It’s 8am and I’m the only non-Thai in the packed restaurant. Nothing is in English but that’s not a huge problem as the restaurant only serves one dish – and it comes from the huge steaming cauldron bubbling at the front of the shop. I’m in Jok Prince, in Bangrak, home to one of the best cheap eats in Bangkok; breakfast porridge.
It’s a dish I’ve never tried because it looks, well, bland, but I’m on a foodie mission this trip and I’ve decided to branch out of my comfort zone a bit….but, if I don’t do this right I’m going to end up with intestines for breakfast.
The waitress comes over – she speaks no English, I speak no Thai – and so, I use reasoning. There are three meals listed on the menu on the wall – and I know one of them comes with added intestines. Figuring that’s an extra ingredient, I theorise it’s going to be the most pricey dish and so, hesitantly, I stand up and walk over to the sign on the restaurant wall. I point at the middle dish and cross my fingers…a few minutes later, my bowl arrives.
In front of me is a steaming bowl of porridge with a generous sprinkle of ginger and spring onions on top. The meatballs I have been watching them make by hand at the counter are there, a raw egg is there (which I wasn’t expecting) but joy…..there doesn’t seem to be any extra offal.
The porridge itself, is, as I suspected, fairly bland – but my surprise egg, now cooked by the napalm-like temperature of the porridge, gives it an added creaminess. I stir in the onion and ginger and add a little of the pepper and sauces on the table creating some welcome spice – now, it’s good.
The meatballs are delicious, hearty and filling – and, while I’m not a fan of the slightly burned flavour that Jok Prince is famed for, I can see why it gives them the edge. Slurping down the whole bowl, I congratulate myself on my bravery – and give myself an inner high five that pointing has got me a great meal yet again.
I’m still celebrating my bravery as leave Jok Prince’s tiny restaurant at 1391 Charoen Krung Road and head out into the sunshine to continue my day.
It’s a weird thing to feel like I’m winning over – ordering breakfast shouldn’t be stressful – and, I’m hardly one of those people who doesn’t try things (I’ve had spiders, bugs, scorpions etc) but still, walking into a restaurant alone when you have no clear way of communicating can be a bit scary and more often than I care to admit, I find myself sneaking off to somewhere I’ve been before rather than brave it.
Sometimes though, if you really want to visit some of the best places to eat in Bangkok, especially on a budget, you have to get out of your comfort zone and off the beaten track a bit, and go where English won’t help you. A land where pointing, smiling, waving and yes, the odd happy V sign, is the language of choice. Here’s where else it worked for me.
My Best Cheap Eats in Bangkok
1. Khanon Jeeb Dumplings from the Temple Man
This was my first pointing experience – and I nearly didn’t get them. This dumpling seller has been selling his homemade dumplings outside a temple in Bangkok’s Chinatown for 50 years. He’s there daily from just before lunch until around 6 pm, but once he sells out, that’s it – you’re out of luck.
When I arrived about 5.30pm he looked as if he was packing up. Thankfully, I decided to stand and watch for a bit because someone else soon arrived at the stall. Peering over his shoulder I saw the elderly proprietor open the steamer lid to reveal a whole layer of fantastic pork, shrimp and mushroom stuffed delights.
I quickly joined the queue, pointed at the dumplings and held my fingers in the air to show I wanted five, a cost of 15 baht (about 35p or 60c AUD). They’re put into a little plastic bag with a dash of soy sauce and you eat them with a stick. A perfect starter to nibbling your way around Chinatown or, to line your stomach before you hit the ever-increasing number of hipsteresque bars in nearby Soi Nana.
You’ll find the temple dumpling man on Plaeng Nam Road round just a little way up from Yaowarat Road, the main Chinatown thoroughfare.
2. Pee Aor, reportedly the best Tom Yum in Bangkok
This trip I was staying at the Amari Watergate Hotel which is brilliant for foodies – it has its own cheese room for heaven’s sake! Taking the chance, therefore, to pick the brains of the staff there I asked them whether there were any great cheap eats nearby I should check out – Pee Aor was the answer.
