Bangkok has such a wealth of fascinating food experiences to offer. From Michelin-star haunts to street stalls, mom-and-pop operations to the finest hotels in the world, great food is served literally everywhere, that it’s impossible to name the absolute ten best “must” visit places. However, as a guide for the first timer or the uber-enthusiast, Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, a local hotelier, entertainer and foodie, has compiled a list to get you started. Bon appetite!
1) Market Breakfast
A morning stroll through any fresh market in Thailand is a fascinating experience. A variety of breakfast foods and snacks are sold at myriad stalls. Many Thais eat a full breakfast of rice with a selection of side dishes, including curries, to stock up on energy for the rest of the day. In general the most popular snacks are pla tong koh (fried dough) and kanom krok (coconut milk pancakes). Both taste great with traditional Thai coffee, tea or warm soymilk. More robust choices are kao tom (rice soup) and joke (rice porridge), with pork, egg, sliced ginger and a sprinkling of crispy fried dough.
2) Hotel Buffet
The “all-you-can-eat” concept is thriving in Bangkok, especially in hotels where food connoisseurs are in constant search of the best local eats and value. Five-star chain hotels featuring ultra-luxe Sunday brunches with free-flow alcohol, cheese rooms, live entertainment and imported delicacies are all the rage. The most popular of these is the pricy Four Seasons’ Sunday Jazzy Brunch, which combines food from all their five outlets. If you’re looking for something a little more wallet-friendly but equally delicious, the Patummat buffet at the locally owned and operated Siam City Hotel is impressive; it has endless variety, top-notch presentation, guaranteed freshness and innovative monthly themes.
3) Roadside Noodles
A true lunchtime staple for Thais, you simply can’t go wrong with these flavourful noodles. Patrons can individually spice up the basic dish with vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and ground chilli. Without a doubt kuey tiew is the best way to fill up quickly and easily. There are an endless variety of options available, from fried and dried to those with and soup or gravy. Not to mention accoutrements like chicken, pork (minced or sliced), pork balls, beef, beef balls, fish balls and everything in between. Bangkok’s best stalls are noted in numerous local guides, but you can pretty much find tasty noodles on every street corner.
4) Som Tum
Like Americans craving hamburgers, every once in a while a Thai will have an intense craving for som tum. It is everyone’s favourite dish. Made of raw papaya (or sometimes even carrots, apples or mixed fruit!) shavings, dried shrimp, crab, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, palm sugar and chilli, the dish is Isaan cuisine’s most popular specialty and most famous export from the north-east of Thailand. Som tum is almost always accompanied by grilled pork, chicken or fish. In particular, nam tok, medium rare barbecue meat mixed with herbs or lap, heavily seasoned minced meat. Note: only try Isaan food after your stomach has become accustomed to strong seasonings.
It is difficult to pinpoint the style of cuisine this new and hip eatery has to offer. What it is safe to say is that it’s delicious! The menu covers a variety of Japanese fish (sushi, sashimi), salad and sous-vide meat dishes, along with some comfort foods like barbecue ribs, pastas, salads and pizzas. There is also an extensive drinks list of original cocktails, perfectly chilled whites and robust reds. Prices are amazingly cheap for the quality. Outdoor seating under a canopy of lush trees is pleasant during the cooler months. Located in a newly revitalised part of town called Aree, this up-and-coming neighbourhood is where all the hipsters come to see and be seen in the suburbs.
6) Normandie Grill
For a Paris-inspired stratospheric French gourmet experience, this place inside the world-famous Mandarin Oriental, the Grande Dame of all Bangkok hotels, is a must. Here you get French cuisine accompanied by the best in Thai service. The restaurant is the only place in Bangkok where a necktie is still mandatory! Always a treat are the cheese and dessert trolleys, pushed tableside at the end of the meal; a concept which they have kept since I was a child. It’s simply delightful to freely pick and choose as many types of cheese or pieces of cake as you wish. Although very expensive, the set lunches are attractively priced.
7) Greyhound Café
This inventive local start-up is getting ready to branch overseas. Located in major high-end malls around the city, Greyhound Café serves up local delights and gives a good indication of where the Thai palette preference is headed. The bare-essential décor and “I’m hip” service attitude (a local rarity) are clearly not the reasons why patrons are so loyal. The true reason lies in the menu, featuring home-style Western, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese recipes. Most popular is the salmon sashimi in spicy sauce, complicated noodles (you do the work here), Thai-style spicy spaghetti and fried chicken wings.
8) Mango & Sticky Rice
Thai mangoes are the most delicious in the world and the best way to enjoy them is with this summer dessert, traditionally available from March to May. But since the delicious nam dok mai variety is cultivatable year round, you can now enjoy this superb dessert any time of year. The sticky rice is mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar, then garnished with a slightly salty coconut cream and sprinkled with fried sesame seeds. Served with fresh juicy mango, the combination of tastes and textures is electrifying. If you happen to be in Thailand during our summer, do try the smaller ok long mango variety (with a light yellow flesh) with a more delicate flavour and texture as well.
9) Chinese Dim Sum
One thing the Thais and Chinese have in common is a love and respect of good food. Both nations are renowned for their healthy appetite. Bangkokians have a fine tradition of enjoying a leisurely Sunday lunch of dim sum with family and friends. The city is certainly not spoilt for choice, from China Town all the way up the Chao Phraya River, connoisseurs can be found munching on delightful bite-sized treats. One of the most popular destinations is Lin-Fa, located in the Siam City Hotel. This five-star legend has been serving up delicious dim sum for almost 20 years to a client list of local celebrities, politicians, sportsman and dignitaries. This is truly a must of visitors. Highly recommended is their weekend all-you-can-eat dim sum brunch.
10) Local Thai Cuisine
As a local Thai, it is extremely difficult for me to pick one, or even two, “Thai” restaurants to recommend, simply because all our food is really good. The cuisine is now world famous and even foreigners are profiting from its proliferation of admiration and success. Just recently Bangkok was honoured with the opening of two such eateries: Nahm, headed by Michelin-star chef David Thompson and Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin (a Michelin-starred Danish molecular gastronomy outfit). In reality, there are just great eateries all over the place, serving an endless variety of specialties. In Bangkok and every other major city and province, each community has its own “famous” restaurants and specialty cuisines, just ask a local. Although I hesitate to recommend a Thai restaurant, I can safely say that the best and most authentic Thai cuisine only exists in Thailand!