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(Travel Tuesday) Bangkok: from street food to five-star dining

Dining at Jok Phochana in Bangkok

A couple of years ago, we were passing through Bangkok en route back from Laos (please excuse the photos in the Laos posts! Was a very newbie photog at that point!) for one night only and had the great fortune to dine with our “local” English (but based in Bangkok) guide at Jok Phochana.  Both of us knew that if we made it back to Bangkok, it was a place we needed to find again.  When Andy had taken us there, we were in a cab, straight from the airport with pretty much no idea where we were going and not really paying attention as we chatted away in the back of the car.  The food was so good, definitely not your dumbed-down-for-tourists Thai fare, but how to find a restaurant with no address?

Well we needed to find out because we were headed there last May for a conference (a whirlwind 5-day – for me – trip!)!  A total hole-in-the-wall restaurant on an alleyway somewhere in the city though, I wondered if I might ever find it.  Enter Google and the magic of GPS tagged photos. A photo on Flickr led us right to a Google map of the location. True enough, it’s a laneway but there it was. Our “address” caused many perplexed (and to be honest, concerned, looks) at the hotel reception as we ordered a taxi but we eventually made it there.

Jok Phochana

Frequented by locals and tourists alike, Jok Phochana has been around for over 40 years, owned and run by the same family.  Reminiscent of the soup shops, popular with Chinese immigrant workers in the early days of immigration to Thailand, Jok Phochana offers filling, authentic dishes at reasonable prices and an entertaining welcome from owner Panya Amnajpantanakorn*. We dined for around $20CAD for four people (6 dishes and 5 large beers). Well worth the adventure of finding the place!

Jok Phochana
Samsen Soi 2,
Phra Nakhon,
Bangkok 10200,
Thailand

* thanks to this article in Bangkok 101 (p 51) for filling in a few gaps about this elusive eatery!

It’s easy to subsist on street food in Bangkok, so heading to nahm run by Michelin-starred chef David Thompson, definitely felt like a bit of a splurge. I had been tasked with finding a restaurant for a special dinner for a party of 10 and nahm offered a private room with a set menu and was easily able to accommodate us (the set menus are also available for smaller parties).

Set menu at NahmMenu and hot and sour soup at Nahm BKKAustralian-born Thompson is renowned for his Thai cuisine, establishing his reputation with Darley Street Thai in Sydney (1991), then Sailors’ Thai, in 1995 (also in Sydney).  Thompson opened nahm in London in 2001, and was awarded the first ever Michelin star for Thai cuisine just over a year later.  nahm in London has since lost the star but in April 2012, nahm in Bangkok was included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.  Controversial when it opened in 2010 because many wondered how a foreigner might bring something different to Thai food in Thailand, nahm promises a meal that is “an exercise in balance, with the dynamic interplay of hot and sour, sweet and salty.”  Certainly, Thomspon does not shy away from traditional Thai ingredients and flavours, making this an exquisite and authentic Thai dining experience not to be missed. If you don’t like too much spice (like one of our party), nahm can graciously accommodate you with milder dishes or versions of the menu items.

Our menu came in at around $55CAD for a family style appetizers and mains (9 dishes in total) and individual desserts (not including drinks, tax and tip).

nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel
27 South Sathorn Road
Tungmahamek, Sathorn,
Bangkok 10120,
Thailand
+662 625 3388

Finally, if you’re looking for a way to transport those Thai flavours home with you, I’d highly recommend the Amita Thai Cooking Class for a hands-on cooking class.

With a choice of three menus, these half-day English language classes include transportation to and from your hotel (including a boat trip from Maharaj Pier along Chao Phraya River via Bangkok Yai canal to the school).

River trip to Amita Thai

The classes include welcome herbal drinks, a garden tour where Tam talks you through some lesser known Thai ingredients, a demonstration class,  and a hands-on session where you will cook four dishes which you then get to sit down to enjoy together at the end of the class.

Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkokin the garden at Amita Thai Cooking School

You’ll leave with a full belly and a stack of recipes for you to take home and re-create.

