Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred hole-in-the-walls are famous worldwide, Tokyo’s fine-dining establishments are justifiably legendary, and the hawker centres in Singapore are worth the flight to Changi alone, but Thailand has largely been off the radar for those who travel for the food.
Despite our national addiction to the spicy-sweet-salty-sour-savoury flavours that are the hallmarks of Thai cuisine (hello takeaway faves pad Thai and tom yum goong soup!), the Thai capital, Bangkok, hasn’t really been feted as one of Asia’s top foodie cities – until now.
Unlike Hong Kong, where the dining options span Cantonese dumpling palaces to French, European and even Australian fine diners, and Singapore, where the flavours are influenced by Malay, Indian, Chinese and Western cuisines, Thailand touts a totally authentic cuisine of traditional dishes from tastebud-tingling curries to complex soups and refreshing salads to vibrant desserts plus, as a Buddhist country, it's great for vegans and vegetarians, too.
From royal cuisine origins, Thai food has evolved to encompass the traits and tastes of the nation’s myriad cultures, while still adhering to traditional cooking techniques and utilising those unique local ingredients.
And Bangkok is the new hotspot for delicious street food exploration.
First up, a visit to the markets with a local guide, followed up with a cooking class, is a must-do to get an insight into the fantastic fresh ingredients in Thai dishes. Head to the 24-hour Khlong Toei wet market in the city’s Chinatown district – a top source for produce from all over the country and popular with chefs and Bangkok locals alike. Browse hundreds of stalls and seek out regional delicacies.
Bangkok Bold Kitchen, a restaurant and cooking school in the Thonburi district, will show you the authentic way to cook Thai food with local expert Chortip “Nhoi” Ouypomchai, a food blogger-turned-chef. Learn how to create regional favourites, such as spicy rice croquettes from Mae Klong and a sour southern Thai-style catfish organ soup paste, before sitting down to taste your creations for lunch.
Thai desserts are deserving of their own cooking class – at Sane Cafe & Workshop in Phra Nakhon. With fragrant aromas, nuanced flavours and exquisite presentation, the delicate desserts highlight natural ingredients and colourings.
And, as anyone who’s been to a Thai market knows, insects are also on the menu. The future-forward protein source is a staple in Thai cuisine – bring an open mind to Insect in the Backyard in Bang Phlat for interesting dishes with an insect twist.
Bangkok also has its Michelin-starred venues, too. The one Michelin-starred Jay Fai is worth the wait for chef Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta’s signature dish – a crab omelette so plump with crab it’s practically an egg-wrapped burrito. This street food dish is as legendary as Jay Fai herself – check out this grandma cook over hot coals with a ski mask!
And for what’s regarded as the best pad Thai in Bangkok, brave the queues at Thip Samai. Located in the heart of Bangkok, this venue has been slinging noodles since 1966 and also cooks its signature dish over charcoal for that authentic charred flavour. The saucy noodles are wrapped in a thin omelette and you can add your preferred level of heat with chillies.
For fine dining aficionados, Bangkok also has your order. Taste the seasonal menu and authentic tastes at R.Haan restaurant, courtesy of chef Chumpol Jangprai. Choose from royal cuisine, world classic and local wisdom set menus and enlighten your tastebuds. Best enjoyed family-style as per traditional Thai dining culture. There’s also nose-to-tail dining at 100 Mahaseth in Bangrak for unique Isan-style cuisine that’s delicious and sustainable, too.
Less traditional in interior and menu, Canvas, in Wattana, is a fine-diner serving up contemporary Bangkok cuisine in an appealing, modern setting. Local ingredients and authentic cooking techniques from around Thailand are still the culinary stars, while the plated presentation and flair is more Insta-worthy than customary.
From market origins right through to the delicious dish, it’s time to add Bangkok to your gastronomic travel wish list – your tastebuds will thank you.