Whether you are a first time or frequent Bangkok visitor, a trip to Yaowarat (Chinatown) should be in order. Better still, come with an empty stomach and reserve at least 3-4 hours to see and eat your way through the lively town.
I also recommend that you visit Chinatown in the day and at night because the mood is totally different. Of the hundreds of things to eat around Chinatown, here are a few to get you started. But before that, do note that this is not meant to be a guide. I believe that you should be exploring Chinatown freely without having to hunt for a particular food stall or restaurant you read on a particular magazine, blog or website.
1. Kuay Jab
For some reason, Chinatown’s Kuay Jab (粿汁) is served with a peppery clear soup instead of braised broth. Regardless, it’s still delicious. Both food stalls and restaurants serve this – the difference is usually in the strength of the pepper.
2. Ba Mee (Thai Style Wantan Mee)
Even as a street food, Bangkok’s wantan mee is more luxurious in the sense you can opt for crab meat or whole crab claw in your noodle. My suggestion is to try the dry version first to appreciate the noodle’s texture. You’d be surprised that the wantan tastes better than what we get in Malaysia.
3. Durian Sticky Rice
Admittingly not as delicious as Malaysian durians, it tastes great together with sticky rice and coconut milk.
4. Khao Kha Moo (Braised Pork Leg Rice)
Khao Kha Moo is probably one of the most delicious thing to eat in Chinatown. In fact, this is a must try. If you are not into fatty meat, other parts are such as pork ribs and rump are sometimes available.
5. Grilled Banana
A healthier choice than the usual deep fried version. The natural caramelization elevates the sweetness and aroma of the banana. Cheap, simple and satisfying.
6. Ruam Mit (Mixed Thai Dessert)
A combination of various Thai desserts in a bowl of coconut milk and shaved ice. Perfect after a meal.
7. Thai-Chinese Desserts
This is totally different from the dessert shown earlier, as this is more of a light and cooling alternative. You might recognize the following as ‘leng chee kang’ and you’re right. But the toppings just taste better and more importantly, fresher. Some other options include black sesame glutinous rice balls in ginger syrup or milk, ginkgo with longan and even bird’s nest too.
8. Fruit Juice
This needs no further introduction. Just remember to pick a vendor who doesn’t add sugar or water to the juice. You can actually request for a bottle of freshly squeezed juice of your choice – if you want.
9. Coffee Shop
There are only a few traditional Chinese coffee shops still standing in Chinatown. But they are not hard to find if you put some effort into it. Eiah Sae is the first and oldest Hainanese coffee shop still serving homemade bread which is turned into toast and topped with Sangkaya (kaya), sugar, condensed milk and fruit jam. Great for a stop to catch a breath over a cuppa, the coffee is strong and silky smooth. Try the iced version too.
10. Fish Ball Noodles
Fish ball noodles are widely available in and around Chinatown. You can have it dry, in soup and with an array of toppings like fish paste, fish balls and crispy fried fish skin. It’s the ultimate comfort food when nothing else will do.
11. Dim Sum
It wouldn’t be called Chinatown without dim sum. It’s sold by restaurants in the day, and by food carts when night comes.
12. Fried Insects
Obviously not for the squeamish, but if you can overcome the fear of eating bugs, they are not that bad actually. Crunchy and kinda nutty in taste – generally.
13. Toasted Bun with Sweet Fillings
I am leaving this last mainly because you’d be spending at least 30 to 45 minutes waiting for this tasty treat to be ready. Basically it’s a toasted bun filled with fillings of your choice. The texture of the bun after being toasted is uniquely crispy and can only be experienced by yourself. It’s easy to spot this stall, just look for the one with the longest queue.
14. SKIP: Sharks Fin
Just don’t eat sharks fin. Stalls like these usually offer other dishes such as fried Hong Kong noodles and stews, go for those instead.
15. SKIP: T&K Seafood
There are countless similar restaurants in Bangkok offering the same menu. So there’s no reason why you should queue for the same type of food here. If you insist on eating here, I’d recommend their grilled giant river prawns.