Street Food And Fine Dining: A Guide To Bangkok Eats
Late last year Bangkok made headlines for being the first place in the world to have a Michelin-starred street stall. It was the inaugural year of the city’s Michelin Guide, and the recipient in question was chef Jai Fai, or Auntie Fai as she’s fondly called. An eccentric 70-year-old woman and a non-descript eatery winning arguably the world’s most prestigious food award – it was a story that wrote itself and one that cemented Bangkok’s position on the international food map, alongside Singapore’s famed Michelin-star hawker stalls.
But Bangkok’s cuisine has long since been simmering away before bursting onto the scene. For years, international chefs have flocked to Bangkok to learn the art of Thai cuisine. And locals have always known, but never boasted, that their street food is some of the best. For a tourist coming in, all of it can be bewildering. So, if you’re heading to Bangkok for a culinary quest, here’s where to begin for street food and fine dining alike.
What to know
“Thai people, they love food- even when they’re eating, they’re thinking about their next meal,” says Executive Sous Chef Myroslav Pasechnyi of Bangkok restaurant Attitude.
It’s a refreshing approach to food, and one that while visiting, you should fully embrace. Also unique to Thai food culture is its spiciness.
“They eat chilli with chilli,” Pasechnyi. “Even just plain boiled pork ribs will be topped with green chilli.”
And the chilli itself is said to be different to other kinds – Thai chilli wakens the taste buds and opens up the appetite. The cuisine also uses plenty of herbs, and the food is always, always flavourful. You’ll typically find it served family-style.
It would be impossible for any comprehensive restaurant highlights list to even scratch the surface of Bangkok dining. So, here is an admittedly brief glimpse at some street food and fine dining favourites.
There is of course Raan Jay Fai, but if you aren’t fazed by Michelin hype, other notable street stalls to visit include Hoi Tod Chaw Lae, which is regularly featured on travel and food shows, Nai Mong Hoi Tod, which scored the Bib Gourmand Michelin listing, and Som Tam Jae So, known for its authentic papaya salad.
When talking about stellar Thai restaurants a name you’ll hear again and again is Nahm. Opened by Australian chef David Thompson, the restaurant was awarded one Michelin star and is currently on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. While Thompson has since moved on, chef Pim Techamuanvivit promises to uphold its original roots. You’ll find it in the COMO Metropolitan Bangkok.
The fact that this restaurant has a solid waiting list of a few months should give you a good indication of its hype. And most everyone who visits say it delivers. A progressive Indian restaurant headed by chef Gaggan Anand, Gaggan serves 25 courses and uses emojis on its menu. But despite all its quirks, it still managed to land itself two Michelin stars – the most any Bangkok venue has been awarded. Visit before it closes in 2020.
Headed by Australian-born chef Dylan ‘Lan’ Jones and Thai-born chef Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava, a husband-and-wife team who met at David Thompson’s London outpost Nahm, Bo.Lan is credited with initiating the concept of fine dining into Bangkok. Choose between three set menus, and prepare yourself for a long and drawn-out dining feast.
The dishes to try
Easily the most well-known Thai dish worldwide, Pad Thai can be found at most every restaurant, street food centre or floating market. The dish comes in every variation, but retains its roots with a Tamarind sauce base. For a special experience, order it at a floating market, and watch them cook and serve it from their boat.
This traditional Thai dish is a hot and sour soup often served with shrimp. Despite being one of the easiest dishes to make – just mix and boil – you’ll find it’s one of the tastiest. It’s usually made with fresh, local ingredients that include lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice and fish sauce.
Yum Woon Sen
With Bangkok’s climate nearly always uncomfortably warm, this spicy Thai glass noodle salad dish is a welcome relief in the heat. It’s low in calories, but fills you up fast. Word of warning: it can get spicy.
Often called the world’s greatest salad dish, green papaya salad or Som Tam, is spicy, crunchy and sour all-in-one. It takes a certain skill to prepare it. In his book Thai Street Food, David Thompson writes that the traditional way to prepare the papaya is “to hold it in one hand while it is cut and shredded vigorously with a large sharp knife held in the other hand. Every so often the knife is used to pare away the papaya, yielding a somewhat coarse, uneven shred.”
Mango sticky rice
This dessert must-try is on every menu. It’s sweet rice, usually served in a small portion, with several slices of mango. Taking a bite of both and combining them in your mouth makes for one sensationally sweet taste.
Published 17 September, 2018