72 foodie hours in Bangkok

People have told me that you either love Bangkok or you hate it. I’m the first camp, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for being in the second. It’s bonkers. During our first hour in Bangkok, Murtie and I unwittingly strolled hand-in-hand down the neon lit street of Soi Cowboy, which I’d seen in a ‘things to do in Bangkok’ guide, and somehow missed the minor detail that it is in fact the red light district. On the plus side, it triggered a topical and excellent discussion on the regulation of sex work as we passed a bar called ‘Spice Girls’, which definitely did not have the vibe of a 90s girl power band.

With rumbling stomachs, we left the bright lights and scantily clad people behind and found a small Japanese restaurant for dinner: Tori Soba Nanase. We both had the special soba, a chicken broth with chicken balls, sliced chicken and egg. Yes, after 12 hours flying to Thailand, our first dinner was … Japanese. Sacrilegious perhaps, but completely delicious and for about £3 it was worth it just to eat food that didn’t jiggle off the tray from turbulence.

24 hours in

The next morning we spent 15 minutes at Sukhumvit MRT station trying to get our heads round the ticket system, finally opting for prepaid travel cards, which we later realised didn’t actually save us any money than if we’d just got single tickets. We took the blue line to Chatuchak Park for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and followed the meandering crowd to an entrance packed tightly with stall holders selling fruits, cold drinks, and things with elephants on. Once inside it dawned on us how massive the market was – we were in zone 27, of 27. We walked 9.5km in 3 hours through the bustling melee of sellers and selfie-taking tourists, stopping regularly to try the tempting street food on offer:

Spring rolls

Coconut ice cream

Chilli squid

Mango sticky rice

Toasted brioche with sweetened milk

At dusk we slumped at a table with our bags of wares (tshirts, baskets and Thai spice mixes) and had a fresh coconut shake and a Singha beer for about £1.50.

We freshened up at our hotel and navigated our way through the backstreets to find our dinner venue: Cabbages and Condoms. When we had asked our friends for their food recommendations in Bangkok, Cabbages and Condoms came up numerous times. It’s the most bizarre restaurant I’ve ever eaten in –

Questionable, but inclusive, tips on safe sex

Condom lights

Food guaranteed not to cause pregnancy…

Murtie and I shared a Massaman curry, vegetable fried rice and Thai fish cakes.

The food was delicious although it was one of the more expensive places we ate at whilst in Thailand (£23.66).  The bill came with a plate of condoms as our after dinner ‘mints’. As we left I read a bit more about the restaurant: it exists to promote family planning and raise funds for the area’s Population and Community Development Association. It’s definitely an innovative way of getting people’s attention and money.

48 hours in

After a morning sightseeing at Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)  we came back across the river to the Tha Tien Ferry entrance where the street was jam-packed with food stalls. Murtie had a stick of shrimp for 40 baht (£1) and I had spring rolls and sweet potato balls for 60 baht (£1.50). Both were served to us in plastic bags, which was handy but guilt-inducing and we’re now trying hard at home to minimise our plastic waste to make up for it.

Grilled shrimp

Sweet potato balls

We walked to the Grand Palace and Murtie had to buy some fetching elephant trousers because his shorts weren’t long enough. It was heaving with tourists and my neck was sunburnt, so we took our photos and hopped in a tuk tuk to Maha Chai Road. We slumped in a bar that I can’t remember the name of and had coconut shakes and beer waiting for our next eatery, Thipsamaito open.

‘Is this Thailand’s best pad Thai?’ asked the BBC earlier this year – we had to check it out. We arrived at 5pm on the dot and joined the queue of people already winding down the street. As we approached the front of the queue we could see their famous pad Thai wrapped in egg being made freshly outside –  it took 10 seconds in the best non-stick wok I have ever seen. The kitchen was run like a military operation with food cooked and immaculately presented on plates in seconds, whilst servicing an unrelenting queue for takeaways.

