Bangkok dining, local style

You won’t find these eating spots in any glossy guide. Most don’t offer menus, and some serve only one (superb) dish. Sue Dyson and Roger McShane follow the locals for an authentic taste of Thailand.
luke burgess



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If you can’t imagine dinner without Riedel glasses then this story isn’t for you. It’s not just glasses you’ll miss – there’s no wine either. If you want to experience Bangkok’s authentic flavours then you have to forgo such luxuries. That’s not to say there aren’t some excellent restaurants in Bangkok catering for Western wine habits, including Bo.lan, the hot new Sukhumvit place operated by a couple of David Thompson alumni. It’s just that whenever we’re in Bangkok we crave a local experience. That doesn’t just mean eating on the street, although that’s incredibly rewarding. The places we enjoy most are local restaurants, usually operated by second- or third-generation family members, where you can feast for less than $30. And in Bangkok’s heat a Singha beer is just as satisfying as wine.

Likhit Kai Yaang

There are some great chicken dishes – Zuni Café’s wood-oven roasted chicken, say – but Likhit Kai Yaang’s charcoal grilled chicken is up there with the best, and at about $5 for a bird wins hands down for value for money. The restaurant’s second-generation owner grills small flattened chickens over a brick-lined charcoal pit for about 10 minutes on each side. The peppery spice paste they’re first marinated in and the smokiness from the charcoal is a winning combination, especially with the house-made darkly black chilli sauce. While the chicken is the heart and soul of this place, there are other great dishes too. Som tum (green papaya salad), braised bamboo shoots, and grilled pork liver are all excellent. Ordering is easy – there’s an English menu – and a taxi is the best option to get here. It’s beside the National Boxing Stadium, which is well known, and our taxi driver even knew the restaurant (and approved). 74/1 Thanon Ratchadamnoen Klang, +66 2 281 1094

**Khanom Jeen Shop in Soi Suan Phlu

** Our favourite Bangkok khanom jeen breakfast place has no English script sign to identify it, but it’s worth the search for this noodle-based dish. If you approach from Thanon Sathorn, it’s on the left side of Soi Suan Phlu (also called Sathorn Soi 3), just beyond Soi Suan Phlu 6 (also called Soi Hutayana) – no, it’s not simple! Open to the street, there’s a tree in front and in the corner a counter overflows with large metal pots and a bright yellow sign with a menu in Thai script. The real signpost, though, is the collection of bowls filled with herbs, pickled and raw vegetables, and eggs all neatly laid out on communal tables. They are essential condiments for this superb dish. Khanom jeen is the name of the thin fermented rice noodles that are its foundations. You choose a sauce to go with the noodles and the charming owner, Mrs Toranus, ladles it over them. Then take a stool at a table and add as many condiments as you’d like. It’s perfectly acceptable to try them all – just add what you want. There’s no English-language menu and no one speaks English, but ordering is easy. There’s a green chicken curry (gaeng kiaow wan gai), a complex fish ball and coconut milk curry (nam ya plaa), a slightly sweet chilli-red nam prik (with whole kaffir limes bobbing in the pot), and our favourite, spicy gaeng tai plaa, an intense curry of fish intestines and eggplant (trust us – it’s delicious). Over the road there’s an excellent market, including the vendor where Mrs Toranus’s noodles come from. It’s a half-hour walk from Sala Daeng BTS or Silom MRT station. 433/6 Soi Suan Phlu (off Thanon Sathorn)

Chote Chitre

There was a risk that once renowned New York Times food writer RW Apple Jr wrote about Chote Chitre, hordes of tourists would ruin its character. Fortunately that hasn’t happened; maybe not surprisingly considering this tiny restaurant has been in the same family for about 100 years. It’s become famous for several dishes, especially its mee krob and excellent shaved banana flower salad, but we think the must-have dish is an eggplant salad. It’s not special to look at but there’s nothing to rival the complexity of its light, smoky juices. If you think you have a handle on the delicate balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty in Thai cuisine, a spoonful of these juices might make you think again. The “old-fashioned” tom yums are good too. They’re easily identifiable on a very long English-language menu. Unless you’re staying within walking distance, the easiest way to find Chote Chitre is by taxi. Soi Phraeng Phuthorn is not well signposted, but the restaurant is. The street is between Bamrung Muang and Phraeng Nara and you can see the English script Chote Chitre sign from Thanon Tanao. Take time to explore the neighbourhood- it’s full of heritage-protected shop houses. 146 Soi Phraeng Phuthorn (off Thanon Tanao), +66 2 221 4082

