Most travelers focus on "the best". Here's why the SECOND best pad Thai in Bangkok will always be number one to me.
We were granted media passes to the The Market Experience's Thai Cooking With A Twist class at no cost and we thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are our own. Note that some links in this post may be affiliate links, which means we are paid a small commission should you make a purchase.
Every traveler dreams of superlatives - and I'm no exception. I've been to Death Valley National Park, the hottest place on earth, as well as Perth, Australia, the most isolated city in the world. I've also made it to Bagan, Myanmar, home to the largest concentration of religious structures in the world - and even to Nackawic, New Brunswick, site of the world's largest axe! After all, who doesn't love seeing the biggest, largest, highest, and best when they travel?
Therefore, you might be a bit surprised when I tell you that I fell in love with the SECOND best pad Thai in Bangkok - and I couldn't be happier that I did.
What exactly makes the pad Thai created by The Market Experience very nearly the finest in all of Bangkok, save but one? We'll get to that shortly! First, you need to build up to the moment, which is exactly what we did when we had the privilege of joining The Market Experience's Thai Cooking With A Twist cooking class and market tour.
As long time readers know, Ryan and I adore cooking classes and market tours. And it's not just because we're obsessed with great food! Nothing can compete with the delectable combination of culture and community, along with the chance to chat with locals, see their work- and even say hello to their cats! With Chef Kwang and company owner Simon encouraging us, we had the most immersive and delicious experience imaginable - and it was one that included the city's second-best pad Thai! Suffice it to say, there's nothing like it in all of Bangkok.
To begin, take a step into the Yodipman Flower Market with us.
Market Adventures Bring Sweet Treats
Soft, sweet, fluffy snowball-style coconut desserts? Yes, please! I couldn't have asked for a more delicious introduction to Yodpiman market.
While most markets are famous for their edible wares, Yodpiman is a bit of an exception. It's Bangkok's flower market and, as such, produce stalls and snack stands are dwarfed by endless rows of bouquets, garlands, and loose blooms. However, I must say that these special 'snowballs' seemed right at home. They were so pretty that they looked a bit like fluffy flowers themselves.
In between heavenly bites, we learned that while the particular vendor we were visiting was famous for their homemade treats, not all food stalls share the same distinction. A lot of the sweets are made as offerings for graves, temples, and ceremonies. As such, not all confectionery products in the market are of a high quality. Good to know!
The "snowballs" weren't the only yummy treat we were able to indulge in during our market tour. Juicy white guava came next. I'm more familiar with tangy, small, pink guavas and the refreshing neutral flavor of the white guava was a nice surprise.
Keen eyes will spy dragon fruits, citrus fruits, pears, grapes, and more in the background of my photos. The fruit selection in the markets is truly outstanding. In fact, the cooking class menu includes a Thai style fruit salad. Alas, thanks to the debacle that is Bangkok's traffic, we most regrettably arrived late and didn't have the chance to enjoy it. Next time!
Spice-shy foodies should note that this fruit dish is an excellent example of how The Market Experience takes everyone's flavor and heat preferences into account. Thailand might be famous for curries and pungent herbs but if chili peppers and strong flavors aren't for you, don't dismay. You're still going to have a sensationally delicious day!
Yodpiman Is The Cat's Meow
The best thing about any market isn't its wares and goods. It's the people, it's the families - and sometimes it's the pets! Can we just pause for a moment to talk about these amazing cats?
Just like their counterparts all around the world, these cats had zero concerns about the humans around them. Steal the seat of a scooter for a nap? Yes, please. Commandeer an empty Styrofoam produce box as your own personal nest? Absolutely. I have no doubt these fine felines have the market vendors in the palm of their hands -er, make that their paws.
Discovering The Market's Tiniest Shops and Stalls
If there's one thing that's better than shopping for your own feast, it has to be spying on other people while they prepare theirs. I couldn't pull my eyes away from these three elderly gentlemen perched on their jaunty stools! While I wouldn't have traded the meal we made for the world, I was overwhelmed with curiosity about what they were tucking into. What was being served up at this tiny counter? I'm soaked with regret that I didn't stop and peer into their bowls.
Equally intriguing along the way was a small shop that specialized in selling different kinds of curry paste - the exact same thing we were going to make in just a few minutes. My confidence soared when I heard that many Bangkok residents never make their own curry paste from scratch. Of course, their reason is that it's so affordable and easy to get it from the market but in that moment, I was basking in the idea that they didn't have the same culinary mettle as we did, willing to stare down garlic and turmeric and coriander root all in the pursuit of paste perfection.
Shopping For Extra Ingredients Along The Way
With Chef Kwang at the helm, we picked up some extra ingredients and snacks to augment the spread of food back at the cooking class. Salted eggs, fermented noodles, and produce for our upcoming green papaya salad were quickly snapped up and we got a few important lessons in produce selection as we went.
One key piece of knowledge I was happy to tuck away was that when it comes to Thai tomatoes, smaller is better. The cherry tomatoes are flavorful and sweet but the larger sizes aren't quiet as pungent and are better used in dishes where they aren't required to be the star flavor.
Endless Batches Of Beautiful Blooms
The Market Experience doesn't host its cooking classes in the mezzanine above the Yodpiman Flower Market just because its a great space to work in, or because the market is so interesting to visit. Remember, the class is called Thai Cooking With A Twist. The twist is that edible flowers and blooms are used in the menu!
