By Will Meyrick
The Bangkok I explore is not on a map, it is in the interaction of people as they trade and barter from dawn to dusk in market stalls, on riverboats, and down hidden laneways. I experience the city through the tastes of holy basil, subtle galangal and graceful lemongrass interacting around vibrant chilies and the golden nam pla, fish sauce central to the majority of Thai food, in my quest to always deliver the real flavours of Thailand to our menus, especially for E & O Jakarta where we often showcase our new discoveries.
It’s early dawn, saffron-robed monks begin their daily walk of alms collecting as I enter the chaos that is Chang Pier. Here the sprawling Wang Lang market is waking up to feed a nation on its way to work. If you can see a country eat, you see its heart, and here, between crowded passageways and the churning Chao Praya River, you sense it beating. Fermented fish sauces and pungently spicy grilled meats scent the morning air. Letting the blessings and bell ringing inspire calm at Wat Rakang, I watch novice monks undergo head shaving rituals before visiting Talat Phlu, where street stalls open from six am, closing around midnight. Each has its own specialty – grilled duck, stuffed pancakes or Thai custard – and unique family story. For a flashier feast I take the Silom line to Ratchawat and the street chefs of Nakornchaisri. I spot queues for famed meatball and noodle soups and order Pad Thairich with tamarind sauce. From here a pleasant route up to Lumpini Park via Ratchadamri BTS leads me to tree-lined pathways where Tai Chi, Muay Thai, swordplay and even a little Gangnan style is acted out on gracious lawns around dusk. Evening starts at Soul Food on Sukhumvhit, Jarrett Wrisley offers unpretentious Thai food, great drinks and good music, I appreciate his philosophy. Lumpini Muay Thai Stadium is pumping after dark and I recommend getting down with the locals if you can. I enjoy the buzz of being in amongst it, although you can access the ‘farang’ section with it’s better views and higher priced seats. Bangkok being a city of constant contrast means after the fights I’ll hail a cab to the ‘high’ life at the Dome, to sit sixty-three floors above the city in the open air, before opting for the opulence of nearby Maggie Choo’s decadence of old Shanghai.
I salute a cuisine culture that can cook as well on its pavements as it does in its palaces.
A good cooking school opens up a country’s culture and none more than Wandee Culinary School at Pradipat. I love to spend time here with Kuhn Wandee Na – an icon of Thai cuisine she used to cook for the King – and get even deeper into my understanding of Thai ingredients. Heading over to Chinatown via Victory Monument BTS, I am reminded of Jakarta; the influence of the Chinese diaspora is indelible and Bangkok’s Yaowarat has been thick with narrow laneways selling all manner of things and offering street food for over two hundred years. The food shifts to the main roads come dusk, by which time I’m heading over to the fun of Kho San Road, where like many Thais I’m entertained by the theatre of foreigners partying amongst the touts and street hawkers.
Market Day. I start early at the Floating Markets, touristy but a photographer’s dream. Picking my way through the vibrant trade of the klungs, the raw ingredients and aroma of street foods, inspiration for my own dishes, lure me further, until the sun is high and I’ll head to Chatuchak – a monstrous must see of a market full of all that is imaginable, including Spanish Paella. Lumpini Night Markets are a final stop before a “ grand farewell”. Two of the best restaurants in Asia, Bo.Lan in Sukumvhit and David Thompson’s Nahm at the Metropolitan; ideal venues in which to bask in the essential essence of Bangkok and salute a cuisine culture that can cook as well on its pavements as it does in its palaces.
ABOUT THE WRITER
CHEF WILL MEYRICK
With two acclaimed and award winning restaurants in Bali – the fine-dining flagship Sarong, and its younger, irreverent sibling, Mama San – as well as a new restaurant just opened in Jakarta, E&O, Will has carved a reputation for himself in the Asian culinary scene as one to watch. Throw in his debut cookbook Sarong Inspirations and finished filming two new TV shows – one as a judge on the new season of Top Chef Indonesia and the other, his own series on Trans TV, titled Street Food Chef – and what you have is one busy gastro-maestro!
To find out more about Will Meyrick’s street food journeys around Asia and culinary wanderlust head to www.willmeyrick.com.