10 Delicious Things To Eat In Thailand

I wrote this article last week for Outlet Magazine, and enjoyed writing it so much (it brought back so many great memories!) that I thought I’d share it here, too 🙂 Thailand has been relatively quiet in the world news since the Shutdown Bangkok movement of January 2014 that we somehow managed to get caught up in; that is, until the bombings in the country’s capital last week. For a country that makes a great portion of its living from tourism, this is a huge blow to the already struggling economy, which actually really upset me; for the most part, they’re good people who are working hard to make better lives for themselves. To be attacked like that is just cruel, it’s really really hard to hear about, especially when it’s Bangkok – the city gets a shitty wrap, but it’s still one of my favourite places! But, like I said when I wrote about the Shutdown thing, there are still so many great reasons to visit Thailand! Think cheap cocktails and beer, endless shopping, bustling markets and (best of all) some of the best food in the world. When things settle down and we’re all ready to head over to spend up on handbags and food, here are ten of the best things to eat.

 

  1. Anything on a stick
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    Chances are if it’s edible meat of any description, you’ll find it in Thailand threaded onto a skewer and grilled. Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, whatever – it’s all fair game, and it’s always delicious. Extra delicious if you can find honey marinated grilled pork skewers, those are the best.
  1. Noodles with wontons
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    There’s a pretty noticeable Chinese influence in Thailand, and you can see it in a lot of the food. Fresh noodles with BBQ pork and wontons are one of those dishes that allows the Chinese influence to sneak in, but it’s so good no one seems to mind.
  1. Satay chicken skewers
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    This is a simple dish, but a huge street food favourite. Grilled chicken on a stick with flavourful, delicious satay sauce. Really good option on the way home from a big night on Bangla Road.
  1. Freshly grilled seafood
    Thai food 4
    Find a decent seafood restaurant (look for somewhere super busy), pick out your dinner from the monster crustaceans displayed on ice out the front, ask to have them grilled and go with a simple butter garlic sauce on the side. Amazing!
  1. Pork fried rice
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    Another dish with a Chinese influence, fried rice is always a classic. It’s a great one to order from the street food vendors at night, particularly if you’re looking for something a bit more comforting and familiar.
  1. Nutella crepes
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    Every bit as good as the Parisian stuff. Actually, they’re better here, because more often than not, your Nutella and strawberry stuffed crepe will be doused in condensed milk before it’s served up to you. If that sounds unappealing to you, it’s only because you haven’t had one after a few cheap cocktails at 1am. You should try it.
  1. Pad Thai
    Thai food 7
    Duh – can’t well go to Thailand without eating Pad Thai!! Skip the tacky Westernised restaurants and head straight to the street food vendors; that’s where the best stuff comes from. Grab a fresh coconut to drink from while you’re at it – absolute winning combination.
  1. Fresh fruit smoothies
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    These little stalls are set up absolutely everywhere and are the best way to feel better about your holiday food intake. Fresh mangos, strawberries, watermelon and pineapples all blended with ice into a cool, thick cup of healthy deliciousness. They also double up as great happy hour options if you buy your own liqueur at one of the infinite 7/11s floating around 😉
  1. Coconut sticky rice with fresh mango
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    Another Thai classic – thick, sticky, coconut rice topped with sweet, fresh mango. It’s one of those dishes you don’t even need to be hungry to eat – it’s just soooo good!
  1. Coconut ice cream
    Thai food 10
    Yeah, they like their coconut over there. And when it’s so delicious and fresh, you can’t blame them for coming up with so many ways to use it. Freshly churned coconut ice cream at the end of a hot day is complete perfection. And because it’s technically made from fruit, you can eat as much as you like without feeling guilty! Everyone wins!
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Eat here: Little Black Duck, Hanoi

Little Black Duck
23 Ngo Gach, Hoan kiem District Hanoi, Vietnam
www.littleblackduckhanoi.com

How we ended up eating here for our last dinner in Hanoi is completely ridiculous and utterly unbelievable. Earlier that day, we’d visited the notorious Hoa Lo Prison, where we got chatting to another few Aussie travellers; they told us they’d been at the night market the night before and were getting hungry, finding it difficult to find a restaurant. They were right – we had the same problem! They told us they took a chance, turned down a side street, and walked into the first eatery they could find, a place called the Little Black Duck. They said it was one of the best meals they’d had in Hanoi, and recommended asking for directions to it, if we had time before flying home. We saved the name in my phone, said our goodbyes and went on our separate ways.

