Thai cuisine is famous across the globe. There is, of course, no better place to try it than in Thailand itself. Thai cooking places emphasis on strong flavours and can be very spicy. Thai food is known for its balance of three to four fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Although a dish may arrive in front of you looking wonderfully simplistic, don't be fooled. Thai food revels in its complexity of flavours and aromatic spices, blended together to create a fantastic taste. Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh as opposed to dried herbs and spices. Common herbs include cilantro, lemongrass, Thai basil and mint. Other common flavours in Thai food are derived from ginger, galangal, tamarind, turmeric, garlic, soy beans, shallots, white and black peppercorn, kaffir lime and, of course, chilies.
Thai cuisine can be further narrowed down into four categories:
Each shares tastes, flavours and cooking styles with its neighbouring regions. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its roots back to the Ayuthhya Kingdom.
Many popular dishes eaten in Thailand were originally Chinese dishes including the popular breakfast dishes:
The Chinese influence doesn't stop there. They also introduced Thailand to the use of a wok for cooking, the technique of deep-frying and stir-frying dishes, together with noodles and oyster sauce. Many famous Thai curries, such as yellow curry and massaman, take their origins from India.
In CNN's 2011 "World's 50 most delicious foods", the spicy papaya salad, som tam, was ranked at 46, nam tok was at 19, tom yam kung at 8th and massaman curry won first place as most delicious food in the world.
Thai meals typically consist of a single dish if eating alone, often served with rice. Groups will often share dishes, taking a portion of rice and then moving a spoonful of a dish onto their rice until their plate is empty.
Phrik nam pla (fish sauce, lime juice, chopped chilies and garlic) is served with nearly every meal. Nam pla is also a staple ingredient used in most Thai dishes. Rice is also an everyday accompaniment and comes as steamed, fried, jasmine or sticky. Noodles are popular too, but tend to be a whole dish rather than a side dish.
Fruit forms a large part of the Thai diet and are traditionally rabutan, lychees, mangosteen, tiny oranges, durian, jack fruit, dragon fruit, rose apple, mango, papaya, guava and pineapple.
Food is an essential element of Asian culture and in Bangkok there is a huge variety of dining options. To be honest, eating out in Bangkok can often be cheaper than eating in, regardless of whether you are frequenting a street food stall or not.
Every year, the readers of the Thailand Tatler put together their guide to the city's best restaurants. Their listing of Thailand's Best Restaurants is compiled by a questionnaire handed out to its readers. In excess of 360 restaurants are nominated for each year's guide with 200 selected for review by an expert panel of gourmands. These reviewers and contributors come from various areas of expertise, but all share a genuine love and understanding for food and wine. Anonymous members of the experienced panel of reviewers dine in each of the restaurants, assessing quality of the food, wine, service and price. Check out their helpful guide compiled by www.bangkok.com for the top ten Thai dishes.
Bangkok Street food is - in many people's opinion - the best food in the city and no one can find a cheaper way of eating out. It is impossible to walk more than 10 metres without coming across a food stall. However, street food stalls can appear intimidating to downright scary to foreigners. Once this initial feeling is overcome, the stalls provide convenient, tasty and cheap meals. Although prices will be inflated around tourist areas, the average street food dish should cost 30-40 baht.
Popular street food dishes in Bangkok include:
Street food is not just limited to food either. Iced coffee, tea, smoothies and the most delicious freshly squeezed juices can be bought for a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere.
Some street vendors work in conjunction with each other, often in local markets, which means you can return to the same place every night, but are not limited to ordering and eating the same dish. Some family businesses are even open 24 hours.
Although somewhat of a touristy thing to do, another great thing to do is book to go on a food tour. A local guide will take you around a small area of Bangkok, sampling portions of food offered by the stalls and restaurants. Not only will you learn about an area of Bangkok you might otherwise not have given much thought to, it will give you the confidence to try new things, if only to return to a restaurant or stall you visited and order a proper portion of the sample you tried. Bangkok Food Tours is recommended.
