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Bangkok - Thailand

Thais take their food very seriously. Combine this with Bangkok's vibrant cosmopolitanism and you have a city that will keep your taste buds singing. You might dine in a traditional Thai house serving the finest Thai cuisine or find yourself in a French restaurant able to compete with the best Parisian kitchen. You can savor the latest Pacific Rim fusion or a serving of pasta that makes even an Italian proud. Or if it is simply noodles at 3a you are looking for, Bangkok's street stalls will keep you satiated.

Thai cuisine has spread across the globe in the past three decades at an unprecedented speed. The reason is not hard to fathom—the food is absolutely delicious. There are two types of Thai cooking: royal Thai cuisine and the "common" fare. The former is traditionally served to royalty, and usually garnished with exquisitely carved fruits and vegetables. Benjarong is one of several fine restaurants serving royal Thai cuisine.

"Common" Thai food is what Thais eat every day. Each of the four regions in Thailand has a distinct cuisine, but unless you are dining in a restaurant specializing in regional cooking, you are likely to find a blend of cuisines on most menus.

In the central region, the food is known for being hot, salty, sweet and sour. Dishes such as nam phrik (dips) and soups served with boiled rice are standard fare. In the northeastern region, sticky rice is the staple accompaniment to such popular dishes as som tam (green papaya salad), gai yang (barbecued chicken) and laap (salads of meat and fresh herbs). Much of the street food in Bangkok is from the northeast, due to the large number of vendors coming from the region. Food from the north tends to be mild, salty and sour, but not sweet. Fermented sour pork sausages (you can see them being barbecued on the street) are a favourite. In the south, fish and sour curries (without coconut milk) are the normal diet.

Good places to start your Thai culinary adventure include Baan Khanitha , Lemon Grass, Harmonique and Cabbages and Condoms. Large hotels usually have excellent Thai restaurants, among them the Celadon, Thai on 4 and Basil.

If you are out shopping and want a quick meal, you will be surprised by the quality and range of food served at very low prices in the food halls of malls. There is usually a coupon system in place, whereby you can conveniently pay for your meals with coupons and return any unused ones afterwards. The Emporium food hall is particularly good, and so are the Tops supermarket halls. And, of course, there is street food: Point, smile and you will most likely be pleasantly surprised by what you get.

On the other hand, if it is international cuisine you are hankering for, Bangkok will satisfy you all the same. From Indian to Greek, Middle Eastern and Latino—name your cuisine and somewhere there will be a waiter ready with an appropriate menu. Throughout the city there are loads of Chinese (Mei Jiang, Bai Yun) and Japanese (Benihana, Edogin) restaurants, and while European restaurants are relatively new on the scene, there has been a recent boom in Italian cuisine, with oldies such as Angelini's and Rossini's attracting huge crowds. Several French restaurants have also opened to rave reviews, such as Le Café Siam and Auberge Dab.

British and Irish pubs serving hearty fare are also making an impact. The Bull's Head is an old favourite, while The Dubliner Irish Pub and The Londoner Brew Pub are relatively new kids on the block. Then there are the "international" restaurants serving Asian and Italian-inspired dishes, but which refuse to be easily pigeonholed: Eat Me, Greyhound Cafe, Indigo and Zanzibar to name a few.

Bangkok's pubs and bars are up there with the best, although it is worth noting that steep taxes on wine push even basic table vino into the expensive bracket. At its very core, Bangkok is a beer-and-whiskey town. In many establishments you can order a bottle of whiskey which will be kept for your next visit. There are a number of micro-breweries (The Londoner Brew Pub and Hartmannsdorfer Brauhaus are two) to keep ale lovers happy and plenty of bars for spirit sippers (from the laid-back Bangkok Bar and Cheap Charlie's to the more upmarket The Barbican). Then there are the Thai pubs where live bands play popular Thai songs and, at some stage in the evening, the ubiquitous Hotel California. Ad Makers is just such a pub. Lounge bars could be the next big thing, with About Café and Studio and Q Bar setting the trend.

Note that Thai pubs and bars serve delectable food, making an evening of bar-hopping a fine way to pass the time. Try the area around Phra Arthit Road or Narathiwat Soi 15 for such an evening.

Coffee is enjoying a boom in Bangkok, and although Starbucks may now be everywhere, other chains like Au Bon Pain as well as one-off coffee and tea shops such as Kuppa and The China Journal are springing up.

Bangkok is dotted with literally hundreds of eateries and nightspots. Do not be afraid to be adventurous: It is difficult to find a bad meal in the "City of Angels." In fact, dining and drinking will most likely become one of the highlights of your trip here.
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