Guide to Bangkok
Everything we'd eat if we could get there now
September 30, 2020 ● 11 min read
When it’s finally time to hop a plane to Bangkok, here are Vanda’s expert recommendations, as told to ChefsFeed, for exactly where you should go. “Oftentimes people stick with what’s in the major guides. These are the smaller or less well-known restaurants that many families — my family particularly — have been going to for years,” she said.
After sunset, head directly to Kuay Jab Nay Lek Uan. The stall serves one dish, and does it well: kuay jab noodles. The rolled rice noodles in clear, peppery broth are served with crispy pork belly and offal. Ask for the pork belly on the side rather than in the soup if you like it extra crispy like I do. It’s one of many kuay jab stalls in Chinatown, but it’s unique for its clear broth. On busy nights, guests crowd around shared tables and pass condiments — a bit of pre-COVID charm, and one of the best parts of eating at a popular street stall. If you’re hungry, order it pe-sed (special) — it’ll arrive with extra love!
Next, a late meal of grilled seafood at Jumbo Lobster Restaurant. The restaurant's name may suggest you order lobster, but I recommend ordering the giant river prawns (gifts of the gods), priced by size. Ask for them to be grilled. You can order them smothered in garlic butter or cheese — yes, cheese — but I prefer them simple and plain. The smokiness of the plump, charcoal grilled prawns and the creamy goodness of the shrimp butter (which is actually brain) with a dab of the accompanying house tangy-spicy seafood chili-lime sauce is euphoric. Pair it with grilled scallops on a shell with fried shallot and all its fixings, then wash it down with a cold Thai beer, and you are in heaven!
100 Mahaseth, named after its address, serves locally sourced, nose-to-tail Northern and Northeastern Thai food. It’s also recognized as a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, a designation that notes exceptional value. Chef Chalee Kader works to help raise standards of how cattle is raised for meat consumption in Thailand. At his restaurant, every part of the animal is respected and used. Internal organs and entrails have always been considered a delicacy in Thai and many other Asian cuisines, but Chef Charlee takes it a notch up in flavor and style. I have dined here with my dad (also a chef), who is typically very critical and particular when it comes to food, and he loved it. He especially loved the cilantro salad and never thought Thai beef could taste this tender. Order the sticky rice, ball it up with your hands, and dip it into the selection of chili relish. My personal favorite is the jaew pla-ra relish of roasted chili with fermented fish, which also makes for a great steak sauce.
After 10pm, it’s street food time again. Hae Owen is known to Thais as Hae Ouan, or Fatty Big Brother, and when I lived in Thailand, he was my pork dealer and my therapist. I frequented his cart, Moo Ping Hea Owen, so often that he kept notes about the people I brought with me. When a friend didn’t come with me, he’d ask about them. When we weren’t acting like ourselves, he’d ask if we were okay. In all the years I’ve known him — after hundreds of skewers eaten from his cart — the one constant has been his delicious, moist moo ping (pork skewers). Get khao niew (sticky rice) with your moo ping, especially great after bar-hopping down Silom. Don’t try to visit on Mondays, as it’s street vendors’ night off for street cleaning.
Cap the day with a visit to the nearby Klong Toey Market, the biggest wholesale market in Bangkok. Many Thai chefs say that if a local ingredient is not available here, it doesn’t exist. The market is open 24 hours and I like to go at night when it’s cooler and there are fewer shoppers, but the market is still alive with vendors moving supplies and preparing for the morning rush. Just be mindful of the vendors moving heavy carts, and get out of their way. I always pick up dry spices and fermented shrimp paste, and look in awe at the seasonal fruits and vegetables before walking through the meat alley where whole animals are separated, nothing going to waste. If you’re lucky, you may get to witness a group of super fit topless men chop up catfish. An important note: this experience is not for those who are squeamish (or hungover). Since it's a wet market, remember to wear closed-toe shoes.
Krua Apsorn is the kind of restaurant where my parents would lunch with their friends, it’s wonderfully old-school. Years ago, this restaurant was not on traveler's radars. Office colleagues and government workers crowd the restaurant at lunch — you can tell because everyone has an ID card hanging from a lanyard around their neck. I eat here with former colleagues every time I visit, and we always order the same dishes: yellow curry with lotus roots, crab omelet, crab with yellow chili, and chicken wings. (I say their crab omelet is far better than the famous Jay Fai around the block.) Since this is a very popular restaurant, avoid coming right at noon. Service is spotty when they’re busy, so review the menu outside before sitting down and know what you want — or just order my usuals to make it easy!
For something completely different, reserve a spot at Baan Tepa for a 10-course prix fixe menu. Chef Tam Debhakam is part of the growing sustainable food movement in Thailand and the winner of the first season of Top Chef Thailand. In 2019, she opened her grandmother's house for a reservations-only 12-seat communal table dining experience. She grows many of the herbs and vegetables she uses on-property, sources super local ingredients, and often spins traditional recipes into modern masterpieces that retain the charm of the originals. Chef Tam encourages guests to wander her organic gardens, which are fueled by the compost made from kitchen scraps and her no-waste philosophy. The beautiful, intimate dinner is in the kitchen, and I was guided through the meal with flavors and stories that took me to far regions of Thailand. (There are two seatings each night, book the earlier 5pm dinner if you want to explore the garden.)
You’ll want to hit one more market to round out your visit: Or Tor Kor Market in Chatuchak. Technically a fresh market, its higher-than-average prices dubs it a hi-so (short for high society) market by many Thais. The market is able to command higher prices for having the highest quality products and paying close attention to cleanliness and hygiene, so you can walk safely and confidently with open-toed shoes; heck, expect to see some market goers in high heels! It’s organized into zones: meats, produce, rice, food, snacks, and food court. First, head to the fruit zone. Everything is packaged with the utmost care. If you're staying at a place with a microwave or kitchen amenities, pick up some curries and stir-fries for your next meal. If not, head to the food court and select from rice and noodle vendors. Be sure to stop by the pork satay stall in the middle of the market for a few skewers with peanut sauce, and make sure they give you the freshly grilled ones; the pre-grilled are never as good. The market is open from 8:30am to 6pm, and gets very busy on the weekends. Before flying home, pick up snacks with great packaging from this market as gifts — that’s exactly what my family does!