Asia Trip: Foods of Bangkok

One of my favorite things about travel is all of the new foods that it exposes me to.

This post is dedicated to the most memorable meals I had during my 3 days in Bangkok.  

As a vegetarian in Southeast Asia, I found that if we went out of our way to seek vegetarian food we could find some truly magnificent food.  However, when we were just going about our day sightseeing, it was very hard to find vegetarian options.

Far too many of my meals consisted of fried eggs and white rice.  And even at upscale restaurants with English menus and English speaking servers, I was still served a ‘vegetarian’ minestrone with hidden bits of bacon in it, and curries with a hint of fish sauce (the ‘salt’ of Southeast Asia, a challenge I face even at Thai restaurants back home). 

 

 

So it was SUCH a treat to go to not one, but TWO vegetarian restaurants during our short visit.

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First up: May Kaidee’s, open since 1988, a vegetarian restaurant so successful that it has 4 locations, a cooking school, and a cookbook.  Unfortunately we didn’t have time to take a cooking class there, but our meal at the restaurant made me wish we did.

We went to their original location, hidden in an alley off of Khao San Road, known as Bangkok’s “Backpacker’s Ghetto“, an area full of inexpensive accomodations, bars, travel agents, and souvenir shops.

 

For such a successful business, I was surprised by how small and unassuming May Kaidee’s restaurant was.  The picture below actually shows pretty much the entire restaurant & kitchen.  I found it to be quite charming and loved sitting there in the warm outdoor air.

  

The food was so fresh and perfectly prepared.  Mike enjoyed his Glass Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and I loved every last drop of my Chinese-spiced soup, with the perfect hint of cinnamon.

 

However, the standouts of the meal were the fresh papaya salad and the black sticky rice with bananas and mangoes.  Yes, against many recommendations, we ate fresh fruit on our trip.  We operated from the mindset that if a place looked clean and primarily served tourists, then the risk was minimal.

 

For our next vegetarian meal, we asked our hotel concierge for a recommendation and she made us a reservation for a memorable meal at Na Aroon, a very reasonably priced upscale restaurant.  Somewhat off the beaten path, this restaurant was hidden inside of a Condominium complex in Bangkok’s business district.

Even more so than the food, the restaurant stands out for its magical setting, outdoors in a candle-lit courtyard around a pool.

 

The warm breeze and pool-side table felt even more tropical and decadent with the addition of fresh coconut water and an Apple-Celery Smoothie.  The smoothie was incredibly rich and creamy and reminded me of a Waldorf Salad.

 

For my entree, I ordered the “Vegetarian Duck with Red Curry and Mixed Fruits”.  While the “duck” wasn’t my favorite, I loved the unique blend of fruits in my dish including grapes, pineapple, and apples.  This dish also contained an ingredient I’ve never had before – Baby Eggplant.  These were the tiniest eggplants I’ve ever seen before, and so incredibly bitter!  It made for an interesting contrast with the sweetness of the fruit.  And I can’t say enough what a treat it was to have brown rice, which seems to be such a rarity in Southeast Asia.

 

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Our most expensive meal in Bangkok, however, was the fantastic brunch buffet at our hotel, the Sukhothai.  The Sukhothai’s Sunday Brunch is so legendary that it’s recommended to make reservations months in advance.  We didn’t plan that far ahead, and instead got their weekday morning buffet, which was more than enough to impress me.

 

We felt like royalty in such a posh setting with so much variety so beautifully displayed: Brightly colored tropical fruits, perfect pastries and breads with countless spreads to choose from including rhubarb jam and chocolate banana, a parade of homemade mueslis & yogurts, and a selection of fine cheeses and pairings.  All this in addition to a station for custom-made omelets & waffles.

 

Included in the price of the buffet, we could also order anything off their menu.  I was very curious about the Chinese Congee with a Thousand Year Old Egg, as I’d never tried either before.

  

The Congee itself, rice porridge, reminded me of Cream of Rice which I’d had before and like – simple, comforting, creamy.  Unfortunately, once we mixed in all of the toppings it came with, I found it hard to stomach.

I think the mistake we made was that when we tasted the Thousand Year Old Egg, we only tasted the ‘white’, which despite being preserved (for probably far closer to 1,000 hours than 1,000 years) in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, and lime, tasted remarkably like any hard-boiled egg white.  According to wikipedia, it’s the yolk that carries all the flavor, which made our Congee taste (in my opinion) like an unappetizing bowl of sea water.

 

  

 

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Congee aside, we loved the breakfast at the Sukhothai hotel, but decided to get a less expensive breakfast on our last day in Bangkok.  We set out from our hotel with the plan to walk around and find a place to grab breakfast.  Instead, we found half a dozen places to eat!

As our hotel was in the business district, we had the fun of experiencing the daily commute of the workers downtown.  Hundreds of vendors set up carts in the area, catering to the crowds on their way to work.

 

We had a multi-course meal starting with a Thai Iced Coffee and Roasted Bananas with Caramel Sauce.

 

Our breakfast also included sweet & savory crepes, which each contained a fried egg, and a juice of apple, beets, celery, and ginger.  In hindsight, it really wasn’t a good idea to get fruit & veggie juice from a street cart in Southeast Asia, but thankfully, that bad decision didn’t cause me any tummy trouble. 

 

After breakfast we got massages at a place recommended by our hotel, and then walked around the area some more.  Pat Pong, Bangkok’s most infamous “redlight” district, is right near the business district, targeting expatriates and foreigners travelling on business.  After getting a glimpse of Pat Pong’s nightlife in the movie Hangover 2, I was surprised at how small and quiet the area seemed in the morning hours.

 

After our walk, it was nearing lunch-time, and as we walked back through the business district to our hotel, we passed this bustling market overflowing with business people lunching with friends.  Sadly, since I couldn’t read Thai, I wasn’t able to find any vegetarian options, but the people watching was fantastic.

It was then time to head back to our hotel, pack up our room, and head to the airport to catch our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia!

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Stay Tuned: All the details of our trip to Cambodia will be coming up, though I’ll be mixing in some posts about life & eats back home in the US.

I’d love to hear from you!

Where did you have the most challenging time finding food to eat? Do you have any tips?