Travel Unusually to Find Unusual Food
If you're looking for the best local and exotic food in Bangkok here's some advice:
Forget the internet.
Disregard blog posts claiming to have all the answers. Bangkok's food scene is too huge and ever-changing for anyone to possibly keep up with, so forget what some blogger who spent a few days there pretends to know. They are just regurgitating info found elsewhere. Unless you're a baby bird, I'm pretty sure you won't find anything regurgitated to be tasty.
If you want to dig into the authentic Bangkok food scene, act like an authentic Thai. They don't use blogs, TripAdvisor and Yelp, so you shouldn't either.
In short, forget the internet, wander, and discover on your own.
Here is some of the best and most exotic Thai food Kim and I discovered in Bangkok by doing so. Hopefully it will inspire you to do the same.
Ready for Some Exotic Food in Bangkok?
Here's what's in store (click any item to jump right to it):
- Dare to swallow at Khrok Mai Thai Lao
- Go back to the old-school at Sanguan Sri
- Get fed by your sassy Thai grandma at Khlong Toei Market
- Bow down to the King of Suki at Elvis Suki
- Join the masses in Chinatown
- Chow down on some hipster bugs at Rod Fai Night Market
- Have "som" Lunch "tam" Fun at Som Tam Jay So
- Take a luxurious bite out of history at The Local
- Enjoy one last bite at the airport's Magic Food Point
Bangkok Exotic Thai Food Map:
To save these locations to your phone's Google Maps, follow our easy instructions for using Google Maps offline here.
Khrok Mai Thai Lao
You can't go to Thailand and not eat bugs. Well technically you can. But you shouldn't.
And instead of the typical scorpion-on-a-stick that you can find on every Thailand tourist's Facebook feed we went to the real deal, a northern Thai / Lao restaurant called Khrok Mai Thai Lao.
Nobody spoke a work of English, but fortunately the extensive menu had pictures and English translations. It was unlike anything we'd ever seen. Dishes included: "Ant's eggs seasoned with curry paste", "Steamed young wasp wrapped in banana leaf", and "Fried native bug". We tried them all (and by "we" I mean, "I").
For adventurous eaters, this place needs to be atop your list of Thai restaurants to visit in Bangkok. For not-so-adventurous eater, stay away.
Kim, who's not even that conservative with her tastes, gave up after trying to pick "normal" food three times but each time getting something crazy. Not wanting to waste food, I was left to pick up the slack. It was an exotic feast like none other.
Old School Beginnings:
For our much-anticipated first meal in Thailand, Kim and I chanced upon this unassuming restaurant near the Phoen Chit BTS. Hidden among the modern high-rises and malls of the area, the place was a relic from the past.
Outside the restaurant nothing was in English, which was a promising sign (literally).
Inside, the interior was straight out of some old-school Muay Thai action flick and the only other patrons were equally old-school-looking locals. We had to sit down to eat, despite being in a bit of a rush to get to a dentist appointment (way cheaper than back home!).
Even though our expectations were sky high for our first meal in Thailand, the food delivered. Everything was delicious.
Even better, Kim and my guesses on what the bill would be ended up being 50% too high.
It wasn't super exotic, but it was a good transition to prepare us for what was to come.
Fed By Our Thai Grandma:
Khlong Toei Pad Thai
Leaving "Bangkok's produce store," Khlong Thoei market, we passed by an older lady selling pad Thai from her cart on the busy Rama 3 road. It looked fantastic, so we ordered one.
"No sugar, please," we asked.
She looked at us with a doubtful expression and made a hand signal—her thumb and index finger barely spread apart—as if to say, "Maybe just a little bit of sugar?".
"No thanks. No sugar."
Same hand sign. Even more exaggerated expression of doubt.
"No really. No sugar please."
The hand didn't move. Neither did her expression.
We looked at each other for a few seconds, then caved in, "Fine. Just a little bit of sugar."
She smiled and got to work. Grandma knows best.
Best pad Thai that is!
It was the best of many we had on our trip. Another well-dressed Thai man who stopped by for her delicious noodles told us she'd been in the same place for 30 years. She obviously knows her stuff.
The King of Suki:
Times like this leave me almost convinced a higher power exists.
We were grumpy after hours of fruitless wandering the uninteresting area between the train station and Chinatown, and particularly disappointed because our intended destination, a small craft beer bar called Let the Boy Die, was temporarily closed.
