A Multicultural Food Trail in Bangkok’s Creative District
Bangkok’s story began along the banks of the Chao Praya River, it is where the first European, Chinese, Malay and Arab traders came to shore. A bustling place in the time of King Rama, Bang Rak is reminiscent of a European quarter, with warehouses, churches, mosques, temples and even a tramline! Overlooked for many years, Bang Rak is now emerging as Bangkok’s Creative District with artists, designers and foodies taking over abandoned shophouses and old office buildings. A hotbed of diversity where East meets West and the old sits with the new.
Bang Rak is still home to an old riverside community where heritage is part of everyday life. It is the best place in Bangkok to find authentic multicultural cuisine with recipes being passed on for generations. No-nonsense sharing of food and culture at markets, little restaurants and small street-side cafés serving up biryani, stuffed rotis, samosas, beef balls, dumplings and more. The happy folks from Urban Studies Lab, a community-driven placemaking collective who settled in the neighbourhood, roamed the streets to ask locals for their favourite food joints, the best dishes and the stories behind the recipes. In this Bang Rak food trail they share 15 hidden culinary gems.
1. Bangrak Bazaar
Bangkok may be a city obsessed with shopping centers, but Bangkokians still love their street markets, especially those open after sunset. Bangrak Bazaar sells everything you never knew you wanted for affordable prices, it is where the locals shop, from socks to phone cases, without letting their wallets take a beating. At Bangrak Bazaar you will also find all sorts of foods on sticks, from squid tentacles to Thai meatballs. A seasoned market visitor would advise you to buy one or two at a time from each vendor, just so you can have a little taste from all of them.
Bangrak Bazaar (Yellow Umbrella Market) . Soi Charoenkrung 50 south of Robinson Bang Rak . Open daily 7pm-10pm
2. Gold Spices
Gold Spices is a small shop with a large variety of spices and herbs, sarongs and other household items catering to Muslim community in Bangrak.
Owner Khun Phuwanat Thiralak is the third generation to run the store. The family came to Bangkok from South Asia a few years before World War II, making the establishment over 80 years old.
Gold Spices . 1360 Charoenkrung Road . Mon-Sat 8am-5:30pm . +66 (0) 2 234 6735
3. Muslim Restaurant
Charoenkrung Road used to be Bangkok’s high street with wide pavements and even a tramline! In those days, Indian restaurants were a rarity, and this place was sought after o get a good biryani. Today it still this dish that drives the crowd here. The humble restaurant is now in its third generation, run by Khun Natthaphon Phayayawong. His grandfather started as a butcher at Bang Rak market selling goat meat to restaurants and palaces, then tried his luck at cooking the dishes he loved. The result was Muslim Restaurant.
Tip! Go to Muslim restaurant on Mondays. The ‘Special Goat Biryani’ is only available then. The Phayayawong family wakes up extra early to simmer goat meat for five hours before slow cooking it some more with rice.
1354-1356 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 6:30am-5:30pm . +66 (0) 2 234 1876
4. Haroon Community Coffee Shop
The Haroon Muslim neighbourhood is a maze of small alleyways. This coffee shop has become the community’s network centre. Anyone can walk in and ask owner Azza how to get in touch with a certain person or house and she will make sure they get the message. Azza grew up in Haroon community. At the time, the coffee shop belonged to her aunt. Since she was 14, she has been helping out with the business and after a brief commercial stint she decided to take over the shop and raise child within the community.
Try the Indian tea brewed with Ceylon tea! Azza gets Tata Tea, a brand rarely found in other restaurants or cafes, from Gold Spices and mixes it with Ceylon tea to create a refreshing taste. Every morning, locals gather at the shop for their daily tea fix and conversations.
