This rich, vibrant and ebullient land of smiles, food, beaches and romance owes a lot to its cultural diversity. But what is the history behind its expat communities, and how have they contributed to Thailand’s economy, culture and heritage?
Join Expat Life in Thailand as we delve into the social makeup of the country… with the food scene right at the heart of it.
The injection of different migrant communities into the fabric of Bangkok over the last couple of centuries has helped to shape the colour and flavour of its neighbourhoods. Each enclave draws on their influences from home to contribute to a rich, multicultural tapestry across the capital; the most prominent being Chinese, Japanese, Western and Indian. Each has played a significant role in shaping the Thai economy, culture and its cuisine.
In the coming months, Expat Life will produce a series of features that aims to draw a culinary mapping of Bangkok and its international communities. We will speak with prominent businesses and spokespeople from each community to better understand their history and impact on the country. And what better way to do it than through their cuisine?
Some people live for food. Many eat just to survive. And most eat simply because they are hungry. But food plays an inextricable role in the daily lives of every community. It is integral to the customs and rituals of a society, its hospitality, celebrations and religion. We will begin with the communities who have had the greatest impact on the country and its cuisine.
Considered the birthplace of Thai street food, locals believe the famous Yaowarat Road resembles the spine of a dragon’s back. The Chinese expats introduced new cooking techniques to Thailand that are integral to the creation of many of today’s (central) Thailand favourites, including: stir-frying, deep-frying and broths, incorporating noodles, duck and eggs in savoury dishes and utilising woks and chopsticks.
In recent years, as the average income of Thai people has risen, high-priced Japanese dishes have become more affordable to more Bangkokians. A number of chain restaurants has fed into this boom, such as Yoshinoya (gyudon), Gyu-Kaku (yakiniku) and Kourakuen (ramen). At last count, Japanese restaurants exceeded well over 2,000 in the Thai capital. Considering the population of 50,000, that’s a mightily impressive ratio of 25:1 – Japanese expats to restaurants.
Street-side roti and Indian fine dining can be discovered all over the city, particularly around the neighbourhoods of the two Little Indias. The first: a predominantly Sikh neighbourhood near Chinatown with crowded alleyways and street stalls. The second, just a few kilometres across the old town pays homage at the a famous Hindu temple on Silom Road, Bangrak. But the leading light and superstar on the scene is multi-award-winning chef Gaggan whose culinary mastery and creativity is reshaping what we understand of Indian cuisine.
Korea Town Plaza is a busy little shopping arcade located between BTS stations Asoke and Nana. Adorned in Korean hangol symbols and national flags, the crumbling arena is packed across three floors with businesses and restaurants that trade in Korean imports – the most successful of them all being K-Pop and Thai teens’ obsession with the country’s youth culture. Korean restaurants are a much scarcer phenomenon here in the Big Mango in comparison to other Asian imports. But this enchanting arcade is the perfect place to start.
The Middle Eastern enclave teems with energy and caters to the growing number of Arab tourists. The cushioned shishah lounges and humble halal eateries jostle for position among the red lights and go-goers catering to those who yearn for Mediterranean, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, or even Syrian. Tune in here for the few stylish outliers jotted about the city.
Are you looking for inspiration for new places to eat in Bangkok? Do you need fresh insight delivered in a quick, easily digestible blog format?
Check out firstworld nomnoms, a blog by two of our regular contributors, Wentworth and Isabella Power.
About the blog
Here in Bangkok we are blessed with an abundance of food at affordable prices. You can encounter equally delicious dishes at the stall of a creative street vendor as you can while dining at the hands of a Michelin-star chef in opulent surroundings. The food is generally more affordable and of far greater quality than we expect back home in our mother lands: Australia and the UK.
With hundreds of miles of coastline, and an entire kingdom of fertile lands, Thais have an abundance of natural produce that are rich in flavour. The fruits are so sweet and juicy, vegetables emit vivid colours, rice varieties are aromatic, and the herbs and spices activate and challenge every taste receptor in the tongue. No food in this land of plenty need ever be served bland. Combine that with the multicultural influences of numerous expat communities, a burgeoning economy and gastronomic scene, and you realise we are truly fortunate to be living in Thailand. The food is first class; some of the best in the world. It’s first-world nom noms.
Week by week, Isabella and Wentworth record their discoveries and hopefully give you something to chew on. They begin with visits to some of Bangkok’s most famous restaurants, including those which made it on to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, such as Gaggan, Eat Me, Nahm and Bo.Lan. As they progress, the pair aims to create a culinary mapping of their favourite restaurants, food markets and neighbourhoods that presents the rich cartography of the city and its communities.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in articles posted at firstworldnomnoms are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of Expat Life in Thailand magazine.