Known for her playful desserts that fuse Thai flavours with the artistry of French pastry-making, chef Arisara ‘Paper’ Chongphanitkul shares her favourite Bangkok spots for street eats, shopping and more.
Housed in a glass-front, two-storey building in Bangkok’s Watthana district is Ici, a dessert café that serves up sugary works of edible art. It was founded by Thai-born, French-trained pastry chef Arisara ‘Paper’ Chongphanitkul, who worked in some of Bangkok’s most renowned fine-dining restaurants before opening her own place.
“You can find almost everything you want in Bangkok,” Paper says. “It’s a perfect mixture of culture, people and food.”
There’s nowhere this mixture is better experienced than in Bangkok’s street food scene, which is celebrated the world over. Vendors line the streets in neighbourhoods such as Banglamphu and Saphan Lueng, but perhaps the most popular place for street food in Bangkok – and Paper’s personal recommendation – is Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road.
First-time visitors to Bangkok shouldn’t leave without trying classic Thai dishes such as street noodles, pad thai and tom yum soup, says Paper. Jeh O Chula in Bangkok’s Pathum Wan District is the pastry chef’s favourite restaurant, and is famous for its huge, colourful tom yum noodle bowls. “It’s street food made with good-quality ingredients,” she says. “I’ve been eating at Jeh O since I was young, with my family, and I still go there now. I recommend it to everyone.”
Fragrance, spice and fresh ingredients are key elements in Thai cooking. For organic produce, Paper shops at Talad Thai, a large market just north of Bangkok, and also works directly with local farmers. She speaks highly of her boss, Frederic Meyer, a French restaurateur who manages an impressive portfolio of Bangkok restaurants. “He wants our restaurants to use organic ingredients, so he does everything himself. He goes to vegetable farms, rice fields and tea plantations.”
However, it’s not only local cuisine on the menu in Thailand’s capital. The city’s restaurant scene draws inspiration from all over the world, including “Thai food from every region, plus Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Lebanese and Western”, according to Paper.
This meeting of cultures is manifest in Paper’s desserts. At her café, Paper merges the craft of pastry-making she learned in Europe with the unique flavours and ingredients of her home country, such as lemongrass, mango and coconut.
“In Thai culture we don’t adjust our existing traditions,” she says. “We take good things that we see or experience in other places and adapt them to what we already have, making them better.”
For the ultimate Bangkok experience, Paper recommends the ever-popular Chatuchak Market – the largest market in Asia. “You’ll be surprised at the variety of things you can find in one place,” she says. As for Bangkok’s coolest spots, Paper favours traditional areas rich in history that offer a respite from the big city, such as Old Town, Wat Pho temple complex and the Grand Palace.
Overall, though, she believes it’s the food that makes Bangkok special. “You can eat anything at any time – in the streets, in restaurants, from early in the morning until late at night,” Paper says. Alongside Jeh O, she recommends her own restaurant as one of the city’s best places to eat. “Everything I really want a café to be, I put into this place.”
Hungry for more? Check out the spots Culture Trip loves
The Yard Hostel, Bangkok
Eco Hotel, Hostel
Private rooms are quaint and homely | Courtesy of The Yard Hostel, Bangkok
Peaceful and eco-friendly, The Yard is the perfect base for exploring Bangkok’s growing independent café scene. A world away from the frenetic backpacking hotspot Khao San Road, this shipping container hostel is located in Ari, a quiet northern neighbourhood crammed with offbeat coffee shops that still flies under the radar of most tourists.
As you would expect from a five-star hotel in such a food-focused city, Banyan Tree Bangkok’s restaurants are impeccable. If you dine at just one, make it Apsara, which serves rich Thai cuisine on a converted vintage rice barge, followed by cocktails at Moon Bar, perched 61 floors up on the hotel’s roof with showstopping city views. For more culinary adventures, head to Patpong Night Market (the hotel runs a complimentary tuk-tuk service), or book a table next door at Nahm, a Michelin-star restaurant that features on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Bangkok is not only home to incredibly creative desserts but also to some of the best street food in the world. This tour will guide you around the bustling streets of Bangkok, where you’ll get to try a selection of mouth-tingling Thai dishes. Along the way, you’ll get to learn about the history of the city from a local guide, visit a temple and discover why Bangkok is one of the best places on the planet to eat.
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a home-cooked meal on your travels – and Thai people are among the most generous hosts on the planet. During this event, you’ll be invited into someone’s home, where you can help with the cooking or wait for your meal to be dished up. Throughout, you’ll be able to chat to your hosts and fellow guests at the intimate dinner table, all of which makes for a unique experience.