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Best ways to experience Thai food

There is a world of amazing food if you dare to go beyond the run-of-the-mill phat thai and green curry. Thailand is a nation of food lovers and it’s easy to see how the locals are just as excited as tourists when faced with a bowl of well-prepared noodles or when seated at a renowned hawker stall. This unabashed enthusiasm, combined with an abundance of fascinating ingredients and culinary influences, has transformed Thailand into one of the hottest food destinations in the world.

Here’s a rundown of different ways to experience Thai food:

Food without the fumes

Like it is for us here in India, for most residents of Bangkok, eating is an important part of shopping. Thus every mall has some sort of a food court. In the recent past the food was cheap, the décor was bland and generic, and you were even expected – horror of horrors – to carry your own tray. These days, however, the food courts have become much swankier and the décor, much more classy. One of the best food courts is the one on the seventh floor of the famous MBK mall.

Foraging off the beaten track

If you are an adventurous foodie, take the Skytrain and head north of Bangkok to Soi Ari, off Th Phahonyothin. This is street food central. The entire spectrum of Isan and Thai Chinese dishes are available here at a fraction of the food court price. However, you can get excellent phat thai  at the lauded Phat Thai Ari (2/1 Soi Ari, Greater Bangkok).

Hotel buffet bonanza

By all means order a la carte if you are having a nice romantic dinner. But if you are there to eat to your heart’s content, most hotels have mind-blowingly decadent buffets, complete with chocolate fountains, oysters on the half shell, pink salmon, and dishes from every major cuisine. Reservations are a must.

Cruising cuisine

A dozen or more companies run regular dinner cruises along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. Many of the boats are huge traditional vessels and are illuminated rather brightly. However, it is also possible to travel on vessels that are smaller and more intimate. Several of the dinner boats cruise under the well-lit Saphan Phra Ram IX, the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world.

Vegeterian’s delight

Every year, the Vegetarian Festival (in September/October), transforms Bangkok’s Chinatown into a dreamland for vegetarian foodies.  Even in other parts of the city, food shops and eateries hang yellow flags to announce their meat-free status. Most restaurants retire their normal menus temporarily and prepare soy-based substitutes for standard Thai dishes like tom yamkaeng matsaman, and kaeng khiaw waan.

Fast food, Thai style

The quintessential Bangkok food experience is sitting on a plastic stool by the side of a busy road and eating a bowl of noodles or a simple rice dish cooked in front of you. Locals, both rich and poor, will travel any distance to their favourite stall. Some stalls are so famous that articles are written about them in both Thai and English newspapers. The owners of these stall then proudly post the clippings on message boards by the eatery. The more clippings, the more famous it is! The book Thai Hawker Food (available at most Bangkok bookstores) is a useful companion on your Thai food hunt in Bangkok.

Bring out the daredevil in you

The Thais can provide us a lesson in pest control. If you cannot get rid of ‘em, eat ‘em! After the wet season, vendors appear throughout town (try Th Khao San) with conical heaps of stir-fried bugs (crickets, red ants and water beetles). Pull off the legs and pop the critter in your mouth, after which initial revulsion will turn into potato chip-like addiction.

To know more, see Lonely Planet India’s Thailand travel guide.