Later that night, we found ourselves in market territory once again. We were getting hungry. And my sister really needed to use a bathroom. We got to that point where it was a matter of “let’s just go into the first place we see.” That didn’t work out so well; the first place we came across smelt like stale urine. We kept walking. Just as Sib was about to hit breaking point, I dragged her off the main road and down a side street. I saw a little black sign overhead with a picture of a duck. Are you freakin kidding me?!? The sign out the front, advertising the same special the other Aussies had raved about, sealed the deal; in we went.

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The staff were lovely, very accommodating, taking us straight up to the second floor and taking our drink orders. While we weren’t starving (we’d been snacking on street food on the way), we were ready for some good food, and that’s what we got. Sib went with the Vietnamese Mango Salad with pork and prawns (only AUD$3.50!!); refreshing, full of flavour, really delicious!

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I went with the recommended special – the fresh duck spring rolls, again only AUD$3.50. Ridiculous. Some of the best rice paper rolls I’ve ever had (and am ever likely to have); you’d have been charged $15, easily, at home for something of that quality.

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Completely unexpected and crazy delicious, we couldn’t believe our luck actually stumbling on this place! If you’re in Hanoi, don’t leave it to chance – give your cab driver the address and enjoy some seriously good food!

Eat here: Mango Rooms, Hoi An, Vietnam

Mango Rooms
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An, Vietnam
http://www.mangorooms.com/

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After a very long morning in the very hot sun in the perfectly beautiful surrounds of the My Son Sanctuary, it was finally lunch time. The thing you have to understand about Sib and I is that we love food. Like, really love food. As in, before we went to bed the night before the My Son tour, we spent some time researching the food we could eat the following day.

After a thorough investigation of the #hoian hashtag on Instagram, we had hyped ourselves up for lunch at Mango Rooms.

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Sitting on the Hoi An riverside, Mango Rooms is a gorgeous and insanely bright establishment, with one hell of a reputation for incredible food and magnificent cocktails. The chef and grand poobah, Duc Tran, was born in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and travelled around the world, reaching Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and America. His food is beautifully presented and brightly coloured, with gorgeous flavour combinations that have been influenced by his travels and the skills he’s learnt on the road.

We (being the good food addicts we are) may have studied the menu a little the night before, so we kinda knew what we were after. Well, for cocktails anyway. Ice cold and full of fresh fruit, these were the best cocktails I have EVER had.

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After a few minutes of “can’t we order everything?!” we settled on a plate of fresh mango & prawn rice paper rolls to share to start with, and they were something special. They may be the best we’ve ever had, actually. Fresh mango is a thing of beauty, but add it to fresh herbs and prawns and wrap it up in fresh rice paper is even better. Throw in the tastiest peanut dipping sauce on the side, and you have two VERY happy young ladies.

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Next up, we got a few salads. We’d heard they were pretty amazing here, and fresh, cold salads were exactly what we felt like after the hours we’d spent in the hot sun earlier. I went with the Tropical Lush salad – fresh greens, herbs, and mustard sprouts, orange slices, watermelon, topped with seared tuna served with orange ginger soy dressing. It was perfect – cold, fresh fruit, super fresh tuna, and the dressing was remarkable.

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Sib went with the Mango Delight – fresh greens, herbs and strips of mango along with vermicelli topped with grilled chicken breast and served with zesty soy-lime sauce. SOO good – the chicken was white and tender and the dressing, again, was flawless.

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And of course, dessert. Can’t finish up without it. A plate of the Mango Tango to share, thanks – sweet sticky rice and fresh mango topped with coconut sauce and roasted peanuts. Not really much that needs to be said about this; if you followed my adventures in Thailand earlier this year here and here, you’d know that I am always prepared to eat my weight in coconut sticky rice, particularly when it’s furnished with fresh mango. The addition of peanuts made this quite distinctive from the Thai variety, and absolutely delightful.

