Where to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok

A culinary guide to what and where to eat in the Thai capital during Songkran


BY AUSTIN BUSH
Austin is a food writer and photographer, and has contributed to titles including Bon Appétit, International New York Times and Saveur, as well as to books for Lonely Planet.

Songkran, Thailand’s lunar New Year that unfolds in mid-April, is probably most closely associated with raucous, street-side water battles. But it’s also a great time to sample the country’s gastronomic side – and take advantage of dishes not generally available at other times of year. Following the recent launch of Bangkok’s first Michelin Guide, which saw the highly sought-after stars awarded to 17 restaurants, including two to Le Normandie at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok – and with 126 eateries recommended in the Guide total – there’s never been a better time to explore the city’s culinary scene, from street eats to fine dining.

Seasonal specialities

April is when many of Thailand’s fruits are at their sweet, fragrant peak. The best place to witness this bounty is the upscale Or Tor Kor Market (139/4 1 Thanon Samsen Nai), where you’ll find mangoes the size of poodles, tennis ball-sized mangosteens – dubbed the queen of fruit – and the infamously pungent durian – the king of fruit – among stalls selling other produce and ingredients, housewares and prepared food. 

Another seasonal treat is khao chae, one of the more unique dishes in the country. Taking the form of flower-scented rice served in icy water along with sides that can range from stuffed and deep-fried chillies to slightly sweet strands of preserved radish, it’s something of an acquired taste, but for those in Bangkok and central Thailand, it’s as seasonal as a Thanksgiving turkey. Try it at Baan Wannakowit (by appointment only), a century-old house that serves a short menu of Bangkok-style dishes.

Street food

Some of the best of Bangkok’s bounty is found on its streets, a fact acknowledged even by the Michelin Guide. Perhaps the most famous of those granted the prestigious stars, is Jay Fai (327 Thanon Mahachai), a shop-house restaurant with streetside tables that specialises in indulgent, wok-fried, seafood-heavy dishes, all cooked up by its eponymous owner, Auntie Fai.

If you’re happy to brave the high temperatures and the threat of being splashed with copious amounts of water, hit the streets of Bangkok’s hectic and atmospheric Chinatown, where you’ll find open-air noodle and durian vendors. Stand out stalls include Nai Mong Hoi Thod (539 Thanon Phlap Phla Chai), which does variations on an eggy crepe topped with mussels or oysters, and Nay Hong (Thanon Yukol 2), the place to go for kuaytiaw khua kai, wide rice noodles flash-fried with egg and chicken. 

Wining and dining

In the last few years, several restaurants have opened in Bangkok that specialise in the country’s regional cuisines. 100 Mahaseth offers a fusion on the meaty dishes of Thailand’s northern provinces and specialises in the nose-to-tail trend. Sri Trat explores seafood-heavy, herb-forward dishes from the country’s eastern seaboard.

For something altogether different, stop into Italian staple Appia, which has put together a seasonal menu of dishes from Rome that sing spring. Alternatively, at chef Arnaud Dunand-Sauthier’s two-Michelin-star Le Normandie, the flavours of Savoy and Brittany meet over stunning views of the Chao Phraya River.

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