One of the most difficult things for the uninitiated is figuring out what is on offer and how to order. Some stands cook each dish fresh, whereas others cook in batches and deliver it to their stall in huge metal trays. Many prefer the stands that cook in front of you for health and safety reasons, though admittedly those that have trays of food on display are more easy to order from as you can simply point to the dishes that look appealing.
Most stalls display their ingredients behind their cooking station and so you should be able to tell whether noodles, chicken, duck, pork, wontons, fish or meat balls are on offer. It is sometimes just fun to go with the flow, and approach a stall, ascertain what their core ingredient is, ask for that and see what they make you. That's a great way of discovering new dishes and sampling local food. And even better, street food is so cheap that if you don't like what you have ordered, it really doesn't matter - you will know for next time to avoid that stall, so move on and order another dish instead. Keep your dishes small and visit a few different stalls.
There are then many local Thai café and restaurants. Look for the ones that are full of locals for the tastiest and most authentic Thai food. However, be prepared for the menu to only be in Thai. "Kaw may noo phasa Angrit" (May I have a menu in English?) or "Mee a-rai bang" (What do you have?) if there's no menu are helpful phrases to know. Sukhumvit Soi 11 is one of the most popular areas as a long road accessible from Nana BTS. It is home to a number of bars, restaurants and clubs. Recommended restaurants along this road include Zanzibar, Rosabeing and Oskars.
Bangkok delivers memorable dining experiences such as the well-loved and unique Cabbages and Condoms on Sukhumvit Soi 10. As long as offering tasty Thai food, their predominant aim is to promote AIDS and HIV awareness and a better understanding of family planning. Set in a beautiful Thai style house, the interior is decorated with…..condoms! To see is to believe, they have everything from lamp shades made of condoms to Father Christmas (yes really!). This is a great place to take visitors.
Another great way to enjoy Bangkok's skyline and famous attractions is to book a river dinner cruise. Prices and quality vary so it is worth taking your time to research. Popular cruises include:
Sunday brunches are popular in Bangkok. For a fixed fee, you are able to enjoy tables of food (think seafood, meat, salads, cheeses and deserts) and free-flowing alcohol. Some hotels offer only sparkling wine, others an open bar. The hotels do not tend to make a profit on brunches. This is a chance for them to show off and compete with extravagant food displays. Recommended brunches include:
Bangkok offers great international cuisine. If your taste is for fish and chips check out either Fat Gutz (Thong Lo Soi 12) or Snapper (Nana Soi 11); there's a great little Italian located just under Asok BTS whose popularity is confirmed by the fact it's always full; for Lebanese check out Beruit (various locations) or for Mexican Charley Browns (Nana Soi 11) or La Monita (various locations).
Upscale restaurants in Bangkok:
There are also more up-market Thai restaurants - often designed with tourists in mind with inflated prices. However, it can be quite nice to enjoy the local cuisine in a more luxurious setting.
It can be difficult being a vegetarian in meat-loving Bangkok and even harder for vegans. Even if a meal appears vegetarian and you are assured by staff that it is, there is a chance it contains fish sauce or has been fried in the same oil in the same wok as some other meat-based dish. A helpful Thai phrase to remember is "kin jay"- vegetarian.
Keep in mind Bangkok has even less purely vegan restaurants, though most vegetarian venues are aware of the needs of vegans and will accommodate accordingly.
Although it can be difficult to enjoy cheap street food when you are vegetarian, cheap Thai vegetarian food is not limited to food courts. You just need to know where to look. There are a number of street stalls offering great choices. Possibly one of the best is the no-name vegetarian stall tucked away in a courtyard at the Agriculture Ministry's Co-operative Promotion Department in Thewet. The tables are always full with ministry workers enjoying the buffet dishes and delicious Chinese noodles for 10-20 Baht per dish. For the ambience of a market, head to the soi behind ATM Department Store in Pahurat. This hectic market soi, named Soi Lang ATM ("Soi Behind ATM"), is home to two nearby veggie stalls; Supan and Je Noi (Little Veggie). Both are sociable, high-quality yet cheap although Je Noi offers a bigger choice of dishes and more seating is available. In yet another busy market area, Charoen Krung Soi 16, has numerous vegetarian 'supermarket stalls' offering a large mixture of vegetarian dry goods and meat substitutes. One shop, Jeung Jib Hua, sells various veggie snacks including a yummy radish cake. Another, Je 4, offers lots of readymade curries for eating in or take away at a mere 30 Baht per serving.
