I read about Bangkok long before I ever visited. Stories of waterway markets, the ghost of Mae Nak, and bullfrogs that could eat a toddler. I marvelled at intoxicating tales, descriptions of paint parties, water parties, runaway tuk-tuks, reclining golden Buddhas, legendary crab omelettes, and accidental liaisons with ladyboys.
As a relative newcomer to the city, everything has a first-time revelation to it, making things appear dramatic. But then, this is a dramatic city. Everything from the chaotic traffic and tooting motor scooters, to the multitude of street food—life in this tropical climate requires some adjustment. But I’m slowly edging my way in.
The purpose of this monthly column is to address some of the above, along with new restaurants, new locations and new experiences I’ve sampled since arriving here. It allows me to expand outside of the reviews and chef interviews in the following pages, offering space to delve deeper into my city research. Or, as the British-born, Bangkok-based writer Lawrence Osborne describes it, “a whimsical wandering around the cultural block”.
For easy immersion, I’ve taken to street food. It’s cheap (mostly) and fresh (mostly), and it’s here in abundance. I’m seen, though, as a kind of cuisine invader by the local vendors, who view me as an inquisitive farang gambling on my order. In the city’s hawker centres I’ve become a curiosity as locals point and giggle at my Thai delivery and choice of order. I’m sure, by now, they’ve given me my own humorous moniker: “Fatty Farang” or the likes.
My greatest frustration in the food courts is the Thai-office-lunch-brigade and their table-nabbing ways, hogging empty places with a nondescript lanyard and then disappearing for half-an-hour to wait in line and order (they’re worse than Germans at hotels reserving sun-loungers with carefully placed towels). Although recently, I have adopted the same lanyard technique at lunch. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Mostly I’ve been eating kuaytiaw neua (beef bone soup) with thick strips of bovine and knobbly bone, but added packet noodles, mixed in a rich broth; all for about 60 Baht. Or there’s pla pao (grilled fish), which are gutted and stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemongrass, and coated in rock salt before grilled over charcoal. And I’ve even tried bpaak bpet yang (grilled duck beaks). But I’m yet to order poo (crab) with confidence.
I drove out to the extremities of the city to a southern Thai seafood restaurant called Beer Hima, with chefs Tim Butler (Eat Me) and Arnie Marcella (Bunker), and ate lobster sashimi while knocking back glasses of Sprite with lobster blood. I’ve also found the best khao soi this side of Chiang Mai at Eats Payao, with tender beef shank and thick-cut noodles in a rich and creamy – but hot – soup.
I’ve enjoyed excellent yakitori and sizzling pork belly at the izakaya-style JUA, discovering that their “Unami Bomb”—orecchiette with uni butter—is probably the single greatest bowl of food I’ve ever eaten. And, of course, I’ve frequented Smalls for late-night shenanigans, staying out way past curfew… on more than one occasion.