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By Angela Carlton
Bangkok’s food scene is an unbeatable cultural experience that will very probably change your life. In Bangkok you have endless choice between incredibly affordable street stalls where your classic Pad Thai can be cooked up in a matter of minutes, never disappointing but always slightly different, or if you have some extra baht to spend there are plentiful high-end restaurants where you can pay western prices for an assault of your taste buds that will leave you craving more for years to come. There are endless possibilities to eat and enjoy in Bangkok, and for the traveller who may be pressed for time, I’ve compiled a list of my top foodie experiences while you’re in the land of smiles.
The seafood Thai omelette, or Khai Jiao, on rice is unique to Bangkok and is a wonder to behold. It takes all of 48 seconds to make (I timed it) and is mouth wateringly delicious. Approach any street food vendor, but especially one on Khao San Road that has at least a couple of people queuing up for food, since as a general rule you can assess how good the food is going to be by the number of people waiting. When you order, watch as the cook prepares you a little box of white rice and then pours a pre-prepared egg mixture of prawns, mussels, cuttlefish, oysters or crab at your discretion, green onion, and some tantalising sauces into a sizzling wok. The cook then gently stir the mixture with a spatula and swirl the wok over the fire, before gloriously flipping the omelette to show its golden and lightly browned other side, then it is scooped out of the wok and placed onto its bed of rice.
Mango sticky rice, also known as khao neow in Thai, is an unexpected yet undeniably fresh dessert to have in Bangkok. The dish consists of slices of succulent mango on a bed of sticky rice and topped with a thickened coconut cream and sugar sauce. Often, street stalls will sprinkle yellow mung beans on the dessert for a pretty and crunchy finish. Desserts in Thailand aren’t easy to come by, especially at street stalls unless you want waffles slathered in nutella or sweet dumplings, so if you’re looking for something a little bit lighter then mango sticky rice is the perfect treat.
Tom Yum soup is the national dish of Thailand and definitely one of the best soups you will ever have. The soup can be very spicy or mild depending on your preference and has a sweet and sour flavour. It is usually prepared with prawns or seafood but can also be made with chicken, beef, pork or tofu or simply vegetables. The soup consists of all fresh ingredients including lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. The medley of flavours packs a powerful punch and is usually sweetened with added tomatoes, coconut cream, sweet onions and mushrooms. What I have found is that every Tom Yum soup is a little different from the next so it’s best to do lots of experimenting and find a spot that best suits you - I particularly liked the soup I had from Yana restaurant in the MBK centre.
You can’t come to Thailand without eating Pad Thai, and even if you wanted to bypass the most popular dish in the country it would be a hard feat to pull off as it is basically sold at every restaurant, street stall and mobile kitchen around. The trick is finding the most delicious Pad Thai. What’s fun about Pad Thai is that usually it is prepared in front of you in a wok and is finished in lightening-fast speed. It is a combination of sticky noodles, fried egg, bean sprouts, garlic, shallots, fish sauce and lime topped with crushed peanuts and Thai chilies if you want to add them. You can ask for Pad Thai with chicken, prawns, pork, beef or tofu from nearly anyone with a wok and they’ll happily prepare it for you.
There is a debate going on in Bangkok and beyond about which Thai curry is better: red or green. Having done much research and experimenting (for science), my opinion is the red curry is unsurpassable for both taste and a spicy kick. In Thai the name is kaeng phet, which literally translates to “spicy soup”. The curry gets its rich colour from crushed Thai chilies that have been mixed with garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root and lemongrass to form a moist paste. Though today you can buy this paste ready made throughout the world there are many restaurants in Bangkok that still make up there own from scratch and these are the ones that I suggest you seek out. The best place in town that I went to for this experience was the Sra Bua By Kiin Kinn hotel restaurant, which is very near to the ever-popular Siam Centre.
Certain street vendors have experimented with their stir-fry much to the horror of more traditionalist Thai cooks. There was one such lady down the street from me and she would prepare crispy pork belly on rice with a fried egg and kale. Honestly, it was like heaven and then I further adapted it by having a vendor a few stalls down chop up a fresh mango and I would top off my dish with mango. The mix of sweet and sour spice was intoxicating and I definitely overindulged. Of course, my addition of mango was even too much for my experimental cook who thought the addition of mango was total corruption. But I maintain that finding the perfect Thai dish to suit you is part of the whole Bangkok experience and essential for really falling in love with the flavours of Bangkok.
Fresh and whole coconuts are plentiful in Bangkok and from many street stalls you can buy a coconut for as little as 20 baht or 46 pence. Watch as the street vendor takes out a small machete and hacks off the top of the coconut with ease, before inserting a colourful straw and handing it to you with a smile. The coconuts are refreshing, filled with plentiful clear and naturally sweet-tasting water, while some people get a spoon to scoop out the sides and eat the inner flesh of the nut itself. However you decide to eat your coconut, it is an essential food item for a city that is known to be one of the hottest metropolises in the world.
I know what you’re thinking; Bangkok isn’t Japan so why am I eating Japanese food? Great question. My answer to you is that like many major cities Bangkok has a raging food scene and one thing that Bangkok locals are absolutely wild about is Japanese food, and they do it so well. In fact, Bangkok has quite a large Japanese population living and working in the city centre, and luckily the restaurants often reflect this dimension. I went to a high-end sushi restaurant called Joushitsu Sushi and was served by Japanese women wearing real kimonos. Though at Joushitsu, I paid Western prices, there are endless Sushi and Ramen restaurants that are significantly cheaper without sacrificing quality. What is more is that the city is equipped with UberEats and Grab, both of which can deliver you top notch food at a moment’s notice. I definitely partook of a duvet day with a hot ramen and it was divine.
Pad See Ew seems to be preferred by the locals to Pad Thai, as far as fried noodles go. Whenever I asked a vendor what they preferred they almost always pointed to Pad See Ew, which consists of a fatter noodle than used in Pad Thai, which lets the sauce and your choice of protein better stick to the noodle. Usually Pad See Ew is prepared by frying the noodles, kale or bok choy alongside chicken, pork, beef or tofu. I was able to get it from most vendors for 40 baht, which is about one pound. As it can be quite difficult to find traditional western style breakfasts, I quickly became accustomed to having a takeaway box of Pad See Ew for breakfast, as it is always reliable and delicious.
Ok, so this is technically another Japanese dish but the Thai do it fantastically and it feels much cleaner than our fatty western version. Some street vendors and restaurants specialise in preparing katsu, or breaded chicken strips with a tangy katsu sauce on a bed of sticky rice. In Bangkok, there are whole streets where the vendors are dedicated to making katsu, and you can always tell the locally preferred one because it will have the biggest queue. The chicken is juicy and paired with a little sachet of katsu sauce beside a bowl of chicken broth soup, that is lighter than in the west with green onions, herbs and sweet onions inside. I ate this every day for a week and have zero regrets.
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