All You Need to Know about Eating in Bangkok

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All You Need to Know about Eating in Bangkok
Bangkok's street food is undoubtedly one of Thailand’s highlights. However, fine dining, creative chefs, and a wealth of international flavors make Bangkok a culinary destination that holds its own on the world stage.
By Duncan Forgan, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Maeve Nolan
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    Make the Most of Bangkok’s Street Feasts
    It is impossible to understate the diversity of Bangkok’s street food. From humble pad Thai (stir fried noodles with egg, tofu, and shrimp flavored with tamarind) and som tam (spicy papaya salad) to more obscure creations from around the Kingdom, the variety is breathtaking—and, for the casual visitor, can be overwhelming. Good spots to begin are Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, where you'll find a plethora of street food stalls, and Or Tor Kor Market. One of the most popular is T & K Seafood, where you can order a whole fish steamed or deep fried, barbecued shrimp, crab, and soups.
    Photo by Maeve Nolan
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    The Cutting Edge of Bangkok’s Restaurant Scene
    The dining scene in Bangkok has stepped up a few notches in recent years to encompass non-Thai options that wouldn’t be out of place in London, Paris, or New York. A current favorite is Appia, an upmarket Italian trattoria that specializes in fantastic Roman comfort food, such as a tender porchetta stuffed with liver and herbs, and homemade pasta. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, which opened in 2014, serves Michelin-quality fare from an open kitchen that lets diners be part of the action. Be sure to check out the buzzy Suhring, run by two German identical twins who do a modern take on German fine dining.
    Photo by Martin Kreuzer/age fotostock
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    Experience the Best in Thai Fine Dining
    The best high-end Thai restaurant in Bangkok is a subject of passionate debate, but certain names tend to keep coming up. One such perennial is Issaya Siamese Club. Run by Ian Kittichai, arguably Thailand’s most famous chef, Issaya is both authentic and appealing with its vibrant spin on traditional Thai cooking. Housed in an attractive period villa, the restaurant has an elegant ambience and the food—famous Thai dishes such as kradook moo aob (chili glazed ribs) and yum hua plee (heart of palm and bamboo flower salad)—is impeccably presented and flavored. Check out Nahm, which is helmed by Michelin-starred chef and Thai cuisine magus David Thompson. Other prime spots for Thai fine dining include Bo.Lan, Osha, and Le Du.
    Photo courtesy of Backyard Travel
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    Bangkok’s Beloved Indian Restaurants
    Bangkok has a significant Indian population. Indeed, the city even has its own Little India around Phahurat Road. Some of the most beloved Indian dining options, however, can be found around the main Sukhumvit and Silom drags. The cream of the crop, at least according to the judges at Restaurant magazine’s list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, is Gaggan. Don’t expect traditional curries here: Chef Gaggan Anand specializes in contemporary Indian with a dash of molecular gastronomy thrown in. For a more old-school take on fine dining from the sub-continent, try Rang Mahal at Rembrandt Hotel, regarded as the grande dame of Bangkok’s Indian restaurants. Indus is another high-quality perennial, but with better value.
    Photo by Maeve Nolan
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    Bangkok’s Romantic Restaurants
    Whether you are wowing (or attempting to wow) a date or your partner, Bangkok boasts several idyllic restaurants that will tug at the heartstrings. Rooftop venues such as Sirocco at Lebua Hotel and Vertigo at Banyan Tree are always good bets. However, few places are as evocative as dining by the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Of the city’s riverside options, none is better than Sala Rattanakosin. Executive Chef Tony Wrigley oversees the menu, and the kitchen serves authentic southern Thai cuisine such as yam puu nim tord mamuang (soft shell crab in spicy salad) as well as a few global options. The kicker, however, is the riverside setting and the splendid view over to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) across the water.
    Photo by Dave Stamboulis/age fotostock
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    Come Home with Some Thai Cooking Skills
    Thai cuisine, with its balance of three to four fundamental taste senses, may be complex, but that doesn’t make it difficult to pick up the basics. Bangkok has a plethora of cooking schools, some of which are attached to renowned Thai restaurants, such as Bo.lan and Blue Elephant. Blue Elephant is one of the most respected venues in the city and its fees reflect its exalted status. Two courses are offered daily, with the morning session featuring a visit to a local market and the afternoon session including a detailed introduction to Thai ingredients. A homier option is Amita Thai Cooking Class. Classes are held in an antique canal-side home and include a guided visit to the on-site herb garden.
    Photo by Maeve Nolan
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    Take a Guided Tour of Bangkok’s Street Food Spots
    With all the tasty morsels on offer, it's hard to know where to start on your Bangkok street food odyssey. Luckily, expert assistance is on hand in the form of several specialized tours. Various companies lead tasty treks through foodie enclaves such as Chinatown and Bangrak, a historic riverside area regarded by many Bangkokians as the zenith of their street food culture. Other options include a midnight food tour by tuk tuk, a "bites and bike" tour that combines cycling with food sampling, and a full-day tour of the floating markets just outside Bangkok. Reputable tour companies include Bangkok Food Tours and Bangkok City Discovery Tours. Expeditions can also be arranged through Backyard Travel.
    Photo by Andrea Pistolesi/age fotostock
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    Regional Cuisine in the Capital
    Thai cuisine varies by region, from the hot, spicy salads of the northeastern Isan region to the curries and Muslim-influenced dishes of the south. Migrants flock to Bangkok from all over Thailand, bringing with them their regional flavors. You can sample a range of local specialties in a stylish setting at Supanniga Eating Room on Thong Lor. There’s a strong Isan influence on the menu, but the food also includes hard-to-find dishes from the eastern Trat Province like kung phad sator (prawns fried with stink beans). Gedhawa serves a great khao soi: northern coconut curry soup with noodles. Southern Thai food is also well represented on Thong Lor at Khua Kling Pak Sod, which does a particularly delicious yellow curry with fish.
    Photo by Maeve Nolan
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    Bangkok's Sprawling Chinatown
    Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world and the vast majority live in Bangkok; thus, it's little surprise that excellent Chinese cuisine is found easily in the capital. First-class options abound all over town but for an authentic experience—complete with grumpy chefs and indecipherable menus—it pays to head to Yaowarat Road, the center of Bangkok’s Chinatown. Diners flock from all around the city to sample the seafood at venues such as Lek-Rut and T&K. Don't expect to be wowed by the appearance of either, but you won’t be complaining once you’ve sampled their steamed whole fish or the barbecued prawns as big as your fist.
    Photo by Erich Häfele/age fotostock
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    Go Meat-Free at Bangkok’s Vegetarian Restaurants
    It can be a challenging business being a vegetarian in Bangkok. Most Thais are avowed carnivores and it's all but impossible to avoid meat at most of the city’s street food outlets. A growing range of spots, however, are making it easier and a lot more pleasurable to be a vegetarian in the Thai capital. Raw Food Café at Rasayana Retreat is one such venue. Espousing a raw food philosophy that holds that cooking destroys essential enzymes and nutrients, the vegan offerings here include sushi and lasagna. For vegetarian Thai food, May Kaidee has three locations in Bangkok and serves excellent meat-free versions of classic Thai dishes like pad Thai and som tum. Check out Khun Churn for another highly rated vegetarian restaurant.
    Photo by Sylvain Grandadam/age fotostock
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