Bangkok's food culture has never been so electrifying.With the Michelin guide making its debut in town this year, our eyes have been fixed on the compelling movements in the fine dining sector where big names are upping their games and fresh faces are continuously emerging. However, while the frills of visually enticing meals amidst sophisticated backdrops are much talked about, sometimes we get a little weary of the glitz and glam— and occasionally, we just want to forget about poise and simply enjoy a good homely meal no matter how unrefined its setting may be.
In 2017, we anticipate a renaissance for home-style Thai cuisine. We see more chefs exploring local ingredients, digging into their roots to pay homage to their culture and heritage. Perhaps we’re simply lusting for the unpretentious—for those nostalgic, punchy flavours of childhood. In our quest for authentic tastes, we meet with five soulful food-loving personalities at the down-to-earth eateries they consider to be neighbourhood gems.
Fruit seems to be the order of the day as Chulaluck Piyasombatkul, or Moo of Moo Eyewear, arrives at Go Ang restaurant in Bang Po in a Dolce & Gabbana pineapple-print dress and a Charlotte Olympia watermelon basket tote in one hand. She tells us that this modestly run Hainanese eatery has been one of her family’s favourites since she was a child. “Well, we’re Hainanese, so we love Hainanese chicken and rice,” she says with a laugh. Another dish she always orders is Hainanese rice noodles served in a full-bodied broth and topped with tender pork and pickled cabbages. “I recommend you try it with the accompanying shrimp paste sauce,” says the 30-year-old.
Moo usually orders home delivery from Go Ang but occasionally pays a visit out of nostalgia. While ordering takeaway and before heading off to a meeting, she tells us of some of her other favourite casual outlets. “I like going to Guay Tiew Kua Gai Ann on Luang Road in Chinatown, which serves excellent fresh rice noodles wok-fried with chicken, and Lim Lao Sa, which has superb fishball noodles. My late night food ventures usually start with something savoury and finish with something sweet at Mon Nomsod.”
Generation T lister Thitid Tassanakajohn’s taxi arrives in front of Lerdtip on LadpraoWanghin 70, a Thai-Chinese restaurant run by chef Kamol Chobdee-ngam, at almost midnight on a Friday. The 31-year-old culinary star, also known as chef Ton, is quick to apologise for being behind schedule—it was a busy evening at his modern Thai restaurant, Le Du. He could have picked an after-service food fix near the restaurant but insisted we come here. “The location is far from convenient, but it’s worth the travel,” he tells us. Soon our table has been filled with his usual order: Thai-style marinated raw crab salad, grilled pork topped with lime dressing, deep-fried pig intestines and duck paloh.
While he cooks fine food for patrons every evening, Ton generally goes casual with his own meals. “Actually, Thai street and soul food are great inspirations for my work at Le Du,” he explains. When not at his other family recipe-inspired outlets, Baan and Backyard, his lunchtime gems include unostentatious eats at Boon Aek and Hua Pochana on Chan Road. “I think the charm of these places is that they are absolutely unpretentious. The chairs may be uncomfortable to sit on, the service may not be smooth, the ambience may not be aesthetically pleasing and the dishes may be clumsily plated—but it is truly all about how good the food is.”
Pimlert Baiyoke walks into the restaurant in an eye-catching sequined mini dress and fuchsia-pink heels—her presence instantly adding a vibrant kick of oomph to the humble space. Tucked in a tiny, tattered shophouse in Sukhothai Soi 5, Khao Soi Chiang Mai is just a few minutes away from the fashionista’s house. Pimlert tells us that she has eaten here for as long as she can remember. “They make the best khao soi and even outclasses all the popular ones in Chiang Mai,” says the 27-yearold. “My usual go-tos are chicken khao soi and pad krapao beef shank over rice.”
This young assistant to the chairman of the family’s Baiyoke group of hotels is quite the foodie—and a connoisseur when it comes to street food and hole-in-the-wall dining. “There’s this guay tiew kua gai place on Ban Mo Road that I love going to in the evenings. It’s filthy, I must say, but the food is exceptionally tasty,” she laughs. “I usually follow with the kanom krok boran stall in front of the soi. For after events, if not congee at Landmark Bangkok, you’ll most likely find my friends and me at Saengchai Pochana on Sukhumvit Soi 32.”
Old School New Cool
Lunchtime at Saew noodle shop on Sukhumvit Soi 49 is a little wild—not just because of the crowd inside the quaint hole-in-the-wall space, but also because of the constant stream of delivery bikes picking up gigantic plastic bags filled with noodle orders. Another Generation T lister, Vorathit Kruavanichkit, co-founder of multidisciplinary design consultancy Farmgroup, has been a loyal customer ever since his office was set up in the same soi. “So I have been eating here for 12 years now,” he says. His go-to bowl throughout those years? “Flat egg noodles, no fishballs, extra shrimp balls and tom yum seasoning—without the soup,” he responds.
Vorathit is a huge fan of casual dining, with favourites including Racha Bamee Kiew on Pattanakarn Road and the oldschool khao gaeng place across from Thong Lor police station that serves canteen-style ready-prepared food. “Personally, I think we’ve reached a point where Bangkok has an overabundance of fancy restaurants and hip cafes. For me, these down-home shophouse outlets are becoming even more of an attraction—they’re so much more cool and fun with delicious food at reasonable prices,” laughs the 37-year-old. “And they possess the kind of backdrop that can never be deliberately designed, only organically created over time.”
One of Bangkok’s hottest bilingual event MCs and an author of several cookbooks, Sawitri Rochanapruk’s fondness for rich, traditional Thai cuisine is visible through her Instagram account—a mouth-watering recollection of the city’s most scrumptious gems. When in the mood for fancier settings, her favourites include Nahm and Saneh Jaan, or the less formal Rarb by Escapade and Phed Phed. “But I have a soft spot for authentic recipes, so many of my dining spots are casual family ones that have been running for some time. Also, with the third and fourth generations now starting to pursue different career paths, I want to visit these places before they all vanish,” shares the 36-year-old.
We meet at Yong Li Pochana on Sukhumvit Soi 39, a modest Thai-Chinese shophouse restaurant of at least 70 years that Sawitri has been including in her list of winners for the last decade. “I love dishes that are full of flavour and Yong Li does a very good job with that,” she says. Her fixed picks include ten river prawns lightly grilled at medium rare and dressed with a spicy and zesty sauce, and sea bass fillets stir-fried until slightly crisp and served with coarsely pounded fresh chillies. “It’s one of those restaurants that never fails to impress. Every single person I’ve recommended it to has fallen in love with it.”
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