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It should also be noted that while eating the best food with one of the most magnificent views, we also had some great service too – the staff at Mango Rooms were lovely, friendly and more than happy to help us out. It was a truly wonderful experience – to be able to just sit back with my best friend in this rainbow explosion of a restaurant, watching the river and foot traffic pass by the window we were seated at, eating perfectly balanced plates of beautifully presented food was a pretty awesome way to pass the lunch break 🙂

Eat here: Bale Well, Hoi An, Vietnam

Bale Well
45 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An

So, we were sitting in our beds after a long day of travelling, and Sib (I call my baby sister Sib or Sibba – she’s my sibling) whipped out her iPad to hunt down some Hoi An food porn on Instagram while I read my book. It wasn’t long before I was distracted by “oohs” and “aahs” and “oh my GODs” coming from the other bed. I finally gave in and joined her on her bed to see what the excitement was all about. It was Bale Well.

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Down (another) dodgy looking alley, Instagram reports from fellow travelling foodies indicated that $5.00 would get you an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese street food feast. That’s all the info we needed to convince us we should visit.

The following night, we whipped out the map and started walking. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going to be honest, but we found the general area the alley was meant to be in. Then we got into a bit of trouble. We wandered for a while, up and down streets, hoping for the best. Eventually we looked up and saw a tiny blue sign with an arrow – 100m that way, apparently. Off we went! We kept going, with me counting out my steps to try to measure it. We bumped into another sign with another arrow – 20m more. Ok, no worries. Followed the sign down another smaller, darker, dicier alley, and promptly wound up… in someone’s backyard. Hmmm.

The little old man sitting there looked at us and smirked a little. “Bale Well?” Um yes…. where?! Pointed back the same way we came from. Great. We backtracked, got to the same 20m this way sign, looked right (the way we came from) and saw another house. Looked left and spotted another tiny blue sign. The 20m arrow was pointing the wrong way. We kept walking, and eventually stumbled on this magical place. Bale Well.

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We found an empty table for two and took our seats as a purple t-shirt clad woman descended upon us. “Drink?” Yes thanks, 2 bottles of water. That was about the extent of our verbal communication and ordering. We looked around at the other tables, took a few photos, and all of a sudden a procession of food was making its way to our table.

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For a mere sum of AUD$6.00 per person, we got a bottle of water each and an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with pile of fresh herbs and salad, peanut dipping sauce, stir fried veggies, rice paper, freshly fried spring rolls and BBQd meat on sticks. We just stared at it all while we tried to work out what was going on, not realising that our very helpful waitress was preparing to feed us. Literally. She grabbed a rice paper sheet and demonstrated how to put it all together – layer some green stuff and/or veggies, a spring roll and a bit of meat (remove stick first). Dip in sauce. Then, she shoved the roll in Sib’s mouth. Not just help it in front of her, actually, physically fed her. She then pointed to the camera – apparently she wasn’t taking the food out of Sib’s mouth until we took a photo. We thought we’d be safe after that, but no, it was my turn next! There I was, a 28 year old woman, being hand fed by a Vietnamese woman, without a single word exchanged. To call it the most bizarre dining experience of my life would probably still be an understatement.

After the feeding episode, we were finally left to eat our food, and it was incredible. Worth getting lost, worth the embarrassment of accidentally turning up in some poor old man’s backyard, worth the humiliation of being hand fed in front of other diners. This food was amazing!!! The meat was so soft and tender – still not entirely sure what it was, we think one was pork, the other we didn’t have a clue. The fresh herbs made the world of difference, and those spring rolls – wow. The dipping sauces were perfect with the food too, and when we looked like we were running out, the bowls were topped up by the attentive staff.

We couldn’t get through it all, it was literally piled on the plates. Just as we were rolling back in our seats and comparing food babies, dessert came out. We weren’t expecting this part! Mango mousse with a little whipped cream and sprinkles. I have no idea what was going on in that cup, but my goodness it was special. It was cold, smooth and creamy, with actual bits of fresh mango – perfect finish to dinner!

If you’re heading to Hoi An, do yourself a favour and look this place up on Instagram like we did. Then get yourself a map and some directions and get ready to eat like a maniac. Also, prepare to possible be hand fed. It’s worth it.

