From sate sticks at night markets to Michelin star fine dining, Thailand’s food offerings are fabulous.
My food experiences in Thailand usually involve contented sighs, the need for serviettes to mop up the sauces that remain after an enthusiastic mouthful, and asking – or is that begging - for more. From the night market in Koh Samui to a fine restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, to the floating market in Damnoen Saduak or in a deckchair by the pool in a lavish Phuket property, I have feasted on many wonderful dishes. Dieting is not your friend when in Thailand.
Thai cuisine has a rich history, a real ‘wisdom’ that wraps together the secrets of Siam’s food back in the day, with evolving techniques and the meshing of cultures. It is still irrevocably Thai.
A great way to learn about Thai cuisine with its five pillars of flavour – sour, salty, spicy, sweet and savoury - is to visit a market like Khlong Toei, a 24-hour market in Bangkok. This market is the place to pick up ingredients that come from around the country, like Bai Ya-nang leaves which are usually difficult to get and are used in the popular Kaeng Kge Hlek curry. Buffalo skin, ant eggs, weaver ants, horseshoe crabs … you’ll find them all at this market.
Choosing fresh, seasonal produce is key for many of the top chefs, including Chumpol Jangprai, a revered chef who has been wowing diners for 30 years. He serves authentic dishes utilising seasonal produce at his fine dining restaurant, R. Haan.
Cook up a storm
Once you watch all the locals shopping up a storm at the market, consider booking into a cooking school to take it one step further. There are so many great places to learn, including Bangkok Bold Kitchen, the Peninsula Hotel or at Chon Thai restaurant at the Siam Hotel. The tour will include a visit to the markets in the old town before heading back to the kitchen to cook a three course meal. For something a little different, learn how to cook food from the Isan region at 100 Mahaseth, or get your crunch on at Insects in the Backyard, a restaurant that serves dishes featuring the extra special ingredient of the future - insects. Try Greek-style dried tuna topped with Chiang Mai worms, or dishes using grasshoppers, pupa and crickets. Not only will you taste these inventive and high protein dishes, you can learn to cook some of them. If you have a sweet tooth try Sane Café and Cooking School which only teaches desserts.
Street food sometimes gets a bad rap but it is often delicious and there is even one place that has a Michelin star. Jay Fai still cooks on charcoal, with her signature dish – crab omelette – so good that locals and visitors line up for hours for it. It is huge and looks more like a plump burrito with the huge chunks of beautifully cooked crab inside. She is a legend, as she cooks wearing ski goggles and always has her lippy on.
No matter where you eat in Bangkok, or around Thailand, you will be taking your tastebuds on a ride to the express train to delicious. Aromas and scents ride on the air like will-o’-the-wisps, teasing the nose and awakening your appetite on the spot.
Like I said, forget dieting when you’re in Thailand. You’ll be short-changing yourself in a huge way.