It helps to visit a new city in the company of friends who live there. Even better? When those friends harbor an obsession with food that rivals one’s own. The hungry farangs over at Ma La with a Fork (they promise some new posts coming soon) are those people. They are the kind of people with whom we can have conversations about how nice it would be to live in the same place…so that we could buy a pig together and make our own charcuterie and bacon. Their food is so legendary that people fight over whose turn it is to snag one of the coveted 10 slots at their Sunday night supper club table.
And if it weren’t enough that they know their way around their own kitchen, it seems they know their way around every other delicious kitchen in Bangkok as well. Be forewarned: this is a very long, very appetite-inducing post.
We started our culinary tour of Bangkok with a stop for Polo Chicken for lunch, located just up the street and around the corner from the US Embassy. There are several restaurants called Polo Chicken and I don’t have an exact address, but it’s the second chicken restaurant on the left hand side of the street. If it smells like fried chicken and it’s packed, you are probably at the right place. For an exact location, I believe the restaurant is featured in this foodie guide available at bookstores in Bangkok. The fried chicken was a revelation-crispy and garlic-y on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside, but I think the papaya salad was my favorite dish on the table.
From Polo Chicken we went off in search of a Thai iced tea–a sugary, creamy pick-me-up perfect for reinvigorating the sweaty, harassed parents of a toddler hell-bent on launching himself into all nearby water fountains and busy intersections.
We were nothing if not determined to live and eat well in Bangkok, so when our friends suggested drinks before dinner at The Alchemist, a a nice quiet little place with outdoor seating off of Sukhumvit behind the left side of Soi 11, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. As it turned out, three out of the four adults shared drinks while Will chased an alley cat and I chased Will.
We followed drinks up with dinner at Soul Food, a few sky train stops away. If I had to recommend one restaurant in Bangkok, it would be this one. The menu is made up of simple, clean, fresh rifts on homestyle, Thai comfort food. The rice is organic and fair-trade, the meat is cage-free and most of the produce comes directly from small farms located in the north of Thailand. In addition to the food, Soul Food is known for its cocktails: fun, inventive east-meets-west concoctions good to the very last drop. I don’t normally drink, but “The Exile”, a vodka-based drink loaded with fresh lemon grass and kaffir lime was too good to pass up.
For dinner we had smokey banana flowers, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, morning glory, curry, shrimp satay and I don’t even know what else. All I know is that it was one of the best, most exciting meals I’ve had in a long time.
I was a little too busy stuffing my face and trying to keep Will out of my drink to get any good pictures in the low light. Above though is a portion of the banana flower salad. Pictures cannot convey how fantastic this dish was.
For anyone wondering how Will fared on our big night out let me say this: that Soul Food shrimp satay must be damn good. Will took my portion and never gave it back, but in return he stood quietly on my lap for 30 minutes straight. That shrimp, combined with a portion of sticky rice and a well-timed order of orange juice, kept Will preoccupied enough for me to taste a few bites of everything in between picking rice up off the floor and trying to keep Will out of my cocktail.
After dinner, we crossed Sukhumvit to visit the famous street food strip on Soi 38 and our friends’ favorite mango and sticky rice vendor. Before I knew it, Ashley had ordered two portions of Thailand’s most famous dessert. The first portion we shared on the corner of Soi 38 while I struggled to keep an extraordinarily-over-tired Will from running into oncoming traffic. The second portion they thoughtfully sent home with us. While Chris gave Will a bath, I stood at the bathroom counter trying not to eat the entire second portion of mango sticky rice by myself. It’s amazing how much easier it is to eat too much when I don’t have Will in my lap.
Day two in Bangkok I ran out for a bowl of breakfast noodles before we headed over to Wat Arun (pictures coming soon). Afterwards we took a ferry across the river and met up with our friends again to eat at yet another great little place over by Democracy Monument. In a pleasantly un-airconditioned, semi-outdoor dining space, we feasted on crab, fried fish and mango salad, coconut sorbet, a stunning best-we’ve-ever-had plate of mussels, and a version of miang kham so delicious that I polished off the entire dish almost all by myself. The place was laid-back and relaxed, decidedly un-touristy, and staffed by army of doting waitresses so eager to take Will and waltz him around the room–if only he would have let them. If you’re looking for great food a little off the beaten path that’s kid-friendly, this would be a great place to check out.
Saturday night we went for sushi and Japanese atYaki Ten over on Luang Suan Road. Their famous spicy tuna roll was delicious as was nearly everything else–though admittedly, after spending nearly 3 years now in landlocked countries, we are perhaps not the best judges of good seafood anymore. As much as I would have loved to stay to try everything on the table, Will was ready to head home after one round of edamame. I bribed him with a few ice cubes, quickly tried a few bites of sushi and then took Will for a long, but pleasant, walk back to the hotel while Chris and our friends stayed on to finish up all of the food as well as a deep and interesting conversation about the future of China.
I’ll be honest, carrying a squirmy toddler around town when its 95 degrees and there is no where for him to get down to walk or run, trying to get through meals without breaking any glasses or upending any dishes onto the floor is not always easy. It also happens to be a fantastic way to ruin a brand new white t-shirt. As much fun as we had walking around town, trying out restaurants and food stalls, my favorite day of our Bangkok trip, hands down, was our last day in town. After a quick morning stop at a park near Chattachak Market, we spent our last day in Bangkok simply hangning out in our friends’ kitchen, cooking, playing cards and watching Will run around trying to impress his Uncle Phil and Auntie Ashley.
The boys went out and bought street food for lunch and then played cribbage and tended to the baby back ribs on the grill for the rest of the afternoon. Us girl stayed home and talked careers and babies and, of course, food while we watched Will pretend to polish all of the furniture in the room with his blankie. After Will finally passed out on a mattress in the living room, Ashley gave me a ride on the back of their motorcycle for a quick trip to the grocery store. For the record, Chris was convinced I would somehow fall off the back end of the bike, but I didn’t.
The ribs that night were insane, the salad dressing was a revelation and there might be no better company to be had than old friends in a new place sharing a meal.
We flew back to Delhi the next day with stomachs stretched and suitcase overflowing with gifts of Thai snacks and Japanese whiskey. Three days of foodie tourism with a toddler in a busy, traffic-jammed city was magnificently tiring, but it was also delicious and fun and totally worthwhile. And can I mention again, delicious?
We’re working on doing our Delhi food research now, hoping against hope to be as great of foodie hosts as our friends were for us in Bangkok.