Eat here: Rice Queen, Melbourne (Asian)

Rice Queen, Fitzroy, Melbourne
http://ricequeen.com.au/

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

After living on Smith Street for quite some time, late 2012 saw Rice Queen relocate to Brunswick Street, in a pretty big space that fills up pretty quickly for a weekend dinner. It’s a cute, kitschy, Asian-diner-with-a-DJ-booth-and-karaoke-room type of set up, serving up an array of food from every corner of Asia.

https://ordinarygirlextraordinarydreamer.com/

I’ve eaten here before, for lunch, and found the food to all be crazy spicy, which I didn’t enjoy much. I’m pretty crap with spicy food, and unfortunately you’re not really given much of a choice or opportunity to tone it down to a milder, more manageable level. But this visit was for one thing and one thing only: dessert!

It was my little sister and best friend’s birthday, and we had a bit of a trawl and eat around the Fitzroy/Collingwood area to celebrate the occasion (she, too, is a foodie – you can find her here on Tumblr!) As she’s gluten intolerant, we thought this dessert menu would be a pretty good one to sample from – we ordered a serve of the pannacotta and a serve of the black sticky rice to share between us.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Silky smooth and deliciously coconutty without being overpowering, but the really special stuff was the berry compote. Dunno what it was, but my God it was amazing!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The sticky rice may not have looked particularly appetising, but it was the standout for both of us. It was warm and creamy and sticky and full of coconut. The sorbet was creamy, not icy, as sorbet can sometimes be. The pandan flavour was so unique and delicious.

Great dessert, will happily head back in for a sweet bite. It’s a cute space with gorgeous decor and a chilled out atmosphere, a little overpriced in my opinion and the service leaves a bit to be desired, but the food is pretty good. Worth a try!
Rice Queen Oriental Diner and Bar on Urbanspoon

Street food heaven: Soi 38, Bangkok, Thailand

Soi 38, Bangkok, Thailand
(BTS stop: Thonglor)

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

If you’re into street food, particularly crazy, Asian, no-idea-what-that-is-but-I’ll-try-it-anyway street food, this is basically like going to heaven for the night. Close your eyes, let me paint you a picture…

You’ve just stepped off a nicely air conditioned train into the thick, warm, Bangkok air. It’s dark, it’s very quiet (this isn’t exactly in the middle of the tourist hub), and you’re not really sure where you should be going. You follow your map to the little street marked “Soi 38,” and you know you’ve arrived when the sudden burst of colour, sound, smells, movement and utter insanity hit you!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Although when we visited it was no where near as busy as it regularly is, due to the Bangkok Shut Down movement, it was still incredible. Little plastic tables with those adorable little plastic stools that so many of us associate exclusively with Asian street food ran the length of the street, and barely a single one without a bum on it. Whether they were set up in front of permanent stalls or little carts with gas burners temporarily propped up along side didn’t matter in the slightest – they were all absolutely packed with both locals and the few tourists who were brave enough to leave their hotels in the middle of a delicate time politically (a day before we arrived, an unarmed bystander was apparently shot not far from our hotel) – we’re not the type to wait anything out, so we threw ourselves right into the centre of it!

It was impossible to place the smells you were taking in – just as you thought you’d identified a whiff of ginger, your nose was smacked with a smell of seafood… or were your eyes watering a little because of the spice in the air? Did you just smell coconut? Or was that mango? The sounds: yelling of orders, laughing of friends over food, sizzling of hot plates coming out. It’s magical!

 

After walking the length of the street to suss out our options, we stopped at this little place – partially because I recognised their menu was basically all pork, partially because a few tables had just opened up as we were walking past. We ran in and jumped on two stools as a stream of people came in behind us.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

