Travel, Food & Drink

Authentic Thai: Eat Like a Local in Bangkok, Thailand

Get insider information to the best eateries for authentic Thai food in Bangkok—and get some useful property advice in the country’s capital, too

The moment you first inhale the exotic scent of lemongrass and makrut lime leaves, mingled with the aromas of basil and coriander, you can’t help but be bowled over by Thai cuisine.

In an era when light but tasty dishes made with fresh, low- or no-meat ingredients are what we increasingly want to eat, the country’s flavor profiles have become wildly popular, introduced to Europeans and Americans by chefs from Thailand who have settled in the west.

Many of the best restaurants in Bangkok take inspiration from dishes and techniques that were first established by street vendors—William Drew

This enviable national cuisine is driving international travel to Thailand, while property in Bangkok is attracting an ever-increasing number of expats. “The city is safe, offers easy access to seaside resorts, and food for all tastes,” explains Tim Skevington, managing director of Richmont’s Luxury Real Estate, Christie’s International Real Estate’s exclusive Bangkok affiliate.

Row of golden buddas wearing orange
More than eight million people live in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, which covers an area of 606 square miles (1,569 sq km). It is also home to more than 400 temples—these golden Buddhas can be seen at the Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. Credit: Alamy

The popularity of Thai cuisine, and Bangkok’s status as a great foodie tourist destination, is partly down to celebrity chefs spreading the word.

“The excitement of tasting the flavors of lime, lemongrass, fish sauce, bird’s-eye chillies, palm sugar, and coriander all together was a rite of passage for me, like listening to Elvis Presley for the first time… sexy and full of dangerous energy,” recalls acclaimed British chef Rick Stein in his book Far Eastern Odyssey. “I was brought up on a cuisine of subtlety and understatement, and here was rock’n’roll food. “Since then, it’s been a total love affair,” he continues.

Wonderful dishes can be tasted readily in one of Thailand’s many street markets, or in Bangkok’s hundreds of excellent restaurants. And the capital’s eateries are now attracting formal accolades—six restaurants in the city were awarded a new Michelin star in this year’s Thailand guide, which also lists six two-star eateries in its list of recommended Bangkok establishments.

Bowls of thai food from above on a black table with fruit slices dotted between
This year an impressive six Bangkok-based restaurants, offering Thai, French, Indian, European, and Chinese cuisines, were awarded their first Michelin stars, making the city a wonderful foodie destination. Credit: Alamy

It’s not only the French heaping praise on the cuisine. In 2017, seven Thai dishes starred in CNN’s list of the world’s best 50 foods. Predictably, the country’s renowned tom yum hot and sour soup and pad thai noodles were picked out by respondents, but there is more to the country’s dishes than these ubiquitous specialities.

Thai curries—whether red, yellow, or green—are nothing like Indian curries, which is surprising given that it was India that first influenced the development of a national cuisine in Thailand. From the 16th century, Portuguese colonisers played their part by adding chillies, without which no Thai dish is complete.

The Rise and Rise of Thai Cuisine 

While international awards are testament to quality and consistency, visitors who want to taste authentic Thai food should not assume they are always the best guide. Many of Bangkok’s starred establishments serve the western food the city’s diners crave for a change of pace, just as westerners do Asian cuisine.

However, Aksorn, one of the new one-star entries, features dishes inspired by Thai cookbooks from the 1940s to the 1970s—coconut cupcakes with salted pork, and fermented beancurd relish with pork and prawns, were singled out by the inspectors.

Thai cuisine is also rising up the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, according to director of content William Drew, who cites Bangkok’s Som, Samrub Samrub, and Raan Jay Fai as among the best eateries in the city.

A floating market in Bangkok, Thailand featuring multiple narrow boats filled with goods and produce
With roots in the past when water transport played an important role in daily life, Bangkok’s floating markets are a fascinating stop on the tourist trail. Damnoen Saduak (pictured) is one of the best known, located outside the city. Credit: Alamy

“Traditionally, the term ‘fine dining’ might have been associated more with European-style food, and Thai food would have been seen as more of a home-cooking experience, but that has changed over the last 20 years or so,” he says. “Now there is a growing market for high-end Thai dining, though such experiences no longer have to take place in a traditionally ‘fine dining’ setting.”

For which read Bangkok’s famous night markets. “The street food element is strong, of course, but it has also bled into the restaurant scene in a positive way in recent years,” adds Drew. “Many of the best restaurants take inspiration from dishes and techniques that were first established by street vendors.”

Food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge, who was born and raised in Thailand and recently moved back there, says it’s no longer necessary to eat on the street to find authentic fare, citing quirky outlets such as Jack’s Bar on the river. “Their extraordinary deep-fried laab balls, a favorite from the northeast, attract everyone from princesses to backpackers.”

Table set for dinner facing the water
Chakrabongse Villa serves Royal Thai Cuisine using original family recipes from the palace kitchens. With Buddhist temple Wat Arun as a backdrop, you can dine on the riverside terrace (pictured above) or in the gardens. Courtesy: Chakrabongse Villa

For atmosphere, she loves the many restaurants in elegant old buildings. One such example is Ruen Urai “a beautiful well-kept secret whose owner is so knowledgeable about Thai history as well as food.”

Wana Yook on Phaya Thai Road also offers something uniquely satisfying in a vintage atmosphere: it’s “another beautiful old house serving a modern interpretation of Thai food.”

