Holiday Eats – Thailand, Bangkok

I nicked off to Bangkok for 10-odd days at the beginning of December, and it was a great old time, even taking into account when I got sick (or rather, when Chris got me sick) towards the end of the trip. Many temples were seen, many markets were trawled, and much, much food was eaten. But aside from a few restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide, I more or less just walked around eating whatever I felt like, preferring to take a more relaxed approach to things. After all, there’s no place like Thailand – the home of street food – for impromptu eating.

Having shelled out for a schmancy hotel, we were rewarded with a daily breakfast buffet. And boy was that a treat. The range here (Grand Eastin Sathorn, for those who are curious) is seriously impressive, spanning from your Western continental and cooked breakfast dishes all the way to a noodle station, miso soup, congee, dim sum, and stir-fries. And there’s plenty for the sweet-tooths as well, including an amazing bread and butter pudding with custard, and plenty of tropical fruits. And just to cap things off, I availed myself of at least 2 Thai iced coffees each morning, when I managed to stay away from the Thai milk tea that is.

One place we ate a lot at was a market area just down the road from our hotel in Sathorn. Aside from a nightly market full of snacks, they also had a range of open-air restaurants, as well as a food-court-like area. But calling it a food court would be selling it very short indeed. What it’s actually closer to is a bunch of diminutive restaurants located in a large hall, where you’re free to go around ordering as you please from different venues, before settling down with your feast.

Prawn Pad Thai (50 baht)

It was here that we had the best Prawn Pad Thai (50 baht) of our entire trip. It was a perfect blend of sweet and savoury, with a hint of tanginess from the tamarind at the tail-end. But what really struck me was how bouncy the noodles were, with a texture that was almost elastic. It was so good that we spent the rest of the trip trying to find one that measured up, but there was nothing quite like it. Thankfully we managed to come back on our last day to get another fix before flying home.

Pork Omelette (40 baht)

I didn’t manage to try the Michelin-recommended oyster omelette on this trip, so I consoled myself with a Pork Omelette (40 baht). Unfortunately this was just average – nothing more than an omelette with minced pork folded through.

Green Chicken Curry (50 baht)

Surprisingly, this Green Chicken Curry (50 baht) was the only Thai-styled curry we had on the entire trip. Thinner than I had expected but surprisingly flavoursome, the sauce was a fiery concoction made from kaffir lime and holy basil that tasted a treat spooned over a bowl of rice.

Fried Squid with Salted Egg (80 baht)

Slightly pricier (though really, still laughably cheap) but worth every penny was the Fried Squid with Salted Egg (80 baht). The tender squid, tossed with chilli, onions, and a lick of wok hei, was fragrant yet balanced, its flavour enhanced by wedges of creamy salted egg.

Papaya Salad (40 baht)/Papaya Salad with Crab and Crispy Fish (50 baht)

My obsession with papaya salad was fully solidified by this trip, and I ate it whenever I could get my hands on some, which was basically at least once a day. Here, I tried the Papaya Salad (40 baht), as well as the Papaya Salad with Crab and Crispy Fish (50 baht), both of which were crisp and refreshing, with just the right amount of chilli thanks to my repeated insistence of ‘not too spicy’.

After wandering around the area a couple times, I couldn’t help but notice a very delicious-looking (and smelling) hot-pot and BBQ hybrid. And of course, I had to have it.

Small Set (249 baht)

At 249 baht for the Small Set (249 baht) this was an absolute steal. Our table was rapidly set up with a charcoal brazier, topped with soup-and-BBQ pot, and filled with stock. On the side was a plate of meat consisting of thinly-sliced pork belly, marinated beef, liver, squid, octopus, fish, and prawns, as well as a basket with veggies, a whole egg, and a very odd concoction that’s best described as solid egg custard in a plastic tube.

Small Set (249 baht)

This was possibly the best decision I had made all trip. Not only was the meat cooked over the charcoal succulent and smoky, their juices dripping into the soup made it one of the most delicious I’ve ever had.

Papaya Salad with Salted Egg (50 baht)

And of course, another Papaya Salad with Salted Egg (50 baht), which was actually a little too mild for my liking, but hey, beats half an hour of crying because my mouth was on fire (more on that later).

Another one of the few sit-down meals we had at a proper restaurant was at a place called Wild Orchard in Asiatique, a tourist-friendly cross between a night-market and a shopping mall. This meal turned out to be the most expensive we’ve had; not only were the prices absurdly inflated, it didn’t even include the 5% service charge and 7% VAT.

Chicken Pad Thai (129 baht)

Now firmly on the pad thai train, Chris wanted to try the Chicken Pad Thai (129 baht) to see how it measured up. This was definitely too sweet, tasting more like something you’d get in Australia than in Thailand, though not altogether surprising given where we were.

