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best of bangkok - eating pad thai

travel + culture

on the road and what's out there.


best of bangkok - eating pad thai

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

one of the most common questions i get asked from friends near and far, close to heart and even those more distant.... is "hey we are going to visit Thailand soon...any recommendations?"

i am always kind of at a loss for what to say.  my passion for Bangkok is well known and deep, it truly bleeds from my pores.  i love that city with my whole heart...and it's hard to convey that to friends who are visiting a few days, etc.  Bangkok is HOME, living there is heaven, and i never know where to start!  so many amazing places to eat, so many great places to hang out and dance so manly great things to see.  

so...i decided to kind of consolidate and discuss some of my favorite places around the locations we've visited/lived in on the blog!  this way i can go into a little more detail about what the foods are, different options for ordering, how to get there...etc.  and basically why these places are the best!

so first up... pad thai in bangkok.  pad thai is probably one of the most iconic dishes in the thai cuisine, and lots of people come to Thailand wanting to try the dish in its home country.  the irony i suppose is that it's not typically eaten or ordered very often in day to day life in Bangkok.... but don't get me wrong.  it's not because "real thais don't eat pad thai."  it's because real thais know where the best sh*t is and they won't eat anything but.

Thip Samai.  the end all be all of pad thai.  it's a pad thai-only restaurant in the old town of Grung-Thep (thai for Bangkok), conveniently located near the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (the two most popular tourist attractions in the city), and it honestly has the best pad thai in the city.  i couldn't tell you exactly what they do differently (other than simmer the sauce down for days on end), but it is...undoubtedly the best.

that's my sister and me eating pad thai at Thip Samai.  by thai standards, it's a pretty nice restaurant, albeit no AC, but nonetheless, it's clean, and my god the food is delicious.

so OK. you've made it to Thip Samai.  you've waited in the little queue and now you have a table...but what do you order?  

pad thai.  it's the only thing on the menu, but as with all thai food, there are a 1,001 variations for which you can enjoy your beautiful dish.  pad thai is a flat rice noodle tossed in a hot wok with the "pad thai sauce," which is a blend of fish sauce, sugar, tamarind and garlic.  it's a complex sauce and is very difficult to it's best left to the experts :-)  there are many add-ons to pad thai including tofu, egg, shrimp, and/or chicken...amongst many others...but all of these are optional.  

at Thip Samai, i love getting the pad thai noodles with shrimp and then wrapped in a freshly cracked, thinly cooked scrambled egg.  it appears on your plate wrapped up in a neat little package, like this.... 

image via

image via

it's beautiful isn't it?  you order it like such: pad thai goong haw kai sot.  which literally translate to pad thai with shrimped wrapped in fresh egg.  if that isn't beauty in simplicity, nothing is.  it has shrimp and tofu as add-ins.  if you don't like shrimp (people's most common distaste in food, fish/shellfish)...then you just say pad thai haw kai sot, mai sai goong. mai sai means "not made with" - it's a VERY helpful phrase if you're visiting thailand and have a certain food you dislike.  check out how to say it in thai below.... (disclaimer: my thai is not perfect, but i think i do pretty well for myself!  and hey - they understand me, that's what counts!)

all right - so you've ordered your pad thai, and it has arrived on your table.  along with a little tray of condiments that aren't exactly familiar.  

image via

image via

these are the kind of condiments most of us westerners aren't quite used to.  so what do we have here?  in the back there, in the large glass shaker...that's sugar.  just plain white sugar.  sprinkle a little over your pad thai for a dash of sweetness.  the bottle with the red sauce is fish sauce.  if you love it, you love it and you want it on everything.  i personally don't put it on my pad thai, but to each their own.  up front, we have crush red thai chili.  do not think for one second this is any less spicy than a non-crushed chili.  the crushed chili powders in thailand will burn your face off, so sprinkle it wisely.  next...crushed peanuts.  a must-have for your pad thai.  sprinkle generously!  the other two jars are different kinds of vinegar with jalepeno-esque chili in one and straight-ass thai chili in the other.  i don't use these, but if you want to add a bit of sourness to your food, that's your jam.  my husband enjoys it, it's not my thing.  and in the salt-shaker...white pepper.  very popular in thailand.

so all right - now you've seasoned your pad thai with sugar, chili, vinegar, etc.  now squeeze the provided lime on your noodles, throw a handful of fresh bean sprouts that they give you on there..and you are READY TO EAT!  chopsticks are most common but feel free to go with fork/spoon if that's easier for you.  no judgement. the thais aren't like that.

another helpful hint - order the orange juice at Thip Samai.  thai orange juice is not like american orange juice, it's SO GOOD.  like the best you'll ever have.  in thai you say "nahm som" - water of the orange.  you won't regret it.  in the photo of us eating up can see i have a bottle of it next to definitely cools the heat of that crushed chili, too! 

how to get there:  map provided below.  also, cab drivers will know it by name.  if you ask your cab driver or dtuk dtuk driver to take you to "thip samai pad thai" - they'll know.  also, please note: it is pronounced "tip" samai.  in thai, the "th" sound is simply a "t" sound :-)  


and finally - just enjoy it.  it is the best pad thai in Bangkok and it doesn't matter if you order it wrong or right or with or without shrimp or if it isn't in the little egg package.  thai food is beautiful in all forms and you'll enjoy your experience no matter what.  and hey - you can order in english too.  but it's kind of fun to try the thai out, right?  give it a shot.

have fun!