On my first day in Bangkok, I woke up in my unbelievable suite at the Four Seasons (I know, I know, I'm so fancy) and had no idea how I was going to spend my day. After a breakfast consultation with perhaps the world's nicest publicist, I had my plan all set: I was going to the mall. Actually, that's an understatement. I was going to the mall(s). In Bangkok, mall culture is huge, especially in the Rachaprasong shopping district. There are malls upon malls upon malls, and after visiting four of them (all in a row, I might add), I was surprised to find that they all seem to have the same stores and they're all insanely busy.
Right in the center of town, just down the street from the aforementioned Four Seasons, is CentralWorld: a multi-level monstrosity of retail excess that was, at one point, the largest mall in Asia. The only thing that may compare in the states is the Mall of America, but to grasp the magnitude of this place you'll have to imagine the MoA dropped in the middle of Central Park instead of Minnesota.
Everywhere I looked was another restaurant or food stall. There was the Mister Donut offering donut sushi and McDonald's guarded by Ronald in the traditional wai greeting position. There was an outpost of legendary Michelin-starred dumpling house Din Tai Fung and roughly 600 different ramen shops. Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, American, Italian, Moroccan – CentralWorld lived up to its name as the melting pot of all food cultures. I mean, come on, they have a Sizzler. While the majority of shops in CentralWorld could easily be found in central New Jersey, the food offerings were like no mall I've ever seen.
The whole place was impressive, but the real gold was next door at Siam Paragon, another gargantuan mall which is actually next to two more mammoth malls (all named Siam Something) that make up the Siam Trilogy. You haven't heard of the Siam Trilogy? That's because it's a name I made up while imagining a Bertolucci-directed horror triptych set in Bangkok. On the ground floor of the Siam Paragon complex (and I say complex because there's a giant SeaWorld-esque aquarium in the basement) is the perfect encapsulation of the extremes of Thai food in Bangkok. On one side, you have Gourmet Market, one of the most amazingly upscale supermarkets I've ever seen. It's filled with an international selection of produce, meats, packaged goods and pretty much anything you can think of, all beautifully arranged as if the Siam Trilogy is going to start shooting there any day.
On the other side of the ground floor is the food court, although it's not exactly fair to call it a food court. It's more like an indoor night market. Each stall sells a different selection of one or two dishes and they only accept these little pay cards that you purchase up front and load with money like a university meal plan. Soups, noodles, rice — they've got it all here, and as a man of seemingly endless funds, I forked over 300 baht for my card. That's about $10 and maybe enough for a full combo meal at Big Fat Pita at an American mall. But I'm not at an American mall, despite the presence of Sizzler. Side note: I'm not very comfortable with thinking of Sizzler as American food, but I do appreciate the fact (and irony) that malls in the U.S. are filled with horrible buffets of Asian food and in Asia, the malls have horrible buffets of American food.
Anyway, I want to see how far 300 baht would get me and guess what? It went a long way. So long, in fact, that I started to feel guilty trying to order all this food. Each massive plate or bowl cost about 70 baht (aka $2), so I started to pile on the roasted duck soup with egg noodles and the Hainanese chicken/fried chicken combo plate (also came with soup and rice) and then I got really self-conscious. I imagined Thai parents turning to their children: “Hey kids, look at the chubby American guy eating FOUR ENTREES. All of those stereotypes about fat Americans are right! Let's go to Sizzler.” So I did what any red-blooded American would do. I spent the rest of my money on dessert. A glass of actual, honest-to-Jah fresh-squeezed green apple juice and a plate of mango sticky rice and I was good to go.
For anyone that's suffered through that nasty “bourbon chicken” at the Westfield Insert Town Name Here, I'm sorry. You paid too much for food that was made from the remnants of a trash compactor. You obviously need to come to Bangkok. I ate like a prince (who enjoys street food) and got to stare at windows full of dead chickens in the process. It was glorious. My only qualm is that I should have thrown caution to the wind and ordered so much more. As my mall journey continued, I came across food court after food court that tempted me to gorge again and by the time I got to my last mall, I thought my food coma had turned to food hallucinations. That's because on the fourth floor of Siam Central, I saw a sign that said Food Republic. Had I unknowingly entered the Internet? Was the roast duck soup laced with opium? What in the world was going on?
As it turns out, Food Republic is a popular brand of mall food courts in Asia, with branches in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. While I considered stepping inside to see if there was a hot dog stall called “Kessler Report,” common sense kicked in and I headed back for the Four Seasons. After mall-trolling in Bangkok, the only thing left on my afternoon itinerary was a long nap.
Read more of The Kessler Report on Food Republic: