In a city the size of Bangkok there are a million different ways to experience and explore the city. You can take a temple tour, a riverboat tour or even a tuk-tuk tour – there really is something to suit everyone.
Being the kind of travellers that prefer seeing a city on foot and believe the best way to get to know a place is through your stomach, we knew that a food tour would be our idea of heaven. So off we went for 4 hours of eating and drinking our way around Bangkok!
On arrival our guide Joker explained a little about Bang Rak, the district we would be exploring. The name means Village of Love as all the different cultures and religions who settled here lived in harmony. Nowadays it’s known for it’s diversity, and thousands of young Thai couples come here to register their marriage here believing the Village of Love will bring them good luck. Maybe one to remember if we ever renew our vows!
We made our way towards our first tasting, a drinks stall selling traditional Thai iced tea flavoured with tamarind and condensed milk. Sweet, creamy and somehow also refreshing, I could drink this by the bucket load.
Fuelled by the sugary tea, Joker led us through local back-streets and alleyways that as a tourist you usually wouldn’t see. Every few minutes we would stop to peer into shops & businesses and hear stories of what local life in Bangkok is really like.
This store makes mountains of fresh Thai and Indian curry pastes every day to sell to local restaurants. I’d love to say it smelled delicious in here but unfortunately the fragrant spices were overpowered by the smell of raw shrimp paste!
We were warned about the mistake most foreigners make when it comes to Thai curry – green does not mean mild! Green curry paste is hot with fresh birdseye chillies, whereas red curries are usually made from dried chillies that contain more flavour and less heat.
Further down the street we passed a local wet market selling the freshest of fish, eggs and vegetables.
Every home and business in Bangkok has it’s own shrine (or spirit house) and this market was no different. Usually laden with flowers, people also offer fruit, sweets, juice and even freshly-rolled cigars to appease the spirits.
Our next stop (slightly mixing up the order of courses!) was a traditional dessert shop.
We were each given a little dish with a selection of sweets made from egg yolks and jackfruit seeds, rice puddings and a flower-shaped steamed banana cake. The banana cake was the definite winner here, in fact we bought a box of 6 to take back to the hotel and devour later on.
Just round the corner from the dessert shop was a large fruit market with a side business of deep-fried fish fritters. The woman working the stall prepared each batch fresh to order and poured a homemade chilli sauce over the fritters before serving.
Not exactly great for a vegetarian though! Luckily for me we moved onto samples of different Thai fruits next.
Starting with tamarind straight from the pod. I had no idea you could eat fresh tamarind – the flesh was sweet, sticky and only slightly sour.
Followed by slices of rose apple and annoyingly I’ve forgotten what the yellow one is! It had a similar taste and texture to papaya.
Next we wandered towards the edge of Chinatown where we sampled a sweet and salty medicinal juice before being seated in a traditional Chinese roast duck restaurant.
Obviously the vegetarian options were fairly limited here but with some translation help from Joker they were happy to bring me plain noodles with green veg, while Martin enjoyed his extra portion of duck!
After exploring a few more alleyways we arrived at a very rough and rustic looking Isaan style restaurant, complete with metal tables and plastic chairs.
Isaan is the large north-eastern region of Thailand bordering Laos and Cambodia known for its sticky rice and green papaya salad, both of which we got to try. We were also brought a deliciously spicy lemongrass & peanut salad and mined pork larb, all of which was washed down with ice-cold bottles of Est (Thailand’s version of Pepsi).
There was one Thai phrase we found ourselves using here more than anywhere else – “aroi mak” which means “very delicious”! Both the papaya and lemongrass salads were excellent and – like all Thai food should be – the perfect balance of spicy, sour, salty and sweet!
Sadly the tour had to come to an end, with a final tasting at a royal Thai restaurant. The décor was a world away from everywhere else we had visited!
Typically, Thai royal cuisine should be refined, beautiful and delicate with a focus on complex cooking methods. I was served a very mild coconut and vegetable curry with steamed jasmine rice and Chinese tea, and to be honest it was probably the least exciting dish of the day.
Absolutely stuffed we wandered (very slowly) back to our hotel and headed straight for the pool, where I proceeded to float around happily for the rest of the afternoon!