Introduction to food in Thailand
With hundreds of miles of coastline, and an entire kingdom of fertile lands, Thais have an abundance of natural produce that is rich in flavour. The fruits are so sweet and juicy, vegetables emit vivid colours, rice varieties are aromatic, and the herbs and spices activate and challenge every taste receptor in the tongue. No food in Thailand, this land of plenty, need ever be served bland.
Northern Thai cuisine traditionally leans towards broths and dishes that are steamed or boiled, techniques heavily influenced by their Mekong River neighbours in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Isaan provence, in the Northeast of the country, is famed for its intense, spicy flavours, such as fiery chilies, strong fish sauces and sour bites. You can find sticky rice and the iconic papaya salad as everyday staples here. Down south, where coconut groves produce enough for local consumption and global exports, dishes are driven by spicy coconut curries and seafood.
The influence of expat communities
Combine it all with the multicultural influences of numerous expat communities, a burgeoning economy and gastronomic scene, and you realise we are truly fortunate to be living in Thailand. Over the last two centuries, the injection of numerous migrant communities into the fabric of Thailand has helped to shape the colour and flavour of different Bangkok neighbourhoods. Each enclave draws on their influences from home to contribute to a rich, multicultural tapestry across the city; the most prominent being Chinese, Japanese, Western and Indian. Each has played a significant role in shaping the Thai economy, culture and cuisine.
Considered the birthplace of Thai street food, locals believe the famous Yaowarat Road resembles the spine of a dragon’s back. The Chinese expats introduced new cooking techniques to Thailand that are integral to the creation of many of today’s (central) Thailand favourites, including: stir-frying, deep-frying and broths, incorporating noodles, duck and eggs in savoury dishes and utilising woks and chopsticks.
Our selection of Bangkok’s best Chinese restaurants…
In recent years, as the average income of Thai people has risen, high-priced Japanese dishes have become more affordable to more Bangkokians. A number of chain restaurants has fed into this boom, such as Yoshinoya (gyudon), Gyu-Kaku (yakiniku) and Kourakuen (ramen). At last count, Japanese restaurants exceeded well over 2,000 in the Thai capital. Considering the population of 50,000, that’s a mightily impressive ratio of 25:1 – Japanese expats to restaurants.
Street-side roti and Indian fine dining can be discovered all over the city, particularly around the neighbourhoods of the two Little Indias. The first: a predominantly Sikh neighbourhood near Chinatown with crowded alleyways and street stalls. The second, just a few kilometres across the old town pays homage at the a famous Hindu temple on Silom Road, Bangrak. But the leading light and superstar on the scene is multi-award-winning chef Gaggan whose culinary mastery and creativity is reshaping what we understand of Indian cuisine.
Korea Town Plaza is a busy little shopping arcade located between BTS stations Asoke and Nana. Adorned in Korean hangol symbols and national flags, the crumbling arena is packed across three floors with businesses and restaurants that trade in Korean imports – the most successful of them all being K-Pop and Thai teens’ obsession with the country’s youth culture. Korean restaurants are a much scarcer phenomenon here in the Big Mango in comparison to other Asian imports. But this enchanting arcade is the perfect place to start.
The Middle Eastern enclave teems with energy and caters to the growing number of Arab tourists. The cushioned shishah lounges and humble halal eateries jostle for position among the red lights and go-goers catering to those who yearn for Mediterranean, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, or even Syrian. Tune in here for the few stylish outliers jotted about the city.