Sautéed Soft Shell Crab with Chilli and Salt (259 baht)

The Sautéed Soft Shell Crab with Chilli and Salt (259 baht) on the other hand was a total winner. The crab was delicious, but what really stole my heart was the absurdly addictive mixture of fried onions, shallots, garlic, chilli, and herbs. I ended up sprinkling it over everything, and even progressed to eating it with a spoon after a while.

Chinese Kale (119 baht)

The Chinese Kale (119 baht) was another pleasant surprise. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and when tossed in oyster sauce over high heat with plenty of garlic, were definitely tastier than vegetables had any right to be.

On a day trip to Ayutthaya, we grabbed lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

Wide Rice Noodles with Duck (50 baht)

It was there I discovered this sensational bowl of Wide Rice Noodles with Duck (50 baht). The soup may appear to be intimidatingly murky, but actually proved to be warm and mellow, the herbal base sweetened with cinnamon and five-spice, with just a hint of lime thrown in for balance. And the goodness doesn’t just stop there; I never knew rice noodles cooked in soup could have such a satisfyingly al dente texture, which contrasted with the crisp freshness of the sprouts. This entire dish just proves that no one knows how to balance flavours and textures quite like the Thai.

Prawn Rice Noodles (50 baht)

The Prawn Rice Noodles (50 baht) had a lot to live up to, and whilst these weren’t quite as good as the duck noodles, they were still very well done. The silky, smoky noodles were tossed through with generous chunks of egg, a few large prawns, and some very crunchy vegetables for a simple, hearty meal.

We actually had a few Japanese meals whilst in Thailand, which as it turns out, is rife with sushi, ramen, and curries. And speaking of curries, I was delighted to discover that Coco Ichibanya, a curry house with over 2000 branches across the world, can be found all over Bangkok. I first ate there in 2011 when I went to Japan, and I’ve yet to find a curry that trumps it.

Coco Ichibanya

This was just as good as I remember, the curry sauce thick and rich, the medium-hot level of spice being my preferred option for adding just enough tingle without impacting the slurpability. You can get your curries with all sorts of toppings – in this case, katsu and seafood – but if you ask me, the real drawcard lies in the unbeatable combination of rice and gravy.

I also took this opportunity to try omurice for the first time at the appropriately-named Omu, which we found in a shopping complex on our second-to-last day.

Curry Sauce Omurice with Shabu Shabu Pork (180 baht) with Spinach (20 baht)

I had the Curry Sauce Omurice with Shabu Shabu Pork (180 baht), topped with an additional serve of Spinach (20 baht) for some greenery.

Hayashi Sauce Omurice (190 baht)

But it was Chris’ Hayashi Sauce Omurice (190 baht) that was the undisputed winner of the two. For those who don’t know what hayashi sauce is, it’s a thick, glossy demi-glace sauce made with beef, onions, tomato sauce, red wine, and often Worcestershire sauce. Topped with a drizzle of heavy cream, this is a staple of yoshoku – Western-styled Japanese cooking. And although it may seem tremendously unholy, I can assure you the taste is anything but. The balance of sweet and savoury is simultaneously comforting and addictive, and it left me scraping the plate for the dregs of the sauce.

Curry Sauce Omurice with Shabu Shabu Pork (180 baht) with Spinach (20 baht)

We also shelled out the extra 20 baht per dish to have the omelettes ‘lava style’. That is to say, the kind that flops open to reveal a deliciously gooey centre once you cut into it – the style initially made famous by Kichi Kichi Omurice. If you like your eggs runny, this is a no-brainer. If you don’t like runny eggs, it’s still worth giving this a go, as the creaminess really adds to the indulgent feel of this dish.

I’m a little ashamed to say this, but after seeing it everywhere, Chris and I both got sucked into the old-fashioned ice cream parlour Swenson’s.

Hot Fudge Bonanza Split (155 baht)

There, we ordered a Hot Fudge Bonanza Split (155 baht) to share. This was a pretty standard confection of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and bananas, topped with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a single cherry. The enjoyment of this comes from the joy of an unbridled retro sundae experience, and despite being able to get a huge meal for the same price, I thought this money very well spent.

One of my favourite, and most memorable meals of the trip was at Paa Yak Boat Noodles, located along the famous Boat Noodle Alley near Victory Monument.

The deal with boat noodles is that they were originally served out of boats at the floating markets, and as a result each bowl only had a very tiny amount of noodles in it to prevent spillage. This is obviously no longer a problem, but the tradition of eating many little bowls has stayed. And at 12 baht a pop, you can really afford to go for it.

As there are four types of boat noodles on the menu, I decided to start off by trying one of each, so as to determine which to order more of. I also supplemented that with a bouncy plate of Pork Meatballs (60 baht), as well as a bowl of Pork Crackling (12 baht) to throw into the soup.

