There’s more to Thai food than creamy curries and spring rolls, but with more than 50 districts sprawling over 930 square miles and a plethora of budget boltholes – serving average fare as well as western favourites – uncovering the best dishes can be difficult.
Here’s how to avoid mediocre meals, discover the very best of authentic Thai cuisine and dine like a local in Bangkok.
Pad Thai Thip Samai
Often hailed as the place to get the capital’s best Pad Thai, Thip Samai combines unmissable food with an authentic culinary experience. Showcasing an open kitchen, where roaring flames envelope giant woks, the picture is that of a traditional Thai kitchen. Portions are plentiful, the food eye-wateringly cheap and ingredients as fresh as you can get. The fragrant, aromatic Pad Thais burst with flavour and will spoil you for life. But, be warned, this is a popular place – prepare to queue.
WHAT: Pad Thai shrimp
WHERE: Also referred to as Ghost Gate (Pratu Pee); 313 Mahachai Road
Bangkok’s Old Town
Steer clear of the tourist traps of the Khao San Road and you’ll discover the city’s very heart and soul. Home to decades-old street food vendors, here you’ll find specialities that are little-known elsewhere. Stop by Khao Gaeng Rattana for khao gang (curry rice). An interesting option for breakfast or lunch on-the-go, it’s simply a collection of curries or stir fries piled high on a bed of steaming white rice. Curiously, there’s no menu and little choice – it’s simply what the cook has whipped up that day.
WHAT: Pick of the day!
WHERE: Within Nang Loeng Market
WHEN: 10:30am-1:30pm; note that the food is first come, first served, and the best dishes go the quickest
This region is home to the area’s famous spicy, rich kuay tiaw ruea (or kuai tiao ruea) – otherwise known as ‘boat noodles’ and named after the boats they used to be prepared, and sold, on. There are scores of restaurants around this Victory Monument area, which can be a little overwhelming but is hugely worth the bother.
Sam-Ang Kulap is exceptionally cheap, servings are generous and, with almost half a century’s worth of experience, the food is of course delicious, aromatic and filling. Noodles are served swimming in fragrant broths with beef or pork. Vegetarians can opt for a bowl of phak bung – a crunchy vegetable, often referred to in English as morning glory.
WHAT: Boat noodles
WHERE: Soi 18, Th Ratchawithi
Discover the very freshest Thai produce at this sprawling, exotic food market. Home to unusual fruits, fragrant spices and clouds of smoky grills, you’ll find endless culinary delights without the crowds. A world away from Bangkok’s concrete jungle, Nonthaburi is tucked away to the north, leaving you with just the locals and their grocery shopping for company.
WHAT: Street food snacks abound in the stalls around the clocktower and pier
WHERE: Tha Nam Nonthaburi, Nonthaburi
WHEN: An early start is required: 5-9am
Likhit Kai Yang
The perfect pre-boxing meal, if you’re making your way to a Thai match. Located close to Ratchadamnoen Stadium, a stop by Likhit Kai Yang will only add to your night of Thai sporting entertainment. Serving mainly north-eastern traditional Thai food, popular dishes include fried crab or crispy grilled chicken. Service is quick and the food fast. This is a get-in-get-out kind of place, not somewhere to savour every bite.
WHAT: Grilled pepper chicken salad
WHERE: There is no sign in English; look for a large yellow banner instead; off Th Ratchadamnoen Nok
A firm favourite with Thai families, and even the country’s royalty, you’ll find homely, traditional food from central and southern Thailand, cooked-up in a welcoming atmosphere. Authentic options include tom yum goong (Thai soup, usually with shrimps), miang kam (a traditional snack, literally translated to ‘eating many things in one bite’), mango fish or crab omelette. The chef doesn’t scrimp on flavours or spices – this place is on heat.
Krua Apsorn is all about the food, you’ll find the décor a little dated and the location well away from the tourist traps. Note the early closing time, if you’re heading out for dinner.
WHAT: Crab omelette
WHERE: 503-505 Th Samsen
WHEN: Mon-Fri, 10:30am-7:30pm; Sat, 10:30am-6pm