Table of Contents
- 1 Destination: Bangkok
- 2 Mode of transport: Mall Food
- 3 The King of Street Food – Bangkok
- 4 The King of Mall Foods/food courts – Bangkok
- 5 Budget:
- 6 The pay system
- 7 Mid-Range:
- 8 Brenda’s Short Travel Guide to Bangkok:
- 9 Travel books we used in Bangkok:
Mode of transport: Mall Food
I grew up in the city, so there wasn’t much in the way of hanging out in Shopping Malls for me. When I did, it was usually when I visited family members that lived in the suburbs. Shopping Malls in the United States all have food courts, but the template is pretty generic, not much thought put into them, just one “fast food” kiosk next to another. People came to the Malls to shop, not to eat. The food was just placed there to fuel between shopping.
The “street food” scene has grown in the United States. There are great offerings found in cities like Los Angeles, California: Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and New York City , to name a few. Usually, they are in the form of food trucks, carts, and weekend events.
Dirty Water Dogs in NYC.
In New York City, my wife and I used to go to this Greek Food Cart for lunch, owned by a nice man named, John, who grilled up some of the best chicken, beef, and lamb sandwiches and dishes. He sets up shop on the corner of 64th and Madison, the heart of luxury shopping. He was a favorite among the staff that worked in the stores on the avenue. Imagine a line of men and women in their suits and dresses, eating pita sandwiches on one of the most prestigious addresses in the world. There are, of course, the ubiquitous hot dog carts, also affectionately called, dirty water dogs, referring to the hot water the frankfurters sit in to be kept warm. There are few things more quintessentially New York than having one of these tubular creations on a soft bun with yellow mustard slathered all over, topped with tasteless sauerkraut while walking Central Park.
Great Street Food
Having arrived in Southeast Asia, we have found our share of great “street food”. There was this guy who set up a grill at the front of his house on the same street we were staying in Boracay, doling out the best Filipino-style barbecues on a stick I’ve had to date. There was the Salcedo Mercato in Manila where one can find just about any regional cuisine the country has to offer, and the great Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur, a street filled with the diverse flavors of Malaysia. All playing a role in bringing the “street food” culture a notch up from what I was used to.
With all due respect to the towns I mentioned, they don’t hold a candle to the “street food” culture of Bangkok, Thailand. It doesn’t matter if you are in the center of the financial district or the outskirts of town, there are always carts upon carts of food to be found. Walking out of your hotel or apartment, in any neighborhood, there is always a hint of food wafting in the air. It’s hard not to stay hungry. It’s an absolute assault to the sense of smell and taste.
Streets are filled with men turning meats on a mini charcoal grill with one hand and fanning the smoke with another, and yet still has the dexterity to serve and handle money. There are women, handling two to three woks at a time set on top of unsteady makeshift burners stir-frying noodles on one, frying chicken on the other and sauteing vegetables on the third. Add to this, the crowds that surround them, leaving very little room to walk as a pedestrian. Giving one no other choice but to join in with the fanfare. Few dining experiences are as galvanizing.
The King of Street Food – Bangkok
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that eating street food often comes with complications. There are the crowds I spoke of, and many dishes can be challenging when trying to consume standing up. Though setting up a plastic stool next to a wobbly table has its charm, it takes a special mindset to eat like that all the time. Eating outdoors in Bangkok is a must, but the weather isn’t quite like having a picnic on a nice Autumn day in Paris , it’s hot! Unless you are a linguist and can pick up languages easily, there can also be a language barrier, which is often the case for us. Though all vendors we have visited have been more than hospitable and do their best to help, we have pointed at and bought some dishes we simply couldn’t decipher. Which leads to eating a lot of things we weren’t expecting to have. My daughter is a good traveler and a good eater, but too much of this scene can lead an 11-year-old to become petulant. Nobody wants that…
[Tweet “Luckily, the King of “Street Food” is also The King of “Mall Food”. The Thai people go to malls for the food first, shopping taking second place.”]
Luckily, the King of “Street Food” is also The King of “Mall Food”. The Thai people go to malls for the food first, shopping taking second place. Due to this mindset, the Malls in Bangkok have some of the best food courts found in the world. I like to use the term, Food Hall, when I refer to them, as they are a step above anything I’ve experienced, and it just sounds better.
The King of Mall Foods/food courts – Bangkok
Imagine food take from the streets of Bangkok, and in some cases, from streets of other Thai cities, being offered under one roof. There is air-conditioning, English translations and photos of on the boards and menus. I know what you’re thinking, this is not the reason why one travels. I would be in agreeance in most cases, but it doesn’t apply to Bangkok. I assure you that authenticity isn’t compromised in these halls. There still exists, people clambering over stalls to get their order through, lots of grilling and frying action, food fragrance emanating from various kiosks and stalls, and there is still a rush to get a good table (except in this case, the seats are comfortable). Most importantly, not one establishment tries to “Anglify” the palate, the taste is pure Thai. Lastly, like the streets, there is still that great communal atmosphere.
Here are three of our favorites, in three different price points:
Take the BTS to the Siam Station, and walk along the overpass until you see the entrance to the MBK Center. It’s a large and unattractive mall, so don’t pay anything else any mind, just go straight to the 6th floor and follow the “plate, spoon, and fork icon”. The signs bring you to “Food Island”.
There is no better way to describe it other than calling it a cafeteria on steroids. It’s not the lunch lady with white apron and white hat, doling bland food, variety. You won’t find dried out hamburgers and chicken fingers under a heat lamp. What you will find is great tasting, fresh, quick, made to order food. Not from just one, but countless stalls.