Thick Beef Noodles (12 baht)

Arguably the most traditional offering is the Thick Beef Noodles (12 baht), which came with a few slices of beef, a meatball, and a mouthful of greens. If you think the noodles here look rather thin, you’d be right. The thick refers to the soup, which is thickened by the addition of blood. But don’t worry if you’re squeamish – you can’t taste the blood at all. Instead what you get is a rich herbal soup that is equal parts sour and spicy, with a deep, complex earthiness imparted by the blood.

Thick Pork Noodles (12 baht)

The Thick Pork Noodles (12 baht) are more or less the same as the beef version, except with a pork-based broth and pork slices instead of beef. I actually think I prefer this one a touch more, though it’s a close call. The slightly fattier taste of the pork is just a touch tastier in my books, compared to the leaner beef.

Spicy and Sour Noodles with Pork (12 baht)

The Spicy and Sour Noodles with Pork (12 baht) is a perfect example of the importance of blood in the soup base. Whilst the sharp, spicy soup was just as flavoursome as its predecessors, it lacks the same complexity and balance. The additions of sliced BBQ pork however was very welcome.

Yentafo Noodles (12 baht)

The Yentafo Noodles (12 baht) was the only disappointment of the lot. Compared to the others, this was bland and uninteresting, and was the only one that didn’t get a single re-order.

For the second round, we basically just ordered a bunch of pork and beef noodles, with a bowl of the spicy and sour noodles thrown in for variety.

And here was the final count, which looked pretty impressive until we saw the girls next to us work their way steadily through 25 bowls.

And yes, they ate it all. Consider me thoroughly impressed.

With malls being so prevalent around Bangkok, we actually had several meals in food courts, which is actually not nearly as subpar as you’d expect it to be. Take ICONSIAM for example. Winner of the award for the Best Shopping Centre of 2019 at the MAPIC awards, the dining areas are not so much a convenience as a spectacle. Designed to mimic the style of the night market, including a section dedicated to the traditional Thai floating market, dining here feels just like being at the real thing, except in air-conditioned comfort.

Papaya Salad with Pork Neck (70 baht)/Beef Curry Noodles (80 baht)

One thing I really like about food courts at Thailand is the way they’re set up as cluster of stores, each specialising in one dish and its variations. It makes it very easy to know where to get what you want, and really streamlines the ordering process. Admittedly, neither the Papaya Salad with Pork Neck (70 baht) nor the Beef Curry Noodles (80 baht) were very inspiring, but I guess you can’t expect miracles everywhere.

Similarly, the food at Pier 21 – the food court of the shopping complex Terminal 21 – was good but not fantastic. If anything, the most remarkable thing about it is how cheap everything was. Not only were the portions bigger than the average Thai-sized serving, it’s also 20-30% cheaper compared to the local food stalls! We ended up having 3 dishes and 2 desserts for just over 170 baht, aka a mere $9AUD!

Restaurants are great and all, but one of the things that excited me the most about going to Bangkok was the street food. On our very first night there, we hit up Yaowarat road, aka Chinatown, which is known for being one of the best places to get your street food hit, especially after sundown.

Chicken Satay (70 baht, 10pc)

The smoky smell of Chicken Satay (70 baht, 10pc) is hard to resist, and these were as tasty as they looked. Slightly smoky and slightly sweet, the tender chicken was good by itself, but what you really want to do is pair it with the chilli peanut sauce. Go on, don’t be shy – pour the whole thing over the top!

Papaya Salad (30 baht)

The first Papaya Salad (30 baht) I had on the trip was from Chinatown, and it was a memorable experience to say the least. For starters, it was by far the most delicious rendition I’ve ever had, the saltiness of fish sauce and sharpness of lime balanced eloquently by the sweetness of palm sugar, and a savoury brininess from a single crab. Unfortunately, it was also so spicy that I could barely get through half of it, even aided by a giant cup of milk tea and half the ice cubes in it. Part of me wonders if he misheard ‘less spicy’ as ‘more spicy’. Or maybe that’s just how he likes to do things. After all, he tastes each salad as he makes them, so clearly he knew perfectly well what it was like. At any rate, there are no regrets here, and I would totally do it all over again.

We moved onto a couple of more substantial dishes at an open-air stall, where a granny deftly manipulated the giant wok into sizzling puffs of fragrant steam, and the occasional burst of flame.

Pork Pad Krapow (80 baht)

Pork Pad Krapow (80 baht) is a classic Thai comfort dish, and one of my personal favourites too. The meat, stir-fried with a fragrant trinity of holy basil, garlic, and chilli, is equal parts comforting and exciting. The accompanying egg was no less thrilling, despite being just a simple fried egg. Not only did it have a covetable lacy edge, it also had the perfect golden runny yolk. I could happily eat this every day.

