How to Eat Like a Bangkok Native
Thailand is world famous for food so the expat who relocates to work in the city usually thinks they’ll get on fine with a Tom Kha Gai or a Kaeng Kiaow Wan Neua. Well that’s not going to cut it in the cultural office stakes so if you want to win street cred with the secretaries and cleaners in your office (plus have loads of love heaped on you) you’ll have to diversify on the street food orders and eat like a local.
We’ve been here decades and have never been complimented on our Thai language skills unless it’s polite flattery but you will see your colleagues jaws drop and eyes burst open if you dig into the local food hard core.
Everybody talks about Som Tam and you can hear the Pok Pok of the pestle hitting the mortar during the lunch rush hour for Thailand’s national dish. The trick with Som Tam is to find any way of eating it, and then consume with gusto, preferably ordering two plates and Cow Niao (Sticky Rice) to go alongside it. Som Tam is a green papaya salad.
You don’t want to know what else goes into it so take a tip and just get used to eating it before finding out the full ingredient list. It is however an acquired taste so if you can’t go for the full on Som Tam Pu Palah Ped Maak then just ask to order it “Bangkok Style” They leave out the full on spiciness and a few other bits the Bangkokians can’t handle but which the South and the North East are champions at.
Get used to eating a bit of Som Tam with your colleagues and you will make the closest friends of your life. The Thais will love you for it more than any vocabulary and grammar skills.
Soup Kaeng Hed
This one will blow your lunch partners away. Even just asking for it if they don’t serve it will place you on a pedestal of local love and worship that you will be dizzy with for days. Soup Gaeng Head is a mushroom curry with the usual assortment of upcountry condiments that you don’t want to know too much about though Pu Palah is in there and a couple of other mysteries.
The trick with soup gaeng head is to order it without too many chillies at first and to let it cool. Eat it like a gazpacho soup if you like because the flavours are world class, but locally it is often served at piping hot temperatures and with a few too many chilies for the untrained tongue. It’s a soup so nobody is going to complain if you leave a lot of the soup base and just eat the straw mushrooms and button mushrooms that are often found in it.
As we mentioned, it’s worth knowing how to pronounce this one and just asking for it when going to lunch just to see your colleagues turn around in amazement. It’s unlikely that everywhere you go will have it though. We think it’s one of the tastiest flavours on the planet.