trip to Bangkok

A lavish trip to Bangkok

What would you like to eat for dinner? I had barely found a corner at Rossini’s, the Italian restaurant at Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, when lovely Punpreuk Smitinand (aka Fai) dropped the dinner options. I hastily dropped a jaw. Expressed in Italian, I cannot decipher a polenta from parfait and a Bolognese sauce from burrata cheese. Sitting in Bangkok’s most awarded Italian restaurant and being ignorant of the exquisite dishes of Michelin star chef Alfredo Russo was pure blasphemy.

Dinner choices were lost until Fai, the gracious public relations manager, doubled as my interpreter: seared foie gras with raspberries or smoked cod with fennel salad and juniper. In Rossini’s dim lighting, it looked like dinner was served on a platter – the red of the raspberry broken with a dollop of green and a hint of brown. Thus began my food story in Bangkok – with tantalizing aromas in a lavish Tuscan villa décor at a coveted Starwood Luxury Collection hotel.

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A view of the Damnoen Saduak floating market
 

Little did I know that my foray into food in Bangkok, which started so deliciously at Rossini’s, would turn from opulent to street-y to food court-sy and take me to alleys, byways and Asia’s largest flea market, where noodle-slingers gather for boozy noodles ( borrowing the name from drunken noodle lovers who ghost rush for food in the early hours) and waitresses zip around faster than a cat on helium. That I would find the absolutely traditional recipes in old Bangkok and not have to go too far for Thai cuisine with a heavy dose of Chinese, Burmese, Malay, Indian.

You name it and a medley of flavors melds so sumptuously with the original Thai that you forget what original really is! Choices can spoil (or spook, depending on the type of foodie): fried frogs and bees, grilled octopus, unripe mango laced with chili sauce, coconut/green bean ice cream, fish sausages casually charred, pad Thai topped with gooey omelette and spring rolls served with gluey sauce. Noodles, foodies would vouch, are the test of good food in Bangkok, but there’s more to good food than the oft-talked-about sloppiness.

The dome in Lebua (Photo by tps58)
The dome in Lebua (Photo by tps58)
 

Not long ago, the USD 25,000 (almost 13 lakh rupees) meal at The dome in Lebua (State Towers) created a culinary revival worldwide. As if that wasn’t lavish enough, there’s a million-dollar meal on the menu, where the monied would be looking forward to Hollywood glitteri. Think of what might be on the plate: white Almas caviar that comes from 100-year-old sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and costs – hold your breath – USD 2,000 (just over one lakh rupees) for 10 grams; a bottle of wine for USD 20,000 (approximately Rs 10,38,000), truffles with edible 23 carat gold for USD 30,900 (approximately Rs 16,04,000). Everything on diamond-studded gold cutlery and wine glass rimmed with real gold dust. Phew! Hop a few flights of stairs to the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor and you’ll find yourself in one of the world’s highest sky bars with breathtaking views of the city that never sleeps.

Chatuchak weekend market (Photo by eddyboi)
Chatuchak weekend market (Photo by eddyboi)
 

Ask any gourmand and he’d tell you that at Lord Jim’s, Mandarin Oriental’s seafood restaurant that takes its name from Joseph Conrad’s seafaring protagonist, you can have the ocean on your plate, in style. The Boston lobster comes with thyme croquettes, Vichy carrots and a green pea cappuccino, while the grilled whole sole is accompanied by buttered spunta potatoes and champagne cream with steamed vegetables. If nostalgia and royalty are the favorite flavors of your palate, you would find it in a centuries-old building where forgotten recipes and royal dishes from the golden age of the Kingdon of Siam rustled in the Blue Elephant.

I was spoiled for choice, but that balmy Saturday in December I missed nostalgia, royalty, all things French, European, Japanese and Italian, and headed to Chatuchak, often touted as one of the largest weekend markets in the world. No, not for shopping, but for digging my spoon into the coconut ice cream, served in a coconut shell. “You would get lost in the market of 15,000 stalls spread over 27 hectares,” Fai warned. I knew I would. Luckily, Fai agreed to guide me through the numerous alleys with 400 food stalls. The heat was blazing, the crowd loud, but I had heard stories about the original coconut ice cream stand in this must-do flea market. Honestly, I didn’t keep up with the ‘original stall’ spiel but with an elbow bump, I bumped, pushed past what seemed like a million people, I bumped into another crowd. That was a feast for the eyes! Everyone had a coconut in their hand, everyone scooped ice cream with strings of coconut. Everything except the coconut ice cream seemed irrelevant in the stable. Even the blazing sun. If you don’t like coconut, stay away as this one is heavily coconutty – rich, creamy, sweet.

The crowd and heat had killed me, I certainly didn’t want any drops of sweat as a side dish and took the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) to the comfort of Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. Temptation was just a skybridge away from my room in Terminal 21, the newest ritzy mall in the middle of Bangkok’s busiest shopping zone. There are almost 50 restaurants on floors 4 and 5. Aping San Francisco (there’s even a little Golden Gate Bridge!), its two floors are a foodie’s newest haunt. From shaved ice desserts to Hainanese chicken rice to pad thai, roasted duck noodles, everything is soul food on a budget. I despised the temptation and chose the poolside Sala at Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. The palm leaves swayed, a jacuzzi gurgled gently and squids sang on the barbecue. I put my feet up, ordered a Pineapple Strawberryade and sighed that my food visit in Bangkok had come to the end of the day.

WHERE TO EAT

Sunday brunch: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit

Italian: Rossinis

Thai: Basil

French: Bonjour

European: Angelini

Chinese: China Town

Barbeque / Steakhouse: Tender Loins

Food Bank: Floors 4 & 5 of Terminal 21 Shopping Mall, Foodloft in Central Chidlom

Street Food: Everywhere. Chatuchak weekend market has 400 food stalls.

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