Since I’d never been to Thailand before this trip, I asked a few people why they visited Thailand and the response overwhelmingly went a little something like this. “Glazed look in eye, oh the food is awesome, even just the street food. Oh and it’s so cheap!” Every. Single. Time.
So when planning out the tiny amount of time we had in Bangkok, I knew it had to include a hefty dose of the local foodie culture. How to pack an array of eats into one day though? The answer is Bangkok Food Tours – it’s exactly what it says on the tin, a local guide taking you through the food of Bangkok. They’ve got a few options, but not being blessed with time, we’ve gone for the Historic Bangrak Food & Culture tour which kicks off at the early early hour of 9:30am.
We meet at Saphan Taksin BTS station, a handy location if you’re intending to catch the main sights of Bangkok later on – the Grand Palace and Golden Buddha to name but a few. Our guide Mod wastes no time in getting down to the order of business for the day, we run through a few handy Thai words, arm ourselves with a little pamphlet explaining the tour and we set off. There’s a bit of mystery here, we know 3 of our 5 stops planned for the morning, but two are a secret, all lending to the heightened sense of anticipation in the group. In between all this eating, we also pepper our visit with side jaunts to neighbourhood monuments, namely Wat Suan Phlu, an authentic slice of Thai-Chinese culture in amongst all the high-rise buildings. Secretly, I think it’s to allow us time to digest.
We’re a bit of a mixed group, we have an older couple who’ve done this very tour on their previous stay in Bangkok, they’re after a refresher course, a lone Dutchman on his way back home after his Asian travels and us. Our first stop is to visit Charoen Wieng Pochana, a long standing Thai chinese place, it’s nothing fancy to look at, but sells some of the most authentic roast duck and rice around, or Khao na Phed to you and I. The ducks are free range and they proudly use only Thai ducks, said to be more flavoursome than their Chinese relatives. The duck is served with a Thai chinese fusion dressing blend of sugar, honey and fermented beans and comes accompanied with a bit of ginger pickle and cucumber to cut through the richness. This is also where I learn that after a long flight, it’s best to go easy on the pungent and hot green and red chillis lying on the table as accompaniments! We also try our hand at a little bit of pork belly, rich and cooked exactly to the right level of pink.
Walking down the main road, I can’t help but have my attention diverted by all the sights, sounds, vendors and lose track slightly of what we’re talking about by playing my own version of a game to see what all these exotic things could possibly be. But there’s one thing I don’t need introducing and that is dessert. So what if we’re only one course down, it’s never too early for a sweet snack. These little morsels of mini coconut pancakes are hot, a little gooey in the centre and despite being rather perplexedly sprinkled with sweetcorn, these are utterly delicious and one I’d keep my eagle eyes out in the future for! I love that the tour doesn’t just include main sit down restaurants, but little roadside stalls that most of us wouldn’t approach, not knowing what was on offer.
Our next stop is a Muslim restaurant, where time has probably stood still from sometime in the 1970s. Unashamedly retro and simple, it’s still run by the Indo-Muslim family that moved to Bangkok about a century ago. There are rich plates of food sitting on the stainless steel counter and despite the early hour, there is a steady few coming to stake their claim on the food on offer. We try the speciality, a spicy fixture of Curry noodles served with a boiled egg and with a plate of crispy fried Murtabak, which taste fantastic dipped into the curry. Truthfully, I find the Murtabak a little too greasily rich for me, but Husband who views this as a Thai version of his favourite Indian food of Parathas, is enamoured.
Despite assurances that we’re only going to get a little mouthful of food at each location, the portion here appears to be verging on the full sized and those noodles in their rich curry sauce are filling me up a little too quick Time to put the brakes on! Lucky we’re headed across the river to get a little river air and try out a different sort of Thai cuisine. This area is famous for it’s Northern Thailand cuisine, or Isaan food. Som Tam, or Papaya salad is arguably the most famous of this cuisine and we’re not disappointed.
Here they make it with the addition of salt crab, a version of the normal salad but with brined crabs to add in a more pungent, salty flavour. You know I’ll eat anything with seafood in it, but I don’t think this version is for me. The pork salad was more up my alley, made with a lot of similar ingredients and was what I had hoped the papaya salad would be – Fresh, Spicy and mouthwateringly zingy. But there was more to come. Rather boringly introduced as deep fried chicken, the strength of this dish lies not in the chicken, but in the hay like substance that surrounds it. Numerous guesses later, none of us were even close. This is deep fried lemongrass. Pounded within an inch of it’s life to slivers and deep fried very quickly! Just Wow.
Back across the river, we have another little pit stop, this time for some deep fried banana. More deep fried sugar than banana, I’ll be sticking to my coconut pancakes when out for a tasty Bangkok roadside snack.
And so we pull up to joy of joys, our first slice of air conditioned paradise. In existence since 1955, this little traditional bakery is now more 21st century cafe and has the menu and attractively packaged goods to mark it as so. It’s hard to tell if we’re more taken by the pleasant temperatures or the fact that dessert has come early but it’s pin drop silence as the Ice Tea ‘Char Yen’ is guzzled down (Resembles a Starbucks vanilla frappucino to me) followed by gooey pandan custard buns. I surprise myself by how much I like this, not being a custard fan, but these have the delicate pandan flavour that I love!
Our next and final stop is a little bit of a walk away, down Silom Road to Kalpapruek and without exception, even with the heat, we’re all full and we can’t all help feeling a bit glad that there’s some time before our next course!
Kalapapruek is owned by Thai royals and it’s another institution in the area. The main restaurant is buzzing and full to the brim with hungry office workers grabbing some lunch and we’re ushered outside to a cool shaded dining section in the garden and here we try the signature dish, a thick, rich Royal green chicken curry served up with flaky roti to mop it all up. The curry was delicious and rich although in the heat the thing most palatable to our fried tastebuds was the sorbet for afters. We had a choice of Tamarind or coconut and we opted for one of each. The tamarind was sweet and salty and refreshing and the coconut a lot more subtle but tasted like some of the finest coconut water around, which is a big favourite of mine!
Armed with our newfound knowledge, we bid farewell to our guide and explore Bangkok. We don’t have long but the two sights on our must see list are the Palace and the Golden reclining Buddha. The latter was more impressive, fewer tourists and more time to really marvel at the construction of that sleeping idol.
That evening, we pencil in some time to make it up the Lebua tower for drinks with Bangkok glittering below us. For those not in the know, parts of the Hangover: Part 2 were filmed here! I petitioned hard for us to come here but Husband wrote it off as ‘just another view’, changing his mind rather miraculously when he heard about it was one of the shoot locations! If you’re going to come up here, we highly recommend you come just before sunset and experience the best of both lights. And watch out for that pesky dress code for the men, shorts and flip flops aren’t going to work here.
Verdict: We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and would easily do another, having never been to Bangkok this was a perfect familiarisation exercise with the language and all whilst doing my most favourite things – talking about food! I didn’t love all the dishes, but when you set out to discover new foods, there’ll always be something to try more suited to your tastes. Do it on your very first day here and it’ll be plain sailing from then on.
A word of advice, it’s pretty darn hot so bring a hat, some water and some comfy shoes. There isn’t that much walking but for those of us living in colder climes, the sun takes some adjusting to.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Bangkok Food Tours, but all opinions are as always, my own. Connect with them on Twitter @thaifoodtours they’re extremely helpful and even opened up this tour for us to do on a Tuesday since that’s the only day we could make it!