Food in Bangkok – what to expect
The statement that Bangkok is one of best dining destinations in the world is quite a bold declaration, and yet this vibrant city’s food scene really lives up to its self-assured promise. Catering for the taste buds of those on a budget, as well as delivering exquisitely presented and flavourful dishes for the discerning food connoisseur, the food in the capital is a wondrous delight for every pallet and bank balance. Growling stomachs are easily satisfied with scrumptious local dishes, Asian food of every kind and a vast array of western and international food.
The price of the food ranges as much as the copious variety and visitors can opt to dine out in some of the most upscale restaurants in the world, or opt to slurp up cheap, scrumptious street-noodles from one of the many food carts or street vendors.
Delicious aromas of stir-fried garlic, chilies and lime mingle with the dense humidity, wafting up your nostrils along every corner; and combined with the smiling faces of the friendly street vendors means that resistance becomes a futile endeavour. It goes without saying that the bustling streets of Bangkok are a foodie’s paradise for adventurous eaters.
Street food, in our opinion, is always the best means of sampling the local dishes and getting an idea of the local flavour, atmosphere and culture of a city. The capital is no exception, and street hawkers offer everything from warm, Nutella crepes, papaya salad (_som tam) and spicy, coconut milk curries pretty much 24 hours a day. The street food in Bangkok is definitely one of the best attractions of the city and most visitors find themselves quickly learning the phrase _aroi mak mak’ (very delicious) while enthusiastically devouring a plate of fried rice.
Local specialties not to miss
Before getting engrossed on where to find the best street food, eateries and restaurants in the capital, it’s paramount that visitors are familiar with some of the best local dishes in Bangkok.
Meat eaters will be happy to know that there are food carts selling fried or grilled meat on literally every corner in Bangkok and you need only your nose to guide you. Gai tod (fried chicken), sausage and moo ping (grilled pork) on kebab sticks are lead characters in Bangkok’s food scene and make for a quick and easy snack on the go.
Vegetarians, fear not! There are an abundance of excellent veggie-friendly snacks, such as sweet potato balls, corn on the cob, roasted nuts and an extensive assortment of fresh, tropical fruits.
For those looking for a meal rather a nibble, fried rice, tom yun goong noodles (rice-noodle soup) and pad thai (thin stir fried noodles) are also excellent options whether sitting down for a meal in an air-conned restaurant or watching them get whipped up in a giant wok on the streets.
Perhaps as a result of Thai dishes offering the perfect combinations of spicy, salty, sour and tangy, Thai people have a particular preference for sweet, sugary desserts after a meal is consumed. The desserts and syrupy drinks found in Bangkok are sure to satisfy even those with the most insatiable sugar cravings.
Mango-sticky rice is a firm favourite and the small, sticky parcels come wrapped up beautifully in banana leaves and make for a convenient and scrumptious snack while exploring. Crispy pancakes, crepes, waffles, deep fried bananas, coconut ice-cream, Milo rotis, ice manias (ice-cream rolls made on the spot) and honey toast are just a few of the sweet treats that’ll leave visitors loosening their belts.
Washing down the snacks, meals and desserts are an extensive local drinks menu that visitors should definitely attempt working their way down. At the top of our list are fruit shakes and smoothies, fresh coconut water, cha yen (sweet, iced tea), and butterfly juice (a thirst-quenching, purple drink made from nutritious butterfly pea powder).
Best areas to look for food markets and street food
Now that you’re familiar with what to eat, let’s dive into where to eat. For those on a budget or for travellers wanting to eat like a local; the more popular areas for street food are Pratunam, just outside Central World, Siam Square and Silom.
The bustling street food markets in Bangkok with the food stalls balanced precariously on pavement edges, the whizzing of motorbikes and the questionable sanitary conditions, are not for the faint-hearted. But, for the adventurous traveller, you’ll soon discover that Bangkok street food is world-famous for a reason.
Food tours in Bangkok are also a great way of learning more about the food and culture of the city and trying out different snacks and dishes that you might otherwise have missed. Many tour companies offer this experience with tours usually costing around THB 1000 per person including food, around five food spots and transport.
