For someone with a healthy appetite like me, the lure of Thailand and Thai food is irresistible. I love the temples, the generous and polite people, the golden Buddhas, and all of the colour and drama of Bangkok. But I am an unapologetic foodie, and the moments of culinary bliss that I have experienced in Bangkok figure prominently in my memories of this city, right up there with the saffron-clad monks and the jewelled temples.
Bangkok is a big city, and it can be intimidating. The sidewalks are crowded morning to night, and the traffic is often at a standstill. However, it's an easy city to navigate if you are not driving. Bangkok’s Skytrain will take you to many of the places that you want to visit, or will connect you with the metro, trains and busses. The Skytrain cars are clean and air conditioned, and your fellow passengers are
unfailingly polite. It’s a true ticket to dine.
Hop on one of the trains to take a Thai food tour of Bangkok, a city that celebrates the best and freshest of local food on every street corner. Here are six of the best experiences with Thai cuisine in town:
I asked the desk clerk at the Pullman Hotel where I was staying for a restaurant recommendation. I wanted a small neighbourhood café where I could eat like a local. He pointed me to the Baan Ajarn, just a bit further down Rangnam Road near the Victory Monument. It was perfect: small, unadorned tables in an unpretentious space, but serving the best tom yam I have ever tasted (above), with deadly red Thai chilies floating on top of fat shrimp, Thai eggplant and fresh coriander. Great eating for about 100 baht, (US $3.25*).
Take the Skytrain to the river, the true heart of the city, always busy and packed with great dining opportunities. Take a river cruise, at sunset if you can, but I don’t recommend dining on one of the boats. The food is often compromised by the view. Instead, search out one of the many waterfront restaurants, many on elevated wooden piers.
One of the best is Supatra River House, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. The vistas of the river, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun are spectacular. Enjoy grilled fish and steamed seafood with dipping sauces and sticky rice.
On a steamy night in Bangkok, there’s nothing the locals love better than dining at one of the many rooftop restaurants, with some cool breezes and a spectacular view of the city and its temples at sunset. Siam@Siam Design Hotel has one of the most glamorous, The Roof. The menu is international, but there are plenty of Thai dishes. If your timing is right, you can enjoy The Roof’s monthly Full Moon Party.
There are some super authentic eateries in the big malls in Bangkok, and they are usually crowded and happy places. Siam Center and MBK (Mah Boon Krong) Center have great food courts. Centralworld is the largest shopping mall in Bangkok, and the food halls hold treasures for the intrepid foodie. There's a broad selection of pan-Asian foods that are very inexpensive, from steaming bowls of guay-deow (noodle soup) to traditional Thai curries and pan-fried noodles. Central World is also home to the largest Asian supermarket in Thailand, so this is the place to find unique foodstuffs to take home.
Although Central World was damaged by fire during the Red Shirt rebellions in April, it is scheduled to reopen most of its departments in late September 2010. Its food halls will reopen in November and December 2010 and are promised to be even bigger and better.
Chatuchak Weekend Market in central Bangkok is the largest outdoor market in the world, with more than 5,000 stalls selling everything from silk jackets to faux Chanel handbags. The food stalls (above) are incredible, overflowing with fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables brought in to the city from the country farms. Munch on jackfruit or squares of chilled dragon fruit, or cool off with a Thai iced coffee or a glass of freshly squeezed Mandarin orange juice. The Damnoen Sadual Floating Market (below), about 110 kilometres (68 miles) from Bangkok and easily reached by bus, is another market that will thrill the food lover.
Thai people seem to eat endlessly. How do they stay so slim? They nibble and nosh on a diverse selection of dishes on offer at every space on the sidewalks. (Below, dumplings.)
For me, this is the most satisfying dining experience of all. Because everything is fresh and cooked to order, the dishes show authentic Thai cuisine at its best.
Perched on a small stool at a sidewalk table, I watched as a smiling lady made pad thai just for me. Noodles, dried shrimp, green onions, coconut milk, tamarind and bamboo shoots, and of course, chilies, went in to the hot wok. An egg was cooked off to the side of the wok and then incorporated. Cashews were sprinkled on top, and the dish was placed in front of me in minutes. It cost 55 baht but was, in reality, priceless. This is how pad thai is supposed to taste.
Photos by Barbara Ramsay Orr.