In this series, I round up the five best things I ate in a particular city or country. On the 15th of each month I feature a destination from my past travels; on the last day of the month I recap the best of the last thirty days. Today’s 5BTIA comes from Bangkok and the islands of southern Thailand.
It’s no secret that Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines. In fact, it’s a large reason why I miss Asia so much, and a great contributor to my Paris blues – I can find decent pho here at least, but I’ve yet to find a solid pad thai.
So not surprisingly, this month it was incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just five — perhaps I’ll have to do a part two someday. If you’ve never been to Thailand, put it on your to-do list right now; for those who may be heading to Thailand soon, and to the lucky travelers who are already there: please eat as much of these dishes for me as you humanly can.
1. Pad Thai
If I ever moved to Thailand, my body would become 70% pad thai. No matter which city we visited, and despite my best attempts to diversify my diet, I would always end up eating this noodle-peanut-sprout dish at least twice a day. I would eat it off a street cart in Ao Nang, I would eat it at an expensive guesthouse in Koh Lanta (#4). I would eat it chock-full of seafood, I would eat it from a vegetarian restaurant with faux-scallops. I would eat it in a house, I would eat it with a mouse.
2. Mango Sticky Rice
Another quintessential Thai dish that I could easily overdose on, mango sticky rice is as simple as it sounds: It’s just mango slices, some sticky sweet rice, and coconut milk. If you are someone like me — that is, someone who used to dump sugar into their rice porridge as a kid (okay fine, and as an adult), then this dish is made for you. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you should still try mango sticky rice at some point in your life. It’s like eating bliss.
(Note: Most mango sticky rices don’t look this delicate; usually I just ordered them off the street and ate them from styrofoam cartons with a plastic fork. This particular mango sticky rice comes from the fantastic Soul Food Mahanakorn in Bangkok.)
3. Tom Yam Soup
Just typing out “tom yam” made my mouth water. I am in love with this spicy soup — there are several variations, but my favorite is when it’s especially sour and full-to-brimming with prawns, mushrooms, and a hearty helping of cilantro on top. The only reason I didn’t order it more while in Thailand is because my spice tolerance levels aren’t that high…yet. (Fun fact: When I’m feeling not-so-hot after a night out, this is the only thing I’ll eat. Sweats the toxins out — alright, even if it doesn’t, it’s still a darn good meal.)
4. Time For Lime, Koh Lanta
I can’t rave about Time for Lime enough. Charming bungalows, incredible food, world-class mojitos, relaxing oceanside views — and the Norwegian owner, Junie, is so obviously passionate about her work. Not just towards food — all her profits go to the Koh Lanta animal shelter, which she founded. While we didn’t manage to partake in a cooking class when we stayed there, we at least got to experience a fabulous meal from the menu (which changes daily).
From left to right, top to bottom: Possibly the best mojito I’ve ever had, papaya salad, pad thai, Time for Lime soup (pumpkin, lemongrass, red curry, lime); marinated snapper with a sweet-sour-spicy sauce, spring rolls, a bitter-yet-sweet fruit dessert; lemongrass margarita. Yes, this was all ONE meal.
5. Fresh Seafood
While in Koh Phi Phi and Ao Nang, I loved the beachside restaurants that would let you choose your fish, then its method of preparation: grilled, barbecued, fried; with garlic, black pepper sauce, spice — the combinations were overwhelming. And delicious. After a long day of snorkeling, kayaking, hiking or rock-climbing (life is tough when you’re on holiday in Thailand), there was no better way to wind down than finding a table near the beach, enjoying a fresh seafood dinner, and watching the sun set over the sea.