“Where are the best places to eat Thai food in Bangkok?” is a question I get asked the most by my friends, colleagues and acquaintances in London. My usual answer would be “When you are in Thailand, the best way to enjoy the most authentic Thai cuisine is by eating street food.” What are these exactly?
Street food in Asia are low cost, simple, but delicious and hearty meals that one can enjoy as a quick lunch, dinner or snacks during the day. When I say low cost, I mean that it should not cost you more than £1 or 2 USD per dish. They often consist of various locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, e.g. pad thai, various noodles soups such as yentafo, spicy salads, a rice dish such as Hainanese chicken rice etc. or leftover ingredients from previous meals that are mixed together in an intuitive manner to create a completely new delicious dish, e.g. okonomiyaki in Japanese cuisine…. And the best places to enjoy these dishes, of course, are from street vendors on the pavements of Bangkok busy streets or plain looking restaurants often with no air-conditioning, because these are where the really authentic family recipes can be found… Most of the famous street food restaurants in Thailand are rarely well designed, because they tend to be traditional low cost simple restaurants run by a family through various generations or on street carts or even in someone’s converted home restaurants, and for us local thais, good food in itself is enough of a reason to travel to a restaurant for. There are no need for the decorations, the ambience, the style, the packaging etc. which western tourists in particular give so much considerations to, because in the end, the quality of the actual food and one’s company are what count. It is perfectly normal for us locals to have a fantastic meal out in a plain old restaurant sitting on cheap tables and stools as long the food tastes amazing and the company we keep are our family, close friends or loved ones. Eating is a social experience in our culture, it is a time of sharing. In Thailand, therefore, good restaurants are those which offer great food on its own merit, they do not need to be well packaged or well presented or have great interior design to be considered a good restaurant.
On the other spectrum of traditional Thai food, however, is Palace Food, which are completely different from Thai street food and much harder to find. These are served by very few restaurants, which I will write more about in a separate article, but for now, let’s enjoy the places and dishes that the majority of Thais cannot live without!
So the best places to sample some of these street food dishes, in my opinion are:
YENTAFO WAT KHAEK – 8 Pan Road, Silom Road. T: +66 2 236 4393
Almost directly opposite the Hindu Temple in Silom, i.e. Wat Khaek aka Sri Mahamariamman Temple, is the best Yentafo noodles restaurant in town. What is Yentafo, exactly? It is rice noodles in pink soup with squid, swamp cabbage, fish dumplings, jelly fish and fried tofu, which is specially found in Thailand and nowhere else in Asia.
What to order: Yentafo here is absolutely delicious so there is no need for extra seasoning at all. Other dishes worth a try are salad khaek and summer rolls.
SOMTAM NUA – 392/14 Soi Siam Square 5, Rama 1 Road. T: +66 81 257 5384
Somtam Nua has become quite an establishment for Northeastern Thai cuisine, now with several branches throughout Bangkok. The address above is for their original restaurant in Siam Square, which is very small, so please be warn that there will be a long long queue and it is walk-in only, no reservation. The long wait aside, the food is totally worth it. It offers a wide range of northeastern style dishes, all of which are very fresh and well cooked.
What to order: My recommendations for this restaurant would be Somtam aka papaya salad which comes with a choice of various toppings, my favourite being somtam with salted egg; fried chicken wings, grilled pork neck, pork sausages, laab, and tom saab soup, all of which should be eaten with sticky rice for authenticity.
Unfotunately, I do not have any original photographs of the food, but you can look at the photographs of the dishes I mentioned at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g293916-d3140662-Reviews-Som_Tam_Nua-Bangkok.html
PAD THAI PRATU PEE aka PAD THAI THIP SAMAI – 313 Mahachai Road, Phra Nakorn. T: +66 2 221 6280
Pad Thai Pratu Pee which translates to Ghost Gate Pad Thai, Ghost Gate referring to its location, is the most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok for the past few decades. It is therefore, the best place for you to try pad thai, albeit the long queue. Again, like Yentafo Wat Khaek, the chefs at Pad Thai Pratu Pee cook the dish right on the pavement in open air using traditional charcoal stove to achieve the right scorching heat. It is quite entertaining just to watch them prepare the dish.
What to order: Pad Thai Hor Kai Goong Sod (Fresh shrimp pad thai wrapped in egg) is my top recommendation because this version of pad thai is rare to find outside Thailand, and the one here is cooked to perfection. If you prefer the typical version found all over the world then Pad Thai Sen Chan Mun Goong (pad thai with fresh shrimps and juice from shrimps head) is what to order. With this version though, you should try ordering Oyster Omelette as an accompaniment because that is how it is traditionally eaten.
Again unfotunately, I do not have any original photographs of the food, but “Eating Thai Food” has made a great documentary about the restaurant, which I include the video below:
There are several others that I always go to which I really would like to recommend, but I do not have original photographs of the dishes offered and the restaurants, because it was before I started writing this blog that I visited them, so next time when I go there, I will properly document the experience so that I will be able to share more with you.
I hope that if you ever go to Bangkok, you have the chance to try these places for authentic Thai food experience and I would love to hear your feedback.