I’ve been keen to visit Bangkok since as long as I can remember, and finally had a particularly special occasion to do so – the wedding celebrations of one of my oldest friends from London.
What ensued was a three-day extravaganza involving the finest food and fizz, friends and family, and a fabulous foot spa thoughtfully arranged by our hosts to help us recover and recharge between all that dancing!
Between it all, I managed to tick off a few (if not all) must-eats and must-visits from my lengthy list of must-do’s…
Khao niao mamuang (mango sticky rice)
… Starting of course with this classic Thai-Lao dish found across Bangkok, from the city’s street stalls and traditional eateries, to international hotels and fine-dining restaurants.
The deceivingly-simple pairing of slow-cooked “sticky” rice and achingly-tender Thai mangoes is typically completed by a sweet-and-salty splash of coconut milk or cream, with roasted sesame seeds or mung beans sometimes added for a gentle crunch.
Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to make my way down to Kor Panich – recommended by Eater as one of the original go-to’s for the best sticky rice and sweet-and-ripe mangos. However, I never lost an opportunity to indulge in this iconic staple whilst in town, going as far as to track down a dessert cafe at the Central World mall, Yenly Yours, specialising in all sorts of mango-marvellous treats!
I-dtim mat phrao (coconut ice cream)
Of course there’s nothing quite like cracking open a Thai coconut and revelling in its nectar-like sweetness too…
Correction. There are a few on-par pleasures, noteably i-dtim mat phrao (i-dtim being the phonetic rendering of the word “ice cream” in a Thai accent, while mat phrao translates to coconuts!).
These naturally dairy-free ice creams are made with coconut milk and often topped off with kernels of boiled corn or even peanuts for a nutty edge.
You can find dedicated mobile carts being wheeled across the city (look out for tall and round stainless steel canisters as a tell-tale sign for quality, frozen ice creams). But if it’s a high degree of authenticity you’re after, there’s word of a vendor who sets up shop outside the Lumpini park entrance (closest to the Silom MRT station entrance, Rama V monument and Silom Road).
As for me, I was not only treated to this indescribably-lush dessert during the wedding, but also experienced a zeitgeisty spin-off in the form of a charcoal and coconut soft-serve at an All Coco kiosk in the Gourmet Market of Siam Paragon Mall… Looks like black is the new black after all!
The street-food culture in Bangkok is also synonymous with Thai iced tea (Cha Yen) – a refreshingly spicy blend of black Ceylon tea and condensed milk, thought to be inspired by masala chai from India. It’s sometimes suffused with star anise, cinnamon, mint leaves and/ or orange blossom water. Expect to have it poured from a height as high as four feet at one of the city’s many street vendors, and conveniently served in a plastic bag to go.
Don’t be too surprised at sighting lots of bubble tea shops too, as these have exploded in popularity in recent times. I found myself making a pit-stop at Mr. Shake on several occassions given its conveniently-located outlets (including within the maze of elevated sidewalks connecting the different corners of the city), not to mention the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the sweet and chewy pearls used!
(Indoor) street-food & all about those fruits…
Truth be told, the heat, humidity and unpredictable showers characteristic of the month of June in Bangkok was a dastardly deterrent against fully experiencing the street food scene of Bangkok…
So I was all-the-more gratified to stumble on Eathai in Central Embassy – a market-themed food court of sorts in the luxe-mall’s basement, offering a plethora of regional and local cuisines… with a dedicated vegetarian counter to boot!
Post that plate of pad-thai, I wandered into the adjoining gourmet food-hall to familiarise myself with the plentiful variety of exotic fruits so famed of Thailand’s tropical climate.
Who knew that there are so many different types of mangoes, each as exquisite as the other?! Then there’s the rather contentious durian – not the best looker of a fruit, and a bit of a stinker as well… yet, it’s one of the most expensive Thai fruits, and so sought-after for its intensely-rich taste.
If I had to cherry-pick, my favourites would of course be mangosteen for its delicately fleshy texture. Would you believe that the number of sections inside this fruit exactly match the number of petals at the bottom of the hardened purple outer shell?
Then there are rambutans – a bit like lychees, but much creamier and cocooned within a vividly red and yellow spiky rind! Speaking of lychees, I might have returned with two boxes full of this particularly juicy fruit from the soapberry family…
If you haven’t already heard, Thailand is all set to receive its own Michelin Guide – a development which has been quite overdue given Bangkok’s innovative mix of fine-dining restaurants helmed by world-famous chefs.
The city is home to Gaggan – a “progressive Indian” restaurant by the eponymous chef, which has topped the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards (sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna) for three years in a row now.
With just the one night to spare, our wedding party decided to take a chance on Gaa instead – a new restaurant (also backed by chef Gaggan Anand) showcasing the talents of Garima Arora, a 30-year old Indian chef whose culinary chops reflect in her previous stints as chef de partie at Noma in Copenhagen, and at Gaggan.
Situated in a colonial house right across the road from Gaggan, the “modern eclectic” restaurant champions local ingredients and international cooking techniques… manifesting in a twelve course menu spanning the likes of cucumber ice cream toast and a vividly-nostalgic grilled corn (reminiscent of the roadside bhuttas of our youth) dipped in a corn emulsion.
Dessert here is an unusually offbeat affair too, with ice cream flavours running the gamut from jaggery & coriander seeds to turmeric & roasted safflower (scooped out in a black sesame cone), and beeswax and wild honey (served in a bee pollen cone!).
…. But, the many homegrown cafes dotted around Bangkok spelled a different story!
Well-known names include Greyhound, After You (a dessert chain which has amassed a cult following for its mille crepe cakes and shibuya honey toast) and Coffee Beans by Dao (a cafe boasting royal connections and 70 varieties of pastries). There’s also Vanilla Brasserie – a monochrome-chic cafe in Siam Paragon, where you can hit your daily calorie intake in one sitting…. Croissant-doughnut with custard, vanilla ice cream and caramel glaze anyone?
So what did I miss? Do drop a comment or tweet me @foodiediaries with your favourite foods of Bangkok!