I love to eat, and food tourism is a big part of what I enjoy about travel. So I was very excited to book a day long food tour of Bangkok. I found this tour through ILikeLocal, a company focused on peer to peer travel experiences in Southeast Asia. And it was a magnificent introduction to so many delicious Thai foods from all around the country, visiting several outdoor markets, lots of food stalls in the streets, two restaurants, and even a traditional Thai herbalist. The only problem was my full stomach, limiting my tasting while I worked up an appetite in between stops.
I’ve written several reviews of sharing economy travel activities and there’s a category for both food tourism and other activities in my spreadsheet of peer to peer travel services if you want to find companies offering these services. I like the peer to peer tours because these generally involve locals who are passionate about some aspect of their city/town and are excited to share it with travelers. And with these tours you often get to see things that are not on the typical tourist path, in a much smaller group than standard tours.
For my day of food in Bangkok we toured around a part of the city that I had barely explored (this is my third visit to Bangkok). And in almost every place we went I was the only tourist in sight. My guide, Chin, has been doing this for about three years now, and she has created a relationship with many of the food purveyors on the route. So lots of people were asking her what I was eating, stopping her to chat, offering me tidbits of food to taste, and even letting me try out making some of the food.
And Chin knew the history behind each of the cooks. There was the coconut ice cream shop that was started by the current owner’s father, who offered only coconut ice cream all his life, and when he passed on recently his daughter added in mango ice cream to the menu (we had to try both).
The restaurant where the women who make curry paste from scratch showed me all the ingredients they use.
And the many stalls that have been making the same thing for years, with recipes handed down the generations.
My favorite part of the day (aside from all the eating, that is) was going behind the counter to join the cooks and do a bit of the food prep myself. Trying to shape the sweet and savory desert pork balls, flipping over the rice flour crepe-like things as they were steaming, and learning how to make the little cups out of folded and stapled leaves that hold the sticky rice deserts. I received the dubious complement from one cook that my food shaping was “artistic,” meaning the round balls I was trying to make were not very round.
My only complaint about the day is that my need for calories can’t keep up with a day long food tour of Bangkok. That’s a problem I don’t mind having! But I definitely recommend taking a few friends along on these tours so that you can share everything. Chin wanted me to try lots of different foods (and of course I was happy to oblige) so she kept purchasing dishes, and there was no way I could eat more than a few bites of each one. Fortunately she thought of everything: providing me with a tote bag to carry my leftovers for later (in a few days when I’m finally hungry again).