t’s impossible to walk down a
Bangkok street without hearing the
sizzle of food in a wok or pass-
ing through a waft of smoke. Just
after dawn, skewers of sweet pork
and plump fish balls are grilled to
perfection. At midday, office work-
ers grab curry and fried rice in the sun. At night,
vendors set up plastic stools and metal tables to
hawk grilled pork neck and toasted rice, accom-
panied by cold beer.
Ordering is a rhythmic dance of smiling and
gesturing, as motorbike taxis and bright tuk
tuks zoom by on the street — at busy intersections, on abandoned railroad tracks, under a
highway overpass. Even in the chaos, lines are
orderly. Money changes hands. Food is packaged
carefully into small bags, with condiments and
spoons, and served with the famous Thai smile.
Street stalls form the bedrock of the dining
experience in Bangkok, for locals and tourists alike.
Recently, though, a seismic shift has occurred.
Dishes once found only at curbside stalls are
appearing at restaurants across the city, often
flaunting startlingly nontraditional ingredients,
new preparations and decidedly upmarket prices.
The change reflects a broader demographic
trend. Bangkokers use the term “HiSo”— short
for high society — to refer to the city’s wealthy
young elites, who are just as likely to be sipping
rooftop cocktails as they are to be hunting down
the next foodie trend. Trendy and worldly, the
HiSo mentality is infusing Bangkok cuisine with
global references and a sense of adventure.
It’s also led to an upsurge in international
ingredients. Consider hotspot Namsaah Bottling
Trust, set in a restored pink colonial building
near Silom Road. Downstairs, a chic cocktail
bar invites lounging, while the upstairs dining
room is an eclectic mix of plush sofas, metallic
wallpaper and extravagant feather displays. The
ambience is pure decadence — as is the cuisine.
The restaurant’s surprising claim to fame?
Pad Thai, the country’s most iconic noodle dish,
ubiquitous at street stalls here and at takeout joints
around the world. Much of Namsaah Bottling
Trust’s version covers familiar ground: Bamboo
shoots, tofu and fried egg are delectably offset by
peanuts, chilis and coriander. But here, the addition of foie gras adds a rich new layer, steering the
dish clear from any resemblance to streetside fare.
Soul Food Mahanakorn is in Thonglor, a hip
area dominated by Japanese restaurants and
sake bars, yet its Asian fusion menu promises
authentic Thai flavors— alongside handcrafted
cocktails and farm-to-table ingredients.
The narrow, unpretentious space serves street
favorites with a HiSo twist; the restaurant’s
grilled Isan and khao soi-style sausages, typically
served on a stick roadside, are plated with fresh
vegetables, peanuts and chili sauce. Its khao soi,
the famed dish from the city of Chiang Mai, is a
steaming bowl of curried coconut broth, noodles
and slow-simmered beef brisket topped off with a
spoonful of crispy fried noodles. The tender beef
melts in the mouth — no chewing required. The
star of another dish, a spicy red curry infused with
tangy green peppercorns, is pork cheeks — a meat
virtually unheard of in traditional Thai street food.
With high, double doors leading into a dining
room that seems ready to become a pulsing
nightclub at any moment, Osha Bangkok is at
the opposite end of the food chain from a typical
street stall. The first Bangkok branch of a San
Francisco culinary icon, Osha is a modern take
on Thai cuisine in a lush setting. Osha’s Wagyu
pad krapao and Australian lamb shank massaman
curry are talked about the city over, yet the real
standout is the tableside presentation of tom yum
goong, the classic hot and sour shrimp soup.
On the street, tom yum is served in a large
metal bowl, with a heating element in the center to
keep the soup piping hot. Osha takes this one step
further. A bowl of giant river prawns, mushrooms,
shallots and coriander is placed, dry, on the table.
A server carefully inserts a coffee-syphon-turned-
soup-infuser — with a warning to diners not to
touch the contraption — then uses a blow torch to
heat the water and infuse the soup broth with chili,
lemongrass and galangal: the holy trinity of Thai
cooking. It’s like watching a mad scientist conduct
an experiment — with a blow torch.
Finally, the server carefully pours the steaming
broth over the prawns and other ingredients, and
a bowl of perfectly prepared tom yum appears on
the gleaming wood table. It’s unlike any tom yum
in the city— yet unmistakably authentic in flavor.
Of course, the beauty of Thai cuisine is in the
flavor. For impeccable execution, the Old City
institution Raan Jay Fai serves incredible fare in a
bare-bones ambience. Dishes, from the crab meat
omelets to the spot’s signature pad kee mao (or
drunken noodles) — often loaded with super-fresh seafood — are wok-fried by a single chef,
the inimitable Ms. Fai. Despite its high prices,
Raan Jay Fai is always packed with hungry diners.
On Sukhumvit Soi 33, Baa/Ga/Din (the phrase
refers to the Thai concept of dining on a blanket,
or picnicking) transforms the concept of street
food into a casually contemporary feast. The
airy space, with campsite-inspired long tables, is
lined with blue and red metal chairs; its laid-back
simplicity runs counter to the opulence on display
at Osha and Namsaah Bottling Trust.
At Baa/Ga/Din, Chef de Cuisine Chandler
Schultz oversees the preparation of regional dishes
in inventive, approachable ways. The plates, like
traditional Thai food, are meant to be shared.
Corn on the cob is reinvented with slivers of
green mango and kaffir-lime sauce. Fried squid
is accompanied by fresh chilies and fried garlic.
Minced larb is prepared with succulent duck,
tender cabbage, crunchy rice cakes and crisp
mint leaves. Subtly highlighting and reworking
traditional ingredients, the newest street-styled
restaurant sets the bar high in Bangkok. p
SPLENDOR IN THE STREET
Can a British expat sniff out the best street
food in Thailand? Sure—if he’s Executive
Chef Kevin Thomson of the JW MARRIOTT
BANGKOK. With over 25 years of culinary
experience, prestigious postings across
Asia, multiple awards and a Thai wife, Chef
Thomson finds his love of ingredients and
flavors matched by Thailand’s cuisine—
although an initial language barrier meant
he had to improvise when ordering early
on. “I would point to different body parts
and make animal noises for the server to
translate, and then an absolutely stunning
array of Thai cuisine would arrive,” he says.
Some of his favorite street bites can
be found at Moun Moo Joom, on the
corner of Chan Road and Naradhiwas
Rajanagarindra Road, and Suan Plu’s
foodie hub: part indoor market, part street-
vendor paradise. His dishes of choice
include som tum baala (papaya salad with
fermented fish sauce) and sai krok Isan
(grilled sausage from Northeast Thailand).
“To me, Thai street food is the very pulse
of the country,” Thomson says. “The cuisine
is the very essence and the fabric of society
so intertwined—the streets come alive with
the fragrant aroma, the sounds, the people
gathering and sharing their day. You can
literally taste the food in the air.”