It was a frightening 27 years ago that Ian and I last visited Bangkok. But when our great friend, Mary, said she’d be in the city for a conference and wondered whether we’d like to join her there the previous weekend we booked our flights in a heartbeat.
We knew Mary had lived over there about 30 years ago and that she spoke Thai. It is always best to visit a place with someone who knows the ropes so our expectations were high. Then, a couple of days before the trip, Mary sent me an email that simply said:”We are going to eat our faces off!”
It was at that moment that our expectations soared. What could be more perfect than food and friends in a foreign city?
Friday rooftop dinner
Mary had clinched us a great deal at the funky new Pullman G Hotel on Silom Road and on arrival we soon discovered that it is the home, not only of very attractive porters dressed in white tee-shirts and black jeans, but also of one of the city’s most buzzing rooftop bars, Scarlett. We’d arrived late and were immediately tempted by a poster near the lift that declared Scarlett had just flown in a ton of French cheese. It felt traitorous, but Mary wasn’t arriving til the next morning and we fancied sitting on a terrace overlooking Bangkok. We also had a bit of a Wallace and Gromit moment and definitely fancied some cheese.
Despite it being frighteningly expensive for three little triangles of stinky (ie yummy) cheese and some fabulous crusty bread (most bread round here gets a soggy crust in a few hours because of the humidity) we were pleased with our choice. And the wine. And the real French waiter. The music and atmosphere were fabulous.
Saturday lunch, dinner and a missed opportunity
With a morning to ourselves before Mary landed Ian and I decided to take a boat trip on the river and include a detour to a floating market. The sky was grey and the river view was, frankly, drab; even Wat Arun was shrouded in scaffolding. But things improved once we took a side canal to the market. At first we thought the market seemed a bit of a tourist trap, a con. I mean, surely a floating market should be, say, on the water in boats? They have built a concrete pontoon where hundreds of people sat cross legged under long low tables to feast on pad thai, tom yum, green papaya salad, seafood, noodles, satay, soups. The ‘hawkers’ here balanced in long boats and served the food up to the diners. I guess I can let them get away with calling it a floating market, but still, it is a bit of a cheat. Like the pretty bowls of ‘chillis’ on sale that turned out to be sweets (I think).
The prices were stunningly affordable and it smelled fabulous, but it was 11 in the morning and we simply were not hungry after our breakfast. No way could we eat a thing, so we feasted our eyes instead. It was hard to remain cynical when the food looked and smelled so incredible. We even spied a budding chef at work.
But once Mary arrived, despite her nightflight from Europe, she was hungry and raring to go. Being in the know, as she was, our first port of call was a food court (!) in a department store (!). Although Mary spoke to the taxi driver in Thai and we had no clue where we were going, or even where we were once we got there, we are pretty sure it was the Food Loft at Central Chidlom. Smart, clean, quiet and with waiter service, this was no ordinary food court. They serve food from a variety of Asian countries and so the tone was set for our weekend when we just threw up our hands in helplessness and asked Mary to order for us. One thing that had her jumping for joy was the fact that ‘mango with sticky rice’ was in season. She ordered us two portions of that, some pad thai, a vietnamese roll served in a large and unidentifiable (but delicious) leaf and a fragrant, fried rice and perfectly heated green papaya salad. When you eat this much it all becomes something of a blur. Might I just say, though, that mango sticky rice is DIVINE. They cook glutinous rice in coconut milk, salt and sugar and serve an entire fresh mango alongside before pouring a sweet coconut cream over the top.
Clutching our bellies, Mary reckoned that a coffee was in order and marched us off to another foodcourt (I have no recollection of where it was) for more calories. This time she and Ian went for iced coffees with whipped cream. They seemed to think it was funny, meanwhile, I felt too full to even look at them and plumped for a green tea.
After a quick nap and a free drink and nibbles on the executive floor we were off again, this time to a local restaurant. Despite it being 9pm we honestly did not think we could eat a thing, but Mary was adamant.
“You don’t need to be hungry to eat Thai food!”
Five dishes later, it seems she was right. I wish Mary had told us that sooner, then we would not have missed out on the floating market.
The next day and we headed to Jatajuk (Chatuchak) open market, a vast sprawling, hot, steamy, maze of a shopper’s paradise. A word of advice, if you are thinking of going there – pick up a map!
Selling everything from clothes and souvenirs to original art, ceramics and puppies, we had a lovely browse, and a bit of a shop (of course) but this was thirsty work. We headed to the artists’ area and found a quirky cafe that specialised in juices made from frozen fruit. We were hot. It was perfect. Able to create our own mocktails, I was impressed by Mary’s order of mango, ginger, lychee and mint and immediately made a note so I could recreate it later. I went for watermelon and mint, while Ian, who knows what he likes, wanted iced coffee. When they arrived, we were gobsmacked by the size of the glasses. In fact, were they glasses at all? I could have sworn that my receptacle had enjoyed a former life as a home for goldfish. Not only did it hold, I speak no word of a lie, over a pint and half of refreshment, in doing so the glass was only half full. The more I drank, the more bottomless the glass. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alice in Wonderland was behind the place. We all shared straws and tried everyone else’s, like you do, and they were all, indeed, delicious. So much so that I bought fresh mangoes, mint and watermelon yesterday and will freeze it later today in readiness for my own smoothies.
Well, those monsters filled us up, so lunch wasn’t til three, when we headed for an eaterie with air-conditioning. Here, I have to say the serving dishes won hands down over the food, which was gloopy and not a patch on the Food Loft. I can’t remember its name but it did have two short words each beginning with T and had record sleeves plastering the walls. Still, the food styling was definitely worth sharing, see below:
I could go on and regale you with stories and pictures of that evening’s dinner (more mango sticky rice and tom ka) and breakfast and lunch the next day, but I am not going to. Let me just leave you with the thought that yes, we did ‘eat our faces off’ and no, it did not cost us a fortune. Bangkok, we promise not to leave it 27 years next time.