Haroon Community Coffee Shop . Soi Charoenkrung 36
5. Khun Mai Roti
No matter what race or religion, all Thais love roti. This small neighbourhood stand Khun Mai Roti has captured the hearts of many residents and visitors. Be it on a plate for a sit-in meal or rolled up in wax paper for on the go, Khun Mai Roti dishes can be downed pretty quickly. This makes it ideal for residents to stop by to grab some before work. Visit the stall on a weekday morning and you will see a line of people queuing. The current owner, Khun Jiraporn Chusin hails from Phatthalung and was a primary school teacher in Songkhla. After marrying into the Chusin family, she came to help with the stall and learned the trade from her mother-in-law.
Khun Mai Roti . Soi Charoenkrung 36 . Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm . +66 (0) 89 044 4082
This trio of smiling ladies in their golden years not only operate the restaurant, but also live right above it. It is no wonder that the place looks lived in, with a hodgepodge of collector items decorating the restaurant’s interiors. Harmonique caters to those that want to enjoy their Thai meals without worrying about the fiery spices and locals that want to impress their guests with a different kind of vibe.
Harmonique . 22 Soi Charoenkrung 34 . Mon-Sat 11am-10pm . +66 (0) 2 237 8175
7. Muang Khae Beef Noodles
This eatery may not be more than a stall in a small alley with some foldable tables, but it’s a firm local favourite. The quality of their beef noodles have won the hearts of locals and keep them coming back for more.
Muang Khae . Soi Charoenkrung 34 . Open daily 11am-3pm
8. Panlee Bakery
Panlee Bakery’s may look like a modern café, but they have been around since 1950’s. The Wan family hails from the Chinese Island of Hainan. When they came to Bangkok they slowly honed their baking skills tuned in to popular demand, like the European appetite for soft white bread pan loafs and the preference of the Muslim community for chicken-filled pastries. A quick glance at the menu shows that the Wan family are constantly cooking up new recipes. Pork floss, dried shrimp, pandan, tuna, angel hair, and more pop up on the shelves.
Panlee Bakery . 1335 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 6am-8pm . +66 (0) 2 233 5428
9. Je Lee Fish Ball Noodle
Most noodle shops use ready-made ingredients, but not for Je Lee and her family. Their fish and meatballs are entirely homemade, with a texture that is now the restaurant’s trademark. Yen Ta Fo is Thailand’s variation of Yong Tau Fu (酿豆腐), a Hakka dish of tofu filled with ground meat or fish paste. This Thai version is known for its pink hue, courtesy of a fermented bean sauce that gives it a tangy flavor. The locals keep coming back for kiam ee (尖丸) short and thick rice noodles of Teochew origin, rarely found anymore in Bangkok restaurants.
Je Lee Fish Ball Noodle . 1387 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 7am-9:30pm . +66 (0) 2 234 2791
10. Jok Prince Congee
60 years ago, this now famous congee place, started off as a humble mobile food stall. The folks from the nearby Prince Theatre noticed that the congee was popular amongst moviegoers and invited them to set up a permanent stand in the theatre’s alleyway. The Jok’s not only took up the invitation but also adopted the theatre’s name. Jok Prince’s congee style is decidedly Cantonese. The consistency, ingredients, and base flavours point to recipes from Hong Kong. Jok Prince’s signature smoky flavour happened by accident was a hit but among its patrons.
Jok Prince . 1391 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 6am-12pm and 4:30pm-11:00pm . +66 (0) 89 795 2629
11. Tai Sae
Tai Sae started as a grocery store serving the local Chinese population. It is a very classic Bangkok neighbourhood mom-and-pop shophouse store that has remained unchanged since it started, frozen in time, but with a loyal client base. Uncle Tai Sea is in his golden years. His parents moved to Bang Rak almost 100 years ago. Like the other Chinese immigrants, they came by boat and worked as merchants for a living before opening this store.
Tai Sae . 413 Si Wiang Road . Open daily 7:30am-8pm
In 1878, a Cantonese man named Choy Kaung came to Bangkok. His trade was in noodle dishes and in 1909, he tried his luck at a siu mei (燒味) style shop specialized in roasted meat. Choy’s rich sauce and deep barbeque flavor earned him a stellar reputation for the best roasted duck in the capital.