This small restaurant in the backstreets of a mostly Muslim area of Bangkok specialises in the spicy Tom Yum soup you find everywhere- but, what makes theirs different is that the chef uses prawn heads in the stock to give it a creamy edge you don’t get elsewhere.
The place was packed when I arrived, always a good sign, but they quickly showed me to a table. The menu had pictures on it showing a variety of different soups (and other dishes), I quickly picked the Tom Yum with a huge prawn on top – that prawn alone would cost about $1 here in Australia, but the prawn and the delicious soup underneath it was only 60 baht (£1.35 or AU$2.40) a bowl. And amazing. It quickly went straight to the top of my list of what to eat in Bangkok.
You’ll find Pee Aor at Soi Phetchaburi 5. The nearest station is Ratchathewi.
3. Duck Soup at Sor Roong Roj, Nang Leong Market
The fact that it’s not near a station, or any touristy landmarks, means Nang Leong market is still a bit of an off-the-beaten-track foodie destination in the city, I didn’t see any other obvious tourists while I was there, but if you’re looking for cheap eats in Bangkok it’s definitely the place to be. It’s brimming with tasty budget-friendly dishes.
The day I went, not all the stalls were open but two things I did manage to try really stood out starting with the duck soup from Sor Roong Roj.
Extremely well known among Thais for their duck dishes – Sor Roong Roj has an enormous menu offering everything from whole ducks to share to simple duck soups.
As I wanted to try lots of dishes in the market I only really wanted something light,so I pointed at a small bowl of the latter from the menu they brought over.
When my soup arrived I was a bit surprised to find a whole duck leg poking out of the top! Not only did this make it extra delicious as I picked the whole pieces of duck off with my chopsticks, it seemed an absolute bargain at just 40 baht (90p or AU$1.60). The soup with the noodles is also supposed to be exceptional.
Sor Roong Roj is just outside the market on a side alley. Look for the ducks in the window as per the pic above – they have a proper restaurant on this side of the street, but you can also eat in the shop opposite which gives you a ringside seat of the street’s comings and goings.
4. The Nang Leong Market Sausage Lady
She always has a queue, and, like the Khanom Jeeb temple man, once she sells it, that’s it, she’s off home – often just after lunch.
The Nang Leong Market Sausage Lady you buy one thing,a slice of sausage which she cuts into pieces – so, far, so normal. But then she gives you a second small plastic bag full of fish crumbs and chilli!
From what I could work out, the idea is you take the bits of sausage – ideally when they are still warm – and dip them in the crumbs. The fat on the sausage helps these stick and you end up with something akin to a sausage fish finger. I also had some bits of lettuce, which I think I was supposed to wrap the whole thing in. I went with that, figuring it was kind of like a low-carb hot dog!
It’s very rich and spicy and cemented my opinion that Thai Sausage is one of those dishes you definitely need to try when you’re there (I also had good ones at the chain Som Tum Der).
The address of Nang Leong Market is Nakhon Sawan 6 Alley. You won’t see it at first as it’s in a square off the main road. Just head down one of the many alleys, often lined with tables, chairs and steaming saucepans and you’ll get there.
I was there on a Thai holiday so not everything was open, and the other places open I did try didn’t really excite me, but, if you want some more suggestions of where to find the best cheap food in the Nang Leong market this article has a lot more ideas. Prices here are really low so you can try a few different options. Note: It’s not open at night so this is definitely a place for a cheap lunch in Bangkok.
5. Stall A12 at MBK Food Island
I love Food Island which can be found on the 6th floor of the huge MBK shopping centre in Siam. It’s a temple of cheap eats, super clean and you can spend ages wandering around deciding what to eat.
This day, however, I decided to go mad and order a Thai dessert from the smiley folk (above) at stall number A12.
I pointed at the brightest most colourful bowl – and I still have absolutely no idea what was in it!. The things I could taste were coconut milk, shaved ice, lychees, lots of jelly and yes, that’s a bit of sweetcorn on the top. It was quite possibly the most sugary thing I’ve ever eaten but wow, it was good!
