Thailand: Bangkok

Thailand: Bangkok

By
Luke Nguyen
Contains
18 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743792193
Photographer
Alan Benson

‘Aroy’. It means ‘delicious’, it’s my favourite Thai word and if two syllables could possibly sum up Bangkok’s street food (which they can’t), these would be them. It’s been said over and over that Bangkok is one of the best places in the world for street food and I absolutely agree; this place to me is just one giant excuse to eat outdoors.

The street food repertoire here is complex. With myriad ingredients, influences, cooking techniques, flavours and textures at work, the food, like the city itself, represents sensory overload. Being the Thai capital, there’s food from every Thai region available, from the fiery, pungent, sour dishes of north-eastern Isaan Province, where sticky rice is king, to the rich, complex, coconut-milk infused dishes, and curries, of the central plains and the south.

I love the fact that, without looking very hard, I can buy a salad like som tum (green papaya), muddled to order in a wooden mortar, next to a cart dispensing khanom bueang (crisp, wafer-thin coconut pancakes that are an art to make, with sweet and salty fillings) near another cooking khao kha moo, or pork hock simmered with eggs in a heady, spice-fragrant stock. There’s a Chinese influence in Thai cooking that’s given rise to a whole range of dishes, plus an entire precinct of town. Then there’s Thai Muslim food, with distinct Indian influences. There’s so much to know about food in this city and I won’t be exhausting it any time soon.

Not all the food is great, though. Like many places around the world, standards are declining, with shortcuts routinely taken and pre-made pastes, and other convenience materials, in common use. So whenever I’m here, I call on expert local knowledge to point me to vendors making their dishes completely from scratch. Like the tiny place down Soi Convent off Silom Road that does haan pa low, or goose simmered with five-spice powder, a dish that’s normally hard to find. Succulent, rich and deep-flavoured, it nearly knocks me off my chair every time I have it. Or Thip Samai, considered the best place on earth for pad thai, with a frantic kitchen that spills out onto the busy curb of Mahachai Road. Diminutive cooks churn out kilos of tasty pad thai every few minutes; their famous version that comes wrapped in a gossamer-thin omelette is the stuff of culinary legend.

At a restaurant called P’aor I learned how good the ubiquitous tom yum can really be. They use cow’s milk and tomalley, the custardy goo that comes from inside prawn heads, to make their soup base ultra-silky: the taste of that soup is like nothing else I know. Although you have to go to Bangkok to truly understand how fantastic everything tastes, if you can’t, the next best thing is to go there with me.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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