It is no surprise to anyone who lives in or travels to Southeast Asia that we have some of the best food in the world. From small street stands to 5 star hotels, there is truly something for everyone. Trip Adviser lists, CNN articles and the Facebook page of your friend James back in England all rave about the food in this region, and Thailand in particular. However, there is one standard of rating throughout the world that holds sway above the rest, which the French chef Paul Bocuse said “is the only guide that counts,” and that is the Michelin Guide.
To the uninitiated, it is quite simple. Michelin (yes, the tire company) produces driving guides for different regions in the world. In it they provide many recommendations for sites to see, places to stay, and restaurants to dine at. To the exceptional restaurants, they give them stars, very vaguely stated as:
1 star: Awarded for “High quality cooking, worth a stop!”
2 stars: Awarded for “Excellent cooking, worth a detour!”
3 stars: Awarded for “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey!”
The full criteria and scoring process are a closely guarded secret, but it is no secret the importance that the culinary community places on this prestigious ranking. One of the catches though, is that they do not rate all of the world’s best restaurants, but only those that fall into the regions they cover. And, for the first time, this past December Michelin released their ratings for Bangkok.
In Bangkok’s first edition, Michelin award 17 restaurants with the much coveted stars: three restaurants the rank of 2 stars, 14 restaurants the rank of 1 star, and no restaurants earned the creme de la creme, 3 stars. In this list were a few no-brainers, specifically Nahm and the Indian food powerhouse, Gaggan (ranked 28 and 7, respectively, in the world).
It is no surprise that the average Michelin starred dinner will take a hit to the wallets, oftentimes in the range of several hundred dollars for a single meal. However, this year’s guide did offer a few budget friendly picks, to include Jay Fai (1 star) and Chim by Simon Wisdom (1 star).
Jay Fai is only the third “street food” stall in the world to be awarded a star, with food cooked outside above homemade charcoals, and a shop house to eat inside. Certainly pricier than other Bangkok street food, its specialty of poo phad pong kari (crab curry) is well worth the surcharge.
Chim by Simon Wisdom offers a modern interior dining space, but the absolute kicker is the $15 lunch menu! Easily one of the best deals in all of the Michelin guide.
There is one more thing to really take note of, and that is another rating in the guide, separate from the stars: the Bib Gourmand. This little known ranking is what I always first google when visiting a new city where the guide is. It highlights “exceptionally good food at moderate prices”, with a capped pricing based on the local standards. For instances, in Paris you should be able to get a meal for less than 36 Euro, in Singapore for less than S$45, etc. In Bangkok they capped it at 1000 Baht, or about $30.
In essence, the Bib Gourmand is where the Michelin employees and raters are eating while they’re not on duty, where they return to again and again for excellent food at accessible prices, places to let the hair down and simply enjoy the food, atmosphere, and people around them. Although few things can top a truly exceptional meal at a Michelin starred restaurant, they will never become your go-to places like a spot on the Bib Gourmand can. I have not had the chance yet to work my way through the list though, but plan to start exploring in full on my upcoming trips to the City of Angels.
For more on Bangkok’s Bib Gourmands, check out:
The Guardian: 10 of the Best Michelin Rated Restaurants in Bangkok (Heavily focused on the Bib Gourmand)