The pay system
There is a great pay system implemented to make things go smoothly. There are ticket windows where you retrieve a card, akin to a metro pass, in which you fill with a nominal value. Start with a small amount, say 100-150 baht a person should suffice. Order food, hand card over to a vendor, one swipe, and the transaction is done. No need for long cashier lines, money being handled, counting change, etc. Street Food made easy. If you don’t use up all your money, don’t worry, you’ll get it back when you hand in your card before leaving.
Like most vendors in the streets, most stalls have their specialties, and there aren’t much in the way of repetition throughout the hall. For example, if you want Pad Thai, only one place offers it. Oh, and yes, get the Pad Thai.
Silom is one of our favorite stops (on the MRT) mostly due to the nice little mall that’s situated there. A majority of this Mall are mini shop in shop restaurants. Less a food hall, and more an indoor restaurant row. There is a smattering of retail shops, but they are just background. Everybody is here for the food. Unlike a traditional restaurant, where you sit down and have dinner from soup to nuts, here, like the street food tradition, you move from one eatery to the next, like you would from one cart to the next.
Vanilla Home Cafe
Brenda tends to make choices based on aesthetic, and this also applies to where she prefers to eat. Though it’s not always true, a place with great design sensibility usually puts out food that mirrors the taste level. This was never so true, at least here, in this mall, when we decided to sit down and eat at Vanilla Home Cafe. There are all of about 6 tables in the whole place. Its vibe is a part cafe, part tavern. Hung are lovely pieces of art on the wall and their attention to detail from their coffee cups to dishes to flatware are sophisticated. One would think that a place like this would be expensive. Quite the contrary. Though north of what you’ll find on the streets, it’s certainly south of what you would pay in most restaurants of its caliber. They have a concise, yet diverse menu. Try the salad with Chinese sausage and cracklings. It’s a great take on having protein with your salad. Makes a Cobb Salad seem boring.
After You Co
For sweets, and yet another place that has a great aesthetic, go no further than After You Co., and treat yourself to their specialty, the kakiGori. It’s not your average shaved ice dessert. Imagine the lightest and most powdery snowfall served in a bowl, with an essence of cream, then topped off with your favorite powdered or compote flavors. Make sure you have time to spare, because just like ordering a souffle, this magic takes time (30-minute preparation).
A Notch Above
The most beautiful, and yet, seemingly least frequented Mall in Bangkok is the Central Embassy. It’s a luxury mall, and like the malls I mentioned earlier, most of the traffic this place gets is due to the food offered. The best being a food hall named, Eathai. It is literally street food brought indoors and up a scale. It sources classic Thai dishes across the country.
The stalls are separated into Southern, Northern, Issan, seafood, vegetarian cuisine, along with dessert and beverage carts. The concept is beautiful and again makes the street food experience group and family friendly. As in Food Island, Eathai makes paying easy. Every person that comes in receives a card. This card is used to register your tally. When checking out, just bring the card to the cashier which limits your experience to one cash transaction versus having to whip your card or wallet every time you purchased something. Whether or not the card is actually used, every person needs to exit with one. So don’t lose your card or you’ll need to pay a lost card fee.Though it is more expensive than eating on the streets, the prices are not outrageously more, and considering the setting, it’s a nice option to get away from the heat and find a comfortable seat. A great destination for families on a Sunday.Street Food is still King in Thailand, and it deserves to stay on top. It’s good to know, however, that the street food culture has influenced the mall food culture in Bangkok. And it is my belief that Bangkok wears the crown in this category as well.
Brenda’s Short Travel Guide to Bangkok:
We flew into Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur. The flight took almost 2 hours. The flights cost us $75 one way for all 3 of us. If you’re flying internationally from another continent, the airport used is called Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
We took a taxi from the airport for $20 into the Lat Phrao neighborhood (on the outskirts of the city center), which took us about 45 minutes.
If you plan on seeing more of Thailand, here’s a great 3-week itinerary in Thailand.
Where to Stay in Bangkok with kids:
Dusit Thani in Bangkok is a legendary 5-star luxury hotel located in the Silom area. It has remained at the top of the luxury end of hotels in Bangkok and we had the pleasure of staying there for 2 nights. If you’d like to read about our experience in more detail here is The Dusit Thani – A Legend in Bangkok.
At the time of this writing, the Dusit Room was 6,800 Baht a night excluding fees and taxes, which is about $191 USD a night.
For more choices on accommodations, our Friends from Nomad is Beautiful has a thorough guide on where to stay in Bangkok.
This was the first time we’ve chosen to stay at an Airbnb because we were going to stay an extended time and Bailey was really keen on having her own bedroom and actually so were we. We chose Jaz’s apartment after many listings because it accommodates up to 3 people and it had a pool and wifi. Also, after reading many great reviews, we chose to book it. Jaz met us right at the front of the building after she directed the taxi driver on how to get there. She brought us up and showed us around the apartment and the building. She also greeted us with a basket of fruits, some snacks, water, and juice!
The apartment is painted mostly in white and with touches of wood. It was perfect for a hot city like Bangkok! It has an awesome balcony and a coin-operated washing machine (each load is 30 baht), which was a welcome addition. Jaz has thought of every detail, we never had to purchase any essentials, she provided plenty and a very nice touch is she messaged us almost every day to let us know the events around the city! Last and most importantly, it’s super clean.
Then there is the coffee shop and the mini-mart downstairs on the third floor, which were both great and inexpensive. The pool and the gym were both also fantastic!
Here is the link for this apartment: The Room at Lat Phrao with Jaz.
Here’s a gift: $20 credit for your booking.
And a few more pictures from us. You’ll see plenty in the Airbnb’s website but most of the pictures don’t give the apartment justice. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
Travel books we used in Bangkok:
Brenda loved this book because it is written very simply. One page for each stall and her favorite part was that it has bathroom facilities details, which is very important with travel and eating.