Bangkok food courts are famous for being some of the best places to find authentic, inexpensive, delicious food in Thailand’s capital city.
I have to admit that I was initially slow to warm up to the idea of Bangkok food courts being a culinary destination in their own right. I associated food courts with chain restaurants, deep-fried convenience food and unappealing surroundings.
So, as I planned my own trip to Bangkok, I was surprised to see how many bloggers and guidebooks highlighted the dining options in Bangkok’s food courts. In particular, Bangkok food courts were mentioned again and again as a top choice for vegan and vegetarian travelers.
I decided to visit several different food courts in Bangkok, to find out whether or not they really were a great place for vegetarians to eat.
Banana Family Park Food Court
The first food court I visited was the Banana Family Park Food Court. I was staying at The Yard Hostel in the trendy Ari neighborhood, and I noticed that this food court was only a few blocks away.
Banana Family Park is a small, covered shopping arcade with a food court in the middle. Unlike the bigger food courts that I will mention below, Banana Family Park stands out because all of its food stalls are fully vegetarian (in fact, I’m pretty sure that just about everything is vegan, but you’ll want to double-check).
There was no English signage at the food stalls, but since I knew that everything was vegetarian I felt comfortable letting the staff choose my food for me. I received this plate, featuring whole-grain rice (a major rarity in Thailand), stewed pumpkin, spicy eggplant and a soy-based mock meat.
I liked this meal for its array of textures and flavors, and because it felt balanced. Although it was quite heavy on the carbs, it didn’t leave me feeling weighed down. Along with a bottle of water, this made for a great brunch that kept me full until dinner (well, I might have sneaked in some afternoon ice cream…).
Because I was so pleased with my meal at Banana Family Park, I was inspired to check out some other Bangkok food courts. This was a smart move, because I’ve learned that Banana Family Park is currently closed (as of mid-2018… hopefully they’ll open again in the future!).
MBK Food Island
My next stop was MBK Food Island, the Bangkok food court in the massive MBK Center shopping center. It is located right in the heart of Bangkok, between the National Stadium BTS station and the Siam BTS station. It’s easy to get turned around in this area, so try to follow the signs inside the station that lead to the correct exit and overpass.
MBK Food Island is one of the most popular Bangkok food courts. It has more than twenty vendors who dish up Thai, international and yes, vegan food!
MBK Food Island is where I learned my Ultimate Thai Food Court Strategy for Vegetarians and Vegans…
Follow the Monks™.
There are different schools of Buddhism and each has its own attitudes about eating meat. However, I can say that by discreetly following numerous monks around several Thai food courts, I only saw them ordering food from the fully vegetarian stalls, like the one in the photo above.
I developed my secret strategy by sneaking in line about two or three people behind the monks, waiting until they’d ordered their meals, and then asking for the same dish by pointing to their plate and saying, “Kob khun ka.” (That means, “Thank you.”)
The first time I tried this at MBK Food Island I received the plate you see above: white rice, sauteed vegetables and crumbled tofu (which was shockingly spicy!). As with my meal at the Banana Family Park food court, I felt refreshed and healthy after eating this plant-based, nutrient-dense lunch.
I went back to MBK Food Island for another meal a few days later. Once again I hopped in line behind some monks and ordered the same thing that they did: white rice (yes, it’s under there!), tofu scrambled with bamboo shoots, sauteed leafy greens and a mix of tofu and beansprouts cooked in a zesty ginger sauce.
This time, though, I couldn’t resist the pull of the steamed buns being served at another one of the food stalls. I asked them to top up the vegan food I’d ordered from the first stall with one of their mushroom steamed buns. Yes, it was an impossible amount of food, but it was so good!
Pier 21 Food Court at Terminal 21 Shopping Center
Pier 21 is one of the most famous Bangkok food courts. Located inside the Terminal 21 shopping center (near the Asok BTS station), it is bright and airy, with lots of tropical-themed decor. Inside, there are thirty vendors, including one fully vegetarian food stall.
I decided to expand my horizons at Pier 21 and try ordering from one of the vendors that served both meat-based and vegetarian dishes. I chose to visit one of the omelet vendors in the center of the food court, where they made me a Thai omelet with vegetables, served with a side of rice. I was really happy to find a vegetarian (not vegan) dish that was both tasty and rich in protein. Plus, it was delicious!
I visited another vendor for my beverage – sugar cane juice. It was certainly an interesting experience, but not one that I’d like to repeat because it was way too sweet for me.
Dessert at Bangkok Food Courts
Yes, I talked about being healthy and nourished and balanced, but that doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in the occasional dessert. Or two.
Most Bangkok food courts have at least one stand-alone dessert stall, if not more. As well, there are sometimes full, sit-down dessert-focused restaurants located near the entrances to the food court.
On the left, I’ve got an “egg waffle” and ice cream that I ordered from a nondescript stall just outside the main food court area in the MBK Center. I chose to have both matcha batter and matcha ice cream. It was pretty yummy, but maybe not worth the calories.
On the other hand, the dish on the right was worth every last calorie (and more). It’s a mango bubble tea made with fresh mango slices from the Yennly Yours Dessert Bar inside Siam Center (across from MBK Center). My normal bubble tea order is green milk tea because I hate fake fruit flavors, but Yennly Yours used fresh mango (!) to make the most delicious beverage I’ve ever tasted. Service is slow but it’s worth waiting!
How to Order and Pay at Bangkok Food Courts
I know what you’re thinking.
“Carly, if I get all the way to Thailand, I think I can handle buying food at a Bangkok food court.”
I would have said the same thing myself, but then I visited Banana Family Park and nobody would take my money.
Let me explain.
In Bangkok food courts, you don’t pay with cash. Instead, you load money onto a prepaid card and use it at any of the food court’s many stalls.
Prepaid cards have two major advantages. First, staff working at the food service stalls don’t have to waste time handing payments. Second, it is way more hygienic not to have the people handling your food constantly handling money. Speed and cleanliness? Yes, please!
Each card is specific to the Bangkok food court you’re visiting, so you’ll need one card for MBK Food Island and another for Pier 21 at Terminal 21. You can purchase the card from the cashier booths, which are always clearly signed (as long as you know to be looking for one!).
When you leave the food court, or when you leave Bangkok at the end of your trip, you can return your card to the cashier and they will refund any remaining balance.
Wondering how much to load onto your card?
None of the food court meals that I ordered cost more than $4 USD (130 Thai baht), including the food shown and a bottle of water. To be on the safe side, though, you could plan to load 150 Thai baht onto your card for each meal that you intend to purchase. If you want to have dessert or a fancy drink, add another 100 baht, as these little luxuries are often more expensive than a full meal.
Bangkok Hotels – Deals & Splurges
I love splurging on nice hotels in Southeast Asia, as you can stay in a plush, luxurious hotel for less than you’d pay for a two-star hotel back in North America or Europe.
Bangkok is a great city to spend a little bit of extra money on a nice hotel, especially one that is close to a Skytrain station or one of the major shopping centers that I’ve mentioned. If you stay in a comfortable, central location, you’ll feel like the entire city is at your doorstep.
I reserved my Bangkok hotels on Booking.com, which always has good deals no matter if you’re booking six months or six hours in advance!
Did you eat at any Bangkok food courts? What did you order? Let me know in the comments!