A culinary guide to Bangkok

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Not too long ago, splurging on a Thai meal in Bangkok could only mean dining in what’s known as Royal Thai Cuisine: white tablecloth affairs serving royal recipes from central Thailand, with finely sculpted veggies and meticulously balanced flavors, but light on the chillies and funky ferments. And while stalwart restaurants such as R-Haan and Saneh Jaan still serve up the classics, the past decade has seen a new generation of chefs study, dissect and reinvent recipes far beyond royal kitchens.

Take Sorn, a two-star Michelin spot that dives deep into long-lost recipes and indigenous southern ingredients. Surat Thani’s signature crab leg with crab roe and chilli paste is probably the only reason why its art deco dining room books out months in advance. Sri Trat, meanwhile, pays homage to the seafood-heavy cuisine of the southeastern province of Trat with shrimp paste relishes and herb salads with pickled barracuda. When it comes to the nine-course menus at the recently opened North, the Chiang Rai-born chefs take inspiration from the ancient Lanna kingdom of northern Thailand. Amuse-bouche included
bites of kaeng kradang (jellied pork) and main courses feature northern ingredients such as fermented paddy crab and ma kwaen peppercorns.
Everyday staples have also been given a gourmet twist: At Wana Yook, chef Chalee Kader focuses on khao gaeng, the type of pre-cooked assorted curries you’ll find served at counters all over the city. Here, however, this comfort food classic is part of a beautifully presented tasting menu. Potong dishes, meanwhile, take flavors from Chef Pichaya Utharntharm’s Thai-Chinese heritage, recasting Chinatown specialties such as oyster omelet and roast duck into haute cuisine creations.

Fortunately, there has also been a push towards sustainability, as more chefs in the city eschew imported produce in favor of Thailand’s bountiful wealth. At Canvas, chef Riley Sanders scours the countryside for wild, organic ingredients — like termites and hairy eggplant — and pairs them with European cooking techniques, while the kitchen at nose-to-tail restaurant 100 Mahaseth s ensures that none of its Thai-raised meat goes to waste (you can expect to see tripe chips, roasted marrow bones and dry-aged beef tongue on the menu). Even bars have jumped on the locavore bandwagon: Asia Today’s cocktails, for example, center on Thai fruits and wild honey, while drinks at the stylish Ku Bar incorporate local market finds such as pandan, chrysanthemum and bael fruit.

And then, of course, there is street food. Despite tighter regulations for vendors across the city, Jay Fai, Bangkok’s first Michelin-starred street restaurant, is still doing great business. Tasty smoke always wafts through the streets from dawn to dinner, and a rainbow of curries, stir-fries and numbing som tum papaya salads can be had for pennies a plate. So whether you’re looking for the finer side of fine dining or a pocket-friendly meal, dining in Bangkok has never been so exciting.

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