Bangkok is a fun place to shop. For most visitors that means buying cheap hippy clothes and skimpy stuff for the beach holiday they’re about to have on a Thai island or a resort on the coast. And then buying even more revealing gear once they’re back in Bangkok before they fly home to show off that new tan. As a frequent visitor to MBK (you know, just for the camera shops), these are the things you notice about your fellow farang after a few months. But what’s it like to actually live and shop in the Thai capital? That’s why we have a Bangkok shopping list post!
There are noisy, hot, and sometimes disorienting fresh food markets, where at one point or another you’ll be heard whispering “what the hell is that?!” There are Chinese supermarkets with that distinctive five-spice aroma that I love which carry everything from cloves to cleavers. There are the super-supermarkets, such as Gourmet Market in Siam Paragon, which, while premium-priced, has some fantastic Asian products and ingredients and some brands you won’t find in other shops. There are branches of foreign supermarket brands such as the French hypermarket Carrefour amongst others, and then there are your average plain-jane supermarkets – and no, I don’t mean 7-11s – that still have plenty of items to fascinate foodies. Lara, for instance, has been trying different exotic juices and other strange liquid concoctions every day that we’ve been here and is still not bored with what she’s finding.
However, if I take a walk to our local supermarket here on Sukhumvit Soi 16 around 10.30am I have not gone one block before I start to wonder why I’m even bothering to cook here. The food stalls, most here to serve the office workers of the cloud-busting business skyscrapers on our street, are fantastic – but more on those in another post.
Our local Foodland supermarket is open 24hrs and fittingly has a restaurant in it that’s like a diner, serving Western and Asian food, and it is always – curiously – busy. And while the supermarket caters to a pretty diverse audience of Thais, Asian and Western expats, and the occasional lost group of
sunburnt sunkissed backpackers in the skimpy gear they bought at MBK, it does a pretty good job of covering the basics.
Foodland’s prices are not the cheapest around – for instance, you’ll find fresh produce and spices for less at Khlong Toei market a few blocks away – but for Price Check we like to use prices from a place where you can get all the items listed below in a one-stop-shop. I say this so that I can cut-and-paste it into my response to the obligatory “you guys don’t know where to shop, you’re getting ripped off!” comment.
The local fresh food markets in Bangkok, such as Khlong Toei, offer great value for fruit and vegetables and I always feel guilty when I have to buy these items from the supermarket. For instance, you’ll get a decent bunch of Thai basil for eight baht at the supermarket which is US¢25 and seemingly a bargain, but you’ll get at least three times as much for the same price in a fresh food market. And I’m sure someone will know a place that has even better value than that again. And that’s one of the reasons we love this city so much.
To see how prices in Bangkok at the moment measure up to other places we settled into on our round-the-world trip, click here for a summary, or click here to scroll through our Price Check archive. You will probably be as surprised as we were to find that the same shopping cart of groceries cost us slightly less in cities such as Venice and Paris.
The kinds of products that skew the list are wine, which is highly taxed in Thailand and costs three and four times the price of a similar bottle in Italy or France; foreign tea and coffee brands, such as Nescafe, Twinings and Lipton; and dairy products like cheese (even though it’s local), all of which makes a good case for buying local and sticking to regional cuisine when you cook.
And that’s not hard to do here. If only we could go without buying our beloved wine and learn to love the inexpensive local Sang Som Thai whiskey (that’s actually rum), Bangkok would be as inexpensive for us as everyone says it is…
A Bangkok Shopping List
|1.5 litre water||THB 11||£0.22||US$0.36|
|1 litre milk||THB 47||£0.96||US$1.55|
|Bottle of local wine||THB 540||£11.03||US$17.85|
|350ml Chang beer||THB 25||£0.51||US$0.83|
|100g Nescafe||THB 250||£5.11||US$8.26|
|250g Boncafe coffee beans||THB 135||£2.76||US$4.46|
|Lipton’s tea 50 bags||THB 124||£2.53||US$4.10|
|1 kg sugar||THB 22||£0.45||US$0.73|
|Jar of pure honey||THB 112||£2.29||US$3.70|
|1 loaf of bread||THB 37||£0.76||US$1.22|
|250g quality butter||THB 69||£1.41||US$2.28|
|200g cheese||THB 144||£2.94||US$4.76|
|500ml rice bran oil||THB 60||£1.23||US$1.98|
|1 dozen organic eggs||THB 84||£1.72||US$2.78|
|1 kilo tomatoes||THB 89||£1.82||US$2.94|
|1 kilo onions||THB 39||£0.80||US$1.29|
|1 kilo apples (imported)||THB 100||£2.04||US$3.30|
|250g pistachios||THB 120||£2.45||US$3.97|
|500 gm Megachef Fish Sauce||THB 24.50||£0.50||US$0.81|
Price Check is a series of posts from every destination we visit where we settle in for a while, that could serve as a shopping list for you to stock the kitchen at the start of your stay, as well as a cost of living index, giving you an idea as to what things cost in that place. We include some basic items to get you started, plus a local specialty or two from the place.