ready, steady, eat!
We asked Natalie Scarr, a Bangkok-based PR guru and food journalist, to take us through the best bites in the city's extensive food scene. Natalie was born in London to an English father and a Colombian mother before being raised in New Zealand, and she now calls Thailand home. She is famed for her passion for food and her ability to eat anything and everything, which led her to present Eat Asia on Thailand’s The Travel Channel. We asked her a few questions to uncover some food gems on Bangkok’s busy, bustling, beautiful streets.
First things first – if you want to eat like a local, where should you head?
If you really want to eat like a local, each major business district or university will have an open-air market or area of street stalls that office people will frequent, only at lunchtime. There is huge competition, so prices are kept low but deliciousness stays high, and the primary audience is Thai people, so you can uncover so many food gems here! The best areas are the main business districts of Silom, Asoke and Chid Lom. Go out at 11:45am to beat the crowds but still be amongst the fun! To find the best of the best, follow the office workers and you will see alley ways or entrances that lead to tin-roofed food markets. And go hungry – you’ll want to taste test everything!
What is the most underrated Thai dish?
I do have a massive soft spot for Som Tum Puu Plaa Rah, which is definitely an acquired taste. It is comprised of unripe papaya shards, raw garlic, chillies, small tomatoes, fish sauce, dried shrimp and peanuts, before salted fermented crab pieces are added and the dish is doused in Pla Rah, a famous brown sauce made by fermenting pickled mud fish with salt and rice bran and left till consistency is perfect and the smell is pungent.
What is the biggest misconception about Thai food?
That it’s limited or only spicy. There is a whole spectrum of Thai food that people in other countries may not know about, and should definitely try! The more you know about Thai food, the more you realise you know nothing – it really is that diverse. Each region has its specific cuisines and produce, and even after five years here I have only scratched the surface. Thailand has one of the broadest cuisines in the world, from its huge range of produce, to its cold appetizers, its array of curries, soups, stir fries, the Chinese influence, decorative presentations, herb use, and talent to turn the most basic ingredients into a masterpiece.
What are the three things you simply can’t miss in Bangkok?
It really depends what you like, but if it is your first time in Bangkok, you cannot miss the Grand Palace. It’s simply stunning, and you can climb the nearby Golden Mount at the same time, which is a temple at the top of a hill with panoramic views of the city. The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the largest in Southeast Asia, and provides a great experience with literally everything imaginable on sale. I also think the little-known Nitas Rattananakosin Museum is a must-see, as it gives an interactive guide to Thailand’s rich history.
Finally, can you tell us where the best street eats are?
There isn’t enough time in the world to answer this as in-depth as I’d like, but I’ll do my best! The whole street of Charoen Nakhon is incredible. I used to live in this awesome yet traditional neighbourhood that runs parallel with Bangkok’s main river, the Chao Phraya. I would suggest just walking along the street, because in people’s front rooms, tiny stalls and decades old restaurants that aren’t listed anywhere, you will find food heaven. Yaowarat in China is great, particularly if you go to the smaller vendors where you see the Thai locals. And only 30 minutes from Bangkok is the Don Wai Floating market, which is an early morning market worth visiting on an empty stomach. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!