Where to eat in Bangkok
If there is one thing you must bear in mind when it comes to eating in Thailand, it is that no dish will ever come to the table without pepper. Thai food is by its own right well-spiced. It's also a fact that the balanced mixture of flavours makes us taste the perfect combination between sweet, salty, sour and spicy - brilliantly mixed together in one bite. For those who love spicy food as much I do, Thai cuisine becomes, from the day we discover it, one of the main certainties in terms of flavours and dishes that make us feel very happy.
I don't mean to discourage those who don't like or have an intolerance of spicy food. Also because Bangkok is cosmopolitan and open to western tourists, it means there is huge accommodation towards the clientele's palate from the restaurants. Bangkok offers cuisine from all over the world which makes it an easy place to find whatever you want to eat. But if you're going to Bangkok for tourism, it is as important, I believe, to connect with the culture of local gastronomy - even if a little bit.
Some dishes are very traditional and I believe they are worth trying: Green Papaya Salad - prepared with the fruit which is not sweet because it is made when this is still green. It is one of the most common dishes in Thai cuisine made with papaya, palm sugar, toasted peanuts, tomatoes and spices (it may or may not come with animal protein, such as shrimp).
Another dish that enchanted me and became my favourite one is Green Curry, a very common variety of local curry made with coconut milk and fresh green pepper, vegetables - such as eggplant - chicken or fish (instead of chicken, I always order with tofu). It is great to combine with jasmin rice as well. I can't help but mention the Thai dish, let's say, more "westernised", I believe, called Pad Thai: famous fried rice noodles accompanied by vegetables and (or without) some sort of animal protein.
A common fact within the Thai cuisine is the richness of fresh vegetables, mostly served in sauces and stews which also please a lot of vegetarians and vegans. The use of meat, especially chicken and fish, can easily be found in kitchens. However, Thai people are not exactly meat lovers, mostly because they stick to the principles of the Buddhist culture of preserving living beings.
When it comes to desserts, most of them are exotic and have very tropical colours and flavours. They are not like the 'greasy' sweets full of chocolate and sugar with which westerners are more acquainted. Quite the opposite. The fruit mango, for instance, is one of the main elements of cooking and is prepared in variations such as sorbet and pudding. The most traditional dessert is called Mango Sticky Rice, which pops up in almost every corner of Bangkok: that's nice to see the skillful hands of the Thai women shaping a sticky rice paste with coconut milk and sugar, accompanied by fresh pieces of mango.
Some people take a bold move by tasting the Sticky Rice with durian, a tropical fruit from the Southeast of Asia and very popular in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. The truth is that the smell of this fruit is so strong that some public establishments prohibit it from being consumed! I didn't have the courage to taste it so bad was the aroma! When in doubt, ask for Sticky Rice with mango, which combines perfectly with the warm temperatures of the country.
For a very simple meal, without luxury or so, in Chinatown, for example, you pay around 30 baht (unbelievably one dollar). In a more elegant, air-conditioned restaurant it can cost from 200 to 500 baht. You could naturally spend much more than that, depending on your enthusiasm and extravagances.
Here are the ones I recommend with closed eyes:
Sala Thip: the classic and charming restaurant of the Shangri-la Hotel is perfect mainly for dinner time and it offers a beautiful view of the Chao Phraya River. While I was tasting one of the best Papaya Salads I have ever had in my life, I was moved by watching the artistic performance called "Khon": dancers pop up in the restaurant hall dressing colourful costumes and carrying fascinating looks and gestures. They portray the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil. "Khon" tells about the epic tales of "Ramakien", the Thai version of the Sanskrit epic poem "Ramayana". It is an unforgettable experience to have dinner in this place at the same time we watch an artistic presentation of local culture.
Supanniga Eating Room: I became familiar with this place after an assertive recommendation by the former General Manager of the Pimalai Resort, Franck de Lestapis. When I mentioned that Wat Arun Temple was one of, if not my favourite one in Bangkok, he didn't think twice and told me that I wouldn't regret if I have dinner at this restaurant's rooftop. This clever Frenchman guaranteed me that I would witness a magical moment if I went to Supanniga's rooftop during the evening time: "Just order a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc and wait until night falls when the Wat Arun Temple turns its lights on", he said. Franck was right. Besides this sublime moment, the restaurant has an excellent atmosphere with excellent choice of local food and drinks.
Chinatown: there is the whole craziness that one can imagine, full of noise and colours, always crowded. The tangle of buildings and tourists on both sides of the sidewalks of the famous Yaowarat Road shares space with food stalls and outdoors' tables restaurants. From the most simple to the most sophisticated places, the standard of hygiene never bothered me. Opposite to what you might think, the food stalls and stations maintain the necessary hygiene when it comes to the preparation of the dishes. You can certainly eat there, although some of places do not have such an attractive aesthetic. Remember that as the name carries itself, the influence that prevails is the Chinese cuisine. Whether by day or night, it is also worth exploring Soi Nana Street, which has become the new hot spot for bars, galleries and cafés in the neighbourhood.
Hotel Okura: whether you're staying at this hotel or not, book the Japanese breakfast experience. Although eating japanese food is not exactly what we usually expect when in Bangkok, each bite worth and will surprise you. Not to mention the rich aesthetic in which the dishes are served and the elegant and polite service. Lunch and dinner will never disappoint you, too.
Suan Thip: although it is located outside Bangkok (it takes about 35 minutes by car to reach the Nonthaburi area) it is worthwhile if you have a transport to get you to this refuge in the middle of nature. Try to stop by for lunch at Suan Thip on the way to or from Ayutthaya, the historic city and former capital of the country: I guarantee an extraordinary experience. Awarded with 01 Michelin star - albeit quite unpretentious unlike starry restaurants around the world - this one follows high standards of quality as well as elegance when it comes to the dishes presentation. I think it was the best meal I had in my entire trip to Thailand.
Bonita Social Cafe Club: a lovely café-restaurant inside a house that proposes a delicious vegan cuisine. The owner, known as "K" and native of Osaka, Japan, is a very enthusiastic athlete of marathons (he was the first Japanese to cross the Route 66, by the way) and he loves sharing a conscious and healthy lifestyle with clients. The varied dishes of the day shapes an extensive but uncomplicated menu with a taste of homemade food.
Bar Escape: the perfect place for a happy hour with friends. Cool and tropical atmosphere, easy to please, fun and with a nice choice of music. The drink menu is also very good. One can hardly notice it is inside the shopping mall EmQuartier.
Moon Bar: this is one of the most iconic rooftops in Bangkok. It is attached to the Vertigo restaurant of the Banyan Tree Hotel. They have good food, although the highlight, in my opinion, is much more the skyline than the cuisine itself. A perfect experience, however, is to book a massage at the Hotel Spa and to stay for a happy hour to enjoy one of the most impressive views in town.