Plus, look how colourful it is – if unicorns ate at food courts, this is what they’d order.
MBK Food Island is on the 6th floor of the huge MBK shopping centre close to Siam. The nearest BTS station is National Stadium.
6. Beef Noodles from Wattana Panich
It’s not a short walk from Ekkamai BTS station to Wattana Panich, but, there again, you’ll need to work up an appetite for the huge bowl of beef, bean sprouts and noodles you’ll tuck into when you get there.
The address is 338 Soi Phanit Anan (just by the junction of Soi 18), and you can’t miss it when you do arrive due to the huge steaming vat of beef stew bubbling out front.
I wandered inside, sat down and tried to work out what was what. In the end, I decided whatever the guy sitting next to me was eating looked good and so I indicated to his bowl, mimed the size for small (80 baht) and sat back and watched the chefs stir the huge bowl of goodness.
The soup when it arrived didn’t have as many noodles in it as I was expecting, and it did have some meatballs that I wasn’t (this is the great thing about this pointing lark, there’s always a surprise you don’t get from reading a menu!). It was rich, flavoursome and the meat just falls apart – all that bubbling means the beef is super tender.
If you want to try it yourself, they’re open every day from 10 am to around 8-9 pm (again, if they sell out that’s that).
I got there at about noon and got a table straight away but it was getting very busy when I left. And, don’t doubt me when I say it’s a long, hot, walk up the road from Ekkamai station, take water!
7. Cool off with some Nuttaporn Ice Cream
Coconut ice cream isn’t hard to find in Bangkok, but Nuttaporn’s is supposed to be the best. This family firm has been making coconut ice cream for over 70 years. A scoop costs 30 baht (70p or AU$1.10) and you can pick your toppings – I went for some simple lychees but you can get creative and try the sweetcorn if you’re feeling brave.
Once you’ve got your scoop go and sit inside their atmospheric old shop. It’s the perfect place to escape the Bangkok madness – and only, about a 15-20 minute walk from the Grand Palace. You’ll find Nuttaporn at 94 Phraeng Phuthon Rd.
8. The Coconut Cookie Lady of Bangrak
One of the reasons I got brave enough to practise my pointing skills with all of the cheap eats above was, that I’d taken a Bangkok street food tour on one of the first days of my stay.
This focused on Bangrak, an area renowned for great street food and other cheap places to eat in Bangkok most of which wouldn’t be on the average tourist’s radar.
We went to some great small restaurants, and the famous Muslim restaurant where I ate brains for the first time, but the standout dish for me on the whole tour was something our guide simply pointed at to order as we walked past – the purple cookie type things below. Not in a million years would I have thought to order these on my own. But they were delicious.
You’ll find the cookie lady on Chareon Krung Road in Bangrak. She doesn’t really have an official address and instead works inside a tiny alley about four shops past the Watsons pharmacy if you’re heading back to the BTS station (there’s an estimated position in the map below). Look for the queue of people, or at least the grill and hot dogs.
So, there you have it, my pick of my favourite cheap eats in Bangkok that, perhaps, you might not find otherwise.
And with all the money you save, you could book yourself into Gaggan, which, with its 25-course tasting menu (that uses emojis to show the dishes) and award-winning experimental Indian cuisine that offers completely the opposite foodie experience. I tried that on on this trip too, so check here if it sounds intriguing.
Oh, and despite my concerns in Jok Prince, I actually ended up eating intestines, out of choice, when I went to Taipei recently. Check out my piece on Nine Unusual Things to Do in Taipei. for more details
If you’d rather just focus on all my best places to eat in Bangkok that I’ve mentioned above, then here’s a map of where to find them.
Oh and one final thing before I go…while it’s okay to point at a meal or a menu in Thailand, don’t point at people. It’s considered rude.
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Do you have any other brilliant places to find cheap food in Bangkok? Please add them to the comments below if you do.
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