Earlier this year Asia's 50 Best Restaurants recognised David Thompson with a lifetime achievement award. But there's plenty to suggest the Australian-born Thai food master is far from done. While his Bangkok restaurant Nahm – currently ranked 37 in the World's 50 Best list – continues to set the bar for rustic, authentic, high-end Thai food, his street food spin-off, Long Chim, has opened in Singapore, Perth and, later this year, will open in Sydney's CBD.
A prolific reader and researcher on ancient and modern Thai cuisine, Thompson's book Thai Food is regarded by many chefs as the definitive guide. He followed up in 2010 with Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions and appeared in an accompanying SBS television series in 2014. Here he shares his top five must-try Bangkok street food dishes and his favourite places to eat them.
"Pat bai grapao is one you should certainly always have. It's stir-fried meat with holy basil, a whack of chillies and a slap of garlic. It's just delicious because it's simply stir-fried over a fierce heat – you can always smell it being cooked because your eyes sting. You eat it with rice and a fried egg. It's one of the dishes that Thais – and I find myself, too – miss the most when away from the country. Every market and night eating area serves this. My current favourite is nearby Chula University. It is Dtalart Suan Luang Chula, Soi 18. Open only at night, they make it with minced beef, garlic and chillies. It's a slap across the face and the palate, and you know you're alive when you eat this mixed with rice and a fried egg or two. I like mine with extra chillies and fish sauce.
"Luk chin pla (fish ball noodle soup). I love noodle soups: fish dumpling soups, tripe soups with noodles, beef dumpling soups, chicken soups, roast duck soups – I love them all. And to me, noodles in general are the dishes that are Thai street food par excellence. The stall [I like] is open only at night. Crowds mill around waiting for it to open at 6pm and it's sold out by 9pm. It is halfway down Soi Song Sawat in Chinatown. Walking from Yaowarat Road (the main drag in Chinatown) it is 200 metres on the left, on the corner of a small alleyway with a satay shop opposite. It has no name but they sell the best fish dumpling and egg noodle soup. Order one bowl but then don't be surprised if you want another. Season the noodles with dried chillies, sugar, fish sauce and vinegar: eat, sip and you'll know you're in Bangkok.
"Raat naa is one of my favourite stir-fried noodle dishes. It's charred noodles topped with a liquid sauce thickened with tapioca flour and it's absolutely ravishing. You have it with some chilli soured in vinegar, some chilli powder, fish sauce and sugar. Because, you see, all street food dishes are unfinished; they are seasoned to a certain extent and it's assumed the diner will want to add their flavouring component. There is a famous place in Ratchawat Street in the north of Bangkok near Sahm Saen. But honestly almost every market has a stall making these unctuous noodles. I like mine with slices of pork and Chinese broccoli but others prefer chicken or prawns. Each to their own, really, as the choice on the streets for raat naa and most dishes is generous and beguiling.
"I like an oyster omelette (Hoy tod) and there's one place I know that I enjoy the most. Mong Hoi Nang Tort is the name of this shop/house, 539 Thanon Phlapplaachai, off Charoen Krung Road. I honestly think this is the best place for an oyster omelette in the whole of Bangkok. The family have been doing it for 50 years. Grandma rarely cooks now but her children do as they man the pan and churn the eggs over smouldering charcoal, which perfumes them and the oysters that top this crunchy treat. Eat it with the sriracha sauce. They are open from about noon to 8pm and usually closed on Mondays.
"Sweets are the pinnacle of Thai cooking. They're not seen to be the culmination of a meal as is often the case with Western desserts but, in fact, a separate meal altogether, often replacing a meal. Thais love their desserts, they have them from the afternoon onwards. I love Khanom chan because it's just gooey and slippery and unctuous. It's layers of pandanus paste with thin layers of coconut paste and it's steamed over two hours because you do layer upon layer and then you let it cool down. Some of the nicest desserts can be found in Or Tor Kor market, nearby the weekend market. It is full of sweet treats that make my head swirl. First aisle, closest to the main street, right at the top, past the fresh fruits, curries and deep-fried pork. Pick up some of those on your way up the market. It's a long walk, those 20 metres to the Kanom chan stall!"