As such, it's arguably the most unique cooking class in the city. There's plenty of choice for classic Thai cooking lessons but none are embracing edible botanicals like The Market Experience. Tasty blossoms were added to our appetizer, our tea, our drinks, our chicken curry, and in the garnish of the pad Thai. And they even made it into the pad Thai noodles themselves! Jars of brightly colored water, the deepest purple and the brightest blue coming from the extracts of flowers and herbs, were used to pre-soak the pad Thai noodles. The end result was a rainbow on our plates - but I'm getting ahead of myself!
Preparing Our Feast
Touring markets, meeting cats, and preparing a Thai feast is serious work and you have to fuel yourself properly for the experience. Enter miang-kham, my new favourite snack. We sharpened our knife skills (<---- see what I did there?) as we filled tiny serving dishes with the finely chopped ingredients necessary for this classic dish.
Miang-kham involves building your personalized bite size snacks; folding edible leaves into wee cups and stuffing them with your favourite toppings to make a different delicious morsel each time. From lemongrass to ginger, tofu to dried shrimp, garlic, and shallots - the flavor combinations were endless. Ryan couldn't get enough of the fresh chili peppers but anyone with more apprehensive taste buds will be comforted by mild peanuts, coconut, and lime.
Holding everything together, both physically and flavor wise, was a delicious sauce that we dolloped on the leaves after they were folded. Like everything else in the class, we made this from scratch and the ingredients includes tamarind, palm sugar, and fermented soy beans. Or, I should say, it did for us. Ryan is allergic to shellfish - no fish sauce for him! We were THRILLED to learn that fermented soy beans are a great alternative to fish sauce's salty depth of flavor and we were so appreciative that a shell-fish free version of each dish was available to him.
It's hard to describe exactly how delicious this sauce was. I made myself at least three maing-kham bites (okay, okay - it might have been closer to five. Perhaps six. Who can say, really?) and the fabulously sweet, tangy, salty sauce was a big part of my return visits to the table.
I don't want to give away all the secrets from the cooking class but I'll let you in on something. There are no shortcuts here. The Market Experience doesn't use jars of pre-minced garlic or containers of pulverized ginger. If something needed to be chopped, minced, julienned, masticated or otherwise transformed, we were the ones to do it. We got plenty of advice and feedback along the way to ensure our techniques were -more or less - correct.
While we joked that we were going to have impressive arm muscles when all the mortar and pestle work was done, being responsible for all ingredient preparation certainly had an upside. Every dish we prepared was truly personalized for each of us. I made sure my green papaya salad, above, got an extra dose of Thai garlic and a hearty measure of chopped peanuts, while Ryan slipped an extra chili into his.
Pounding Out The Recipe For Great Curry
About that no-shortcuts approach... There is definitely no easy way out when it comes to making homemade curry paste! Unless, of course, you visit that special market stand where they do all the work for you. But there were no pre-purchased products for us. Piece by piece, we slowly transformed both every day ingredients and some more unusual additions (by the standards of our pantry) into the most smooth, fragrant, luxurious curry paste that would become the foundation of the best chicken coconut curry we've ever had.
So what exactly goes into a spectacular curry paste? There's no way I'm revealing all our newly found secrets! Here's a few hints... coriander root, unpeeled Thai garlic, and lemongrass were some of our favourite flavors. And there was a fun twist in the final dish itself - lotus root! It was an excellent tribute to our beautiful surroundings at the flower market.
You might be wondering why is Ryan grinning so much in the photo above? It's not just because he's so proud that he made an amazing dish from scratch. It's because it's the first time he's really been able to indulge in Thai food completely worry free. There was no surprise shrimp or hidden fish sauce to stress over. For once, it was all indulgence, all the way for him.
It's Pad Thai Time!
Ah, the pad Thai! The ultimate pièce de résistance of our time in Bangkok. I wasn't kidding when I said it's the second best pad Thai in city. The team from The Market Experience did a blind taste test, putting their dish up against the most famous pad Thai dishes from around the city. Using a mix of expats and local foodies as judges, every platter of pad Thai was carefully evaluated. Talk about a dream job! In second place - it was their own creation!
I can't say that I'm surprised. The entire dish is made fresh, from scratch, and can be personalized to each person. Everything is organized before the cooking begins so each individual ingredient is added to the pan at precisely the right time to ensure perfect temperatures. And, in a twist I had never heard of before, the shrimp are cooked at the beginning of the process and - brace yourselves! - their heads are squished to release extra flavor before being discarded. The barely-cooked (and now headless) shrimp are removed from the pan to avoid overcooking, rejoining the dish at the very end. While Ryan and I ate shellfish free pad Thai, I am convinced that this method of shrimp cooking makes a huge difference in the overall quality of the finished product.
You can see the results of the taste test here. Despite my passion for pad Thai, I'm not tempted in the least to track down the official first place winner. Second place is absolutely number one for me! Eating a pad Thai that was such a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth was an exceptional experience and it seemed fitting that the beauty of Yodpiman market was reflected in the colorful plate.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like these posts from our first visit to Bangkok in 2013.
Back to Bangkok: Day 14 & 15 of Our Round-the-World Trip
From Bosphorus to Bangkok - Day 8 of Our Round The World Trip
Cruising the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
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