How to eat like a local in Bangkok

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Bangkok. Oriental setting. And the tourists don’t know the kinds of food they’ll be getting.

Riffs on obscure 1980s pop songs aside, Bangkok is among the great food destinations of the world. It’s in Thailand, which immediately puts some of the most savoury and varied food genres on the table for you. It’s immensely cosmopolitan, giving you a breadth of options to rival the likes of San Francisco, London and Singapore. And it has a uniquely scrappy food culture, meaning you’ll find up-and-coming eateries jammed in next to Michelin star fine dining experiences.

To truly appreciate what Bangkok’s food scene has to offer, step out of the white linen booth attached to the Four Seasons and step into the aromatic, steaming, teeming streets where you can eat like the locals eat. Here’s how.

Multi-colored tents /Sales of second-hand market in Bangkok

Eat like a Hobbit

Remember the “second breakfast” scene in Fellowship of the Ring, where Pippen says “What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea…” and continues to recount the hobbit eating schedule of basically a meal an hour for as long as you’re awake? Opportunities to eat in Bangkok are so frequent and varied, and the portions available in such small sizes, you can spend the whole day simply grazing. Sit-down meals are fine (we recommend breakfast), but a little bit here and there is the way to eat like a local in Bangkok. Thais don’t have specific times for meals like we do. You can eat breakfast in the evening if you want.

Thai food at beach on holiday

Don’t Fear the Street Food

Seriously. The food carts and food courts of Bangkok are populated by specialists who have spent years (or generations) preparing just one or two dishes hundreds of time every day. The food cart scene is so competitive, anything of even middling good quality goes out of business in less than a year (except maybe Khao San Road)…so what’s there is impressive. Pack a little extra cash (they won’t take plastic) and try everything that catches your eye. Whether you perch on a rickety plastic stool as the foot traffic brushes your shoulder, or you grab something on a stick to eat while you walk, this is quintessential Bangkok eating at its finest. Do not be squeamish. Dive right in.

thai street food stall in bangkok thailand

Be aware of your neighbourhoods

As a city, Bangkok is less of a melting pot and more of a stew…meaning you obviously want to try the Chinese food when you’re in Chinatown, and then head to the heavily touristy districts such as Soi Cowboy when you need your western fix. And don’t miss Phahurat for it’s Indian food or white linen sit down meals in Dusit. The same goes for street food: you’ll find the best near the most crowded markets like Chatuchak, Bang Nam, Pak Klong and Klongsang.

Bonus: Regardless of the neighbourhood, you will always find a nearby 7-11. Rumour has it Bangkok alone boasts more of these shops than the entirety of North America. Stop in for water or fruit juice or just to soak in the air conditioning, and to buy a moist towel to wipe the grit of the city off your face.

photo credit: Roberto Trombetta via Flickr
photo credit: Roberto Trombetta via Flickr

Fresh fruit is your friend

You will see these carts everywhere: a glass-windowed push trolley with ice and cut fruit inside. Usually pineapple, mango and guava, though variations do exist. Words cannot adequately describe how delicious these are on a hot day in the middle of your travels. A plastic bag is cheap, cold, and refreshing. Forget the usual advice about peeling fruit yourself – these are generally safe.

photo credit: Andrea Schaffer via Flickr
photo credit: Andrea Schaffer via Flickr

Get Aggressively Regional

Westerners usually think of Thai food as a single, monolithic type of food. But like most countries, the dishes are popular and better in different regions. Because Bangkok draws Thais from every part of the country, authentic examples of all the regional dishes are available for you to sample:

● Northeastern cuisine is astonishingly hot and served over rice with raw veggies. Try somtam salad, laab and black water beetles for popular examples.
● Northern cuisine includes strong influences from nearby Myanmar and Laos. Sai ua sausages and aep are staples, along with a wide variety of nam prik relishes for dishing on top of pretty much everything.
● Bangkok is in central Thailand, so you’ll find the central staples among the most common wherever you wander. Tom yum soup and tom kha soup, along with red and green curries are top of the list.
● Southern cuisine starts to feel Malay and Indian influences, with curries figuring more heavily. Pad thai is southern, as is the every-popular satay fried eats.

How to eat like a local in Bangkok 7
photo credit: illerturnip via Flickr

Sampling each cuisine in its “native habitat” will give you a better feel for the dishes than simply grabbing off the menu in a tourist joint.

Vote in the poll below for your favourite Thai dish and let us know in the comments.

Bangkok is waiting, with all of its foods and other splendours. All you need to do is buy your ticket, using our search engines to find the best fare no matter what time of year you go. Our combined fares help you see to your lodging (and a rental car if you’re brave enough). Just click today.

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How to eat like a local in Bangkok was last modified: October 6th, 2016 by Jason Brick
Author: Jason Brick (85 posts)

Freelance writer, work-from home dad, ninja warrior and occasional gourmet cook. Writing is what I do, and my family is why I do it.