The best way to explore the heart of a city, is through its Markets. Food is an integral part of understanding a culture – how it is produced, sold, bought, cooked and eaten can give you an insight into locals’ lives as much as (if not more than) a museum or temple tour.
Bangkok is always buzzing, and as a result, a lot of dishes are improvised or eaten on-the-go. From eateries in big shopping mall food courts, to tiny tottering food stalls in dingy alleyways, there’s something for everyone and every palate.
Last October, I had the loveliest evening, experiencing one of Bangkok’s largest markets (second only to Chatuchak Market) – Khlong Toei Market – and eating street food from one of their busiest streets – Yaowarat Road – in Chinatown, with Context Travel.
The tour was a small group of us – not more than five or six people, led by journalist and resident ex-pat Ashley Niedringhaus, who had moved to Bangkok and was well versed in its street food culture.
Khlong Toei Market
Khlong Toei is Bangkok’s biggest fresh market or ‘wet market’, which basically means that you can find every edible thing in Thailand within this massive expanse of stalls and shops. Navigating through the narrow by-lanes is no joke – especially when there’s a cycle-cart or motorbike or pickup-truck that needs to pass through.
It was a sensory overload of colours, sounds, smells and noise – but an exciting way to feel the pulse of the real Bangkok. People here are generally friendly, and quite amused with those of us who wander in enthusiastic and camera-ready.
Here, we tried Khanom Krok – little semi-spheres of coconut custard with sweet corn and/or chive centers, cooked in heavy cast-iron skillets lined with fragrant coconut oil. Two semi-spheres are usually joined and eaten as a whole, which is how we ate them. The crispy exterior shell gave way rather easily to the soft, custard inside. It was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before – slightly sweet with a lovely, light, coconutty aftertaste – just enough to keep you reaching for more.
Another first were the Preserved Pineapple Cookies – these superb, flowery shaped bite-sized treats reminded me of jam biscuits we used to eat as kids – crunchy and slightly chewy, but not overly sweet. Ashley bought a packet for the group, and we continued to munch on these as we made our way from the fruit and vegetable section to the fresh meat and seafood section.
I’d never before seen such a spread of offal in my life and I was both fascinated and a little squeamish. You can find a wide range of things at Khlong Toei – including and not limited to their ‘dry market’ section which hosts household and kitchen ware, and even a live animal market.
Done with our little survey of Khlong Toei, we took the MRT to Chinatown, to explore Yaowarat Road’s world-famous street food. Lucky for us, the annual Chinese Gin Je Festival was happening. A vegan festival that takes place during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar every year, the festival is a celebration of devotion to the nine Emperor Gods.
Giving up all dairy, meat, poultry, seafood and strong-smelling foods like garlic and onions for nine days, is a way of cleansing the body. I’ll admit – I was slightly crestfallen to see the entire street donning the festival’s signature yellow and red flags, signalling festival regulation vegan food, but pushing my palate to try food out of my comfort zone was why I had chosen to do this tour in the first place.
While we were walking around, we came across a Durian vendor – and someone brilliantly suggested we try it. The smelliest fruit in the world, it vaguely resembles jackfruit, and I got confused and thought that it would taste like a sweet mélange of different fruits. I could not have been more wrong. It tasted like feet, and I’m not kidding. Those of us who tasted it felt absolutely wretched, but at least now we know why it is avoided by so many!
We tried traditional Chinese noodle dishes (all vegan, of course) – in simple English, they are Hong Kong Noodles, Pan Fried Noodles, Grilled Mushroom and Asparagus and Noodle Rolls. Do not confuse them with the bastardised versions of these dishes we indulge in back home – this was the real deal, here.
Personally, I really enjoyed the two noodle dishes the most – though they had simple flavours, the textures and ingredients made them worthwhile. The veggie bundles were wrapped up with a bit of seaweed and cherry tomatoes – fresh, punchy and delicious. My only crux were those translucent rolls – the combination of soya chunks, tofu, mushroom and goji berries may sound appealing to some, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
For drinks, Ashley arranged fresh Pomegranate Juice and Coconut Water. Both were sublime, and gulped down immediately by us, as we wilted in Bangkok’s humidity.
For Dessert, our group decided on Raw Mango with a chili-salt – akin to the Indian traditional way of eating ‘kaccha kairi’ – while I decided on a sharp-tasting scoop of Tamarind Ice-Cream instead (which also went great with those cookies from earlier)!
Just before we departed for the night, we found a couple of stalls tucked away from the main road, serving seafood and meat, but we were all too stuffed to attempt eating more food.
Ashley was a lovely host, and if it wasn’t for her guidance – communicating with the locals, navigating, trying out new food and immersing ourselves in the local culture would have been an immensely difficult task.
Full disclosure – this was a complimentary Tour arranged by the kind folks at Context Travel (tour operators) and TBEX (the Conference I was attending in Bangkok at the time).
To book yourself an awesome Tour with Context Travel AND support blehlovesfood in the process, please use my referral link here!
Thank you, and Happy Exploring!