Our first impression of Bangkok was one of chaos, as we tried to battle our way through the throngs of people everywhere, the gridlocked traffic, and the street stalls that crowd the sidewalks. Then, after a day or two, we began to feel the rhythms of the city. Behind the tumult of the streets there are oases of calm - gardens and temples of stunning beauty. The people are always quick with a smile and gracious with their warm hospitality. The stalls that make walking through the streets such an obstacle course are the real treasures of the city, for Bangkok is, above all, a never-ending feast!
Bangkok is probably one of the best and safest places to eat street food. Not only is it fresh, delicious and reasonably hygienic (well, we never once fell sick!), it is also cheap, plentiful and very popular with locals and visitors alike. Judging by the sheer number of vendors who have set up impromptu food stalls on every street and their immense popularity, no one in Bangkok seems to cook at home! There is something very satisfying about watching your meal cooked right in front of you while inhaling all those heavenly aromas. Just like being in a cooking class!
While Pad Thai noodles, grilled chicken satays and fresh seafood were some of our choice things to eat from street food vendors; whole grilled fish, coated in a thick 'plaster' of salt and flour was easily our most favourite. The plaster hardens as it dries and keeps the fish incredibly flavourful and moist inside. Before being coated with the flour and salt paste, the fish is first stuffed with lemongrass and herbs to add more flavour. Served with a garlicky dipping sauce, liberally spiked with fiery Thai chillies, it was an amazing new dish that we encountered.
Literally every street in Bangkok has some amazing food and it is very tempting to just follow your nose to the nearest food vendor, grab a stool and eat what's offered. Sukhumvit Soi 38, was one of the first places we ventured out to try street food. One of Bangkok's most popular street food havens, it is lined with lots of food stalls, plastic tables and chairs and exciting Thai food of every description. We grabbed ourselves a couple of plastic chairs and soon an adorable little urchin was at our elbow, offering us a bunch of menus from nearby vendors.
This little guy cheerfully helped us choose the foods that we would like, brought our meal to the table and was thrilled to pose for a photograph! The food was cheap, tasty and fresh - an unbeatable combination! We washed it all down with chilled green coconut water and felt well fortified to explore some of Bangkok's famous nightlife.
One of the joys of being in Bangkok was that I could have my favourite Pad Thai noodles for practically every meal! We had it in fancy restaurants where it came wrapped in a gossamer thin, lacy omelette and we had it by the side of a street, sitting on a plastic chair while watching the food vendor deftly toss the ingredients together in a huge wok. No matter where we ate it, or how often, it was always fantastic!
My recipe here is vegetarian but you can easily add sautéed shrimp or chicken if you wish. This is probably very unorthodox of me, but I like to add in some rich coconut cream (skimmed off the top of a can of coconut milk) for the extra creaminess and flavour it adds to the dish.
Pad Thai Noodles
225g (1/2 lb) dried rice stick Pad Thai noodles
2 tbsp each: tamarind chutney or sauce (store bought), tomato ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream
1 tbsp each: Thai red curry paste or Thai chili sauce, dark soy sauce
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
2 green onions, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
4 lime wedges for garnish
Soak noodles in enough hot water to cover for 20 minutes or until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them. Drain and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream, curry paste or chilli sauce and soy sauce. Set aside.
Beat eggs in a small bowl. Warm 1 tbsp oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Pour eggs in, make omelet. Shred omelet roughly with spatula. Set aside.
Warm remaining oil in large non-stick wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned. Add the bean sprouts, noodles, egg, tamarind soy mixture and peanuts. Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with chopped coriander, green onions and extra peanuts and lime wedges if desired.