Bangkok Food Tours — a Foodie Walk Through Old Bangkok
We sighed with relief — and salivated too — when a trio of young Thai foodies set up Bangkok Food Tours and started offering foodie walking tours in Bangkok, one of the world’s great eating capitals. We signed up for their food walk through historic Bangrak or Old Bangkok.
We met our culinary guide Jan, from Bangkok Food Tours, at the BTS/Skytrain stop of Saphan Taksin, near the Chao Phraya River, where we began our scrummy stroll along Bangkok’s oldest street, Charoen Krung Road.
Established in 1861, in the city’s most historic area, Charoen Krung Road is home to some of the city’s oldest and most quintessential eateries.
In between tastings we visited some of the neighbourhood’s most notable monuments, from one of Bangkok’s most beloved temples, Wat Suan Phlu, dating back to 1797, to the imposing Catholic Assumption Cathedral, built in 1821.
The idea behind punctuating the food stops with some sightseeing is so participants can stretch their legs, allow their food to digest, walk off some calories, and work up an appetite, because there is a lot of eating involved.
While our hosts from Bangkok Food Tours insisted we would be served tasting sizes at each stop, a couple of the dishes were close in size to normal meal portions. By the end of the three-hour tour I was struggling to fit the last dish in.
Having said that, I didn’t want to insult anyone and appreciate the challenge of pleasing everyone. And besides: what is large for one eater might be small for another. Dig in!
Bangkok Food Tours — The Culinary Highlights
MR SOONG’S ROAST DUCK AND RICE
Our first tasting — Mr Soong’s khao na phed, Thai-Chinese roast duck and rice — set the tone of the tour. The simple, old-fashioned restaurant is still run by Mr Soong and his son, and it’s all about the food — simple dishes done well. A farmer before opening the eatery 50 years ago, Mr Soong only serves Thai ducks because he swears they have less fat than Chinese poultry.
The duck we tried was absolutely delicious. Lean and meaty, and marinated in garlic, coriander root and red onion, it was tasty, succulent and sweet. Mr Soong’s duck feet, liver and intestines are also popular with locals who pack the place out at lunchtime. We had to save room so we’ll be trying those next time.
MUSLIM RESTAURANT, CURRY WITH EGG AND BEEF SATAY
The Muslim Restaurant, our next stop, is a charmingly retro 70-year old restaurant still operated by the third generation of an Indian Muslim family that moved to Bangkok a century ago. The eatery is distinguished by its hearty, flavoursome, pre-cooked Thai-Indian curries on display under glass at the front of the eatery.
We tried the speciality, a rustic, complex, hearty curry served with a hard boiled egg, along with a dish of smoky beef satay sticks served with homemade peanut sauce. Most Thais, being Buddhists, prefer pork, as well as chicken, but Muslims, prohibited from eating pork by Islam, use beef for their satay. We love them all. The rotis are also meant to be tasty. Next time.
PAN LEE BAKERY, BBQ PORK AND PANDAN CUSTARD BUNS
Renovated in recent years to incorporate a stylish little café, this traditional bakery in an old shophouse has been producing freshly-baked filled buns since 1955. The fourth generation ancestors of the original owner, who trained as a pastry chef at the historic Oriental Hotel nearby, may have been responsible for the bakery’s modernisation but they have retained the traditional recipes that long ago made the Pan Lee Bakery famous among Thais.
We tried their best-selling buns, mu daeng, filled with sweet BBQ pork, and sang kha ya, filled with creamy pandan custard. These are so popular that Bangkok Food Tours have to reserve them the day before as they’re usually sold out by 11am. We washed them down with a refreshing, sweet lemon iced tea.
YEN TA PO WAT KAK, RED NOODLE SOUP
At a crowded, characterful, 50-year old noodle shop near the Hindu Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (known as Wat Kak or Wat Khaek to Thais) we slurped big bowls of yen ta po or yen ta fo, which foreigners frequently call ‘red noodle soup’.
Packed with fresh shrimp and squid, chewy fish balls and fried tofu, crunchy water chestnuts, flat wide rice noodles, and the pieces of congealed chicken blood beloved by Thais, it’s actually red ketchup that gives the soup the pink-red colour. The duck with rice and pork leg served with rice is said to be good here too, but it’s the soup the locals come for after visiting the temple.
KALAPAPRUEK, GREEN CURRY CHICKEN & ROTI
Our last stop is the local institution Kalapapruek, founded 40 years ago and owned by Thai royals. There is a palace-home just beyond the car park.
Here, sitting under a shaded dining section in the garden, we tried the signature dish — a thick, complex kaeng khiew wan khai or Royal green chicken curry, served with flaky fried roti to scoop up and mop up the curry. It was absolutely delicious — thick, fragrant, and full of flavour and complexity, it was one of the best curries we’ve tasted outside of Nahm. As was dessert, a simple, traditional, Thai coconut ice cream.
Our Verdict on Bangkok Food Tours
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and wanted to go back and do it all again. The tour is a must for foodie travellers, for first-timers to Bangkok, as much as expats and frequent Thailand travellers.
We’ve been eating and cooking Thai food for as long as we can remember, travelling to Thailand for years, and have lived in Bangkok over the years for long periods of time, yet the tour still introduced us to a few spots we hadn’t tried before and gave us opportunities to ask questions of Thai-born foodies.
For first-timers, for whom ordering food in places without English menus can be daunting, it will give you some tips and boost your confidence. It’s also a terrific introduction to the depth and range of Thai food — yes, there is more to Thai cuisine than Pad Thai.
Our tip: do the tour on your first day in Bangkok and ask lots of questions, so you’re set for the rest of your trip.
Our Tips for Your Bangkok Food Tours Walk
- These small group tours run daily from 10am-1pm, but numbers are limited (which is a good thing) so book ahead on the Bangkok Food Tours website as soon as you have confirmed your travel dates so you don’t miss out.
- Strongly suggest taking plenty of photos and keeping detailed notes, even if you’re not a writer/blogger — they’ll serve you well for the rest of your trip.
- You’ll probably walk no more than a couple of kilometres over the course of a few hours, but wear a hat and take a bottle of water, as Bangkok is nearly always hot and humid.
- Bangkok Food Tours offer a handful of other foodie walking tours, so you may also wish to consider their Chinatown Foodie Walk and Culture Tour, as eating in Chinatown can also be daunting for first-time visitors. We haven’t done this tour yet, but we’ll be trying it next trip. If you’ve done it (or other tours), let us know what you think in the Comments below.
- Connect with Bangkok Food Tours on Twitter at @thaifoodtours (they’re friendly people and that’s how we discovered them) or visit their site for more information: bangkokfoodtours.com