Travel, Teach, Live in Thailand
Bangkok is one of the world's greatest cities for food, it's everywhere! You can take your pick from street vendor food, small family run restaurants, mid range chain restaurants in the shopping centres, international food, fast food and Michelin star restaurants.
Whether you want Pad Thai, chicken and rice, pizza, Indian curry or a Zinger burger...Bangkok has it all!
A lot of people I know return from Bangkok saying that the food wasn't as cheap as they were expecting. When I ask where they ate the usual answer is, "oh in the hotel bar". You can pay over the odds for food in Bangkok if you want, if you're prepared to search and perhaps eat in the more plain looking family restaurants then you'll find the legendary tasty and very cheap Thai food.
Here, I will try to give a rundown of the sort of thing you can expect to find in Bangkok along with a few personal recommendations.
Street vendor food
It is a bit clichéd, but it's true that the best food in Bangkok is the street vendor food. Sure, the surroundings are less than salubrious, but I just love the atmosphere and the feel of eating food by the side of a busy road, sat on a plastic stool! You'll find these set-ups all over the city, usually a group of people together each with their own speciality on their own cart. The most common dishes are chicken and rice (Khao man gai), red pork on rice (khao muu daeng), Pad Thai, many kinds of noodle soup and various curries. Just be adventurous and if you're not confident with the language you can always point to what you want! Always have a glass of Thai-style icy milkshake on hand if something is unexpectedly spicy! I always find milk is much better than water at cooling your mouth down.
A good tip from a local if you're not sure which vendor to choose, is go to the busier ones. That generally means the food is tastier and safe. I've never had any problems eating street food.
Other items for sale include various grilled meats on a stick and fruit portions. My personal favourite are the various vendors that line the wall of Lumpini Park in the evenings, in the car park area along Ratchadamri Road. The stalls in the Patpong/Silom area are also very popular.
Thai family restaurants
The Thai family restaurant is something that many foreigners never experience. A lot of people are put off by the bland appearance of these places, they are also quite hard to spot and many people just don't know they're there. At a glance it may look like someone's house with the shutter doors left open. Look more closely and you may see the old aunt or grandmother of the family cooking noodles or chopping up chicken at the front of the shop! The décor is usually very basic, flimsy metal tables, plastic chairs and bare walls. The only decorations are spirit houses with the daily offering of Fanta and portraits of past and present royals will hang on the walls.
The food, however, is out of this world and always at a reasonable price. The menu choice is, of course, far more extensive than the street vendors. Always look out for the fish dishes, some are extra spicy! Yam Mun Sen (spicy sea food salad with noodles) is also a personal favourite.
A good choice in terms of location is Lek seafood, not far from Chong Nonsi skytrain station.
There are many good quality and fair priced chain restaurants around Bangkok, usually to be found in shopping centres and supermarkets. Listed here are the major ones:
Bar B Q Plaza - My personal favourite, I have to eat here every time I visit! Essentially you're set up with a mini gas heated grill in the middle of your table, which also has a small moat of soupy water around the outside. You order plates of meat and veg and cook/boil it yourself. You will be given some dipping sauce, lime, garlic and chilli which you can mix to suit yourself.
Daidomon - Along similar lines to Bar B Q Plaza, except you actually get a small barbeque in your table instead!
Fuji - A hugely popular chain of Japanese restaurants, serving all the usual offerings of sushi, gyoza, tempura, curries and much more.
Oishi - Another big favourite with Thai's. There are many variations on the theme, but it's basically a Japanese style buffet restaurant, pay one price and eat all you like. The bigger ones serve sushi, teppanyaki (made to order) food and various Chinese foods that are rotated.
See Fah - Serves a good selection of Thai food.
Sizzler - Get there early because these places fill up fast! Popular with Thais and tourists, this is an American fill-ya-face steakhouse with an extensive western menu and unlimited salad bar. You could get seriously overweight if you ate here every day!
MK - Similar concept to Bar B Q Plaza, but here you boil all of your own food. They serve hot items off the menu too, the duck is a favourite.
Pizza Company - Despite the name, this is a Thai pizza chain, but they sell all the favourite pizza toppings, garlic bread etc. Similar standard to Pizza Hut and slightly overpriced for pizza, but it's a good fill if you need a pizza fix!
I'm sure there are more that I've missed, but this covers the main choices!
There are any number of Italian, French, British, American, Indian etc etc eateries around Bangkok and I won't even attempt to categorize them here! Wherever you stay, you'll more than likely have a few in your vicinity. The main concentration of European food is around the Silom and lower Sukhumvit areas. Great Japanese food is available on Soi Thaniya (Little Tokyo) just off Silom (near Pat Pong). This is also a great people watching spot, spend an hour in any of these Japanese eateries and you'll see a never ending procession of Japanese executives coming and going, some in groups, some alone. Some reading newspapers, some reading comics (!!). All with a mobile phone or IPhone glued to their ears!
Arab and Indian food is plentiful around Ploen Chit and Nana skytrain stations and surround Sois. I like Mrs Balbir's Indian restaurant, on Sukhumvit Soi 11/1 (Nana skytrain station). For a cracking pizza, try Bangkok Pizza on Sukhumvit Soi 26/1.
You can get your fix of KFC, McDonalds and Burger King all over Bangkok....enough said!
If you fancy a splurge on upmarket eateries there is also plenty to choose from. For the location, try Vertigo on top of the Banyan Tree Hotel on Sathon Road (weather permitting of course!).
Baan Khanita (off Sukhumvit Soi 23) is an award winning Thai restaurant and La Normandie in the Oriental Hotel offers great food and great views of the Chao Phraya river.
There are many, many more but of course, I need to save up before I can afford to visit another!
Bad food experiences are rare in Bangkok, just be adventurous and don't just settle for the hotel room service option, get out and about and explore what's in your area. If you have any more tips to add to this list please feel free to let me know and I'll happily add your contributions to my list.