Bangkok's best vegetarian restaurants:
Once a year, the city's Thai-Chinese community goes vegan for the Thailand Vegetarian Festival and for 10 days the city is filled with street stalls selling vegan food. Stalls that are celebrating the festival hang yellow and red flags around their stall.
Tipping is not compulsory in Thailand like in other western cultures; however gratuities are very much appreciated. It will be a rare occasion that a Thai who works in the local service industry will wait for a tip if it is not automatically offered.
If you stay in a hotel when you initially arrive in Thailand, tipping is not expected but due to the increasing amount of tourists it is becoming a more popular. In restaurants that don't charge for service it is common to leave a small tip.
Tipping is now expected by most masseurs.
Water - It is not recommended to drink water straight from the tap in Thailand. The water produced by the authority is drinkable, but it tends to travel through old and dirty pipes. Thankfully, bottled water is very cheap. If you drink bottled water it is cheaper and easier to buy in bulk - see the section about supermarket shopping. Alternatively you can buy a water filter or boil tap water and then refrigerate it - guidance claims that it needs to be boiled for at least 60 seconds to take any effect. However, please remember that boiling water will not remove any chemicals or metals you may otherwise not be used too. Many choose to brush their teeth with tap water while others choose to use bottled water even for that.
Tea - With an increasing amount of expats living here, tea is now very popular in Bangkok. The availability of tea is everywhere either through a plastic bottle or at the many popular tea shops for afternoon tea. Enjoy this afternoon pastime at the Mandarin Oriental, the Sukhothai or the Grande Millennium Sukhumvit, Erawan Tea Rooms or TWG for a fabulous cup of tea. Try hot back or green tea, fruit tea or iced tea.
Coffee - Thailand by its very location offers the very best coffee given its location in the worlds "bean belt" between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn where coffee plants flourish. Coffee, both hot and iced, is very popular in Bangkok. There are cafes on every street corner and numerous pop-up stands both along the sois and in the BTS stations, so there is no need to worry where your next caffeine fix will come from! Starbucks, Roast, and Doi Chaang are all franchises here, but there are also many independent cafes such as Lee Ayu Chuepa of the Akha hill tribe community that charges 75 baht for possible the best cup of coffee you might ever sample, to Casa Lapin located in Thong Lor Art Village (between soi 17 ans 19), Kuppa on Sukhumvit Soi 16 (Asok), to Ristretto Café (Ladprao soi 71).
Juice - Freshly squeezed orange juice costs about 20 baht and is one of Bangkok resident's favourite to indulgences. Common at most BTS stations, street corners, and malls, there is no need to wander far. Other popular juices include: watermelon, mango, pineapple. Choose between either standard juice or juice over ice.
Beer - Singha beer is the number one domestic beer in Thailand, whereas Heineken takes the international crown. The Asia Pacific Brewery also brews Tiger beer locally. Other popular brands are Chang (drink with caution - the alcohol content of Chang is not regulated so with you could be drinking beer with a far greater % than you realise) and Leo. Despite Singha being the number one domestic bee, Leo is in fact the most popular as it is cheaper, has a 5% alcohol content and whilst not readily available in restaurants and bars is fully stocked by all supermarkets and convenience stores. International beers are readily available in Bangkok, but for a price: San Miguel, Guinness, Bitburger, Carlsberg, Tawandang and Hoegarden to name but a few are available. Be sure to check out the English/Irish pubs for a variety of foreign beers: the Black Swan (Asok), the Robin Hood, the Londoner, the Dubliner, the Royal Oak (all Phrom Phong), Durty Nellys (Ekamai) and Molly Malones (Silom).