Gai Sab at Amita Thai Cooking School

Owner/ instructor, Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon has spent considerable time abroad and is fluent in English (and quite hilarious with a keen sense of humour to boot!).  She practised her cooking skills (learned from her aunts and grandmother then honed in culinary school) in Los Angeles where, as the spouse of a diplomat, she had the opportunity to cook for the Thai community.  At Amita, Tam hopes to share the experience of true Thai home cooking in a laid-back environment.  For me this was a highlight of the trip. Tam is knowledgeable and approachable, the location is welcoming and the food superb. Bonus? Now I know how to make it all chez moi!

Price: 3000 Thai Baht (approx $95CAD) per person.

Amita Thai Cooking Class
162/17 Soi Wutthakat 14,
Wutthakat Rd., Talad Plu
Thon Buri,
Bangkok 10600,
Thailand
+662 466 8966

In short, three very different experiences for food-lovers in Bangkok – which one would you choose?

A version of this article originally appeared on the Bon Vivant Travel Blog.

** US and Canadian residents have you entered to win a Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale? Contest closes Monday January 21st at 6pm EST.

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18 Responses to (Travel Tuesday) Bangkok: from street food to five-star dining

  1. Sally - My Custard Pie January 15, 2013 at 08:03 #

    All of them please! Actually I’d skip the fancy dining – as wonderful as it sounds. Choosing between the wonderful cooking session and the street food would be so difficult. Love how you found the restaurant from the Geo tagging. Great post – tucked away for if I ever return to Bangkok

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:18 #

      Well we kind of *had* to do that dinner and I don’t regret it. But much prefer the adventure of the unknown, in general!

  2. The Mistress of Spices January 15, 2013 at 09:56 #

    Lovely to hear your account of eating in what is now “my” city :-) Thanks for the tip on Amita’s cooking class…I’ve been comparing reviews of different Thai cooking classes in Bangkok in preparation for my parents’ upcoming visit (Mom definitely wants to take a class).

  3. Wandergirl January 15, 2013 at 10:16 #

    Sounds amazing! A cooking class, street food, and a fancy meal is the holy trinity of travel foodie-ism, in my opinion! Hope to get to Bangkok some day!

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:17 #

      Definitely the combination I seek out wherever I go!

  4. IshitaUnblogged January 15, 2013 at 12:35 #

    Amazing! Impossible to choose… I had been meaning to do a post on Kolkata with a similar title… I guess I have to think of another name now:(

  5. Kary January 15, 2013 at 13:03 #

    Ah! That brings back so many wonderful memories! I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I was in Thailand during Loi Krathong. What an absolutely magical place! Partook in street foods and small restaurants from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, even taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai. I cannot wait to go back!

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:16 #

      I love the food in Thailand – both making and eating!

  6. Rochelle January 15, 2013 at 18:21 #

    That must have been amazing! I love Thai food and it would be a dream to get it where it’s done best.

    Oh and I have to say Mardi, I know I haven’t been around much, but I can see how much time and effort you’ve put into learning and advancing in your photography with these beautiful photos!

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:16 #

      Thanks Rochelle – interesting because these photos were taken way back in May!

  7. Denise January 15, 2013 at 18:25 #

    Amazing trip Mardi – so glad you took time off during the holidays. Now the real question … did you relax? :)

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:16 #

      Actually this was not over Christmas. I was in Thailand for 5 days at a conference in May. No relaxing then – go-go-go!!

  8. Colette January 15, 2013 at 18:28 #

    A cooking class in Thailand! What an adventure!

  9. Edna January 17, 2013 at 07:10 #

    Oh I love Thailand so much…one of my only regrets though during our first trips there was that we didn’t have time to get in a cooking class (we were going to take one at this bungalow-cum-cooking school in Koh Lanta, but it was low season and we apparently had to give 24 hours notice for a class instead of showing up on their doorstep the day of — but that’s how travelers go in low season!). Love the photos and will keep all three in mind if I ever return to Bangkok!

    • Mardi Michels January 26, 2013 at 08:15 #

      I always love to take a cooking class wherever we go so I make it my business to get organised (sometimes before we book the hotels LOL!)

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