Standing here in a dreary laneway in Rattanakosin, I feel like I’ve stumbled onto the set of the original Bladerunner. Septuagenarian Jay Fai’s nightly Michelin-starred show at her 60’s green laminate restaurant is in full swing. In trademark black goggles and black beanie, she’s hammering the wok and letting the wide, open flame know who’s boss. If I had wanted to try her now world-famous crab omelette I should have booked three months ago.
Bangkok comes into its own at nightfall. Behind a velvet rope or dodging street traffic, the many culinary treasures of the City of Angels are revealed. Humidity and heat subside enough to make roaming the streets less draining. From street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. Bangkok has it all. I’ll let you in on a few of the best.
Supatra River House
It’s midsummer though there’s nothing ‘mid’ about Bangkok. It’s full-throttle all day and all night. By the river, the highway breathing disappears. The skies are heavy again as I start my tour of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). Exploring this maze of porcelain tile is more mountain-climbing than sightseeing. These stairs designed for smaller feet are death-defying. I need more than just a pit stop for lunch.
At the heart of Bangkok, on the banks of the Chao Praya, a typically Thai teak building is home to Supatra River House. This is the place for traditionally Thai dishes with a side-order of river views. As we take a seat, the waiters know we need an icy Singha stat.
The menu is a hit parade of all-time favourites alongside some different takes on well-known dishes. Miang is a traditional betel leaf one-bite “wrap” filled with tiny portions of sweet, sour, spicy and salty ingredients. Birdseye chilli, roasted coconut, lime, tiny prawns, shallots, ginger, garlic and peanuts are topped with a palm sugar sauce. It’s a make-your-own treat but the serene surrounds of Supatra River House make it seem luxurious.
Then it’s soft shell crab. The tastiest of spring rolls and vegetables with a little crunch to follow. Silky mango and sticky rice provide a sweet finale.
Thai Bus Food Tour
There are many ways to see Bangkok, but now you can eat sweet treats while cruising above the streets. The Thai Bus Food Tour is not a hop-on hop-off but a leisurely drive around some of the central attractions while chowing down on Thai delicacies. Afternoon tea for us but there are lunch and dinner tours. There’s free Wi-Fi, USB charger and a flat-screen TV at every table.
The upmarket double-decker allows for elevated glimpses of grand palaces. Golden temples drift by underneath the maze of power lines. Westerner guilt descends as we wind our way above the city’s footpaths in air-conditioned comfort.
“Thai Buddha has a nice body – not fat like the Chinese Buddha”, our tour guide reminds us as we glide down Thanon Bamrung Muang aka Bangkok’s “Street of Many Buddhas.”
Neat pork wontons and juicy chicken skewers sit atop small white plates. The high tea tray is struggling under the weight of so many savoury bites and sweet delights. Another dish holds delicate, flower-shaped dumplings and rainbow-coloured tiny ‘fruits’. Coconut and pandan jellies ‘wibble wobble’ ever so gently as the wheels of the bus…
Candy Floss Street
It’s a full day trip to the crumbling temples of Ayutthaya. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is silent now but once this place was ransacked by marauding armies intent on taking all the spoils. Somehow the decapitated stone Buddhas look on without malice.
On the way, Candy Floss Street lures with stall after stall of rainbow coloured fairy floss. Just looking at the confection selection makes my teeth ache. Sticky, sweet, sugar cannons aka Roti Sai Mai is the specialty here. Paper-thin, pan-fried flour pancakes disguise the pastel fairy floss within. You have to try at least once – if only for the ‘gram.
Sala Ayutthaya Eatery and Bar
Tucked behind the uber-cool Sala Ayutthaya hotel, the views at this waterfront restaurant are stunning. Air-conditioning wins out and we choose the cool over the views. Specialising in seafood, the menu is epic in with pages of Western offerings too. Krathong Thong Larb Muu – golden fried pastry shell filled with minced pork, roasted rice, Thai shallots with mint and chilli & lime dressing is made for sharing. So too is Goong Hom Pa – deep-fried prawn spring rolls.
My Pad Cha Pet Krob – slow-roasted Thai duck leg with wok-fried green peppercorns, holy basil, wild ginger, chilli and crispy garlic mightn’t be the menu’s prettiest dish but it is nothing short of magnificent. Team with chilled coconuts, beer or fruit frappes and life doesn’t get much better.
As day becomes night Chinatown’s street food stalls take over the streets of decades-old shophouse restaurants. It seems to work despite the traffic. It’s loud. The thousands of neon lights throw distorted shadows on the wet bitumen. Oily woks sizzle with noodles. Chilli heat clears my sinuses.
‘Good for your soul’ ginger-rich soup is worthy of a restaurant table but here it’s standing room only. Fried flour ‘doughnuts’ from Pa Tong go Savoey is the hottest item on the strip. Chocolate dip or condensed milk? Pandan coconut or crispy shredded pork? They’re all worthy of that star awarded by the Michelin inspectors.
Nothing could be further from the Chinatown’s raucousness than lunch at the very proper and (again Michelin-starred) Saneh Jaan. Named for the famous Thai dessert, the entire experience is tres elegant. Think a low-key Le Cirque in the ’90s without the celebrity spotting. Buttoned banquettes, subtle lighting, crystal glassware and gilt touches make this the Bangkok’s favourite power-lunch spot.
The menu pays homage to ancient royal cuisine – course after course. There’s a number of set menus and at lunch, the main course is served with the Soup du Jour. My chicken soup in coconut milk and galangal packs a serious chilli punch. Some plates like the flower-shaped dumplings were topped with the tiniest bird’s eye flamers – off the Scoville chart. Dessert of tropical fruit (mango in my case) comes with coconut ice cream and fruit-shaped mung bean jelly. Michelin got it right – again.
On the way to the airport we are rewarded with some of the most grammable food – Ruen Mallika. Intricately carved vegetables fill every plate. Here the menu is an epic folder of hundreds of plastic sleeves of sublime and intriguing. We bypass the ostrich stir-fried with holy basil. Fried flowers win the prize of the prettiest dish but here each and every plate is a sight to behold.
The writer was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.