This is the fifth post in the Thailand! travel series of my eats in Bangkok. Other posts include Thip Samai, Best Pad Thai in Bangkok? and Raan Jay Fai, Best Drunken Noodle in Bangkok, Maeklong Railway Market, Floating Markets (Damnoen Saduak).
Thanks everyone for your outpouring of support for my wrist. It is slowly healing every day. I plan on looking into a few long-term options, such as speech recognition software or alternatives to the traditional mouse. Now, back onto our regularly scheduled program! 🙂
Where’s the best food in Thailand?
If you ask anyone who has been to Thailand a few times, you’ll pretty much get the same answer: on the street. Thailand is one of those countries where it’s not uncommon to find a street vendor who has been perfecting his recipe for one particular dish for decades. In fact, I’ve already written about some of these places.
The people in Bangkok are obsessed about food, and it’s all over the place. No matter where you live, just walk down the street and you’re bound to find a street vendor selling some sort of food. Fresh fruit, deep fried snacks, noodle soups, and on and on . . . the streets of Bangkok are seriously a paradise for the food lover.
The amount of available street food was so overwhelming, I had a hard time figuring out where to start. Because I had only a set number of meals in Bangkok, I wanted to make the most of each meal. So, instead of just randomly trying street stalls around the city (and potentially hitting some duds), I decided to sign up for a walking street food tour with a company called Bangkok Food Tours.
We actually visited quite a few places (over a span of three hours!), so I will be splitting up our tour into two separate posts.
This tour covered a neighborhood called Bangrak, one of the oldest parts of Bangkok. It sits just east of the Chao Praya river and was walking distance from our hotel. Meet our tour guide Nushi (young woman on the right side of the photo), who took us around for three hours sampling some fun foods.
Our first stop was a famous restaurant that served a simple roast duck over rice. Originally inspired by Chinese cuisine, this dish has incorporated certain Thai influences, such as the use of honey in the sauce.
The duck is free-range and therefore does not have as much fat under its skin. According to Nushi, this dish is by far the most popular dish at this restaurant, and people will come specifically for this particular dish.
It was juicy, flavorful, and most definitely had hints of sweetness from the honey. We both thought it was quite tasty, though quite familiar because it was so similar to Chinese food.
It was during this first stop that Nushi pulled out the schedule showing us where we would be going for the day.
One thing stood out to Bryan.
2. Signature curry on egg
“I forgot to mention, I can’t have coconut milk.” Bryan told Nushi.
Even though not all curry in Thailand uses coconut milk, a large majority of curries do have some coconut milk inside, including the listed egg dish at the next stop. Nushi, thinking quickly, suddenly said, “I know. Let’s skip the next stop. I’ll take you to one of my favorite noodle joints instead.”
Now, it’s most certainly not much to look at. In fact, this tiny little eatery sits in an alleyway between two buildings. Yes, Bryan is standing at the front of the restaurant. It isn’t too far from the Catholic college nearby, and attracts tons of people at lunchtime, both foreigners from the college and locals alike.
When I asked Nushi the name of the restaurant, she said, “I don’t think it has a name. I guess people might sometimes call it Kuey Teow Kla, which means Hakkanese noodle, or Kuey Teow Silom.”
It was like a Tom Yum Noodle soup, but made with chili jam.
“What’s Chili Jam?” I asked Nushi.
“It’s a sweet and spicy “jam” made out of shrimp paste, ground chili, palm sugar, and peanuts.”
Yum. I started to wonder where I could get a hold of some.
Inside the soup, there were several different types of balls made out of fish, beef, and tofu. Fresh bean sprouts served to add texture as well a cooling contrast to the hot and spicy broth.
The complex flavors of the broth were astounding – I’m not even sure I can name all the ingredients. It was definitely a pork bone based broth enhanced with various chilies, lemongrass, fish sauce, and possibly lime? The fresh rice noodles were delicious as well. Even though we both got pretty big bowls (I would hardly call these tasting portions!), we both came close to finishing everything. This is in spite of knowing had several, several more stops to go.
Next, we boarded a boat and crossed the river to the Tonburi neighborhood. The clouds were starting to look a bit ominous at this point.
I turned to Bryan, “maybe not such a good day for a walking tour!”
He shrugged. “We’ll see” he said.
After getting off the boat, we walked straight down the narrow alleyway leading away from the dock. On the right we saw a simple, bright green counter.
We were eating at an odd hour (around 3PM) mostly because it was the only time we could fit in a tour due to Bryan’s work schedule in Thailand. Typically the place is packed, but we were lucky to have the whole place to ourselves on an ominous, stormy Friday afternoon.
We were here to sample some specialties from Northeastern Thailand, also known as Isaan cuisine. The menu was written entirely in Thai here, so I was thankful for Nushi’s guidance in helping us pick out some choice plates.
Som Tam is a classic papaya salad that consists of young, green papaya pounded together with carrots, dried shrimp, and peanuts. The dressing is sweet, savory, sour, and spicy with flavors coming from fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind juice, and lots of chilies! This particular one was very spicy and packed full of flavor. We were both sweating while eating it, but also enjoying it quite a bit.
Nam Tok Moo is a salad made by tossing together pork with roasted rice powder, mint leaves, chili, and shallots in a flavorful dressing made from lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Again, I love how Thai cuisine achieves that perfect balance of savory, sweet, sour, and spicy. This dish was fantastic and we ate as much as we could handle (yes, it was spicy!!).Finally, we tried Yam Pla Duk Foo, a fascinating dish that consists of catfish that is first grilled, deboned, and then deep fried to form this light, airy, almost weightless cake. You eat it with this vibrant sauce made with green mangoes, shallots, chili, palm sugar, and lemon juice.
This tiny hole in the wall was another one of our favorites, and definitely a place that would have been difficult for us to find without a guide. We loved the northern style dishes, which we found to be quite different from most of the Thai food we see in America.
And it started to pour.
Nushi was kind enough to ask the restaurant whether we could borrow some umbrellas.
“I’ll bring them back later.”
We ran back down the narrow dock towards the boat. Even though lightening was flashing across the sky, the boats continued to run. We ran to safety onto the boat as it pulled away from the dock back towards the Bangrak side of the river.
Next Up: Part II of the “Street Foods of Bangkok” Tour, where we will explore fried street snacks, some more Isaan fare, unique local ice cream flavors, and some fantastic desserts.
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