Our server had pre-empted our order and our prawn pad Thais wrapped in egg appeared within seconds of handing over our marked menu. We drank the restaurant’s renowned freshly squeezed orange juice, which had so much pulp it was a challenge to suck it up the straw. On the wall behind us were framed newspaper cuttings stating that this was indeed the best pad Thai in Bangkok. I ate quite a few pad Thais during my two weeks in Thailand and it was definitely up there. I appreciated the pot of ground peanut on our table and liberally sprinkled it all over my pad Thai at least three times.

‘The best pad Thai in Bangkok’

Fresh orange juice

All the ground peanut

72 hours in

We ventured to the Khao San Road on our third day in Bangkok, but we quickly decided it wasn’t our cup of tea. We ventured onto the backstreets instead and chose Krua Apsorn for lunch. We ordered the crab omelette to share, a dish the restaurant is renowned for, which was tasty and incredibly filling. I had a Thai green fishball curry and it was so spicy I had to hide my teary eyes from the locals.

Crab omelette

Thai green curry with fishballs and steamed rice

We walked off our food for an hour in no particular direction and eventually I spied a cake shop. Choux Time had tables of treats inside and outside the shop, and Murtie picked something to try whilst I went round taking photos. We had the sweets with yellow and pink in the middle. Still no idea what they were but the sugar fuelled the rest of our afternoon.

Cakes at Choux Time

Selection of sweet goodies at Choux Time

These are the sweets we tried

After struggling to flag down a taxi, we took a tuk tuk to Petchaburi Road and spent the late afternoon exploring Pratanum Market. The women’s fashion was awesome and I haggled away a couple of hundred baht at a stall with some really quirky tops. The market was packed with locals and there didn’t seem to be any other tourists in sight. I loved this area as it felt like authentic, bonkers Bangkok – the overhead wiring being a visual representation of this.

I had my first Thai massage at the Watergate Spa on Petchaburi Road. Despite opting for a head and shoulder massage (heat rash on my ankles was too bad for a full Thai massage) the masseuse put me in positions I didn’t know were possible. My spine cracked with every movement,  but it did the job. I felt like I’d been needing that massage for about 5 years.

Bangkok was face-paced, full-on, and I absolutely loved it. I’m used to London, which is organised ‘don’t you know there’s a queue?’ chaos. Bangkok is disorganised chaos. Crossing the road is a heart-thumping but life-affirming experience.

From a food perspective, Bangkok is brilliant. Whether in a restaurant or served from a cart, my defining memories will be fresh ingredients, big portions, punchy flavours, chilli to make me cry – all served with a warm and welcoming Thai smile.

Half Cup, King’s Cross, London

‘Magenta hummus, hello’

I had earmarked Half Cup for brunch about 3 months ago after seeing an abundance of beautiful photographs on Instagram. I was due at London Paddington later that afternoon to catch a 3 hour train to Plymouth for a weekend of 30th birthdays with my school friends and decided that a delicious plate of food was needed to sustain me on the journey. Half Cup was bustling at 1pm when I arrived. I was welcomed with a smile and given a spot in the window to read my Harry Potter book, watching the world go by.

The menu was comprehensively tempting and I text a Whatsapp group of girls to ask what I should have. Numerous grumpy replies followed about being hungry and not there, but suggesting I go for the smashed avocado, grilled mushrooms, beetroot hummus, grilled vine tomatoes on charcoal sourdough, which I did. And added a poached egg because it’s illegal to have smashed avocado without poached egg didn’t you know?

I wondered how big it would be and if I’d be a greedy guts to get the Oreo cookie French toast as dessert. I looked around me and saw that the portions were sizable and, given that I was about to spend the weekend with a group of women turning 30, I reined myself in and stuck with one dish.

I waited about ten minutes for my food to arrive, during which I snapped a few photos of the colourful, floral décor and talked myself out of buying another branded tote bag that I really didn’t need.

