Food in Bangkok is what the Magic Kingdom is to Orlando. It is a symbol of pride and one of the biggest reasons to go. Thais eat 24 hours a day and it spreads far beyond exotic street food, lemongrass, and fresh coconuts. For the visitor, it's worth sampling everything, and going from high end to low end will rarely break the bank. Whether your taste buds soar with spicy, sour, salty, or sweet, you'll rarely experience the same thing twice. Here's my breakdown...
Ok, hear me out. I know you didn't come all the way to Thailand to hang out in a shopping mall, nevermind eat in one, but these are different. Practicalities first, if you've been out in the sweltering temperatures sightseeing, and want an easy air conditioned respite with banks, ATMs, pharmacies, and beautifully clean bathrooms, then voila.
Let's start with one of the best: Siam Paragon (BTS: Siam). Enter the ground floor hungry, because the sheer size of this food mecca is mind blowing. On one end you have a Food Court with a moon-shaped plethora of street-food style options. Shrimp wonton soups, noodle and curry dishes, and more are offered cafeteria-style very inexpensively. Just order what you'd like, take a note of the price, then go to one of two Cashier Desks on either end and get a swipe card for that amount to bring back to your stall and pay.
Move in further and you have a Food Gallery with various stands of local Thai and Asian delights. Think steamed pork buns, Japanese ice cream, Thai coconut tacos, meat skewers...and a few western options too because sometimes you want a Cinnabon and who are we to judge? Keep going and you'll come to the entrance of the Gourmet Market. This gigantic supermarket has everything from Asian to western, prepared food to groceries, and lots of fresh squeezed exotic juices not to be missed. There is also a nice section of Thai gift items, like soaps, massage oils, local teas, and spices. Continue on and you'll come to some free-standing small restaurants. Thai, Vietnamese, and American all can be had, but my all-time favorite is Mos Burger, a Japanese fast food chain with burgers so fresh and precise you will never look at the golden arches the same way. Further still are the higher end restaurants and cafes, all of which are good.
Tip #1: This might be the biggest, but lots of malls around town have great food options. A smaller but similar set-up is found on the top floor of the Emporium mall, complete with the same Gourmet Market. BTS: Phrom Phong.
There are some exciting things sprouting up in Bangkok's food scene. Thonglor (BTS: Thong Lo, exit #3 to Soi 55) is becoming home to a rebirth of traditional Thai cuisine as well as interesting pan-Asian options. One favorite is Soul Food Mahanakorn, a few blocks up Soi 55. Also worth noting is Moon Glass on Soi 53, great if you want the option of Thai or European, tapas, tea, or a bar, all in one beautiful 2 story glass house. Still can't decide? Take a long walk up Soi 55 and take your pick from loads of great Thai, Japanese, and Korean restaurants.
Next up is the popular new night market, the Asiatique Riverfront. This is a beautiful riverfront promenade of warehouse-style buildings converted into eateries and shops. Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin, Exit #2 leads to a free ferry that runs every 15 mins between 4 pm–11 pm. The restaurants are international, but the one you canâ€™t miss is the Ko Dang Talay Thai seafood restaurant, housed in a beautiful modern building with great service and even better food. There are lots of food stands to try as well, like gourmet mochi.
Tip #2: When heading to Asiatique, save some time before or after dinner to do some shopping. This place is popular with Thai locals and a lot of things for sale here are far better than other souvenir markets around town. From jewelry and leather goods to quality fisherman pants, this stuff is actually worth buying. Just be mindful of the clock, as lines for the ferry can get quite long.
Now let's get to the fun stuff. Bangkok is synonymous with street food, and whether you want breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a quick snack, you will never be at a loss for something exotic. Wondering where the stalls are hiding? Just walk outside your hotel and within half a block you'll probably spot them. They're everywhere, but let's focus on one particular gem that is a big hit with foodies, the Thonglor Night Market (BTS: Thong Lo, Exit #4 to Soi 38).
It's small in size but once you see all the diners Instagram-ing each dish, you know you're in serious territory. Want Pad Thai fit for a king? Don't even think about trying it anywhere else. As you enter Soi 38, just off to the right is a small alley with fruit smoothies, noodle stalls, and the famous Pad Thai chef displaying his numerous awards. This is the dinner all your friends will be envious of back home. Put in your order, take a seat at one of the small metal tables, and wait to be served, usually about 20 mins.
Oh, and leave room for dessert, because right beside him is the mango cart. And Iâ€™d like to think that I speak with historical accuracy when I say that when Buddha entered nirvana, he did so with a plate of mango coconut sticky rice at his fingertips.
Tip #3: Despite it being street food, plates and utensils are very clean. There are no bathrooms, but if you duck into one of the proper restaurants nearby they're usually ok if you order something small, even just a bottle of water. And in the rain, that little food alley is covered with umbrellas so as long as you can find a place to sit, you can ride out the monsoon as a real gourmet.
These beautiful cafes are often overlooked for more proper restaurants, but when you need a civilized break from the hustle and bustle of the city, there is no better idea than to take an hour or two for some tea. And there are some really nice options in the higher end shopping malls all around town. Start with the Erawan Tea Room, overlooking the Erawan Shrine, inside the Erawan Mall (BTS: Chit Lom). If you want tea and a dessert, or a full tea service for lunch, reserve ahead because this place fills up fast.
Heading back to the ground floor of Siam Paragon, park yourself at the Mandarin Oriental Shop, the perfect place to take a Mariages Freres break from shopping. But my personal favorite is TWG Tea on the ground floor of the Emporium Mall (BTS: Phrom Phong). This is heaven for tea connoisseurs and the pastry selection is just as good. The tea menu alone is sprawling and the attentive staff will help you choose the perfect blend. For the best green tea youâ€™ve ever had, splurge on the Gyokuro Samurai, and for a mellow white blend try the Sacred Water.
Tip #4: Taking tea home with you is a must. At TWG, everything on the tea menu is available for purchase and the best sellers are nicely packaged in the shop. Don't forget, the best souvenirs are often the ones for yourself!
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Pozniak