We realized that after our amazing Hanoi food tour, any other tour would be chopped beef to Hanoi’s filet mignon. But, knowing the vibrant food scene in Bangkok, we felt a food tour would be in order.
The reasonably-priced Bangkok Food Tours had one of the highest Trip Advisor ratings, so we booked with them during our first few days in Bangkok. We had a month of eating ahead of us and needed some help to orient ourselves to the food.
Our small group met at the Sukhumvit BTS station and was incredibly diverse with a couple from Brazil, two friends from Vietnam, and a couple (he was German, she was Italian) who lived in Bangkok but wanted to learn more about the food in their adopted city.
The tour leader, Nussi (her name rhymes with Sushi) took us to five local restaurants during our time together.
The first, Charoen Wieng Pochana, best known for roasted duck, has been in one family for two generations with the son currently running the business. We all dug into a plates of rice and duck topped with a sweet and sour (and secret) sauce. It was delicious, not too meaty or sweet. Nussi then brought out platters of pork ribs. While the restaurant offers a number of menu items, they are renowned for their duck, which often sells out before dinner.
As we walked to the next location, Nussi shared with us a brief history of the various food influences in Thailand. I had read that Thai dishes often strive for spicy, salty, sweet and sour in one dish, but I wasn’t aware of the deep Chinese and Muslim influence on the food. The next location, Musalim restaurant had been in the same family for three generations, bringing together the unique combination of Chinese, Muslim, Thai and Indian food. We each sampled an amazing noodle curry—I truly could taste how these four cultures lived in this one dish.
Jackie particularly loved the matabah (a pancake with chicken) also served in bite-sized pieces. Seeing her eat at a food tour was a major accomplishment!
From there, we took a ferry across the Chao Phraya river to sample food at Yum Rod Sab, inspired by the Isaan area of Thailand. I was a bit familiar with the clean and spicy flavors of Isaan-style food, thanks to my friend Nattha and her restaurant Esaan, A Taste of Thai, located in Los Angeles. The food here didn't disappoint. The owner made a wonderfully tangy papaya salad in front of us, and served bite-sized pieces of fried chicken topped with a birds nest of fried lemongrass.
Nussi had picked up some rose apples at a food cart along the way, plus a few different sweet, salty and spicy sugars to dip the apples. It was a lovely complement to the Isaan food. We also learned that when buying fruit from a street cart, not to buy it when the ice is packed on top - the ice is not the type restaurants buy using filtered water. This unclean ice will melt over the cut fruit and is not sanitary. Nussi suggested we only buy fruit from vendors when the ice is under the fruit, which is ideally already cut and bagged.
We traveled back across the Chao Praya for dessert at Pan Lee Bakery. The tiny shop was another institution in the area, known for its fresh bread filled with a pandanus custard. They sell hundreds of buns a day and we were not surprised, based on the steady flow of customers coming in and out of the bakery. Their items all featured an adorable logo, which made us think that it was a franchise, but we were wrong. Many shops have their own adorable characters or logos. Along with the bread, we each had a little cup of Thai ice tea.
Frankie and Jackie were treated to extra cups when their clear enjoyment of each sip delighted the store owners. One of the members of our group was celebrating her birthday, so Nussi arranged for an additional treat—lovely cupcakes topped with a lattice made of sugary egg yolk. Consuming this is traditional for a long life. We had no problem enjoying the extra treat.
Our last stop was at Kalpapruek, which has locations throughout Bangkok. The last king's (Rama XVIII) grandson owns the restaurant and it is renowned for its green curry. We each enjoyed a mini serving of the spicy curry, along with a savory roti to dip into the curry to mop up each ounce of curry. Unlike the curry at Musalim, it was spicier and thinner in consistency, very typical of a Thai green curry, but still delicious.
At a food stand near the restaurant, we had noticed a number of Chinese dumplings. Nussi purchased square chive dumplings and served those with soy sauce. While not my favorite, it was nice to have some street food along with the refined green curry.
The meal, and our food tour, ended with a light coconut sorbet, the perfect way to clean our palates.
It was a delightful few hours, offering a broad range of foods that just scratch the surface of Thai cuisine. However, it gave us comfort to plunge more heavily into the alleyways of Bangkok and explore the amazing and vibrant food scene that is unlike anything I have every experienced.
One last note—since this is about the food I didn’t spend time writing about anything else. However, the group assembled for this tour made it even sweeter. We hope Oliver and Tiziana and our friends from Brazil (so sorry we didn't write down your names!) are reading this somewhere, hopefully over a bite of something wonderful, with fond memories of our delicious shared experience.
Restaurant locations (according to Bangkok Food Tours):
Charoen Wieng Pochana: 211/1 Charoen Krung Road, Bangrak Bangkok
Musalim: 1356 Charoen Krung Road, Bang Rak
Yum Rod Sab: 57 Soi Charoen Nakorn 9, Charoen Nakorn, Khlong Ton Sai
Pan Lee Bakery: 1337 Charoen Krung Road, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
Kalpapruek: 27, Pramuan Rd., Suriyawong, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500 Thailand
- Read about this Bangkok Food Tour (Without the Food).