On arrival to Bangkok, the first thing one notices about the Thai capital is that it teems with contradiction. Ramshackle riverside housing sits next to gleaming modern high-rises; robed monks on foot share the road with zigzagging motorbikes and busloads of tourists; seedy side streets give way to sacred sites; and the best shopping is found in both air-conditioned mega-malls and open-air, funky-smelling markets. These incongruities extend to the city’s dining offerings, which range from hole-in-the-wall food stalls to white-tablecloth restaurants adorned with Michelin stars. On a recent trip to Bangkok, I savored a taste of the delicious, yet wildly different, culinary treats the city has to offer.
The Never Ending Summer Fresh off the 24-hour plane journey from New York City, I made my way to the Jam Factory, a compound comprised of art galleries and a hybrid coffee shop–bookstore (among other venues) on the Thonburi side of the river. Stylish locals sat beside in-the-know visitors, while a refreshing breeze swept through The Never Ending Summer, an industrial loft converted to a restaurant by Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag. The dishes were surprisingly sophisticated and authentic, and my favorite was the soft-shell crab, cooked in an indulgent egg curry. With its antiquated dishes and trendy setting, The Never Ending Summer was an ideal spot to welcome myself to this city of opposites.
Pad Thai Loong Pha Though I had originally set out to eat at street-food institution Jae Fai, I was lured instead to its neighbor two doors down, Pad Thai Loong Pha, my curiosity piqued by the massive queue of people lining up down the block. As it turns out, the tiny and virtually unmarked shop makes just one thing, pad thai, and has been doing so for nearly half a century. The dish was quite simply perfection (and nothing like the takeout one gets in the States). At this family-run spot, the al dente noodles are flavored with a bright stock of shrimp heads and cooked over charcoal (rather than a gas fire), and finally wrapped in a diaphanous omelet. I devoured my plate, which was served with pickled bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, green onion, chilies and lime, on a rickety stool on the sidewalk as tuk tuks zoomed past. It was easily one of my most memorable meals in the country. (315/1 Maha Chai Road)
Bo.Lan For something decidedly different, on my last night in Bangkok, I swapped my shorts for a summer dress and made my way to Bo.Lan in lively Sukhumvit. This foodie hot spot is helmed by married chef duo Dylan Jones and Duangporn Songvisava, who are Australian and Thai, respectively. The two met and honed their culinary chops in David Thompson’s London Thai restaurant Nahm. At their wood-paneled eatery in Bangkok, which is decorated with traditional rustic Thai baskets and Hans Wegner chairs, they turn out a mix of indigenous dishes with Western sensibilities. For example, they make an effort to use sustainable and organic ingredients, and have a vegetable garden in the back. The set menu, which is available a la carte only for lunch, changes regularly, but I particularly loved the stir-fried squid stuffed with minced chicken and prawn. Don't let the Danish furniture and organic aspirations fool you, though; in authentically Thai style, many of the dishes are prohibitively spicy. (www.bolan.co.th)
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