This adorable little guy was running his place like an absolute boss! The space was actually shared by three separate “restaurants,” and he made it his business to run around each and every table, pushing his food above the others (not hard, because no one else was making even a quarter of the effort he was), smiling at everyone, laughing like a kid, and making sure everyone knew what was on the menu. When it came time to order, I told him no need for a menu – just bring us whatever your favourite dish is! Could have been risky, I know, but when in Rome… This guy must have been doing this for the best part of his life, he clearly knows what’s good, and how on earth else can you possibly experience another culture without asking advice from a local?! You’ll get some handy hints from your guidebook, sure, but you can’t buy in book form experience!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I tell ya what, that experience has really opened me up to this style of dining in foreign places from now on – he nailed it! Noodles with pork 3 ways – won tons, BBQ pork and crispy pork belly. It was bloody magnificent and wouldn’t have cost any more than AUD$4.00, which is absurd. If I hadn’t asked for his recommendation, there’s no way I’d have known to order something like this – the foreign menu which I couldn’t read probably would have daunted me and I’d have looked for the most boring and plain thing on there. That is NOT the way to travel!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Encouraged after that win, we ventured on down the street until something caught husband’s eye – 10 chicken skewers with home made satay sauce for 80 baht. That’s around AUD$2.50, and it was way too good to pass up. We ordered a plate, and the lady running the show was so excited to have some visitors that weren’t either locals or there with a local, that she ushered us past her coals and cooking chicken, and into the back of her little store front, where her sons were working away threading more meat onto skewers. I took the picture below from the table she hastily set up for us, wondering what on earth we’d gotten ourselves into. She smiled at us the whole time, even brought out a little bowl of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber and chillies) while fresh skewers cooked away for us. She ladled a large spoon of her home made satay sauce into a bowl, rushed back to the chicken, and proudly presented them to us, with another big smile. Some times food truly is a universal language; even if you can’t understand each others’ words, we all understand the care taken to prepare a meal and the appreciation and enjoyment of it.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

These were probably the best satay chicken skewers I’ve ever had. They were made using the absolute freshest chicken, which was evident when it didn’t take much effort to bite into them and reveal the soft, white meat under the caramelised shell. The sauce was magnificent too. I was grateful that I’d remembered the Thai word for “thank you,” because never had it felt so appropriate to use as then. She could have easily given us our meal on a paper plate and sent us on our way, but she took the time and care and effort to make us feel at home, and that’s exactly how it did feel – no fancy restaurant, it felt like home.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

So, there we sat, in the back of a chicken skewer stall, taking it all in – the smells, the noises, the atmosphere… it was one of the best nights I’ve ever had! After the chicken, it was down with another plate of coconut sticky rice with fresh mango (dead set, I ate my weight in this stuff), and back to the train to take us home.

In the picture below, I couldn’t help but think as I looked down on it all from the elevated train platform, how lucky the people of Bangkok are to have such a wonderful institution in their city, and how much other cities would really benefit from an informal place to eat and meet – it’s a beautiful and universal thing to have a special place where families steeped in their own cultures can share their food with strangers, making them all feel warm and welcome, and like they’re at home, even on the other side of the world, even when sitting on plastic stools on the side of the road to share a meal when they may otherwise at home be in a fancy restaurant.. THAT is what I love about travel, the opportunity to experience this  : )

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Eat here: Momoco Sushi San, Melbourne

Momoco Sushi San, Heidelberg, Melbourne
http://www.momocosushi.com.au/

 

I’m a huge sushi fan, but really good sushi that doesn’t require you to re-mortgage your house is a rare and elusive gem in any city. When my baby sister discovered this place, I was hesitant – could it really be that good if it was also that cheap? One way to find out!

Turns out, yes, yes it was that good. Incredible, actually probably the best sushi I’ve had in Melbourne. I think this is owing to the fact that it’s all made to order, and abiding by their mission statement of using only top quality ingredients and organic goods, both imported from Japan and sourced locally is Australia. Their growing popularity is also reflected in the fact that they also now have three locations to chose from, maintaining quality and consistency across the board.

 

My picks? The hands down winner has to be the meiji rolls: fresh mango, roast duck, avocado and mayo sushi hand rolls, wrapped in super thin omelette. This is absolutely incredible, and at $12.50 for 8 pieces, this would fill up one person pretty decently!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

But, I wasn’t dining alone, so cue plate two of giant sushi: the super delicious and vegetarian futomaki, at $11.00 for 8 pieces. This might not sound amazing to you, but the pieces were half the size of the palm of my hand, which is freaking massive! They were a delicious option, light and tasty, and would definitely order again.

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

So basically, what you need to know is this: amazing sushi, ridiculously fresh, absurdly well priced, great service, happy belly. Off you go then!

 

Momoco Sushi San on Urbanspoon