And Chakrabongse Villa, a royal-owned property on the river in the old town is “stunning and serves wonderful, atmospheric dinners, so it’s vital to book in advance.”

The author, whose cookbook Baan teaches aficionados how to replicate authentic Thai dishes at home, also urges visitors to venture into Yaowarat Road, Bangkok’s Chinatown, and the Thonburi side of the river for Thai-Portuguese food. “It’s much more relaxed, like Bangkok 20 years ago, and there are marvelous boat and tuk-tuk tours led by a former finance worker, which are really special.”

Plunkett-Hogge herself leads tours in the capital, although she makes her home in northern Chiang Mai, and can offer introductions to the hill tribes of the north as well as cooking classes and unique dining experiences in Bangkok.

You don’t need to leave town to find Thailand’s spicy northern specialities, though, points out Skevington. His favorite dining spots include not only Puangkaew in Sukhumvit for Thai, but also Beirut for Lebanese and Indus for Indian food in the same neighborhood, and Zanotti for Italian in Silom-Sathorn, the central business district, which is a cosmopolitan hub.

Seeking a Slice of Bangkok Living

Tall residential buildings, Bangkok, Thailand
One of the most prestigious addresses in the capital, Lumpini is home to new sought-after residential developments. Nearby is Bangkok’s biggest park, Lumpini Park, with golf, tennis, cricket, and swimming on offer. Credit: Alamy

Skevington reports a growing clientele of property-seekers from overseas. “Whether coming from Hong Kong, Singapore, or other parts of Asia, and increasingly from the U.K. and United States, many expats see Bangkok as an ideal retirement destination, offering excellent, relatively cheap health care, and a gateway to renowned resort destinations like Phuket, Pattaya, and Koh Samui,” he says.

Many house-hunters, he adds, are buying “second, third, fourth, or fifth homes, and for these, lock-up-and-leave branded residences such as the Ritz-Carlton homes we list appeal as they are cleaned and managed when the owners are away.”

These are in Sathorn-Silom, which he cites as a good bet for condominiums, and he also recommends Sukhumvit, Lumpini, and the riverside.

While Lumpini is rated for classic Thai establishments such as Saneh Jaan and Osha, Sukhumvit is home to Enoteca, satisfying the Thai passion for Italian food.

The brightest new stars of Silom-Sathorn include Villa Frantzén, the Bangkok outpost of the eponymous three-Michelin-star Stockholm restaurant, as well as Mott 32, whose Chinese cuisine is lauded in Hong Kong, and Sühring, awarded two Michelin stars for its German cuisine.

It all adds up to what Drew calls “an increasingly exciting and diverse destination for food lovers,” with Thai restaurants growing in parallel with the international eateries.

Skevington points out that Krung Thep, the official ceremonial name for Bangkok, loosely translates as: “Full of joy, endowed by precious stones, and home to numerous palaces where reincarnated angels reside.”

No wonder a recent Mastercard survey showed Bangkok to be the most visited city in the world, ahead of Paris and London.

On the Market

Neutrally decorated with floor-to-ceiling windows and views across Bangkok
Many of Bangkok's top eateries, plus entertainment and shopping destinations, are within easy reach of this property, accessible by road or by the Skytrain service directly linked to the MahaNakhon building.

Located in Bangkok’s tallest building, this beautiful property boasts three bedrooms—each en suite—a large living and dining area with a custom-designed Armani open-plan kitchen, a guests’ power room, a separate utility room, a Thai kitchen, and staff quarters.

As a Ritz-Carlton residence, the property enjoys many luxury services including 24-hour concierge and valet parking, plus in-residence dining, yoga, pilates, and personal training. On the seventh floor, there’s a lounge, a games room, a mini bar, a kids’ playroom, a gym, a boxing ring, a cinema room, a sauna, a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool, and a sun deck.

The 54th floor comprises the Residential Club Lounge, a private meeting place for friends and family with access to a reception, a lounge, a dining area, a kitchen and bar, a board room, and a TV room.

Prime Location Designer Apartment 

Lounge with sofas, coffee table, and huge windows looking onto a plunge pool
Built just two years ago, this condominium boasts three bedrooms, three full baths, and 4,879 square feet (453 sq m) of interior space. Nearby neighborhoods include Thung Wat Don and Chong Nonsi.

Situated in the heart of Bangkok, this magnificent residence offers the very best of inner-city living in the prime location of Sathorn. Created by celebrated designer Barbara Barry and featuring her chosen furniture and accessories, this stunning three-bedroom, three-bath duplex exudes a feeling of calm.

There’s a lushly planted entry patio, a grand living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a library, and an open kitchen area, while a plunge pool on the first floor makes it the perfect setting for unwinding and entertaining.

Contemporary Riverside Home 

Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows and river views
Located close to the riverbank, this 45-storey building was designed in collaboration with SIngapore's SCDA, an architecture and design company. It provides low-density living, with only 133 apartments in an estate of almost two acres (0.8 ha).

This majestic apartment enjoys views of the Chao Phraya River. Featuring a large open-plan kitchen and living area with floor-to-ceiling windows and high ceilings, the property exudes a feeling of light and space.

A free riverboat service from the residence connects to shopping centers, restaurants, and cultural and entertainment venues along the riverfront. The development has recently been completed and benefits from concierge services including private chef catering, spa treatments, and housekeeping.

Banner image: Traditional Royal Palace Thai cuisine, cho muang dumplings. Credit: Alamy