Where to start on your culinary journey through Bangkok’s back streets
Bangkok is known as a city that never sleeps, but it’s also a city that never stops eating. In fact, you can grab a bite here at any hour of the night or day, as long as you know where to look. And during most waking hours the city’s hungry hordes don’t have to look much further than the average street corner, since Bangkok numerous roads, alleys, and busy thoroughfares are teeming with open-air food sellers—hawking everything from simple chicken and rice and salted sea bass, to exotic oddities such as fried frogs and roasted duck tongues.
When it comes to finding great tasting street food there’s not really one particular place that surpasses all others. Virtually every neighbourhood has it’s pocket of purveyors, but for those new to Bangkok—or those who’ve lived here a while but are always on the lookout for something new— we’ve complied a beginner’s guide to the city’s outdoor restaurant cornucopia. Think of it as Street Food 101.
Chinatown, especially its most famous street Yaowarat, is one of the best places to eat in Bangkok when it comes to street food. The street itself packed with hundreds of stalls, as are the endless sois that feed off the main thoroughfare, and diners can find all kind of of delicious food options to choose from. And as exciting as this might be, often the decision of where to eat becomes simply overwhelming. Normally we’d recommend you just “dive in” see what happens, but at the same time we don’t want to withhold some of our area favourites. If you make your way to the backstreets of Chinatown you’ll come upon the Charoenchai community—also known as Trok Mai Phai or “bamboo”. The name derives from the shape of the long, narrow road that cuts straight through. These backstreets are well known for selling Chinese origami paper, used in Thai-Chinese ceremonies to pay respect to the ancestors and Gods, but food is serious business here as well. Look out for the “Soi Charoenkrung 23” sign, and you’ll find an array of dishes loved by locals including po pia sod (Chinese spring roll), kra proa pla (fish stomach in gravy with young bamboo shoots), or peang tod (fried pancake dessert with beans or taro). Afterwards, visit Easae Yaowarat, one of Chinatown’s best teahouses. Look for the blue shophouse—located at 42 Yaowarat-Padsai Rd—and enjoy some o-liang (traditional iced coffee), o-yua (traditional hot coffee) or cha yen (ice tea) with the locals. Here you can also find heng-yin, an almond extracted blended with fresh milk, and their signature cold marmalade jam drink. The shop is open daily from 5:30am till
Hua Lamphong MRT Station is located just a short distance from Chinatown, or take the Chao Phraya riverboat to Ratchawong Pier
Both Silom and Sathon roads are often referred to as the “central business districts” of Bangkok. But that doesn’t mean that among the skyscrapers and international corporate offices the only food to be found is in high-end hotels and spiffy restaurants. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. Come lunchtime you’ll find people in gym clothes (Lumpini Park is only a few hundred metres away), businessmen in suits, and tourists in flip flops, all gathering on the numerous streets and laneways to grab a midday meal. While food stalls pop up on almost every street in this historic district, a great assembly can be found on Convent Road. The pavement is lined up with one food stall after another, offering everything from meat skewers and noodle soup, to fruit and yummy kanoms (sweets). These readily available items make great grab-and-go snacks, but if you rather sit down then make your way to Hai Som Tam Convent Restaurant. As the name implies, the Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) is a signature dish, but the restaurant also offers favourite Isaan (Northern Thai) dishes including Tom Saap Seekong Moo (sour Isaan soup with pork ribs) and Laab Moo, as well as terrific grilled chicken. After lunch history buffs might be interested to explore the historic buildings nearby, including Christ Church Bangkok (built in 1905) and the Carmelite Monastery, which gives Soi Convent its name.
Convent Rd is easily accessible from Sala Daeng BTS Station (Exit 2) or Silom MRT Station
Bangkok has plenty of great food and produce markets, and while Or Tor Kor Market might not be the biggest among them, it is definitely the best organized. Pronounced Aw Taw Kaw in Thai, the complex is a collective of over 200 tidy and well-organized food stalls. It’s also administered by the Marketing Organization for Farmers, making it a true farmer’s market. Located on Kamphaeng Phet Street, just opposite Chatuchak Weekend Market, it is easy to reach using the MRT (subway). Once inside you might find the prices a bit higher than at other fresh markets, but the high quality of food and hygiene of the market is incomparable. This is definitely one of the reasons why Bangkok’s top restaurateurs and chefs, as well as Thai celebrities, are among its regular clients. CNN Go even named it as the fourth best fresh market around the world in 2013, in the same league as La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, and Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York City. Vendors here specialise in organic vegetables and fruit, as well as hard-to-find products such as som saa (bitter orange). Besides that, everything from fresh meat, fish and seafood, to flowers, fresh-pounded curry paste, and regional foods such as naam phrik num are on offer. And if all that shopping makes you hungry, pick up some barbecued meat, fresh sausages, or Thai sweets to munch on, or head to the food court in the centre of the hall for a choice of noodle soups, curries and more.
Open daily: 6am – 8pm
Kamphaeng Phet MRT Station, Exit 3
If you make your way up to the new Rot Fai Market Ratchada (which has actually been open over a year now) you’ll find both a bustling antique and vintage market, as well as an abundance of food stalls offering a huge array of meal options—both humble and high-end. It’s also a great place to people watch, hear some live music, and soak in the lively neighbourhood buzz.
Open Tuesday to Sunday: 5pm till late
Thailand Cultural Centre MRT Station (behind the Esplanade Shopping Complex)