My mouth watered as the plate was put in front of me. A magenta smear of beetroot hummus had two giant Portobello mushrooms stacked on top of black sourdough, with my poached egg on the side and a tower of rocket on top. I’ve never seen food so colourful so I took a series of photos, pushed aside my phone and demolished it.

The vine tomatoes could have done with a bit more grilling for my own personal taste (I prefer to grill the hell out of my tomatoes) but the hummus was divine and the poached egg poached perfectly. The charcoal sourdough was the tastiest black food I’ve ever eaten.

I need to go to Half Cup again and have the Oreo French toast. And the Banana Bread. The whole menu just sounds so good. Just take my money now.

Casa Cannoli, King’s Cross Real Food Market, London

‘Take photos, we love photos’.

I thought I was being subtle trying to take photos of the rows of sugar dusted cannoli when the trader at Casa Cannoli encouraged me to keep taking more, and to share them on Instagram. I always feel awkward taking photos at markets because, to be honest, I just feel like a lemon. I’ve been following Casa Cannoli on Instagram for a while and vowed to get one during my lunch break, and a Thursday hammering down with rain seemed like the ideal time to go. An old American colleague of mine introduced me to cannoli a few years ago. She was flabbergasted that in my 20 something years on this earth I’d never eaten one, and once I’d had one, I was too. The joy of cannoli is the second bite. The first one being insanely delicious, and the second one being a mixture of panic and hilarity at how it’s disintegrated and you have to shove it all in one go rather than attempting a third bite.

Thankfully the rain had stopped when I got to the real food market outside King’s Cross station as I spent a good few minutes deciding which flavour cannoli to go for. Classico, coconut, pistachio, chocolate chip, if I hadn’t have just eaten a giant lunch from Hanoi Kitchen and eaten 3 biscuits at my desk already that day I’d have gone for the 3 for £5 box. I did however choose salted caramel which was handed to me in a Casa Cannoli branded napkin, which I immediately photographed and had to start eating because the ricotta started to spill out and I didn’t want to lose any.

As described above the cannoli crumbled after my second bite and I scoffed the rest of it in one very happy mouthful. After sorting out the ricotta on my fingers with my tongue and a napkin I resumed photographing the rest of the colourful cannoli on display. The awful weather didn’t seem to have put people off their cannoli because lot of the trays had been decimated.

I can highly recommend cannoli as an naughty but compact lunchtime treat to get you through the rest of your working afternoon. I’ll definitely be coming back – I’ve already decided on trying the pistachio cannoli next time – and I’m planning to take a box home for Christmas. Considering all this came about from following Casa Cannoli on Instagram I hope they give their social media person a well earned high five. And a cannoli.

Hanoi Kitchen, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘My poor chopstick tekkers is making my hand hurt’

I sat in King’s Cross station stretching my fingers because they were aching from my attempt to use chopsticks. In my head I’m a pro, but sometimes the chopsticks just literally fall out my hands. Hanoi Kitchen did provide sporks as well as chopsticks but I was determined to eat my chicken noodle pot with authenticity.

It was hammering with rain when I left my office, but I’d Googled who would be at KERB that afternoon and I desperately wanted noodles from Hanoi Kitchen. I zipped up my coat, donned my hood and put up my red umbrella to walk over to Granary Square. The pavements were soaked but instead of being grumpy about it splashing up my legs I just chose to ignore it. The food market at KERB was a bit of a sorry sight. Most of the stalls had no customers and the traders stood with crossed arms behind their steaming stalls, evidently chilly and soggy. The guys at Hanoi Kitchen were in good spirits though and when I asked them if the rain was ruining their day they said no because their trailer was dry and warm. I tried to take some photos but the rain proved a challenge so these are the best I could do:

I ordered the garlic chicken Bún noodle pot, which was served to me after a few minutes. One of the guys offered to put a foil lid on my pot so it wouldn’t get rained on, which was nice of them. I asked if I could take some photos before the lid went on and they obliged, agreeing that if it wasn’t on Instagram then it didn’t really happen.

