How Lockdown in Bangkok Gave Me a Renewed Appreciation for Local Restaurants

With malls closed and bars closed, lockdown deepened our love for local eating in Bangkok. By Vincent Vichit-Vadakan

Aug 3, 2020

Bangkok residents are naturally drawn to bustling crowds—so for many of us, it’s been a new thing to eat local and stay closer to home. During lockdown, which saw gathering spots like malls and restaurants close their doors, we not only embraced take out and home delivery, but also found a new appreciation for street-food vendors and small businesses.

One suburb that really galvanized around its local foodie offerings was Khlong San on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River. Tourists here usually rush to the IconSiam mega mall, but this neighborhood is plenty rich in options that deliver a fantastic feed despite their lack of a light show or catchy theme song. Khao Soi Ni Kala (fb.com/khaosoykala; bowls from Bt60) in the heart of food-packed Charoen Nakorn Road serves some of the best northern-style curry noodles around, then there’s Pad Thai Narok Taek (286 Lat Ya Rd., Khlong Ton Sai; from Bt80 a plate), which rates highly with lovers of Thailand’s national dish. West of Khlong San, Talat Phlu (Soi Thoet Thai 25, Thonburi) is one of Bangkok’s most vibrant street- food markets, with many specialties, including coconut pudding tako from Khanom Wan Talat Phlu (1129 Talat Phlu; from Bt10). Legend says that King Rama V would sail here to eat at Mee Krob Jeen Lee (326-330 Talat Phlu; from Bt120), which has been serving the same distinctive sweet-savory crispy vermicelli since the 19th century. Speaking of retro, Walden Home Café (fb.com/waldenhomecafe; mains from Bt170) has a rustic- cozy dining room that melds coffee, books and brunch—now that Bangkokians are allowed to linger over a cuppa again.

Another neighborhood that stands out is Nonthaburi, where gourmet downtowners have been making a pilgrimage to Baan Rabiang Nam (baanrabiangnam.com; mains from Bt150) for years, with its soothing river views and sprawling menu that runs the gamut of Thai home cooking. Sweet Poppy (sweetpoppy.co.th; mains from Bt350) is another restaurant that forged on during “iso” with deliverable gourmet groceries, and all the fresh notes of an authentic Australian café, smashed-avo toast and Wagyu “sanga” included. Perennial favorite Krua Apsorn (kruaapsorn.com; around Bt1,000 for two), a family-run business doing hearty wholesome Thai recipes, also has a branch here.

Sweet Poppy’s Aussie eats. Courtesy of Sweet Poppy

In the city center, old-school Nang Loeng Market (Nakhon Sawan 6 Alley, Wat Sommanat, Pom Prap Sattru Phai) is an oft-overlooked haven of street food that has sustained locals through more than a century of trying times. Established in 1900, it holds such legendary stalls as Khao Gaeng Rattana, serving ready-cooked dishes served over rice. On Nakhon Sawan Road is the beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century house that hosts the art space Bangkok 1899 and Na Café (bangkok1899.org; dishes from Bt125) who collabed with Asylum Access Thailand to support refugee families with food and income. Just across the canal is Jay Fai (327 Maha Chai Rd.; 66-2/223-9384), the Michelin-starred Queen of the Wok, who stayed open for takeaway throughout lockdown, as did many other worthy vendors in the Pratu Phi area.

Helping connect vendors to diners, the community-run Locall Thailand (fb.com/locallthailand) delivery service launched during lockdown to support shops unable to accept dine-in customers, and provide income to out-of-work motorcycle-taxi drivers. Even after restrictions have lifted, the service continues to branch out, serving several Bangkok districts (including the ones above) and other cities like Saraburi and Chiang Mai. Customers can combine orders from the same area for a modest fee and merchants can avoid the hefty commissions charged by the big delivery companies. Chalk up another win for our neighborhood champions.

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