There’s only one reason for me to visit Chinatown. The same reason as most people. I go to stuff my face with delicious Chinese food. I do this often at my local Bangkok Chinatown; an area centred around Yaowarat Road and the sprawling maze of backstreets surrounding it. But the Chinatown in Bangkok isn’t so different than any other Chinatown of the world. Chinese foods rarely change from one Chinatown to the next. Chinese food is always Chinese food. When visiting Bangkok Chinatown ignore the conflicting recommendations blogged across the internet. Just go, get lost, eat a lot and stumble on your own street food gems. This is a basic introduction to Bangkok Chinatown and what to look for when eating Chinese food.
Eating in Chinatown: Dim Sum
Bite-sized treats, traditionally served in bamboo steaming baskets and accompanied with tea (yum cha). With vast varieties, I will in no way try to name them all. Instead here are a couple of my favourites. Found on most Chinatown dim sum menus, the popular steamed shumai dumplings and baozi buns (bao). Eat as a snack and and leave plenty space for the heavier Chinatown treats.
Minced meats wrapped in wonton-esque cases and steam cooked. Generally served as portions of three (as do many dim sum dishes). Shumai dumplings are traditionally made with pork but can be found as an assortment of meats. Common examples on a dim sum menu include crab or shrimp shumai. Even with shumai the variations seem endless with different wraps, meats and ingredients. Eat with chopsticks. Serve with a soy and vinegar dip. Pay around 50 Baht for a set of 3 Shumai. A Thai equivalent is Kanom Jeeb which can be found as street food in Bangkok and come served with added sprinkles of toasted garlic.
Baozi Buns (Bao)
Or as I pronounce it “Pow!” Steamed bread-like buns with delicious meat or veg stuffed centres. Eating Bao buns is filling so go easy during a visit to Chinatown. Best to grab one on the go from the roadside steamers found on Chinatown backstreets. A personal favourite is the red roast pork steamed dumpling; “Bao Char Siu” or the Thai equivalent “Salapao Moo Daeng”. Pay around 20 Baht for a big bao.
Chinese Roast Duck
If looking for the Peking Duck and Pancakes popular in the west check the fancier restaurants in Bangkok Chinatown (Shangri-La Restaurant or Siang Ping Loh). Otherwise a delicious selection of roast duck dishes can be found on every Chinese menu and many Chinatown restaurants come fronted with glossy red roast ducks to lure you in. The popular roast duck dish in Chinatown comes served in a hoisin gravy and with drizzles of dark soy sauce and slices of ginger on the side. While the Chinese do top notch duck second to it is the popular Thai Roast Duck (Ped Yang) which can be found in many food courts and as street food throughout Bangkok (check here for Snooping in a Ped Yang Restaurant).
Crabs. Not the cutest creatures to look at but they sure taste good. Even tastier when cooked in curry. In Bangkok Chinatown one of my favourite foods is the Curry Crab (Poo Pad Pong Kari). Steamed crab stir fried in a curry powder. Not so different than the famous Chilli Crab of Singapore. You can order with a small dish of crab meat or go whole crab and crack into yourself. Break into the claws with your crab cracker and suck out the bits you can’t reach.
Roadside eateries pop up in the evenings to hawk an assortment of delicious Chinese sweet desserts. Beans, fruits, sweet dumplings in bowls of soy milks and syrups. Take your pick. My favourite is the Bua Loy Nam Khing a ginger syrup with big balls of glutinous rice flour (Tang Yuan) stuffed with sweet bean paste. Expect a hefty kick from the ginger. Pay around 30 Baht up.
Due to shelf life and short lived ripeness durian is rarely found outside of Southeast Asia. Bangkok Chinatown being one of the best places to find it. For those new to Durian it is often better known for its pungent smell than its taste. “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell”. The exterior is a hard spiky green shell but hidden on the inside is yellow fruit with creamy texture and sweet taste. A must for any foodie visiting Southeast Asia. You cannot leave Bangkok without sampling the Durian. Who knows you may join the fanatics. For the less adventurous try a Durian filled Chinese mooncake which can be found boxed and sold along the shop fronts of Yaowarat Road. Pictured below are Durian traders on the main Yaowarat Road and a Durian hawker in the Bangkok Chinatown backstreets during Chinese New Year celebrations.