One of the first things we like to do when we arrive in a new country is join a food tour. It is a great way to try local specialties that we wouldn’t necessarily try on our own and to get our bearings in a particular neighbourhood we are curious to explore. Plus, there is the added bonus of receiving insider tips on some of the best restaurants to return to for the rest of the trip.
Chinatown (or Yaowarat) is an area of Bangkok that I was very excited to explore because it is so well known for street food in a city that is known for street food. For that reason, we decided to join the Bangkok Backstreets food tour of Chinatown with A Chef’s Tour (not sponsored).
The tour started in the late afternoon at the bar of the Shanghai Mansion Bangkok, which coincidentally was one of the hotels I looked into staying while we were in Bangkok. It was there that we met our tour guides and the rest of the group (about 8 of us in total).
True to the name of the tour, we made our way to the first street cart by passing through a small side street next to the hotel. We were off to a delicious start with a fragrant ginger soup with ginkgo nuts. The soup was spicy from the ginger and was unlike any type of Thai food that I had previously experienced. This was exactly the type of street food that we never would have tried on our own and exactly why the food tour was a great idea.
Next stop was a small street cart selling chive dumplings. The chive dumplings were delicious and chewy and completed stuffed with chives to the point that the dumplings were a bright green. This was only the second stop but I already thought that these dumpling were going to be my favourite dish of the night. But that was before I knew what was coming next.
From the dumpling cart, we walked through a local neighbourhood past homes and shops in the narrow side streets of Chinatown. The next meal was a little heartier than the last. It was a deliciously savory pork hock that was incredibly tender. It was served alongside some spicy chillies. This food stall is very popular and often sells out of the pork hocks.
We made our way to one of the two main streets of Chinatown to a food stall owned by the mother of one of our tour guides. Here we sat at a metal picnic table and tried several dishes including a hearty soup with cabbage, fish cakes and some of the most delicious chicken satay with a peanut dipping sauce. Less than half-way into this tour, the group realizes that we need to start pacing ourselves if we are going to make it to the end. We have already had so much food!
Only a few steps away it was time to quench our thirst. Our guides handed each of us a little plastic bag filled with a dark green liquid. It was pennywort juice which is made from the leaves and stems of the pennywort plant, a herb common in Asia. The juice is considered a health drink and is believed to help with a number of ailments. Several members of our group did not like the strong grassy taste of the juice but we found it similar to any type of green juice that includes spinach. Plus it was cold and refreshing on a hot day.
The next stop was deep into the backstreets of Chinatown. There is no way we would have found this street food stall without the help of our guides. We probably would never have gone down this particular alley and we definitely didn’t think there would be a restaurant there with some of the most delicious noodle soup I have ever had. This stop was rustic and different than anything I would experience at home in North America. The soup is also known as Worker’s Noodles and is usually served in a very large portion to make sure the workers have enough to eat for a long day at work. Spoiler alert, this turned out to be my favourite dish of the tour; although there were quite a few other dishes that came close.
We had a quick bathroom break before our next stop which was a street food stall I had heard a lot about and which I was really looking forward to. This stop is known for its Thai curries. It is so popular that this street food stall had to move from its original location to a larger space where patrons can enjoy their curries from little tables and chairs set up on a side street. We tried a green Thai curry with a special dried sausage. The curry was delicious but I think I had built it up in my head that it was never going to live up to my expectations. No worries, there was still more food to come.
As we left the curry stand the sun had just set and it was apparent that Chinatown was starting to get very busy. We walked along the main street towards a market, the bustling crowds had taken over part of the street and the neon lights lit up the sky. The energy of Chinatown had come alive. We ducked into one of the shops on the main road for a little treat of ice cream with a surprising topping...soy sauce. The soy sauce was reduced so it was sweet and a little like a caramel.
We waited at this shop until our table at a popular seafood restaurant became available. We were very impressed with our tour leaders as they were able to coordinate all of the reservations and food orders behind the scenes. When our table at the seafood restaurant was ready, we scaled several tiny flights of stairs to the top of the restaurant. Here we tried sour mango with a sweet salty dipping sauce, Tom yum soup, huge grilled prawns, and stir fried morning glory. Everything was delicious and although we didn’t get a chance to come back to this restaurant on this trip, we knew where we would go next time.
At this point we were completely stuffed and we made our way back to the starting point. Little did we know that our tour guides had dessert waiting for us. And not just any dessert, mango sticky rice and Michelin starred Chinese donuts with a pandan dipping sauce. Despite our group being completely full, everyone finished the dessert. It was that good!
We had a great time on the food tour of Chinatown with a Chef’s Tour and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Bangkok. The tour guides were knowledgeable and so well organized that the tour was seamless. Our only criticism was that there was probably too much food. Although they did indicate that anything we didn’t finish wouldn’t be wasted as it would be given away.
This food tour was a great way to start our trip in Thailand. We tried so many wonderful dishes that we continued to enjoy the following two weeks. See also the blog post on the top foods to try in Thailand.