It takes just a few minutes of walk down any street within Bangkok to be engulfed by the aroma of Thai food. The chillies, the meat grilling over charcoal, the lightness of basil leaves…ah, I could go on and on. It is often referred to as the ‘street food capital’ of the world for a good reason. We couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world where you could eat hygienic, lip-smacking, authentic food at unbelievable prices.
There’s no better way to know a culture than to indulge in its food and our trip to Bangkok was all about diving into the best food the city has to offer. In our five days, we went pillar to post gorging on some of the most delicious dishes we’ve ever had, some in hidden corners of old towns and others at the comfort of a table in a restaurant.
Here is a list of 10 must-try dishes while in the city, along with our suggestions on the best places to have them.
1. Roasted Duck
Roasted duck is a true Thai delicacy that can be found just about anywhere you turn your head. Roasted duck, in Bangkok, is a teeny weeny bit sweet and not roasted over a coal-pit as one would expect. Our guess is it is caramelised. With minimal spices, such a duck speciality is hard to find anywhere else.
One can either order just a plate of roasted duck slices dipped in some of the duck juice or have it along with egg noodle soup or rice. The most popular place to have the delicacy is a small run-down Cantonese style restaurant near the Sathorn ferry port (along the river) called Prachak Pet Yang.
You could have a whole plate of sliced duck along with egg noodle topped with the duck roast, all for INR 240 – an absolute steal for the foodgasm you’ll have.
2. Catfish in Lime & Garlic Sauce
All across South East Asia, Chinatowns are the hub of great Chinese street food items. However, in Bangkok, the Chinatown is an absolute boss. From the first moment you step into Yaowarat (as the locals call it), you’re transported to a chaotic world of LED adverts, crooning restaurant owners, and locals crawling like bats to get a taste of Yaowarat’s specialities.
We tasted various different things from sweet to spicy at Yaowarat but the stand out dish to us was the Steamed Catfish in Lime & Garlic Sauce. Brought to you in a fish-shaped steaming pot, the lightness of lime & garlic with the softness of the steamed fish converts this heavy dish into a dessert. If you love your seafood, this is one dish you do not want to return from Thailand without trying.
In Yaowarat, T&K Seafood cooks up seafood which is the stuff of legends. Though the dish comes at a rather steep price of INR 700, the joy of sitting by the chaotic streets, cuddled among fellow foodies, and savouring this dish is worth it.
3. Chicken & Cashewnut Stir Fry
It is hard to point out which meat is most popular in Bangkok as pork, chicken, squid, beef are all found in abundance. When it comes to choosing the best chicken dish we had – there is only one dish that comes to both of our minds straight away – Chicken stir-fried with cashews. Though we had this quite a few times, we could just not got enough of it. After all, what could go wrong with chicken & cashews?
Our hands-down favourite restaurant in Bangkok to have this is Cafe Bangrak that specialises in the Bangrak Style Cuisine of Thailand – the century-old multi-cultured artistic cuisine of Thailand, one that has traveled as the famed ‘Thai’ cuisine to large parts of the globe. However, expect to pay a higher price for it by Bangkok standards, at around INR 400.
Order an Iced Orange juice to go with it and you’ll be on your way to food heaven!
4. Kao Mok Gai De
Much like India, Thailand is home to various types of cuisines within its small geography itself. One of the least talked about of these is the Isaan style, one that is common among the Muslims of Thailand – a population large enough not to be ignored.
As Biriyani aficionados, we were super excited to taste the Thai Style Biriyani (Kao Mok Gai). We walked around quite a bit before descending on a street called Soi Silom 20, full of eateries and street vendors serving the Muslim cuisine. We scanned the streets in depth to spot a pot of Biriyani but it took us a lot of running and conversing in Broken to finally find a restaurant that served it. Why the hard work? It is so good it sells off at 9 AM!
The owners, who turned out to be Half-Indian, were kind enough to give us the tiny bit they had left over and charged us just INR 40 for a plate. A far cry from the masala-filled preparation of the Nizams, the plain hassle-free Biriyani was just as perfect as what we had hoped to find.
5. Nam Tok Pork
Unless you’re traveling to the hills of North Eastern Thailand, it can be a bit hard to find good authentic food from this region. Nam Tok Pork is one of our personal picks from the limited North Eastern style cuisine we chanced upon.
