Taste of Thailand*

When people mention Thailand, food is often one of the first things that springs to mind.
A huge mixing pot of flavours, Bangkok is filled with almost every kind of food imaginable;
Ice-cream, fruit, grilled meats, soup, pastry, pudding, noodles and rice dishes to go, the streets of Bangkok have it all. But sometimes having so many options can be over-whelming.

I moved to Bangkok in March and for a month or so restaurants were the only place I would eat.
I found the idea of ordering street food to be nerve wracking, not only because of all the horror stories of food poisoning that people had told me (unwarranted) but because I didn’t speak much Thai.

Walking back home from food shopping one day, my nose caught scent of the most tantalising aroma. It smelt spicy, fragrant and I couldn’t resist. It took a while to locate the source of the smell, but when I did I pointed to one of the boxes and rushed home to dig in. Fresh noodle spring rolls with a chilli and ginger dipping sauce. The rolls themselves were average, but the sauce was something else. My tongue was tingly, my taste buds had come to life and after that I knew that the time I had spent hiding in restaurants had been wasted.

But while street food is usually amazing, not all places will be to your taste preferences.
Like the time I played street food roulette and ordered a red tomato based curry thinking it was a variation of tom Yum… But actually turned out to be Ka Nom Jeen Nam-Ngeaw (pork rib soup with congealed hog blood). Ordering street food is daunting enough, but when you aren’t sure where to go it can reach a whole new level of overwhelming.

Food tours are a great way to break through the fear. They offer an introduction into local cuisine and are great not only for tourists here for a few days, but for expats who want to sample different flavours, so when Taste of Thailand food tours invited me along for the day, I was more than happy to oblige!

Taste Of Thailand is a 4-hour walking tour that takes you through parts of Bangkok that you wouldn’t normally stumble across. The tour began at 10am and we met the owner Jacob, and Pu, at Saphan Taksin BTS (Central Pier if you’re coming via the Chao Phraya river). Introductions were made and Pu began by telling us a little about her city. As she went into the details of the history of this part of the city, you could almost see the enthusiasm running through her veins. She lit up as she shared part of her culture with us and it made me feel both welcomed, and privileged to be there to witness it.
Pu’s energy was contagious and within minutes everyone was relaxed, laughing and ready to eat!Our tour took place around the “Village of Love”, otherwise known as Bang Rak. With our first stop being a street food stand just outside of the BTS.

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| Curry Puff Vendor | Open 7am-12pm | Saphin Tasksin BTS – exit 3 |
Hand rolled pastry filled with a variety of curried options, such as; Mung bean, mushroom, taro, vegetable, potato, and black sesame, which is then tossed into boiling oil for a quick deep fry.
I chose potato, and vegetable. The vegetables were crisp against flaky pastry but for me the real winner was the potato. Smooth with the sharpest of curries that left a sweet and spicy flavour that had me craving more. Not my typical breakfast, but one I would be more than happy to try again!

Our next stop was to a local curry shop.

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| Handmade Curry Shop | Go before 12pm | Charoen Alley | Bangrak |
Panang, Green, Yellow, Coconut or Red. You name it, they make it!
Each curry paste is handmade with the only machine in store being used to desiccate coconut.
Street vendors and restaurants alike arrive early each morning to get their hands on the popular paste so if you’d like to by some they advise that you go well before noon, as they’re usually sold out by then!

Our next stop was to a wet market.

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| Wet Market | 5am – 11am | Charoen Alley | Bang Rak |
A combination of a butchers and a greengrocers this wet market has it all. Fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, fresh ingredients are available to all… If you can make it out of bed! The market is open early to ensure the ingredients are at their freshest.

Next stop was to a fruit market.

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| Fruit Market | 6am-10am | Charoen Alley | Bang Rak |
This fruit stand is owned by a local women and has almost every Thai fruit you can imagine.
Priced by the kilo this fruit is affordable and the thing I love most is that she lets you try before you buy.
Our tour stopped here for a while Pu explained each fruit to us, telling us some history, such as Durian and Mangosteen being the King and Queen of Thai fruits, and letting us sample the produce. We tried an array of fruits but mangosteen was by far my favourite. Possibly because it was the sweetest and sugar is my favourite food group!

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Our next stop was to an old part of town. Out of respect we didn’t take any photos but as you walked through the back streets you could see an area untouched by time. Wooden houses with shutters, clothes hung on wires that join from house to house, local hairdressers and even a man chilling watching TV in his pyjamas. It was like travelling back in time before everything turned into high rise apartment blocks. It felt almost a little naughty to be walking through this part of town, like I was intruding somehow, but the smiles and Sawadeeka’s from the locals ensured me it was ok and it was lovely to see a place that hadn’t lost it’s authenticity or become completely commercialised.

After walking through the old town we stopped at a local Chinese store for a drink.

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| Nam Khom Wa Tow | 8am-9pm | 1443 Charoen Krung Road |
The shop has been passed down through the family 70 years. Herbs, sauces and dried out meats line rows of shelves and the aroma is a mixture of spice and tea. We were all welcomed to try a drink and were handed a menu that outlined the medicinal qualities behind each beverage. I opted for Roselle juice, which is supposed to help with weight loss, throat /sinuses, immune system and is designed to be refreshing… However I will never know if the benefits work as I couldn’t get past the second mouthful. This store is also the place that created the internationally known healthy boy brand!

