I’m bleating on about Banglamphu again, Bangkok’s backpacker-popular old-town district. As I mentioned in my recent post on getting away from here, its plentiful array of fantastic Thai street food actually give you ample reason to want to stay.
Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) rundown of my favourite places to grab a bite to eat in the area:
Khao mok gai
If there’s one Thai dish that gets me going, it is khao mok gai. Literally translating as ‘chicken buried in a mountain of rice’ and often compared to a chicken biryani, this Indian-influenced southern Thai medley of turmeric-infused yellow rice and a chicken thigh (always on the bone) cooked in a rich blend of herbs and spices is a treat for the senses.
Until I discovered Areesaa Rote Dee, entirely thanks to the guys at Eating Thai Food, my choice was limited to the massively inferior version served in the food court at the MBK shopping centre. So thank the lord that I made the time to hunt out this place (which took me a couple of tries; irritatingly I couldn’t find it on the first attempt, and ended up eating green curry noodles at a stand which I now realise is literally two doors along from Areesaa Rote Dee) – it is incredible, and I now eat here way too often.
The menu also features noodle soups, fresh and fried spring rolls, and some very good beef satay – but the star is without a doubt the khao mok gai, which comes in at 40 baht for a regular-sized portion (‘tamada’ in Thai), more if you want extra chicken (‘piset gai’) or extra rice (‘piset khao’).
The best way to reach the restaurant is to head away from Swensen’s near Khaosan; follow the roundabout-like setup to the left as you are standing outside Swensen’s, and Tani Road is the first you’ll come to (not including Soi Rambuttri, the road Swensen’s is actually on), with a 7-11 on its corner. Areesaa Rote Dee doesn’t have any English signage, so look out for the sign with the small Islamic flag above the door to indicate the presence of Halal food.
Areesaa Rote Dee, 178 Tani Road, Bangkok (9-4pm and 5-10pm)
Look out for the barbecue grill out on the street as the sign of satay at the no-frills Many Friends Restaurant (there is no external signage to suggest this name, and the staff don’t seem to know about it either; it just says it on the English menu) on the corner of Samsen soi 5. Delicious coconut milk brushed pork skewers are served up with a rich peanut satay sauce with just enough of a red curry paste hit, and the obligatory cucumber, onion and chilli vinegary salad to cut through the fat.
A more extensive menu of rice and noodle dishes cooked to order includes pad kaprow (chicken or pork stir fried with basil and chillies), an assortment of fried rice and Thai omelettes, but it’s the satay you want to come here for – 20 skewers will set you back 60 baht.
Many Friends Restaurant, corner of Samsen Road soi 5, Bangkok – daytime only.
Of course there are plenty of places to find papaya salad in Bangkok, but one spot that stands out in the Banglamphu area is a nightly set-up at the Bangkhunprom intersection beneath the overhead approach to the Rama 8 bridge on Samsen Road. This nameless stall takes up the wide pavement area just opposite the Pranakorn Café, and is really only identifiable from the collection of plastic tables and chairs and the pestle and mortar being ground by the cook.
They serve up great somtum along with other dishes from Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region, like pork namtok (‘waterfall’ salad) and laab (a fresh minced pork salad), both with plenty of fresh mint and other herbs. Order a bamboo basket of sticky rice, get your fingers dirty and tuck in! Thais place their order here by writing on a slip (in Thai) and passing it to the cook or the waiter, but the friendly staff will happily take your order orally if you can’t write Thai – though limited English may be spoken. Count on a bill of around 100 baht for somtum Thai, namtok, sticky rice and water.
No-name Isaan stall; follow the right-hand side of Samsen Road walking away from Khaosan, the intersection is the next thing you’ll come to after soi 8/1.
Having lost my khao soi virginity on a recent trip to Chiang Mai, I had to try it in Bangkok – and though is so far the only place I’ve had the dish in the capital, it notched up a good rating in my view. Khao soi is a northern Thai, Burmese-influenced dish which combines flat wheat noodles and deep-fried crispy noodles in a rich curry soup base, of a similar flavour to a spicy massuman curry but thinner in consistency – and on occasion also somewhat akin to the flavours of a Japanese katsu curry.
The khao soi at Aloha House, just a few shops along from Samsen soi 1 (about a ten-minute walk from Khaosan) is surprisingly good, with a rich flavour and a thick and deep enough soup base for it to be able to compare in my mind to the great stuff I had at Khao Soi Khun Yai in Chiang Mai. It is only available with pork, rather than the more traditional chicken, but it’s a good place to try this iconic northern dish in Bangkok, where it forms just part of an extensive menu and where the staff are also incredibly friendly. A bowl of khao soi costs 50 baht.
Aloha House, 75-77 Samsen Road, Bangkok (just a couple of shops to the right of soi 1 as you face it from Samsen Road)
I’ll eschew the over-processed, over-Americanised Swensen’s every time in favour of a little spot on the corner of Phra Sumen and Sip Sam Hang roads (opposite the green Kasikorn bank), and in fact just a hop, skip and jump from Swensen’s itself. Their signature dish is a Chinese grilled doughnut, giving the place its name Pa Tong Go. The doughnuts are drizzled with an appetisingly green pandan leaf infused sauce.
You can additionally have the pa tong go served with a scoop of the restaurant’s homemade ice cream; the ice cream in itself is always my reason for coming here, as it is the best I have had in Thailand yet. There are a good dozen flavours to choose from, but my first choice is always the divine banana and strawberry – overwhelmingly berry flavoured with occasional hint of banana, just perfect. Other good choices are berry honey, which I had to settle for on one occasion when the banana and strawberry had sold out (it’s that good!) but which I gave gone back for more of since; or an insanely intense chocolate. One scoop will set you back 20 baht, two scoops 35 baht.
I have admittedly had dodgy service here before, like one occasion last summer when I wanted to do some work here and so had asked the staff if I could plug my laptop’s power cable into the wall (there is no wi-fi, but that wasn’t an issue) – they had no problem with this, but about five minutes later the owner came down the stairs yelling and screaming that I couldn’t leach off their power supply. I swore to myself then that I wouldn’t go back if that was his attitude, but unfortunately the ice cream has just been too damn good to resist. They also serve a range of savoury meals from noodle soup to crispy pork with steamed rice (which gets great reviews elsewhere), and their menu is in English as well as Thai.
Pa Tong Go, on the corner of Phra Sumen and Sip Sam Hang roads, Bangkok