Come on a culinary journey from Bangkok’s bustling streets to idyllic southern islands to discover some of Thailand’s best dishes.
City Treats in Bangkok
What better dish to start with than pad thai, even if it really only became popular during the 1940s? Our favourite restaurant for pad thai takes a little tracking down, though.
Only open until 2pm Monday to Friday, Pad Thai Sala Daeng (Soi Sala Daeng 2, 84 899 5301) is tucked down a narrow alley behind the Silom Complex and is set in the rather grungy front yard of an old wooden house.Inside you’ll find the always-smiling Khun Pranee slaving away over a hot wok, cooking hordes of office workers delicious, pan-fresh pad thai, with or without prawns or squid, at ridiculously low prices. Hot, sweaty and delicious.
Photo CC2.0: Charles Haynes
While in the neighbourhood pop over to Soi Convent and look for the unnamed stall in front of Thai restaurant Bua. Pick up some of their khao mok gai (chicken with saffron rice), which is best enjoyed with their clear and incredibly spicy chicken soup.
Or, head up the street for a bowl of tom yam noodles at the bustling lunchtime stall opposite Convento apartments. The dish is sour and spicy, while the accompanying deep-fried pork balls are a revelation.
Photo CC2.0: Marita
While less common on the streets, massaman curry is still hugely popular. Lots of the high-end restaurants do it, but I love the southern-influenced version served up at Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Soi Sukhumvit 55, 02 714 7708), which uses lamb rather than the more standard chicken. Soul Food Mahanakorn is a great spot to try a lot of regional dishes because of the quality ingredients used. The potent Thai cocktails also help.
To beat the Bangkok heat indulge in another classic, kao chae. This dish of rice in iced jasmine-scented water was appropriated by King Rama V from the Mon people to beat the heat at Songkran, but can be enjoyed year-round.
One of the most authentic spots to sample this dish of rice served with a range of sides – such as dried fish and shrimp paste balls, shredded sweet pork, carved vegetables and sweetened fish – is the unassuming Khao Chae Mae Siri (Trok Krai Sri, Phra Sumen Road, 081 448 9924). A family-run venue, it uses a recipe that’s been handed down through five generations.
Of course you can’t mention dessert without sampling that sweet and salty classic: mango sticky rice.
While there’s a good mobile stall on famous foodie street Sukhumvit Soi 38, we recommend crossing the road to Maewaree (1 Soi Sukhumvit 55, 02 392 4304). It’s easy to spot thanks to the huge piles of Chiang Mai-grown mangoes out front.
Pad Thai Sala Daeng
Soi Sala Daeng 2,
84 899 5301
Soul Food Mahanakorn
56/10 Soi Sukhumvit 55,
02 714 7708
Khao Chae Mae Siri
Trok Krai Sri, Phra Sumen Road,
081 448 9924
Sukhumvit Soi 38
1 Soi Sukhumvit 55
02 392 4304
Not only do the islands promise sandy beaches and swaying palms, but also feisty cuisine starring fresh seafood and some seriously spicy soups and curries. Southern cooking also features influences from the Chinese and Muslim populations in the region; one example is gaeng keow wan (green curry).
If you’re on Samui, then you simply must head to Kanom Jeen Pa Maitree (217/2 Soi Maenam Beach 4, 077 247 075) to enjoy this pungent curry along with the owner’s exquisite kanom jeen (fermented rice noodles), a real southern delicacy.
Another good spot to sample authentic southern recipes is the beachside Krua Chao Baan (438/18 Moo 1, Maret, 077 418 589), which serves classics like yellow gaeng som (spicy sour soup), yellow curry and hor mok talay (steamed seafood in banana leaf).
Ko Seng (95 Moo 1, Tumboon Maenam, 077 425 365), is another must-try. Great for seafood, it’s been around for 50 years and changes its menu depending on the day’s catch.
If you find yourself admiring the limestone karsts of Krabi, then make sure to drop by the legendary Ruen Mai (117 Moo 3 Krabi Road, Kao Thong, 089 288 3232). It moved a few years ago, now residing in a stunning bamboo structure nestled in the jungle, but the food remains consistently excellent.
Photo CC 2.0: Witcha Suyara
Particular highlights include fried curry paste with prawns and stinky sataw beans, phak mieng (stir-fried vegetables with eggs) and local speciality hoi chak teen (dog conch, a type of shellfish).
217/2 Soi Maenam Beach 4
077 247 075)
Krua Chao Baan
438/18 Moo 1, Maret
077 418 589
95 Moo 1Tumboon Maenam
077 425 365
117 Moo 3 Krabi Road, Kao Thong
089 288 3232
Over on Phuket you’ll find dishes that are unique to the island, particularly in the historic heart of Phuket Town, due to the influence of the Hokkien Chinese traders who settled there. Raya (48 New Dibuk Road, 076 218 155), housed in a century-old building, is perhaps the most famous. It serves up classic Phuket dishes such asphak mieng (steamed pork with garlic and pepper) and crab-meat curry with coconut milk.
In the next road, the less fancy but still charming Kopitiam (18 Thalang Road, 083 606 9776) serves up Phuket’s version of Hokkien mee and bak kut teh (pork bone herbal soup).
Photo CC2.0: Thanakrit Gu
There are also plenty of street options to try, such as the yellow Hokkien noodles at Mee Ton Poh (214/7 Phuket Road, 076 216 293), the yummy oyster omelette sprinkled with pork crackling at Ji Pien (Soi Phoophol 7, Takuapa Rd, 08 4062 1232) and the kanom jeen and bewildering array of curries at Pa Mai Kanom Jeen (Satun Road, 076 258 037).
Finish off your culinary journey with a bowl of o-aew (herbal jelly in red syrup) at the unnamed stall right next to Ji Pien.
48 New Dibuk Road
076 218 155
18 Thalang Road
083 606 9776
214/7 Phuket Road
076 216 293
Soi Phoophol 7
08 4062 1232
076 258 037