Stir Fried Water Spinach (50 baht)

Speaking of eating every day, the Stir Fried Water Spinach (50 baht) is likely my favourite vegetable dish from the entire trip, if not ever. Flash-fried in a searingly hot wok for mere seconds, the fronds remained vibrantly fresh and crisp, whilst still picking up the smokiness from the flames. Seasoned simply with a dash of oyster sauce and more garlic than you can poke a vampire at, it’s so good that I could eat it by the bucketful.

Yaowarat Toasted Bread (25 baht)

Once Chris set his eyes on the Yaowarat Toasted Bread (25 baht), there was no keeping him away. Though a very basic concept, it’s easy to see why people line up for this treat. After all, how can you go wrong with a toasted white bun spread with butter, then piped full of the sweet filling of your choice? I decided on the classic egg custard, whilst Chris went all out with a gooey mess of melted chocolate. It may not be the most refined of desserts, but damn does it hit those dopamine receptors hard and fast.

Fermented Roast Pork Sausage (15 baht)

Aside from main meals, we also did heaps of snacking from the street stalls that seem to pop up wherever there’s even the smallest amount of space (and sometimes even when there’s not). One thing we went back for several times is a delicious Fermented Roast Pork Sausage (15 baht), whose smoky fattiness would’ve been overbearing if not for its sharp fermented flavour. As it was, it fell into the category of being so bad, yet so good.

Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Balls (30 baht)

Another inadvertent favourite was these Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Balls (30 baht). The textures in this were unbelievable, the sticky chewiness of the rice cake contrasting with the earth-shattering crunch from the deep fryer. Each piece was liberally doused in coarse sugar and sesame seeds for a flavour and texture boost, and honestly? This is one of the most addictive things I’ve ever eaten.

Pandan Banana Roti (25 baht)

Pandan Banana Roti (25 baht)

The desserty goodness doesn’t stop there. The Pandan Banana Roti (25 baht) was a delicious no-brainer. Cooked on a shallow pan, it’s almost hypnotic to see the dough puff and rise in the oil. Yet despite the ungodly amount of grease used, the final result was remarkably light and flaky, the crisp layers contrasting with the soft slices of banana and creamy condensed milk drizzle.

Coconut Rice Dumplings (30 baht, small box)

I spotted these cute little Coconut Rice Dumplings (30 baht, small box) near our hotel, and figured it wouldn’t hurt to give them a try. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as they were almost my favourite sweet, second only to the glutinous rice cakes. Whilst the outside was slightly crispy, the middle had the consistency of custard, its fragrant creaminess begging you to pop one after another into your mouth.

Coconut and Pandan Pancakes (50 baht, 8pcs)

Coconut and Pandan Pancakes (50 baht, 8pcs)

The Coconut and Pandan Pancakes (50 baht, 8pcs) on the other hand were good, but not nearly as addictive. They were chewy and amply flavoured, but they lacked the moreish lightness of the previous coconut dumplings.

Thai Crepes (20 baht, 10pcs)

I much prefer the Thai Crepes (20 baht, 10pcs) – crispy, paper-thin wafer crepes wrapped around a centre of airy meringue, and garnished with spiced slivers of salted egg yolk.

Coconut Ice Cream (40 baht)

Make sure you get some Coconut Ice Cream (40 baht) as well. It may look like a touristy scam, but it totally isn’t. The home-made ice cream was smooth and creamy, served on a bed of tender baby coconut scraped from the shell. And perhaps best of all, you’ll find that the prices is inclusive of free toppings more often than not; just order, then go nuts with the jars lining the counter – there’s usually at least a dozen treats for you to pile on top of your dessert.

Of course, no matter how hard I tried, there was a lot of food – street food especially – that I wanted to but didn’t get a chance to eat. I did however eat fresh fruit from the street-side markets at every opportunity, which at a flat 20 baht per bag (unless you’re in the touristy areas) would be a bargain, even if it weren’t some of the best and freshest fruit I’ve ever had. The pineapples were of course a favourite, but I also discovered a love for papaya, as well as green mango dipped in chilli and salt. Another thing I ate constantly was mango sticky rice, and found to my surprise that I really loved durian, after trying the durian variation. Unfortunately I only managed to get the fresh stuff once but hey, it’s better than nothing right? Anyway, to wrap things up: if it isn’t clear by now, Bangkok really is an absolute mecca for cheap, amazing food at every street corner. We ate so much good food, many of it at a price-point low enough to rival what you find under couch cushions. Go ahead and shell out on good accommodation or something, because I can guarantee that you’ll eat like royalty for less money than you can possibly imagine.

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