According to the owner, who was inside drinking with friends, they'd been temporarily shut down for illegally brewing and selling beer. It turns out only the big local beer companies, Chang, Singha, etc, are allowed to brew beer in Thailand. Craft beer is illegal. What a shame.
Our disappointment didn't last long though because only a few blocks from there we discovered Elvis Suki. The food wasn't anything amazing—maybe we're not huge fans of suki (Thai hot pot)—but the atmosphere was fantastic. The restaurant poured out onto the street and was crowded with cab drivers, young over-dressed couples on dates, and families making a regular outing to their fave. We were the only foreigners.
Wondering where the name Elvis Suki comes from? Apparently it is because they are the "King of Suki" just like Elvis was the "King of Rock", so they felt it natural to take his name. As good a reason as any I suppose!
The Exception to the Rule:
Chinatown is listed in every guidebook and blog as a place to try some of the best street food in Bangkok, so why are we including it after telling you not to believe those sources? Because there are exceptions to every rule.
Despite being teeming with tourists, it's worth checking out. There's just so much going on, people watching to do, and street food to eat. We sampled various street foods and enjoyed a sit-down meal away from the madness of Yaowarat Road at an unnamed place beside the more well-known Nai Mong Hoi Tod. It was a fun evening full of good food.
The Hipster Market:
Rod Fai Night Market
Rod Fai surprised me.
It wasn't an old-fashioned market like I expected. Instead, most vendors were Thai hipsters selling new takes on traditional dishes and the crowd was an eclectic group of middle-class millennials and families who dressed and acted very much like people back home. Nowhere was globalization's homogenization of culture made clearer to us, for better or for worse. It was a lot like Richmond Night Markets we have home in Vancouver, but at a quarter the price, twice the size, and with spicier more exotic food. Even the beer was cheap!
It was quite the eye-opening experience.
Speaking of eye-opening, if you're looking for something exotic head to the stall near the entrance to the food court that has a wide selection of fried insects. Unable to decide which bug is best, I went for the combo platter.
Som Lunch Tam Fun:
Som Tam Jay So
Silom, Bangkok's busy business centre, is definitely worth checking out, especially at lunch time. Swarms of workers hungrily emerge from their hive and there are ample delicious-looking food stalls to meet their needs. It's quite the scene.
We settled on Som Tam Jay So. Interestingly, the drinks, rice, sauces, and ice were all self-serve. And while the restaurant's name would indicate som tam (spicy green papaya salad) is the specialty, the highlight was the roasted chicken. Neither Kim nor I could think of anywhere we'd ever had better.
As for the som tam… it was an um… exotic experience.
Since our Thai is limited to "hello" and "thank you," we picked randomly from the menu and thus ended up with a fermented fish and snail salad. One bite was all it took for Kim to decide to stick to the chicken. I enjoyed it, though mostly for the challenge. And the challenge wasn't so much the taste but the spice. It was the only food we had anywhere in Thailand that was spicy enough to slow me down.
A Little Bit of Luxury:
Kim and I splurged one night (meaning I ruefully had to put on pants, shoes, and a shirt) and ate at The Local, a higher-end restaurant serving traditional Thai dishes whose recipes the owner had rescued from old cookbooks.
The restaurant is on a quiet side street in a traditional Thai home that even has a small museum. There was a balanced mix of locals and tourists.
The food was all exotic, right down to the cup of greens we were served to cool down our fiery hot dishes. Indeed for me the greens were the highlight. Not recognizing any of them, each was an experience. There was tiny raw eggplant, some sort of mustard leaf / celery hybrid, and, my favorite, roselle leaf, an normal looking green leaf that tasted anything but normal. It tasted like fruit!
The Fond Farewell:
Magic Food Point at the Airport
A stressful day of travel from Khao Sok National Park, back to Bangkok, and on to Vancouver was almost made worse by not having the chance to have one final goodbye Thai meal.
Luckily Magic Food Point saved the day.
Magic Food Point is a 24-hour food court on the ground floor of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (there's also one at Don Muang, but it closes at 10 p.m.). Like other food courts in Thailand, you buy 100 baht coupons up front to redeem at any of the 20 or so vendors. Unlike other food courts, this one's in the airport. And unlike any other airport food we've ever had, it is cheap and local.
While I wouldn't go so far as to say it had some of the best Thai food in Bangkok, it was better than any airport food out there and was a satisfying goodbye.
More to Swallow?
Please share your questions about the places we mentioned and your own recommendations for where to find exotic food in Bangkok in the comments below.