48 hours in Bangkok

Published 30 May 2017   

I’ve been to Thailand many times now yet I still love that touch down arrival moment in Bangkok and just feel excited about what’s out there. Not in that familiar way but in the sense of about what is new this time. And this time I am very interested in what’s new as Sarong Group is about to launch a new project that is totally Thai inspired so I’m here on a mission, and that is to dive into Bangkok’s food and market scene as soon and as deeply as I can.

Written by: WILL MEYRICK

Chatukak Markets are the busiest in Bangkok

My first stop is the oldest coffee shop in Bangkok. Easae Coffee Shop opened in 1927 and it opens for trade at four am, perfect for an early start for the markets, or for some, that first morning coffee after a long night in the city.  Easae is Hainan slang for prosperity and after four generations the coffee shop, located in Yarowat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, is still doing well, and with a cup of
o-yua so am I – I’m ready to hit the streets. In the company of Joe Cummings, a freelance journalist and something of a legend I head out to the edges of the city on the BTS to Or To Kor Market.

Or Tor Kor Market is the best market for produce in Bangkok, and if you are serious about your ingredients, which I am, it is the place to be. It’s at the end of the BTS that serves Chatukak Weekend Market as well so if you are feeling really pumped, like me, you can do both in one day. Or Tor Kor is brimming with great Thai produce and it’s tempting to pack a bag of goodies to cook later, fortunately there are vendors selling ready to eat specialities and lucky for me one of my absolute Northern favourites Sai Oua, spicy sausage, is here with some double roasted Nam Prik. It’s so good, Joe tells me the lady who has made them is from Nokhon Lampang where they make the best sausages, we will be looking to serve this  dish for our new venue for sure.
The Thai government recently set this market up for the producers from all over Thailand to exhibit their goods in hygienic and well ordered laneways and the bright lighting makes the fruit stalls something of an acid trip. Contrasting and vibrant colours, shapes and textures, Or Tor Kor is worth a visit just for this, and the sausage!

Chatukak Market by comparison is old style, narrow, darkened laneways, numbered in a hexagonal maze, and can reveal the strangest items; I had no idea of the demand for paper flowers and strings of paper lanterns. Amongst the stalls are some great regional food vendors and although the Paella Man at Viva 8 is hardly Thai watching him toss handfuls of fresh prawns into a seething paella pan is a great moment of entertainment. I’m here looking for ideas and elements of Thai style. One of the many things I am proud of with the Sarong Group is the way we approach our dining interiors. Fine dining deserves a fine atmosphere; you have to consider that the entire experience is more than the food, drinks or service, it has to be beautifully presented and with a character that enhances the guests experiences of their night.

Unsatiated curiosity drives me further into narrow lane ways and while the ‘antiques’ on sale are all looking very similar every now and then you will come across something that stops you. The sound of Indonesian being spoken for example, as here in the warrens of Thai traders are a family from Jakarta selling goods from Afghanistan. This place is nothing if not multicultural. It’s hot though and a quick exit into the afternoon is required, so with some ideas in my head and a coconut ice cream laden with fresh mango slices in hand I exit Chatuchak.

Watch the trains at the Maeklong Markets

Maeklong Market requires another early morning start, this time it’s to reach the market at Meaklong Station about an hour and a half outside the city centre. Maeklong is also known as the Open Top Umbrella Market – this is because the stall holders have to raise their awnings each time a train, literally, ploughs through the center of it. Yes, there is a warning bell, but seriously the places defies logic. The train comes along and while the shades go up the produce just sits there along the tracks. It’s a real labyrinth of inspiration though, the curry pastes and the vegetables. Some people get their ideas from books, but for me it’s getting into the fresh ingredients and talking to the stall holders, trying to glean a little secret ingredient here and there and tasting the food from the stalls to get that hook into the real authentic flavour that I can recreate for our menu back in Bali. It’s that defining sense that you just don’t get from copying a recipe no matter how precisely.

The noodle soup at Victoy Monument

I have noticed over the last few years Thai Cuisine is changing, there is a growing understanding of the sophistication that goes into creating an excellent Thai meal and similar, I suppose, to Indonesia there is a getting away from the idea of ‘what’ Thai food is. You know the green curry and the Pad Thai syndrome, so I head out to Victory Monument around lunch time to check out a couple of really traditional dishes. Victory Monument is an interesting location as it is currently providing food for thousands every-day but there is a plan to possibly relocate it out of the city. As with many ‘decrees’ there will be a lot more talk before there is any action, so while the debate boils I investigate first hand the intricate ingredients of the Pork Satay and the famous Boat Noodle Soup. The Pork Satay is a testament to the Thai’s love of snacking and with a sharp sweet taste from its palm sugar marinade it makes a perfect bite sized entry to any meal. The Boat Noodle Soup or kuaitiao ruea has not changed either, it’s a staple for Thais who will eat it all day long. With a rich soup base that uses nam tok, otherwise known as blood, and a mix of pork and beef this soup is the epitome of hearty, well actually it contains heart too! And it is good.

Uncle John serves the best of street food

I’ve got one more market to check out before my 48 hours is up, and it’s been a blast so far, but like any good traveller I need to take a breather with something a little different. Just off Sathorn, around the corner from the famed Soi 20 Street Food Market in Suan Plu, Soi 8 there’s a very cool little place, Uncle John’s. Working for years in Bangkok’s five star hotel kitchens allowed John, his real name is Sanjorn, to learn about gourmet cuisine. He now brings it all back to the street with a street price and for a surreal moment in time you can be perched on a stool roadside in the swelter of an evening thick with car and charcoal fumes, throwing back a cold Chang and eating foie gras !

It’s moments like these that make the adventure so I decide to take a nightcap over the road at Smalls. It is small, you squeeze in through the revolving door to end up at the street level bar, climb the stairs and you are on a rooftop. Neon lit from the high rises above you, the place has a bohemian elegance with a futuristic edge and a great cocktail list and it is the perfect location to let the sensations and inspirations of the day mellow through your bones.

Jostling for position at Damnon Saduak Floating Market

Ok, it’s our last day, and our night was longer than we planned, but here we go : Damnon Saduak Floating Market. It’s a bit touristy these days but retains the colourful atmosphere and great food it is famous for. The duck noodle soup is the perfect antidote to any morning after the night before business; the garlic oil, soya sauce and the fresh coriander brush away cobwebs and I would highly recommend it to any visitor as the market retains a particular charm – kind of slow paced and calm. The joy too is in the market’s ability to provide you with delicious food, lull you with the scent of exquisite flowers and add just a slim sense of possible danger! The water looks very nasty and you need to watch out when leaning over for your food bowls, but compared to the Chao Praya, our next stop, this is nothing. The ferry steers us across from the kind of rich enclave on one side to the more practical pedestrian other side, where government departments and office workers spend their days, and, at Wan Lang Market, the biggest street food market in Bangkok you can find food from every region in the land. I’m interested in a real Thai street food speciality, a mussel omelette. Simple and delicious, it is full of mussels, fresh co-riander and served with a sweet chili sauce and oh so satisfying. Even with this level of repleteness I find myself salivating over the varieties of Tom Sum and it’s the sweet corn version from Issan that tempts me the most; it’s one of my greatest joys to discover the nuances of taste within each bite. I love Thai food!

Wang Lang street food

It’s been a great 48 hours and I am excited to be sharing the ideas and inspirations back in Bali soon and bringing the truly authentic taste of Thailand to our newest venue.

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