Culinary Chariots: A street food tour of Bangkok

The city of Bangkok is a lot like your first ride in a tuk tuk.  She’s a unique, speedy vessel that isn’t always glamorous but will whiz you around, showing you one wild ride.  It’s a fitting vehicle then for a tour exploring food stands and iconic dishes of the city, whipping you around on a wonderful journey.  Buffalo Tours offers a great guided tour in Thailand that takes you on an evening ride through town that you and especially your stomach won’t soon forget.  Seeing how locals live and more importantly eat with a small group is the best way to truly experience how “foodcentric” Bangkok comes alive at night.

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We started off our trip heading to one of the city’s many night markets.  Arty, our wonderful guide, explained that there was currently a vegetarian festival in the city called Gin Je, a nine-day cleansing celebration with Chinese heritage that is held throughout Thailand.  You’ll find yellow and red flags adorning the street food stalls quickly showing you which vendors are participating and although many practice vegetarianism and veganism during this period, it isn’t impossible to still find some tasty meat dishes as well.

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We had a taste of crunchy fried tofu, similar to a corn chip, as a little “amuse bouche” to get our evening started.  Afterward our group headed down a narrow street on foot, passing by dozens of fruit & vegetable stands, fish mongers and purveyors of a variety of meats barbecuing on sticks before we came to a small lane alongside the main street.

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A family operation had a prep table set up with several woks lining the alleyway, hot, oiled and at the ready.  The older woman of the group turned with a large slotted spoon, dipping into her deep metal basin fishing out several crispy, hot spring rolls for us to sample.

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Our trip down the lane wasn’t complete without trying one (or two) Khanom Krok, a favorite sweet treat of mine.  Crust on the outside with a gooey coconut center the best part about getting an order aside from eating it is waiting patiently, watching the cook pour out the batter over a cast iron skillet, the mix sinking into its dozens of divots in the pan.  She waits with precision patience, for the right moment when two long chopsticks spin the doughy ball around, the top now cooked on the outside and it quickly creates a yummy, spherical dessert.

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We boarded our tuk tuks and headed back on the road to the next destination, something you may not see everyday, a local roadside butcher.

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There was a thud as the enormous body of the pig thumped onto the metal table.  The butchers worked swiftly, wielding large wooden handled knives with surgical artistry.  The curved metal blade slicing through the swine with ease and within one or two motions each section was dissected and placed into their respective baskets as restaurant owners and locals alike stop by to pick up orders and collect their fresh cuts of pork.

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We made our way through the maze of melon stands where our drivers awaited us roadside.  We climbed back into our culinary chariots heading towards our next location.  We slowed to a long line that was forming outside of a restaurant, got out of the tuk tuks and proceeded to join the crowd.

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Thip Samai is known for one thing, Pad Thai, and they have become THE place in Bangkok to try this famous dish.  They have several woks cooking over large burners street side, each person is responsible for one part of creating the dish which makes the assembly line one well oiled machine with many parts, cranking out dozens of Pad Thai dishes at record speed.  Be sure to order the Pad Thai Haw Kai Goon Sot it’s the national favorite you know and love but wrapped in egg like a delicious little gift.

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After devouring our Pad Thai, we set off for a different flavor.  Roti Mataba has been serving customers looking for that wonderful blend of Indian, Muslim and Thai flavors that is so popular in this region.  They make sweet or savory roti, a crepe like pancake with a variety of fillings.

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Giving our stomachs a break we drove to a feast for the eyes, Wat Pho or the temple of the reclining Buddha.  I had seen the temple complex during the day but with the stupa and pagodas lit up at night it adds a dramatic effect while gazing into the dark sky.  After our peaceful stroll including some iconic mango and sticky rice snacks, we followed Arty and headed up several flights of stairs for a drink at Sala Arun Hotel’s Eagles Nest overlooking the Chao Phraya River with Wat Arun sitting across the bank.  The brightly illuminated tourists boats slowly cruised along the river as we sipped our drinks and took in the view.

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The calm was quickly exchanged for the chaotic as we made our way to the flower market.  The market is open 24 hours a day but the real action happens late into the night when deliveries come in, hundreds of shop fronts and tables are set up preparing flowers for temple offerings, clipping and creating into the early morning hours when there is the biggest rush for the freshest of arrangements.

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It is an amazing place to see the energy of the city come alive.  Smells of jasmine and roses waft through the sidewalks and it’s a scene that will put all of your senses right where Bangkok wants them.  The constant street interactions, the unique foods and the loud humming of the motorbikes and tuk tuks are everything that makes this city special.

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With our quest for Thai cuisine coming to a close, the little row of three-wheeled taxis sped off in different directions into the evening, sending our group home in the most hospitable way, happy and well fed.

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Find out more about this and other amazing opportunities to get a glimpse of local life with Buffalo Tours.  They kindly took our little group for the evening but like all of my stories, the opinions are all my own.

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