Spices, sweetness, and a crazy blend of flavors are the highlights of Thai food in general. Wait, who puts sugar in a savory soup? Chilli and pork crumbs on ice cream? Exchange students are often bothered by the eating differences and, even worse, an upset stomach. Are you ready to travel or already in Thailand and want to learn more about the food in Bangkok? Here’s a brief guide from Sky, a Malaysian student doing her semester abroad in Bangkok, Thailand, through Asia Exchange. She loves the food culture in Bangkok, and she is sure you will, too!
The best food in Bangkok when you’re into spices!
● Level 1: Khao Soy
Khao Soy is a traditional Thai meal that originated in the country’s north. What makes it unique is the savory curry broth, which combines spices with creamy coconut milk and a variety of meat that accentuates the flavor: my personal favorite is chicken. Boiled noodles on the bottom, and fried noodles on top, making it both slurpy and crispy. Non-spicy eaters can consume these without fear.
● Level 2: Thai Noodles Soup (Kuey Teow)
A dish to warm you up when it’s cold outside. The soup base is out of black pepper, sugar, and garlic. Cooked meatballs and sliced beef added into the broth, the smell that rumbles your tummy! Subsequently, some rice noodles and bean sprouts. The taste can be a bit hot due to the pepper.
● Level 3: Hot and Sour Soup (Tom Yum)
The famous Thai soup, found in most food courts and restaurants, has a lovely flavor profile of sour, salty, and moderate sweetness. Be careful; I can’t promise you’ll be fine if you don’t remind the waiter/waitress to reduce the spiciness. In the case of Tom Yum, ‘Pet Noi” (a little spicy) is sufficient to grant you a good experience of the dish.
● Level 4: Holy Basil Stir-Fry Rice (Pad Kra Pow)
Being called ‘the king of street food,’ Pad Kra Pow certainly has a key to having people remember it. It’s a popular choice when you’re in a hurry. But also want something mouth-watery. Choose your meat: pork, beef, chicken, or even prawns, and watch them get deep-fried with basil, chili peppers, and seasonings; the smokey, hearty aroma will entice you. And again, it’s never too late to tell the vendors when to stop their chilies.
● Level 5: Papaya Salad (Som Tum)
Salad? That sounds depressing, but Papaya Salad? This entirely new dish may take you on a roller coaster of flavors. Thick papaya and fresh seafood (shrimp, fish, crab…) are mixed with fermented fish sauce and a lot of SPICE. When ordering somtom, they ask you whether you want Khao Suay (plain rice) or Khao Niao (sticky rice). This dish, in my opinion, is similar to a toxic relationship in that it never fails to make me cry, but I still crave it later. According to a friend, if something isn’t spicy in Thailand, it isn’t delicious (mai pet mai gin).
You might also be interested in Sky’s blog about finding accommodation in Bangkok!
The best food in Bangkok when you’re into sweets!
● Thai Crepes (Khanom Bueang)
In English, Khanom Bueang roughly translates to crispy pancakes. They’re widespread on the street and inexpensive as a dessert. A pulp of sugared coconut milk and a sprinkle of colored fillings are put to a base of rice flours, shaped like a Mexican taco (orange: shrimp, yellow: salted egg, green: pandan). Because the sky is the limit for Thai food, you might be able to try more unusual flavors on and off.
● Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Niao Mamuang)
If you’re a mango lover, you probably already had this before. However, in Bangkok, it only costs between 50 and 100 baht. For the Khao Niao Mamuang, you need simple ingredients like glutinous rice, coconut milk, delicious mangoes, and sesame seeds. The sweet smidgeon of saltiness inside could swiftly relieve your fatigues with just one bite.
● Thai Milk Tea & Green Tea Milk (Cha Nom & Cha Kiao)
As a person who can’t survive without cold beverages in Thailand and a big fan of milk tea, these two drinks are a dream come true. I developed an addiction and had to have them at least twice per week. Tea serves as the foundation, with milk and sugar added afterward. They can be pretty sweet sometimes, which is when you should order saying “Wan Noi’ (a little sweet). Also, half of your cup is filled with ice most of the time.
Where to go to try food in Bangkok? Recommended spots for newbies:
There are public canteens where you can eat the typical food in Bangkok. Serve yourself with almost everything: food courts in shopping malls and supermarkets, night markets, and convenience stores. Malls, for example, the food court on the top floor in Terminal 21 Sukhumvit, are a gem. Organized, hygienic, and has a large number of options. Unlike T21, where tourists hang out, supermarkets such as Big C Ratchada are pleasurable dining locations. Prices are lower there, and the meals are tasty.
Visiting night markets in Thailand should be on your bucket list; it’s the best way to grasp the local food culture. You’ll be able to taste all the dishes I’ve mentioned above. The new Ratchada train night market opened up behind Central Plaza Rama 9 named ‘Jodd Fairs’ has become an attraction in Bangkok. They have everything covered: light bars, apparel, street snacks, manicures, etc.
Don’t have much time to dine and want to save money? 7-eleven can never go wrong. Aside from simple Thai dishes, 7-eleven also has many undiscovered treasures. I wasn’t expecting them to have great ham and cheese sandwiches, croissants, kimchi soup, wonton soups, and chawanmushi. That’s making people indecisive. And don’t forget to get a coffee from their on-site All-Café before you leave, okay?
Do go to their authentic restaurants at least once to try the delicious food in Bangkok! Bring a native friend with you (or not) because the menu is all written in Thai, but the rates are significantly lower. Mookata, a Thai-style barbeque, will have you saying “Aroi, aroi” (tasty) repeatedly. Last but not least, ice from restaurants costs usually 10 baht each bucket, and isn’t free!
Do you want to study abroad in Bangkok, Thailand? Find out more information here!
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.