EAT ME (Soi Pipat 2, Covent Road, Silom BTS) is known for Australian style cuisine and is perennially considered one of the best restaurant in Asia.
Bellino, a wine room and boutique on Thong Lor 55, makes the freshest and tastiest Italian food – Friday nights are popular as regulars know that’s when their delivery of buffalo mozzarella cheese arrives from Naples.
La Monita (various locations) is revered for offering fantastic Mexican food. For sumptuous dining, Seven Spoons is not to be missed. Do make a reservation – they only have four tables.
Sunday brunches are also popular in Thailand – the big hotels don’t tend to make any money on these, but use them as an excuse to show off and showcase the talents of their chefs. Free-flowing Champagne runs alongside the most succulent cuts of meat, every possible salad combination, cold meats and cheese and the most ornate of desserts. Recommended brunches include: Four Seasons, the Hilton, the Anantara and the St Regis.
And of course, as a country known for adding sugar to most of their savory dishes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Thailand also has some amazing deserts to offer. From the much loved mango and sticky rice (the stall on Sukhumvit Soi 38 is recommended), to banana and nutella roti from any street stall, to the fabulous chocolate brownies at Chu (Asok BTS), to the famous honey toast at After You (Thong Lor soi 13), you can’t go wrong.
This just scratches the surface of Thailand’s amazing cuisine, there are of course also watermelon smoothies, the sweetest freshest tropical fruit and regional specialities also to sample. It is simply hard to go wrong in this culinary wonderland.