Street food in Soi Sala Daeng and Soi Convent

This neighbourhood doesn’t feature in tourist guidebooks for its street food and that’s why we like it. The customers are local office workers not tourists. In the mornings, a stall in Soi Convent (opposite Coyote Bar and Grill) sells excellent grilled Issan fermented pork sausage. Around the corner in Sala Daeng Soi 2, the stall with pretty elephant-embossed stools makes a classic light breakfast soup of rice noodles with fish balls (it’s open from 6am to 9.30am, then again from 10am to 1.30pm). In Soi Sala Daeng itself, we order from the braised pork hock stall, as much for the yellow chilli sauce as for the rich meat, and enjoy the respite at the tables in a shady alley. The only word of English signage, “organic”, is appealing too. There’s a lovely long-established pork noodle shop on the corner of Sala Daeng and Silom which still has its original wooden tables and stalls. Its third-generation owner speaks a little English, which makes ordering straightforward. In Silom, one vendor plies expertly cut fruit with little bags of seasoned salt. Another sells peanuts so fresh they’re a revelation. But the pièce de résistance is Mr Prachuab’s stall, which he sets up at 6pm each day except Monday, in Soi Convent, almost opposite Soi Sala Daeng 2. His repertoire includes som tum, grilled pork, grilled snakehead fish, and a memorable hot pot, which starts as an aromatic broth in an earthenware bowl kept warm over a charcoal brazier. The “palette” for working with this broth is plates of expertly prepared, super-fresh calamari, prawns, fish, herbs, noodles and an egg – a feast. Sitting at precariously balanced tables in the cool of the evening, with a Singha and the garish lights of the nearby 7-Eleven to help see what you’re eating, it’s hard to imagine a better Bangkok experience. Between Soi Sala Daeng and Soi Convent, Bangrak

Or Tor Kor Market

The tourist guides tell you about Chatuchak market, but we think Or Tor Kor (the market for the Marketing Organisation for Farmers), on the opposite side of the road, is more exciting. As well as ogling some of the city’s best vegetables and seafood you can eat well too. At one stall, smiling young girls deftly fashion rice flour dumplings. At another, a man makes tiny rice flour crêpes by pouring batter over fine fabric tightly strung across a steamer. When it’s cooked, he wraps it around a sweet pork filling. They come replete with condiments – green chillies and a little bag of dried shrimp. Another stall is pork central – cubes of soft, crisp-skinned pork belly and glossy sliced pig ears laid out on banana leaves, ready to eat. Then there are stalls with pots of curries and soups. If you buy some to take home, it’s skillfully poured into clear little bags, plumped up and sealed. The fruit is fabulous too, with organically grown durian, spiky salak fruit, and custard apples ready to eat, and vendors selling freshly squeezed juices. And don’t miss the stall with an extraordinary colourful collection of traditional Thai sweets, all lined up in those ubiquitous little bags. With its well-heeled clientele, this is Bangkok’s equivalent of Paris’s President Wilson morning market. Take the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet station and use exit three. Thanon Kamphaeng Phet

**Baan Prachachuen

** We think Baan Prachachuen is reason alone to visit Bangkok. It’s difficult to find but the effort more than pays off. It’s in the suburbs, in two rooms of a house owned by ML Promsri Pibulsonggram, a relative of Thailand’s royal family. She’s taught her kitchen staff to cook dishes from the royal court, some of which are rarely cooked in restaurants because of the amount of work involved. People come here especially for khao chae, a dish traditionally eaten in summer. Flower-scented cool water is poured over superior jasmine rice and served with extraordinary condiments, including dried chillies stuffed with shrimp paste then fried, banana chillies wrapped in egg nets with an ethereal pork stuffing, shredded sweet dried pork, pickled radish, and carved galangal and green mango. Pla dook foo (crisped catfish that’s the fairy floss you graduate to as an adult) and khanom jeen nam prik are also delicious. It’s open only for lunch; one transport option is to hire a driver for a couple of hours to take you and wait while you eat. The driver will have no trouble with Prachachuen Soi 33, but finding the laneway where the house is located is trickier. Look for a distinctive blue sign with white writing and a big red arrow. It’s pointing to Baan Prachachuen, which is at the end of the lane. Maybe they’ll make an English-language menu one day, but if not, the simplest way to order is the way we did the first time. A framed review from the English-language Bangkok Post includes photos of some dishes. We chose by pointing to the photos. The Bangkok Post dishes will ensure you eat well, although they don’t include our favourite tamarind leaf white fish curry. It was item 10 on the menu last time we were there if you want to take your chances. 37 Prachachuen Soi 33 (off Thanon Prachachuen), Bang Sue, +66 2 585 1323


If you eat at Benjarot you’ll be one step ahead of us but by all accounts happy. It was on our list to visit, thanks to the description on Robyn Eckhardt’s excellent Eating Asia blog, but we ran out of time. Fortunately, though, our photographer Luke Burgess, a sometime chef whose palate is as finely tuned as his photography skills, stayed an extra day and agreed to be proxy. “Definitely a food highlight” was his SMS before he’d even left the place. Burgess recommends the fried chicken with spicy sauces, the pla dook foo (catfish salad), and a breathtakingly hot som tum. It’s open for lunch and only on weekdays. Thanon Krung Kasem (near an alley called Trok Nang Loeng 1), Nang Loeng

**Krua Apsorn

** Another old-fashioned local restaurant, Krua Apsorn’s sour spicy yellow curry of lotus stems and prawns is deep and meaningful. The giant prawns aren’t really for eating – they’re dry, having given their all to the rich sauce, but that’s the reason why the dish is so good. Team it with a bowl of tiny stir-fried mussels, a lovely dish of local vegetables ingloriously described on the menu as “fried vegetable” (it’s the 70B “fried vegetable”, not the 60B “fried vegetable”), and omelette stuffed with crab. We like to go to Krua Apsorn for lunch, first taking the Chao Phraya ferry to Thewet pier and then walking the 20 minutes or so to the restaurant, past colourful fish, flower and vegetable markets. 503/05 Samsen Rd (between Thanon Rachathiwat and the National Library), +66 2 66 88 788

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