From sweet mangoes to spicy noodle dishes, here’s everything you should try on a trip to Bangkok.
The capital of Thailand is hardly a quiet place. Bangkok, perched on the Gulf of Thailand, is a buzz of purring tuk-tuks, motorbikes puffing billowing clouds of grey smoke and skyscrapers soaring towards the clouds.
Visitors can invariably subsist off the city’s many night markets, picking up skewers of charred meat and yellow curly noodles studded with hunks of pork. You can snag a colourful plastic chair on the side of the road outside a local, unassuming restaurant and feast upon Thai omelettes laced through with plump oysters. Alternatively, you can opt for the other side of the spectrum: boat cruises with multi-course meals; farm-to-table restaurants with on-site gardens; and elegant European-inspired restaurants with delicate plates of lobster tail and caviar.
But where to start exactly? Enter chef Tom Naumsuwan, who grew up in Bangkok accompanying his mother to local markets peddling warm curries and home-made bread.
“My favourite thing about the food scene in Bangkok is that the food options are very diverse, and there is something for everyone,” says Naumsuwan. “Street food is also quite easy to find at any given time of the day.”
Nowadays, Naumsuwan resides in New York City and helms Wayla, a Thai restaurant on the Lower East Side. But when he’s back in Bangkok, he makes sure to stop by all of his favourite places. Below, you’ll find some Naumsuwan-approved Bangkok eats, along with a handful of other must-try foods in the city.
Naumsuwan loves to head into Thonglor Congee and Curry Shop for a bowl of jok. “Ask for jok with egg, pork and liver,” he suggests. The warm congee arrives swimming with fried dough, and guests can add a sprinkling of chilli flakes, chopped ginger and scallions. Look for the quaint storefront with a bright yellow sign out front.
Many street stands peddle Thai chicken crowned atop mounds of rice, prepared with slices of refreshing cucumber and chilli-flecked sauce. Head to Tang Meng for this delicacy, where a busy operation is a flurry of actions, with cooks scooping rice out of rice cookers and chopping white meat with cleavers.
Raja khanom Tokyo (pancake with fillings) at Charoen Krung Road
This Thai street snack is similar to a crepe. “It’s usually a flat pancake filled with either sweet fillings, like custard cream or panda cream, or savoury fillings like pork sausage or ground pork,” says Naumsuwan. The flat pancakes are expertly rolled into cones, ready to be eaten on the go. Naumsuwan explains that the best place to fill up on this delight is on Charoen Krung Road, where street vendors hawk the snack, stuffing the soft, crisped-up shell with mini pork sausage, ground pork, Maggi, white pepper and egg.
Kway teow rua (boat noodles) at Pa Yak Boat Noodles
Boat noodles were first served on the canoes that glide back and forth on Bangkok’s canals, hence the name. Deep bowls arrive flush with lots of toppings and doused in peanut sauce or gravy. Choose between chicken, beef, pork, pickled bean curd, meatballs or liver. Try it at Pa Yak Boat Noodles, where bowls of these noodles are quickly shipped out of the kitchen.
The Michelin-recommended Thipsamai has been serving the city’s best pad thai since 1966. Residents and tourists alike line up to order its signature ‘Superb Padthai’, with plump fresh prawns and shrimp oil all wrapped with egg. While the lines are usually long, the chefs dole out orders quickly. The meal is worth the small wait.
People flock to Kuai Chap Uan Photchana, a street food vendor on Yaowarat Road, for all things pork. At this open-air restaurant, Naumsuwan recommends a bowl of thin rice noodle rolls, which come in clear broth with crispy pork, pork innards and a boiled egg. Guests can also add an extra dousing of chilli or vinegar for a bit of a fiery kick.
Night markets swarm with gai tod, a crispy, crunchy fried chicken. It’s simply cooked – just lightly coated in an oil and shallot sauce and then fried until wonderfully crackly. Pick it up at local markets, such at the Rod Fai Night Market, where the chicken is often chopped up into finger-size pieces, crowned with some fried onions, then wrapped in wax paper and slipped into a plastic bag.
Kanom pang ping (toasted bread with jam) at Yaowarat Toasted Bread
Restaurant, Thai, $$$
This simple street snack is ideal for a quick breakfast. Slices of bread are slathered with butter and grilled and then swiped with spreads, jams or a drizzling of condensed milk. Stop by at Yaowarat Toasted Bread, where long lines filled with hungry diners patiently wait for spongy bread generously piped with chocolate, condensed milk or sweet custard.
This omelette – which some would say is more similar to a pancake because of the potato starch thrown into the egg mix, making it thicker – is broken up into bite-size pieces and studded with oysters, which are gently seared until light and crispy. Hit the Chatuchak Weekend Market where you’ll find vendors galore grilling the omelettes in large pans.
Come for the papaya salad at Baan Somtum Sathorn, and stay for other classic Isan dishes. The restaurant plates up an astounding 29 versions of the salad: some tossed with pork skin, others with coconut sprouts and prawns. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that just about everyone here is inhaling platters of the stuff. “Try the papaya salad with salted eggs and the pork ribs in spicy tamarind soup with sticky rice,” says Naumsuwan.
Thai milk tea – colourful tea poured into plastic cartons, a thick straw hanging out – is pretty much ubiquitous in Bangkok. It is generally swirled with both condensed milk and evaporated milk, giving it its uniquely sweet taste. Some overflow with pearls – also known as tapioca pearls – squishy, chewy bubbles that settle at the bottom of the drink. The best place for cha yen in Bangkok happens to be KOI Thé, where a rainbow of teas is complemented by wonderfully golden bubbles.
Khao niao mamuang (mango sticky rice) at Mae Varee Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango
What better combination is there than hunks of sweet mangos piled upon sticky rice and drizzled with coconut milk? In Bangkok, it typically arrives ready to eat in a takeaway box. Head to Mae Varee Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango – you’ll know the spot because the entire exterior is decked out in rows and rows of mangoes – for styrofoam boxes brimming with delightfully juicy mangoes and mounds of sticky rice.