Taste of Thailand
WARNING: This post may induce hunger.
From street vendors to upscale restaurants and hole-in-the-wall spots, Thailand is a mecca for food. My love affair with the cuisine started in 2010 when I tried pad see ew for the first time in an authentic Thai joint in Melbourne. But moving to Bangkok introduced a whole 'nother ball game. Half the time, I don't even know what the street vendors are selling and it took me almost a month to realize that pad see ew does in fact exist here, it's just usually written on the menus as wide rice noodles with soy sauce.
Eight months in and I still had a lot of questions.
Enter: Taste of Thailand. This awesome group leads a variety of food tours through Bangkok, highlighting authentic, local cuisine and providing a wealth of knowledge about Thai culture. When I was invited to attend a pilot version of their Bites and Sites in the Village of Love evening tour, I jumped at the chance. Finally - an opportunity to learn what all the things I've been dying to try actually are?! Sign me up!
To kick things off, we headed to a small restaurant on Charoen Krung Road called Heng Yord Phak. My eyes lit up when I saw our guides distributing bowls of Rad Na ~ a Thai-Chinese noodle dish with sweet gravy. It's one of my favorite dishes here in Bangkok, but typically I have it with wide rice noodles as opposed to the crunchy noodles served here. But I'm not complaining - the family who owns the restaurant has been in the noodle-making business for over 30 years, so I think they must know what they're doing! Their flagship location of the same name is located in Chinatown, doubling your chances to taste the deliciousness of their noodle dishes.
Continuing down Charoen Krung Road, which was actually the first road ever built in Thailand, we stopped in at Wa Tow Herbal Drinks to alleviate our ailments with Chinese herbal tea. I went for the Honey and Black Dragon Tea to clear the skin and boost weight loss, among other benefits. We also all had a taste of the China Bitter ~ the most pungent of the teas ~ and saw almost everyone's faces curl up in disgust!
Next stop: the Bangrak Fruit Market. The variety of fruit in Thailand always amazes me - it seems like there's something new to try every time I walk out the door. Papaya, pineapple and mangos have been my staples ~ along with mangosteens and rambutans when they're in season! ~ but it was fun to sample the lesser-known types, like tamarind and custard apples. And I finally figured out that the huge green things hanging from the trees by our pool are pomelos!
From there, we headed to the Bangrak Hawker's Food Center. Started in major cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, hawker centers packed with inexpensive cuisine are the norm all over Asia. It was here that we really got a kick of Thai spiciness with side dishes of Morning Glory and Century Egg. Typically served in an oyster sauce, morning glory is an aquatic plant and popular vegetable that is banned in some countries for being invasive and because its seeds can have psychedelic effects.
Pictured above, century egg is Chinese dish made by preserving an egg for several weeks or months in a saline solution, allowing it to break down the flavorless proteins and fats to make room for more flavorful compounds. It may sound extremely weird, but we all actually really liked this!
After all the spice, we were ready for a little something sweet in the form of Roti Gluay at the Bangrak Bazaar.This popular treat consists of a crêpe-style bread filled with a banana and egg mixture and topped with sugar and sweetened condensed milk. Pandan leaves are often included, giving the dough a greenish tint and adding a sweet, almost-citrusy taste.
As we made our way through the rest of the bazaar, we couldn't pass up a stop at one of the many Creepy Crawlers street vendors found around Thailand. There's not a whole lot in the world that I hate more than bugs, however, I was feeling a bit adventurous. After learning that all the bugs are clean and grow up on insect farms, I actually put one of those silk worms in my mouth. It had a chickpea consistency that was a bit too mushy for my liking, but at least I can say I tried it!
At this point in the tour, we were all feeling pretty stuffed (and maybe a little grossed out by the bugs!). Luckily, we had a bit of walk to get to our next food destination so we got the chance to free up some room. Along the way, we walked through a traditional trok ~ an alley of old wooden houses alive with children playing outside and men gathered together drinking whiskey. It was so cool to get a glimpse into traditional Thai life in a quieter part of town.
Our guides, Jacob and T, were so knowledgable and told us a lot about the history of Thailand and a ton of fun facts that I'd never heard before. Did you know that at least one baby is born in the car in Bangkok each month because of all the traffic? The traffic police are required to take midwife training to deliver them!
15 minutes later, we arrived at Baan Somtam IsaanFood, whereT showed us the traditional way of eating Isaan food by using your right hand to pick up a bit of sticky rice and your dish of choice. We went for the Som Tam Phonlamai out of the 29 different som tam dishes and another one of my favorites, Pork Larb. These typical Thai dishes can be found most anywhere, but it's always nice to try the different interpretations. They were quite spicy compared to what I'm used to!
Last, but certainly not least, we stopped at a gorgeous restaurant called Than Ying, named in honor of Princess Sulabh-Valleng who was once the head chef in the Sukothai Palace kitchen for her half-sister Queen Rambhai Barni, for a taste of genuine royal Thai cuisine. First up was an ancient appetizer from the Ayutthaya period called Miang Kham. Designed to be eaten in a single bite, you make a wrap with a kale leaf and fill it with assorted ingredients, including ginger, dried pork or shrimp, peanuts, lime, onions and chili, and top it off with a bit of the sweet sauce made from palm sugar, coconut flesh and salt.
Next, we dug into the best Massaman Curry I've tasted yet with thick chunks of potato and an extra peanut-y flavor. We finished off with a bit of pandan-flavored ice cream and a spot of jasmine tea to settle everything.
Whether you're a Thailand veteran or a tourist stopping through, Taste of Thailand serves up something for everyone. Our guides had an energy that was so contagious and made the four-hour tour nothing but non-stop fun. For only $35 USD, you can join in too!