Bangkok Food TourPosted By Jennifer Ho Mar 06 2015 · 1 comment · Events, Snacks & Street Food
Over the recent winter holidays, we headed to Thailand for a bit of sunshine and a lot of good food (note emphasis on a lot). After our excellent experience with Culinary Backstreets in Istanbul, we had to see if we could replicate a similar Bangkok Food Tour. Lucky for us, we found Chili Paste Tours managed, owned and operated by the one and only Chin. Hi Chin!
After doing deep research online on the number of options available in Bangkok offering ‘comprehensive’ introductions to authentic Thai cuisine, we settled for Chili Paste. Why? Truth be told, a combination of factors: great Tripadvisor ratings raving about Chin, the self-made/home-grown feel of the website and the fact that Chili Paste offers exclusively private tours, signaling a commitment to a level of personalization and intimacy other tours may not be able to offer. As I browsed the suggested itineraries and got to know the company better, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine sense of earnestness and authenticity, a real pride for Thai food and an eagerness to share this feeling with anyone who wanted to experience it, even though the screen.
We started at 9AM, meeting at the Krung Thonburi BTS SkyTrain station. After only a few minutes walking, we made our first stop: grilled chicken from a sweet elderly vendor who had been selling the same bomb recipe for over 50 years. You can taste the nuances of flavor that come with years of perfecting that secret sauce.
Before we headed to the markets for the full fledged tour, we stopped at Old Town Bangkok Cafe for an americano and some iced tea to power up. The cafe is beautiful, with a bit of a rustic feel complete with fresh flowers, vintage electronics, bikes and coffee paraphernalia. I would have come back on my own just to hang out there a little longer.
Ready to hit the busy market streets, we headed out to our first local market, hidden off the main road in a particularly long and busy alleyway. The smell of spices, curry, durian and limes immediately hit the nose, with vibrant and vivid colors to match.
Chin walked with us, explaining the various foods that we were seeing from stall to stall, picking and choosing only from the best and most trusted vendors. All along the way, she flitted back and forth between giving us mini food lessons and chatting up the vendors – this was something even Chin told us she paid special attention to: the more personal, human side to the way she likes to do business. She takes the time to actually get to know the vendors she frequents, understanding more about who they are and what they do in order to ultimately help provide a richer experience for her customers. Chin observed that many other tour companies bring clients to vendors, have them try the dish and as soon as they finish, rush on to the next without allowing them to benefit from a better understanding of the richness of Thai cuisine, the history and what actually goes into making each and every dish, which seems like a missed opportunity.
With the unmistakable smell/stench of durian wafting in the air, we had to have a some – tastier than you’d think! Super pungent in flavor.
A couple bites of the popular tapioca balls bathed in a sweet coconut milk soup were in order.
And who could pass up deep fried bananas taken to the next level? The coconut crust makes this one of the most unique versions I’ve ever tried. This was one of our favorite snacks of the morning – if you see it, don’t miss out!
Then a sort of Thai version of the Japanese mochi – a rice ball stuffed with banana paste, covered with sesame. Interesting…
Green mangoes, one of the most popular fruits in Thailand, were expertly sliced up and put in a bag for us in seconds. Tastewise they were firmer and a little more tart than your usual yellow mangoes.
Passing by a grill stand selling frogs on a stick!
Stands selling steamed/salted cod popular with dock workers lined the back section of the market.
Guts and other unidentified parts up for sale.
When you see a fresh juice vendor, you don’t say no.
On our way to the next market, we stopped by Wat Suthat to take a quick break from eating. We walked around the temple, sat in on a recitation by a roomful of novice monks while Chin gave us a bit of history on Buddha.
With that, our appetites were renewed just in time for our next stop: Nang Loeng market.
Chin snapped up a small bag of sweet Thai noodles for us to try.
Our first sit down snack of the day was at this small space with a couple of tables and chairs half inside half outside, spilling out into a sidestreet of the market. No menu in sight, only plates of tasty looking food on our neighbors tables for reference. It was here we had my favourite dishes of the entire day. Vermicelli with peanut sauce and chili, green curry and red curry like I’ve never had before. Spicy, aromatic, fragrant, and though deceptively simple looking, exceedingly complex in flavor. Excellent.
Then, some noodle soup to round out this portion of our day-long meal – chicken, crab and duck. Plus a hot plate of sizzling chicken and punchy peppercorns. The volume of food that you can fit into your stomach when you put your mind to it is truly astounding…
Then we entered the heart of the market situated inside a cavernous, steel/metal structure in which dozens of vendors set up shop around a central seating area. Here it was much cooler, a little quieter and relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle in the heat steps away.
Chin showed us how to eat this multi-step sweet/spicy dessert – tapioca balls wrapped in triangles of rice sheets are placed inside a leaf of lettuce, a corner of green chili is added, adjusted to your level of spice tolerance, folded into a bite sized little package and eaten in one go! This can be very hot, so be careful.
Delicious glutinous purple rice cakes topped with pine seeds.
Then, a national dish formerly exclusively made for the King – extremely spicy minced meat with a variety of Thai herbs and cucumbers to cool the palate down. Spice level? Insane.
Super delicious steamed coconut dessert in tiny shallow dishes – these I could have had at least half a dozen to myself.
Gummy rice worm-shaped cakes drizzled in sweet syrup, coconut shavings, peanuts and assorted nuts.
Eating our way out of the market, we walked along the outskirts, tasting last little bits of traditional Thai street food here and there, like this deep fried taro.
Or this paper thin crepe folded into a Thai version of a taco.
Just to make sure we weren’t fooling when we said we were bursting, Chin brought us to a cozy spot where we ate a lemongrass chicken soup, a side of stir fried greens and a deliciously tangy shrimp salad. It seemed as if the kitchen in the back was used not only for cooking the restaurant’s dishes but was also used for family meals with living quarters located upstairs. And you don’t need to ask, of course we finished it all.
We ended our eating saga with many scoops of ice cream – refreshing, cool and just light enough that you could slide it in while feeling only marginally more full. First, traditional best seller flavors of coconut and mango. Second helpings of Thai iced tea and coffee flavor. This little ice cream shop has been around for generations, a local fixture in the area known for the highest quality of handmade cold treats – for good reason!
Slowly rising from our plastic chairs out on the residential sidestreet, smiles plastered on our faces after the delicious ice cream, we flagged down a tuk tuk to take us to the Jade Flower market.
After browsing the stalls and inhaling the heady floral aroma for thirty minutes, we headed to the public ferry on the Chao Phraya to cut back to the city. A successful day to say the least.
What I found particularly amazing about Chin’s method of working was her constant attention to detail, always making sure that every single dish she introduced to us was of the highest quality in both taste and cleanliness (especially important when dealing with street food in Thailand). Her ability to be flexible and adapt to our schedule and needs was a huge plus – when she noticed that I had a swollen ankle from a recent sprain, she worked a visit to her local Thai doctor into our tour, which was such an interesting experience, definitely not something from the books. Towards the end of our day, she gave me a brand new vial of mosquito ointment after noticing me itch and scratch my bites without me asking. That kind of service is pretty incredible. Her generosity extended not only to ensure our comfort but also in the actual volume of food we ate – anything we laid eyes on for longer than a second, Chin was already ordering from the vendor and pulling out the correct change to purchase the item. This happened so many times that we had to beg her to stop feeding us towards the end!
Yeah, so that last bit was a bit of a love letter to the service experience that we got with Chili Paste, but trust me, it’s all true. Cannot recommend touring with Chili Paste and Chin more – a must do if you’re in Bangkok!