I grabbed some chopsticks and made for King’s Cross station, trying very hard not to drop my pot of food or my umbrella, but by this point the rain was easing off and the sun started to come out. I made my way to the mezzanine opposite the departure boards and a well-dressed Italian gentleman let me take the spare seat his table. He later asked me if I wanted his napkin because the broth from the noodles was dribbling down my chin. Not my finest moment.

I was so excited to eat having spent 10 minutes visualising dropping my lunch as I walked back from the market. I pulled the foil off and a steamy aroma of coriander and chilli hit my nostrils. I winged-it with my chopsticks and took sips of broth when I thought fewest people were looking. My favourite thing about this sort of food is crunchy peanuts and to my delight it was garnished with lots. Even as I was finished there were peanuts swimming in broth at the bottom of the pot. The whole thing was delicious, warmed me up, and distracted my brain from my soggy feet.

I’ve never been to Vietnam so I can’t comment on authenticity, but I loved it and I don’t really care about authenticity if it tastes good.

BBQ Dreamz, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘I’m so cold, but this is so good’

When I left my office to go to KERB, the food market in Granary Square, the sun was high in the sky and its warmth took the edge off the cold wind. Minutes after sitting down with my chicken satay curry from BBQ Dreamz the dark clouds rolled in and I regretted leaving my umbrella in the office. I moved from the square to the giant concrete steps by the canal to escape the wind and thought about the last time I’d sat there in July eating sweet and salty popcorn and watching the Lion King with my friend Laura in 30 degree heat. I was grateful my curry was warm and delicious, so I persevered eating my lunch al fresco.

I’d spent a good twenty minutes online looking at the different vendors who would be at KERB that day, trying to decide what I was going to eat. Granary Square was getting busy as I arrived and I decided to do a walk round of the other stalls to make up my mind. I chose BBQ Dreamz partly because the queue wasn’t so massive that I’d have to wait around for ages, but because I’d spying other people’s food and their curry looked big and colourful. I stepped up to place my order, a large chicken satay curry for £9, gave my name which was scribbled on the box and paid by contactless. After a few minutes my name was called and I stepped up to the trailer. It made me smile that the ledge to step up on was a Reebok fitness step, but instead of exercise the reward for stepping up was a steaming box of curry.

As I stepped up I could look into the wooden bowls that were on the counter top and they were filled with fresh ingredients to top the curries – peas, slaw, coriander, spring onions, pineapple, lime wedges, crushed peanuts and chilli flakes. I asked for everything, although to go easy on the chilli because I am a wimp.

The final result was a box of curry with every colour of the rainbow in it. I took a photo but the wind was getting stronger and I was getting hungrier, so I headed for the canal to sit down. The curry was delicious despite having to fish my own hair out my mouth thanks to the wind. I’m not a massive fruit fan, so I admit that I ate one cube of pineapple and left the rest. Fruit with savoury just doesn’t work for me (pineapple on pizza is a no no), but if it is your thing then I’m sure you’d love it. The chicken was full of satay flavour, the rice was cooked perfectly and the array of toppings provided crunch, freshness and punches of flavour whether lime, chilli or peanut.

I will definitely be donning my thermals and coming back to KERB (once I get paid) over the coming months. The vendors change from week to week and I look forward to trying out the other feasts on offer. If you have any recommendations then leave me a comment.

KOOX, Store Street, London

‘This is a fancy pants wrap’

The parade of shops on Store Street have a very satisfying smart and quirky aesthetic with matching dark green signage and pristine window displays. KOOX fits the aesthetic perfectly and every single thing from food to décor is intensely Instagrammable. You can tell even the smallest details have been thought about, from the scrupulous placement of indoor plants, the soft shade of light from the lanterns, even the fire extinguishers were a bright silver colour. They display their Instagram handle on the wall as you walk in and they’d probably be sad if you didn’t take out your phone and photograph everything.