For those who wish to tackle the food scene of Bangkok unassisted, put on your comfy shoes and arrive hungry. Wang Lang Market situated opposite the Chao Phraya River from the Grand Palace, offers hungry visitors a prime street food experience in one of Bangkok’s most popular destinations.
Yaowarat (intersection of Yaowarat Street and Thanon Phadung Dao Street) in Chinatown is also a sure bet with its authentic ambiance, dozens of busy food stalls and even a selection of indoor restaurants, including one that sells over a hundred different types of tea. The delicious fusion of traditional Thai and Chinese cuisine dominate the scene and barbequed seafood, dumplings and peanut butter chicken are popular dishes.
For those who find themselves in this area but craving Indian fare, head over to the not too far away, Pahurat (India district) for delicious Indian curries, naan bread and mouth-watering chapatti.
Mid-range cafes and restaurants
For visitors of Bangkok looking to swap their plastic fork and polystyrene box for a good ol’ plate, chair and table, Bangkok is also home to an extensive array of eateries, cafés, mid-range restaurants and high-class dining experiences atop many a gleaming skyscraper. There’s even a Unicorn-themed café in Silom on Bang Rak that sells cakes, food and drinks themed around all things unicorn. Pastel colours, dreamy interiors, dozens of unicorn plush toys and pink as far as the eye can see. They even allow patrons to wear unicorn onesies while dining! Perfect for Instagram enthusiasts, unicorn devotees or travellers looking for a unique lunch experience. Unicorn Café is closed on Mondays but open every other day from 12pm until 8pm.
Continuing in the mid-range price bracket (minus the unicorns), our top Bangkok recommendations are Kalpapruek and Bangrak.
Kalpapruek has three restaurants in Bangkok; namely, Pramuan Road in Silom; 7th floor of Central World shopping mall in Siam and one on the first floor of the Mercury Ville shopping center. This popular bistro offers excellent Thai food, vegetarian food and even western dishes that are wonderfully well priced and absolutely delicious. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and stylish and the décor is elegant and welcoming. With friendly staff, daily specials as well as set lunch and dinner menus, it’s clear to see why this restaurant come so highly recommended. Be sure to try their sago and black bean in coconut cream or one of the scrumptious cakes on display. Opening hours are from 10am until 10pm.
For those who find themselves hungry upon arrival at Silom train station, a short walk will find you at Soi Saladang Road. It is on this road that Bangrak lives– a marvellous restaurant that prides themselves on putting happiness at the centre of all things. Sounds good to us! Whipping up local specialties such as som tam (spicy papaya salad), tofu with cashew nuts and glass noodle soup, this restaurant also serves international dishes including pizza, pasta and bacon-wrapped prawns. Closed on Sundays, Bangrak operates from 10am until 10pm Monday to Saturday.
Fine dining venues
For those who yearn for the finer things in life, the capital of Thailand is filled to bursting with first-class dining opportunities and almost every skyscraper offers a swanky restaurant or bar at the top with breathtaking views of the city.
One of the first 5-star restaurants that springs to mind is the gorgeously romantic Attitude, situated atop the 26th floor of the Avani Bangkok Riverside Hotel. Killer views of the Chao Phraya River and the iconic skyline, an adjacent swimming pool and stunning courtyard are just a few of the treats on offer at this fairly new hotspot. While the food served at Attitude is undoubtedly some of the finest in the city, the most memorable aspect are the tiny LED lights that light up the outdoor bar’s floor after sunset. With the stars twinkling above you and the lights below your feet, the ambiance is altogether otherworldly. Cocktails are created by a French mixologist and the food is predominantly beautifully presented Asian-fusion tapas. Located at 257 Charoennakorn Road, opening times at Attitude are 5:30pm until 1am.
And lastly, the crème de la crème of fine-dining restaurants in Bangkok is Nahm – ranked time and again as one of the finest restaurants in the world. Serving a la carte dishes as well as set menus, the food is a unique and exquisite take on traditional Thai dishes and all created by a Michelin chef at the wheel. Nahm is situated on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Hotel on Sathorn Road with some of the menu highlights being kanom jeen noodles, prawn-lemongrass salad and a beautifully flavoursome tom yum soup. Open for lunch from 12pm until 2pm and dinner from 7pm until 10:30pm daily, with Saturdays and Sundays only offering the dinner opening.