Many bars offer happy hours between 5pm-7pm where beer can be purchased for as cheaply as 70 baht. Once happy hour has ended expect to pay 100-150 baht on average. If you are a beer fan, be sure to check out Happy Hour at the Greenhouse Terrace bar at the Landmark Hotel (Nana). At 230 baht a glass it is far from cheap, but Happy Hour starts at 6pm and is buy one get one free, making each drink a much more palatable 115 baht (when you see the glasses you will know why we have sent you here).
German and Belgian beer bars are now also starting to become popular in Bangkok. Try the Old German Beerhouse (Sukhumvit Soi 11, Nana), Tawandang German Brewery (462/61 Rama 3 Road), House of Beers (shortened to HOB and found on Thong Lo 55 and Phaya Thai) or Brotzeit (Thong Lo 55, soi 10).
Wine - Sad news for wine lovers: due to import tax, wine tends to be very expensive in Bangkok. Therefore wine lovers have a number of issues to overcome. In the supermarkets, the cheapest bottles start at 300 baht and there are no offers reducing the price for purchasing multiple bottles.
Wine bars are increasing in popularity. Try: Wine Connection (Rain Hill on Sukhumvit 47, Silom, and Mega BangNa), Wine Republic (Thong Lo 55, Soi 10), and the aptly named I Love You Wine (Asok, Sukhumvit 26). Wine Connection have recently started running a promotion on a Wednesday night for free flow wine and tapas for 300 baht. Wine Connection also has wine shops. Prices for a bottle of house wine start from 379 baht.
Recommended Happy Hours are Cheap Charlies, Stash and the Alchemist, all located on Sukhumvit Soi 11 (Nana BTS) which all serve glasses of wine for 100 baht (this is actually the standard price for Cheap Charlies, they don't do happy hour, but remain "cheap" all night long).
Liquor - Bangkok takes liquor (or spirits) very seriously. Whiskey is probably the best loved liquor. It can be bought by the bottleful at nightclubs, or by the bucket in roadside bars. Coyote on Convent in Silom have 87 different types of tequila for sale. All 7-11s, Family Marts and supermarkets sell both international and domestic brands. Expect litre bottles of domestic spirits of whiskey, gin and vodka to set you back around 300 baht, and domestic prices to be around double.
Although alcohol is ready available across Thailand, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act was introduced in 2008, which amended Thailand's previous alcohol laws and increased the drinking age from 18 to 20 years of age.
The Act also set laws and penalties for designated areas where alcohol cannot legally be consumed.Drinking alcohol is illegal in the following locations: temples or places of worship, infirmaries and pharmacies, public offices, education institutions, petrol stations or petrol station shops, and public parks. The penalty for drinking alcohol at one of these forbidden locations in the absence of proper authorisation is up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a ten thousand baht fine. There are, however, exceptions to some of these locations. For example, if you are attending an authorised banquet at an education institution or public office, or if you are within a temple at which consuming alcohol is part of the worship, then you may legally drink alcohol.
The Election Commission of Thailand also bans alcohol on Election Days for the offices of Prime Minister and Senator, including advanced voting days. In addition, the Government of Thailand has also been known to ban alcohol during religious holidays.
Selling alcohol to anyone who has previously lost consciousness from drinking is also against the law in Thailand. Additionally, if you are considered under the influence of alcohol, are in a public place and incite a dispute with a law enforcement official, the penalty can be up to one year imprisonment and/or a twenty thousand baht fine.
In supermarkets and convenience stores alcohol may only be purchased between the hours of 11am-2pm and 5pm -midnight, unless it is being bought in quantities of greater than 10 litres (this is to allow restaurants and bars to buy at all hours). You may find the odd mom and pop store tucked away deep into a soi that is willing to turn a blind eye to this law, but the rule is strictly adhered to by all large stores and shops on main roads. Shockingly, it is thought the rule exists to stop school children from buying alcohol during the day and/or to stop taxi/moto cyc drivers from drinking when they are supposed to be working.