Incredibly spicy even by Indian standards, Nam Tok Pork is essentially a meat salad made of thinly sliced pork loin made with ground chillies (and a lot of it!). In spite of the tears dripping down, we could barely keep ourselves from wiping off our plate. Traditionally had with some ‘sticky rice’, one can also order a plain bowl of rice to have this with. But, be warned if you order this as a starter!
Somtam Nua, the popular Papaya salad eatery, smack in the centre of Bangkok serves sensational Nam Tok Pork in addition to their famous Papaya salads, which also we suggest you try if heading there.
6. Massaman Curry
Massaman, which translates to Muslim curry, is a dish highly influenced by Indian Mughal cuisine which in turn is derived from Persian cuisine. An extremely mild curry, Massaman is as Indian a dish as you could have in Thailand.
If you love that occasional visit to a Thai restaurant in India to savour the green curry or yellow curry, you couldn’t dislike Massaman curry. Get some boiled rice by the side and dip into this coconut-infused delicacy before rounding it off with an ice-cold fruit juice to go with the humid Bangkok weather.
While there is really no place we can single out to try it, a strong recommendation is to head to the Pratunam market area and have it at one of the street side stalls for positively chin raising prices.
7. Salt Coated Grilled Fish
Tucked away in the midst of the popular Central World Mall & Platinum shopping malls are an array of night-time street restaurants that are one of the few places to have Grilled Snakefish. Sprayed with salt on all four sides, the snakefish is grilled for a long time in charcoal giving it a unique flavour.
The salt coated skin is not edible and needs to be peeled away before you dip into the soft flesh that carries the flavour of the burnt coal. Have the fish with chilli and mint dips that come along side, stare at the magnificence of Bangkok malls, watch the traffic crawl by, and you’ll be handed a food experience you won’t ever forget.
8. Pad Thai
What is a trip to Bangkok without eating the famed Pad Thai? Rice Noodles stir fried with eggs and tofu, sprayed with veggies, fish sauce, and some seafood/ meat icing – an absolute Thai favourite. Pad Thai can be enjoyed in just about every street of Bangkok (and whole of Thailand) – be it the friendly neighbourhood grandma stall, an up-end restaurant, the busy Chinatown, or the old Bangkok area by the river – the locals swear by their Pad Thai.
While we couldn’t head to Thip Samai, the famed night-time Pad Thai eatery in the Old Bangkok area, thanks to the unbearable evening traffic, anyone we talked to about food in Bangkok pointed us towards Thip Samai. Turns out that their iced orange is equally popular and a must-have as well.
9. Mango Sticky Rice
In a country whose main cuisine rules the roost, desserts are mere decoration items. Among the few that is unique to Thailand, Mango Sticky Rice is a stand-out dish that can be spotted anywhere from a street-side to a restaurant to a cake shop.
While not entirely a ‘sweet’ dessert, Mango Sticky Rice is nothing but cut slices of Mango served along with their speciality sticky rice (which is pretty much rice that is sticky), a bit of cooked black beans (or so we presume), and coconut milk running over. The idea of sweet mangoes with rice did not appeal to either of us for the longest time and we kept passing the opportunity to have it. When we did finally get down to having it, it was love at first taste!
On days when you are confused how to close out a spicy evening meal, Mango Sticky Rice is the perfect answer.
10. Coconut Ice Cream with add-ons
Just like the Mango Sticky Rice, Coconut ice creams (and shakes) fill the walkways in Bangkok. For a city with unbearable humidity, the Coconut ice-cream provides the much needed relief!
The Coconut ice-cream stall comes in various varieties. Some are made from liquid nitrogen, some with sweet chocolate sauce topping, and some with savoury toppings like palm jelly beans. We tried all of it and we couldn’t recommend this savoury ice cream anymore. You could top it with corn, coconut jelly, nuts, palm jelly, sticky rice, just about anything really.
In Bangkok, we suggest you have this at the Jatujak Weekend Market (which in itself is a must-visit if you love shopping). When walking through the never-ending market, you’ll need this ice cream stop none the less.
There you go – a list of top 10 dishes to try in Bangkok. While there are so many more local specialities that we couldn’t try like the famous boat noodles or crab fried in curry powder, this list should hopefully guide you in getting a (delicious) introduction to one of our favourite world cuisines.
Have you been food-glomping in Bangkok? What did you love that we missed?