Exploring the many foods, foreign neighbourhoods and exotic flavours of Bangkok
The local girl I was seeing refused my testicles. As someone raised in these parts, I was confident she would go for them, after all, she had tried all varieties of offal and had no trouble with frogs, bugs or eating rats in northern Thailand. But she drew the line at my gonads.
After living in Bangkok for near on a year, it has become clear to me that not all Thai food is created equal. For tips on how to dine in the city, I turned to local chefs and together we rattled through numerous street vendors and hidden, hole-in-the-wall joints. I’d heard this is where true and authentic culinary Bangkok resided, so dug deep into the underbelly of the city’s food culture, unveiling an astounding selection of fried, cooked, barbecued and raw produce; offal delicacies, insects, omelettes, salads, soups and green curries.
I have discovered that Bangkok, like most cosmopolitan cities of its size, has a large number of foreign communities—Chinatown, Little India, Japanese and Korean neighbourhoods, and various Western enclaves. In the Arab and African quarter, I stepped back into sticky Amman, revealing an endless stream of vendors, walking through clouds of smoke from fruity vapors and bubbling shisha. At Nefertiti Kebab House I ate a lamb sheesh kebab—lamb being a rarity in Thailand—of wonderful, succulent fatty clumps of lamb all wrapped up inside of a warm pita; however, it was at Nasir Al-Masri where my balls were refused. I demonstrated my thoughtfulness by rolling one of my sheep testis across the table to my date, only for it to be pushed right back.
I have entered the dingy enclave that is Khlong Toei Market, and taken midnight strolls through the foul-smelling alleys, studying the hanging hooks of bloodied meats and the sloshing buckets of water that spill over with agitated fish and bullfrogs. I have watched as the frogs are hand-picked and then, while alive, removed of their skin and tossed to the side, naked and gasping, ready for consumption later on.
I have eaten fistfuls of bamboo larvae, called rot duan, and inspected up close the glistening vendor trays with their oil-laced crispy carapaces of different bugs: ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, grubs, and even scorpions. These moveable feasts on their roaming carts are dotted around the city, many vendors taking their wares to the popular backpacking neighbourhood of Khao San Road and flogging deep-fried creepy-crawlies to tourists on drunken dares.
Out in Chatuchak at Beer Hima, I dived headfirst into killer King Crabs, slurped through bowls of fragrant pad hoy gab kao—stir-fried clams with basil—and drank Sprite mixed with lobster blood because, well, that seemed to be what people around me were doing. And, in Sathorn, near home, I must have tried every single street food option available, inlcuding Korean and Indian; discovering that there really is nothing like a fortifying, steaming bowl of tom kha kai—Thai coconut milk soup with chicken—washed down with a bottle of cold Leo. Staff now treat me like a regular, meaning a few un-ordered plates arrive as treats, which is just fine by me.