In the early days the restaurant was simply called ‘new store’ in Chinese. During the 20s, when Prachak married into the family, he renamed the restaurant after himself. That helped Thai speakers spread the word and the rest is history. Now in its fourth generation, people still queue here every day.
Prachak . 1415 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 8am-8:30pm . +66 (0) 2 234 3755
13. Hiab Ji Tung Medicine Store
Hiab Ji Tung has been treating the Chinese community for over 100 years. With large Chinese immigrant population in Bang Rak, the clinic still does a brisk business. People come here for herbal medicines, the ingredients are then pulled from the many wooden drawers and weighed using an original scale. Traditional Chinese medicine practices may be dwindling in Bangkok but Hiab Ji Tung is still standing and even provides diagnostics via pulse and tongue symptoms. Originally, Hiab Ji Tung carried a wide variety of medicinal animals ingredients like turtle shells, shark fin and bear bile. In a response to global wildlife conservation The Tungs now only carry plant-based medicines.
Hiab Ji Tung Drug Store . 1439 Charoenkrung Road . Open daily 7:30am-9pm
14. Yan Wo Yun
Yan Wo Yun is known for herbal teas, dried meats and sauces for home cooking. The Chinese like their soy sauce and the small store adopted the name of popular soy sauce brand Yan Wo Yun. People queue here every day for the shop's unique version of twenty-four flavors tea, a Cantonese bitter herbal drink for medicinal purposes. The Yan's use more than 30 ingredients to produce the mixture that is sure to give one a good kick in energy.
Yan Wo Yun . 1443 Charoenkrung Road . Mon-Sat 8am-9pm . +66 (0) 81 566 2313
15. Kamou Tokzung
Bangkok's most famous braised pork leg restaurant was born and is still located in the same corner shophouse where it was founded in 40 years ago. Even now that Kamou Tokzung has branches all over the city, diners still flock to the original store in Bang Rak. The local favourites are braised pig’s trotter and crispy pork over rice. The meat, skin, and fat is a melt-in-your-mouth experience and the crispy pork crunches with each bite.
Kamou Tokzung . 106, 5 Charoen Wiang Road . Mon-Sat 10:30am-7pm .
+66 (0) 2 235 4930
Where to stay?
Prince Theatre Heritage Hostel
Before World War II, Prince Theatre was a casino and a Chinese opera theatre, very popular among the Chinese diaspora in Bangkok back then, the heart and soul of the neighbourhood and famous across the whole city. When movies became popular, Prince Theatre remade itself into a successful cinema, but as Bangkok’s development moved away from the river to Sukhumvit, so did its patrons. Soon, Prince Theatre devolved into a pornographic movie theatre before falling into complete disuse.
Today the theatre has been reborn as a boutique hostel bringing back the golden era of leisure and lust. Prince Theatre has popular dorm rooms but also caters to individual travelers with a cool collection of comfy contemporary lofts and private suites all kitted out in signature minimalist artsy style.
Prince Theatre is not only a cool place to stay, it also brings a fresh perspective to the longstanding heritage of the neighbourhood.
Prince Theatre Heritage Stay . 441/1 Soi Si Wiang . +66 (0) 2 090 2858
This food trail has been created by Urban Studies Lab, and comes with an illustrated map designed by the talented Nichapat Sanunsilp. The result of an inclusive cultural mapping project at the occasion of the Bangkok Design Week 2020 with the objective to support local businesses and keep heritage alive in this historic neighbourhood. We are grateful for the financial support of the US Embassy in Thailand.
Urban Studies Lab
Urban Studies Lab is a Bangkok-based research institute that bridges urban research to action. It is also committed to giving back to the community, believing that no civic project is too small to add value to neighbourhoods.www.facebook.com/UrbanStudiesLab
Thai painter and illustrator who works with watercolour and digitally. She is also an urbanist and has drawn inspiration from the diversity of Bang Rak.@nichacs
U.S. Embassy Bangkok
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is one of the largest in the world and is comprised of several dozen sections and agencies. The mission of the United States Embassy is to advance the interests of the United States, and to serve and protect U.S. citizens in Thailand.th.usembassy.gov