Bangkok’s lesser known joys of food must be sampled. (Photo Courtesy: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit/Ashwin Rajagopalan)
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How I Ate My Way Through Bangkok & Cooked Up an Honest Thai Curry

It’s 5 pm on a sultry Friday in Bangkok and I’m standing in line outside Thip Samai.

It’s a ritual for many tourists (who cling to Lonely Planet guides in their quest to sample Bangkok’s tastiest Pad Thai). The wait can exceed an hour on busy weekends.

It’s the same story at Lueng Pha Pad Thai, Thip Samai’s almost equally famous neighbour. I manage to score a table in 30 minutes – during which time I’ve been busy watching (with awe) Thip Samai’s Pad Thai artistes churn out plates of Pad Thai from a flaming street-side wok with remarkable precision and speed. Thailand’s capital is one of Asia’s food capitals and the scenes outside Thip Samai are ‘Bangkok Hustle’ at its best.

Pad Thai at Thip Samai. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
Pad Thai at Thip Samai. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

My Thai friends in Bangkok might dismiss Thip Samai’s Pad Thai as ‘over hyped’ but the balance of sweet, salty and sour flavours is near perfect. Their ‘Superb Pad Thai’ enrobed in a light omelette is a winner.

Losing Oneself in Food Markets

Determined to learn how to craft an authentic Thai curry, I signed up for a crash course there.

Now, there are multiple Thai culinary academies in Bangkok and Chiang Mai (a favourite stop for international tourists) that run short courses than can extend up to a week. I opted for an ‘express half-day’ version at Basil – the Thai restaurant at Sheraton Sukhumvit Grande.

The Basil Thai restaurant cooking class. (Photo Courtesy: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit)
The Basil Thai restaurant cooking class. (Photo Courtesy: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit)

The course actually began at the Or Tor Kor Market – one of the world’s finest fresh food markets. Chef Manachai was my guide for the day and I keep losing him – it’s easy to get distracted by the range of fresh produce and local condiments in this market! We ended up sampling more food than shopping for my culinary lesson.

Spices and condiments at the Or Tor Kor market. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
Spices and condiments at the Or Tor Kor market. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Bangkok’s markets add to the city’s allure. I spent a good part of Sunday at Ko Kret – a tiny island about an hour from the city that is also home to one of the city’s most vibrant markets and far fewer tourists. Locals make the trek to shop for food and condiments. A Buddhist shrine on the island used to be its biggest draw but more recently the island’s food stalls have eclipsed the shrine.

Buddha at Ko Kret. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
Buddha at Ko Kret. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Of Serving Up an Authentic Thai Curry (& Other Edibles)

After stuffing myself silly at Or Tor Kor market on Saturday afternoon, however, I find myself busy doing the hard yards at Chef Manachai’s kitchen. Two hours later, we’ve made a Thai green curry, a raw papaya Salad (Som Tam) and an exquisite, mildly sweet Thai dessert – Sang Ka Ya Fakthong (Steamed pumpkin pudding).

Me, at the culinary academy. (Photo Courtesy: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit)
Me, at the culinary academy. (Photo Courtesy: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit)

There’s no certificate of completion, except Chef Manachai points me in the direction of his favourite Thai restaurant in Bangkok.

The scrumptious fare at Methavali Sorndaeng. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
The scrumptious fare at Methavali Sorndaeng. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Methavali Sorndaeng is probably the Bangkok equivalent of one of Connaught Place’s old restaurants – a throwback to the time when dining out was reserved for special occasions. There’s an old school live band; the interiors, the staff and the food presentation keep pace with the band. This place probably looked the same in the 1950s but the food – like their banana flower salad, is scrumptious.

Not all Bangkok’s dining experiences and markets are frozen in time. The city is home to two of the top 10 Asian restaurants – there’s Gaggan fronted by celebrity Indian chefs that serves ‘progressive’ Indian cuisine and Nahm, where modern Thai cuisine rules the roost.

The House on Sathorn at the W hotel. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
The House on Sathorn at the W hotel. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

I picked Bangkok’s hottest new restaurant for dinner – The House on Sathorn at the W hotel. The restaurant’s Turkish Chef, Fatih Tutak stays up some nights thinking of his next dish – he told me so! His edgy menu is inspired from his travels around the world with a huge emphasis on food presentation (imminently ‘instagramable’ with the ubiquitous ‘foodporn’ hashtag).

One particularly dramatic presentation technique that he uses is called ‘Hunting’ – where he uses pomegranate extracts to create the effect of a blood splattered plate.
‘Hunting’ at House on Sathorn. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)
‘Hunting’ at House on Sathorn. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

I’ve spent some ‘eventful’ nights in Bangkok but none of those experiences were more sinful than digging my teeth into Chef Tutak’s tasting menu.

Getting there and around: Bangkok is connected with frequent direct flights from most Indian metros. Use the Skytrain to get around within the city. Peak hour traffic in Bangkok can put most Indian metros to shame; so cabs are not always the best bet.

Accommodation: The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit (www.sheratongrandesukhumvit.com) is located close to Bangkok’s shopping district and offers easy access to the Skytrain. There’s also Aloft that offers great value for money nearby (www.aloftbangkoksukhumvit11.com)

(Ashwin Rajagopalan enjoys communicating across boundaries in his three distinct roles as a widely published lifestyle writer, one of India’s only cross cultural trainers and a consultant for a global brand services firm. Ashwin writes extensively on travel, food, technology and trends.)