Our next stop was to a local street restaurant.

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|Pet Yang Nai | open 7am-9pm | Charoen Krung Road && Si Wiang Intersection |
We stopped here for the ever famous duck. Not really known amongst tourists, but a hit with the locals this Chinese style roasted duck is a supremacy in the neighbourhood. The duck is stuffed with herbs before being marinated in cantonese flavours then slow roasted until the skins turn a dark mahogany colour. I’m used to eating meat medium, so when the duck came out brown in colour I was a little worried that the meat would be tough. However that was far form the truth, the meat was so succulent, tender and so flavourful that you could see why the seasonings on the tables were barely touched!
(Psst – want to know a secret? This restaurant supplies their cooked duck to many of the high end hotels in the area.)

After the duck it was time for pudding!

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| Fried Banana Stand | 10am – late | Charoen Krung Road && Si Wiang Intersection |
This stand is extremely popular with the locals in this area, with many standing in line for minutes just to get their fill of fried goodness. Bananas are sliced fresh, rolled in sesame seeds then deep fried until they reach crispy perfection. If i’m honest, no matter how many I try, i’m not much of a fried banana fan, but you can see why so many love it as the texture is spot on, crispy outside, soft but slightly chewy inners, hardly healthy but a lovely texture combination.

After pudding we walked to a small temple.

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The temple was closed, however due to the close partnership between Pu, Jacob and the local community we were granted access to have a look around.
It was amazing to be somewhere so quiet and serene without anybody else in sight. The temple is made from teak and the gorgeous details outside continued inside.

After visiting the temple we head off for some more pudding!

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| Boonsap Thai Desserts | 7am-5pm (closed sunday) | 1478 Charoen Krung Road |
Now here’s a shop with a long history. Using recipes that were founded before world war II, this newly renovated restaurant, that started out as a humble street stall, has earnt itself quite the name. However the transformation from stall to air-conditioned cafe has only changed the appearance, and not the practices. Tatcha Boonpaisarn, the third generation owner, still follows the same methods and guidance of that of her Grandmother Boonsap by ensuring that each dessert is made in small batches, by hand and uses only carefully sourced ingredients. My favourite was the sticky rice topped with smooth egg custard, but kanom foy tong (duck yolk dessert) was also delicious.

After stocking up on desserts we took a stroll a bit further out and ended up in what was possibly my new favourite Thai restaurant.

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| Baan Som Tam | 10am-10pm | 9/1 Si Wiang | Sathorn |
Situated in a more upmarket area this restaurant is tucked away along the edge of the road. From its outside appearance of large glass windows and black tables and chairs, it doesn’t strike you as a traditional Thai place, but don’t let that fool you.
The focus point of the restaurant is the kitchen situated on the middle edge of the room, depending on your seating position you get to watch as the spices are ground and the food is prepared. All of the chefs are from Isan and the flavours are an intricate combination of sweet, sour and salty that stay true to taste. The restaurant offers 26 different variations of Som Tam however my absolute favourite was the traditional and the deep fried papaya. Which is oh so naughty, but not at all greasy. There also do other Thai food, including larb moo and larb ped, which are pretty damn tasty too!

Our final stop was for some Royal Thai cuisine.

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| Than Ying | 11:30am-11pm | 10 Pramaun Street | Silom (between ski 17 and 19) |
This restaurant opened 20 years ago (but has been in Silom for just three) and was named in honour of Princess Sulabh-Valleng, who once upon a time was the head chef in the Sukothai Palace kitchen for her half sister, Queen Rambhai Barni.
Whilst many claim to, this restaurant is one of the few places that genuinely specialises in royal Thai cuisine. Royal Thai food doesn’t differ much from other Thai food, the flavours are more equally balanced and the process of preparation and cooking is much more refined (and time consuming!)
Fruits are peeled, seeded and carved and never served whole if their size is too big.
All meat is deboned, including fish! Fish fillets would be cooked, deboned then placed back together (with the head!) to give the appearance of a full fish. The transformation from ingredients to finalised meal is a long and lengthy process and presentation is everything.  We tried three dishes, a rice ‘cake’ topped with meat and coriander, kaeng khiao wan gai (green curry) with steamed rice, and a ginger sorbet, which was so decadently creamy you would of thought that it was made with milk and not water!
The flavours were intense and incredibly well balanced, however I was a little disappointed in the green curry as I love the flavour (and challenge!) that comes from a spicy curry.

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The Taste of Thailand Tour was informative, fun and I loved how much effort Pu and Jacob have put into working sympathetically with locals and in helping preserve their way of life instead of exploiting it. It wasn’t a show for tourists, but rather a glimpse into somebody else’s life. It feels authentic and Jacob and Pu introduced me to a wealth of knowledge about food, and the story that comes with it. After all, food isn’t just a meal. It’s history, culture and years of evolution all in one spoonful.

You can find Taste Of Thailand Food Tours by visiting their website here.
Or find their Facebook page here.

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(This post was brought to you in collaboration with Taste Of Thailand, but as always, you recieve my honest thoughts, opinions and ramblings, regardless of who is footing the bill)