Best of Bangkok
We are officially launching Restaurant Girl City Guides where we devour the world one city at a time and share our favorite food shops, bakeries, gelaterias, bakeries and restaurants. Without further ado, here’s our very first City Guide for Bangkok.
It’s one thing to eat Thai food in America. It’s another thing entirely to eat Thai food in Thailand. The flavors are brighter, sharper, and more, well, Thai. If you get the chance to go to Bangkok, eat your face off. Seriously. Aside from seeing the The Grand Palace, the Golden Buddha and a few other buddhas, you’ll want to focus your efforts on food. Especially the street food and just as importantly on the dive joints. I was a skeptic about the whole street food thing when I landed at the airport, figuring that was something hard core foodies say so you think they’re hard core. I dabbled in a few, fancier and highly praised restaurants, which were good, but not as deliciously rough around the edges or nearly as authentic (yes, I just used that word) as what you’d find in more down & dirty spots. The reason being that most Thai people don’t eat at formal restaurants at all. They eat street food or they eat at home. I can’t tell you how many people I saw slurping bowls of Hot & Sour Shrimp soup (Tom Yum Goong) or noodle curries, chopsticks and bowl in hand, while simultaneously crossing the chaotic Bangkok streets. (What a crazy sight!) People walk and eat here. They plop down on the sidewalk and even in the street and eat.
The only thing you’ll want to think about when picking a restaurant or outdoor market to eat at is LOCATION. I liken Bangkok to a humongous parking lot over two times the size of Manhattan. Traffic creeps (if you’re lucky) and the farther away you are from where you want to get could take over an hour, even two, so pick and choose accordingly. I’m the kind that will pilgrimage for food, but if someone from Bangkok tells you it’s too far, trust them. Besides, amazing food is everywhere you look, so there’s no need to go too far out of your way. Thai food can be deliciously simple and satisfying as Sweet Sticky Rice cooked in Coconut Milk and wrapped in a banana leaf or itty bitty ripe Bananas grilled and served from a street cart. There’s bags of chewy, nearly gummy slivers of Jackfruit reminiscent of banana, and meaty, finely spiced Pork Sausages laced with chiles, ginger, and rice noodles, lending it added texture. And that’s just for starters. Sticky rice is everywhere and it’s a must. Sticky rice topped with coconut custard, or studded with musky red beans, roast pork, or the Thai tour de force, Sticky Rice With Mango, aka Khao Niew Ma Muang. It’s all so gloriously glutinous, sweet and good. It’s one of life’s simplest and most delicious pleasures. Sliced, ripe mango scattered with sesame seeds and a snowy white coconut syrup nestled on a bed of gloriously glutinous rice.
Before I get into the excellent dives I discovered, I thought it would be a good idea to break down what else you’ll find on the streets and in the markets. Essentially, you can find anything that you would in a restaurant. Thai food is street food really. It’s one and the same. The rich just eat more fish and meat (and better quality) with their rice and noodles than the poor. Rice and noodles are essential to nearly every meal in Thailand. In fact, a meal could be as simple as sticky rice, black rice (my favorite!) or jasmine rice wrapped in a banana leaf, or served in a bowl and eaten with a little fish sauce, dried shrimp, peanuts, or chile sauce. My favorite way to eat rice is with Green Curry abundant with Shrimp and Thai Eggplant, which are small and round and way better than any eggplant I’ve sampled in the states. (Don’t get me wrong. I love America.) There’s yellow curry, vibrant with turmeric, red curry, tined with red chiles and tomato paste, or Sour Curry flavored with tamarind. There’s savory rice dishes and sweet, sticky desserts. I can’t even begin to rattle off all of the different noodle soups, noodle curries and wok-fried rice noodles or glass noodles tossed with squid, shrimp, pork, or beef. And don’t expect eggs or cereal for breakfast, (unless you’re eating at your Westerner friendly hotel). The closest you’ll come is Khanom Krok (Coconut Rice Dumplings), sweet and doughy ravioli-shaped nibbles you’ll find on the streets for breakfast or as daytime snack. That, and all of those sweet Sticky Rice dishes I mentioned.
There’s a delicious universe of Thai dishes and I discuss them all in my book, Try This – Traveling The Globe Without Leaving The Table (see the Thailand chapter) if you care to read up on them. Either way, here’s a few of my favorite dives not to miss in Bangkok…
Silom VillageCuisine: Thai
If you want to sample the scope of fresh seafood available in Bangkok, Silom Village is a great place to do that. This outdoor eatery, set smack in the middle of a shopping village, is composed of...Read More
Thip SamaiCuisine: Thai
If you love Pad Thai, Thip Samai is your Graceland. This is Shrimp Pad Thai the way it was meant to be eaten -- incredibly light and flavorful with Thai's signature hints of salty, sour, spicy, and...Read More
Or Tor Kor MarketCuisine: Thai
Talk about a crash course in Thai cuisine. This lively Bangkok market is a veritable Disneyland for traditional Thai dishes and ingredients. Thai mangoes, coconuts, longan fruit, jackfruit,...Read More
Krua ApsornCuisine: Thai
There isn't much in the way of fine dining in Bangkok, at least not where Thai people go to splurge or celebrate a special occasion. The fancier restaurants are for tourists or expats, most often...Read More