Despite being outwardly ‘fancy pants’ as I described it to my husband, KOOX actually had a very welcoming feel. Perhaps it was because I went in at 5.30pm and the only other people in there were office workers sipping tea and demolishing a smart looking tart. I’d heard on the grapevine that KOOX’s egg and spinach miwam (such an unnatural word to type) was something not to be missed.  I ordered one, and a chicken and mushroom Hot Kone. It was expensive, £10.90 (I’d have got 15% off if I was a student) but I’m used to London food prices by now. I was paying for the words ‘Michelin starred chefs’ painted on the wall. My miwam arrived after a few minutes…

… on a slate. And then one minute later, my Hot Kone, in its own stand.

I told you it was fancy pants. I did feel a bit silly eating a waffle off a slate and a wrap off a plastic stand, but I put aside people’s stares and enjoyed the food. The miwam was moreish and I loved the texture of the waffle. Having stared at the wrap for a minute thinking ‘how do I eat this’ I went in with my fork, taking bites of the wrap in between forkfuls of chicken, spinach and mushroom. It was going swimmingly until I got to the last couple of mouthfuls of the wrap when creamy sauce squirted out the bottom of the wrap and went all over the table. There was no styling it out so I mopped up the mess with my napkin and was glad I didn’t have more of an audience otherwise I would probably be on Instagram right now.

I helped myself to a glass of minty water from a communal jug that was next to the trendy fire extinguishers and a jar of paper straws. It’s a simple thing to offer water to diners and I’m always appreciative when food places do it. The server said thank you and goodbye as I was walking out. Overall I liked KOOX a lot and I will be going back to try the chocolate mousse which I picked up and put back, and now regret not trying. Dessert regret is the worst.

Bread Tree, Southbank Centre Food Market, London

‘It’s like summer in a bite’

Following my day at the Women’s Rights festival at Conway Hall last Sunday, I wanted something light for fourses (like elevenses, but at 4pm). I’d eaten an egg and halloumi toasted sandwich for breakfast, a blueberry bun from Fabrique Bakery for lunch and was due to have dinner at my parents-in-law later that evening. It wasn’t a particularly nutritious day so far, and I’d been wanting to visit the food market at the Southbank Centre for months having seen it from my train window many times as I rolled into Charing Cross.

It was a glorious day and I’d walked from Holborn to the Southbank, which took about half an hour. I do my best to avoid the tube when I’m in central London and get as much ‘fresh air’ as possible. The food market was packed at 4pm with winding queues for stalls like The Athenian, Greek street food, which is now firmly on my list when I don’t already have dinner plans. As I walked round the market I was tempted by cannoli, muffins, smoothies, fried chicken, chocolate dipped fruit, but given my lunch was a sticky bun I opted for savoury rather than sweet.

I knew as soon as I saw the bright red and green letters spelling ‘Bruschetta’ that’s what I wanted.

The vendor served me with a big smile, offering me the choice of either mozzarella and basil pesto or vegan bruschetta with aubergine. Unfortunately aubergine doesn’t agree with me so I went for classic mozzarella and basil pesto, which cost £5. It was a bit pricey but then I was at a central London food market and it was the price I expected to pay. I asked the vendor if it was alright for me to take a photo and, after straightening up the bruschetta on display, he said yes.

I settled in a quiet-ish corner in the market to eat. I love it when minimal ingredients create such a flavour explosion: fresh tomato and garlic, creamy mozzarella, rich pesto, and crunchy bread. I’ve had bad bruschetta (mostly in the UK), I’ve had incredible Bruschetta (in Rome they served it regularly as a side with a glass of white wine, whatever time of day), and this was well up there.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Southbank Centre Food Market and discovering what else they have on offer.