Executive summary by Darmansjah
Whatever the time of day, you can feast at a street stall, open-air market or top restaurant in Bangkok. The local cuisine gets its influences from Thailand’s geography, the royal kitchens and the Chinese and Muslim minorities.
Shophouse restaurants are the most common type you’ll find in the city, Naaz (pronounced Nat), is a tiny Thai-Muslim place hidden in a nondescript alleyway, and it serves some of the city’s richest kow mok gai (chicken biryan). Various daily specials include chicken masala and mutton korma (24/9 Sol 45, Th Charoen Krung; closed Sun; mins from US$1.30).
This third-generation shophouse restaurant off Th Tanao with just six tables is a Bangkok food landmark. The kitchen can be inconsistent and the service consistently grumpy, but when they’re on, dishes such as the mee grorp (a former loyal palace recipe of crispy fried noodles with a sweet and sour flavor) and yam tooa ploo (winged bean salad) are in a class of their own (146 Th Phraeng Phuton; 11am-10pm; mains from US$1.10).
Taking full advantage of its cosy shophouse location in Banglamphu, this perennial favourite doesn’t skimp on flavor or presentation. The eclectic menu reads like an ancient literary work reviving old dishes from aristocratic kitchens across the country. Try the flavourful mee-ang kam – wild tea leaves wrapped around ginger, shallots, peanuts, lime and shredded coconut (56 Th Phra Athit; 4pm-12am; mains from US2.30).
It’s a bare bones open-air curry stall with trays of dishes on show, but if we’re talking taste, Pa Aew is our favourite place to eat in the historical centre. Pull up a plastic stool for rich, seafood-heavy dishes such as pat chah look chin blah (freshwater fish dumplings fried with fresh herbs). It’s located near the corner with Soi Pratu Nokyung (Th maha Rat; 9am-3pm; mains from US$0.80).
This crumbing shack is living proof that, where authentic Thai food is concerned, ambience comes second to taste. Fittingly, Jay So has no menu as such, but serves ballistically spicy som-dam (green papaya salad), sublime herb-stuffed grilled catfish and other isan (northeastern) specialities. Look for the shack decorated with Pepsi logos about halfway down Soi phipat in Tahon silom district (146/1 soi Phipat 2; 11am-4pm; mains from US$0.80).
Or Tor Kor Market
Bangkok’s highest-quality fruit and agricultural market brings sights such as toddler-sized mangoes and pots full of curries. Most goods are takeaway only, but a small food court and a few informal restaurant exist. Head to Rot Det for stir-fries and curries, and Sat Jai Kai Yaang, just south of the market, which does spicy northeastern food. Take the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet Station and exit on the other side from Chatuchak (Th Kamphaeng Phet; 8am-6pm; mains from US$1.10).
Australian chef-author David Thompson is behind what is quite possibly the best Thai restaurant in Bangkok. Inspired by ancient cookbooks, Thompson has revived dishes such as smoked fish cury with prawns, chicken livers, cockles and black pepper (comhotels.com; Metropolitan Hotel, 27 Th Sathon Tai; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily; set lunch from US$40, set dinner from US$65).
Bo.Lan was started up by Bo and Dylan, two former chefs at the London branch of Nahm, which gained a Michelin star before it closed. The chefs take a scholarly approach to Thai cuisine, resulting in full-flavoured dishes such as Korat-style beef curry. Book in advance (bolan.co.th; 42 Soi Phichai Ronnarong Songkhram, Soi 26, Th Sukhumvit; dinner Tue-Sun; a la carte dishes from US$13; set menu US$73.30).
Helmed by a Thai dan a Dane, Sra Bua takes a correspondingly international approach to Thai food. Putting Thai ingredients and dishes through the wringer of molecular gastronomy, the chefs have crated dishes such as frozen red curry with lobster and lychee. Reservations are recommended (kempinski.com; Siam Kempinski Hotel, 991/9 Th RamaI; lunch and dinner; lunch mains from US$27.70, set meals from US$73.30).
Budget airlines such as Jetstar, Scoot and Tigerair fly direct to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (from US$250; jetstar.com). Other airlines include Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Bangkok’s airport is 16 miles east of the city; you can get a train into town for US$1.50, or the express service which costs US$3.30 but is less busy. Bankok’s taxis are some of the best value cabs on Earth (US$1.30 for the first 2km), but walk away if the driver refuses to use the meter. Other options are MRT trains (bangkokmetro.co.th) and public buses (bmta.co.th).
Where To Stay
Despite the name, Lamphu Treehouse has its feet firmly on land. Guests are housed in a quiet and attractive canal-side building or in a new annexe a few blocks away (lamphutreehotel.com; 155 Wanchat Bridge, Th Prachatipatai; from US$48.90).
Siam Heritage is a boutique hotel with homey Thai charm. The 73 rooms are decked out in silk and dark woods with thoughtful design touches, and there’s an inviting rooftop pool (thesiamheritage.com; 115/1 Th Surawong; from US$81.40).
Located behind a virtual wall of frangipani, Ariyasomvilla is a beautifully renovated ‘40s-era Villa. Demand is high for the 25 spacious and meticulously outfitted rooms (ariyasom.com; 65 Sukhumvit Soi 1, Th Sukhumvit, from US$205).
What’s on the menu
Some must-eat dishes you might spot in Bangkok : Yam blah duk foo Fried shredded catfish, chilli and peanuts with a mango dressing. Gaang Som Sour with freshwater fish, vegetables and herbs. Plah Hang Dried fish with sugar and crispy deep-fried shallots served on top of slices of watermelon. Ka-nom beuang Refined taco-like snacks that can be either sweet or savoury. Mee grop Crispy noodles with a sweet and sour flavor. Pad thai thin-rice noodles stir-fried with dried or fresh shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, egg and seasonings, now eaten across the world.
Chatuchak Weekend Market draws tens of thousands each weekend to buy anything from antiques to live snakes. It’s a great place to grab some snacks too. Arrive around 9am to avoid the crowds and heat (chatuchak.org).
LonelyPlanet’s Bangkok is a comprehensive guide to the city and chapters are available to download at lonelyplanet.com while Pocket Bangkok is ideal for shorter stopovers. See eatingthaifood.com for a wealth of information on Thai food, including a free guide to 50 dishes to try in Bangkok. Thai food by David Thompson (pavilion book) is an authoritative book on Thai cooking.