Bangkok's gourmet food market
Thai restaurateurs hunt for the finest ingredients as foreign food enthusiasts deepen their knowledge of Thai cuisine at Or Tor Kor, arguably the best food market in Bangkok. Yes, that is saying a lot.
Set under an open-sided pavilion across the road from Chatuchak Weekend Market, Or Tor Kor includes an exceptional prepared foods section along with a fresh market where butchering, scaling and curing take place right out in the open. Unlike Khlong Toei and most other Thai fresh markets, the space is well lit with plenty of space and no pushcart or motorbike traffic on tile floors kept sparklingly clean. While they’re not always so friendly, the vendors are used to serving foreigners.
The term Or Tor Kor comes from the Thai initials of a farmers’ marketing association that organises the market and scrutinises ingredients before they can be sold here. For this reason it’s often dubbed Bangkok’s “gourmet market” and prices for many items are close to double what you’ll pay elsewhere, but worth it. In 2017, CNN named Or Tor Kor one of the 10 best fresh markets in the world.
Starting with the abundant fruits, Or Tor Kor features rambutan, mango plum, longan and lychee purveyed from farms that enjoy optimal growing conditions in places like Khiri Wong and Chiang Rai. Durian lovers from Singapore and China flock here to sample different strains of this stinky, custard-like fruit sourced from Surat Thani, Uttaradit and Chanthaburi. High-end varieties of durian, like gan yao, can cost several thousand baht for a whole fruit, but most vendors sell smaller pouches in the 150 to 300 baht range.
Bunches of saiyote, galangal, fiddleheads, daikon and coriander root are found among the bulging fresh herb and vegetable displays. At the east end of the market, the seafood section features giant Mekong catfish shipped from upcountry, giant river prawns from Ayutthaya and beautiful spotted snapper caught in the Gulf. There’s also a fair amount of fresh meat and poultry vendors that generally lack the shocking sights seen at some fresh markets, like whole goat heads and caged live ducks.
At the dry goods stalls you can score pouches of terrific curry pastes (they make great gifts) along with crispy pork skin, nam prik (chilli pastes) and all sorts of sun-dried fruits, meats and fish. On the south side of the market, near the rice vendors, a teashop sells high-quality oolong, pu-erh and other teas from Northern Thailand and beyond—and shoppers are welcome to sit down for a taste. Tea and coffee can also be found alongside cheap organic produce and gifts made by hill tribes at the Royal Project outlet, which also has a relaxing coffee shop just beyond the east end of the market.
But the main draw for most travellers is the prepared foods stalls and related food court clustered towards the west side of Or Tor Kor.
Several vendors grill Northern Thai herbaceous sausage (sai oua) with roasted green chilli dip (nam prik neum), and a few go deeper into Northern cuisine by way of rich gaeng hang lay (pork belly curry) and gaeng ho (dry noodle “curry” with pork and various herbs). Dizzying displays of Southern Thai curries include gaeng tai pla (fiery fish stomach curry), slow-cooked massaman chicken and pad sator, astringent stink beans sizzled with pork and curry paste.
A few Northeastern Thai cooks use mortars to pound out intense som tam buu pla raa (papaya salad with fermented fish and mud crab) served alongside grilled chicken, catfish or snakehead fish. Most of the food court stalls fronting a bunch of tables dish out street-style fare like pad Thai, khao ka muu (braised pork shanks with rice) and kuay tiao ped—fat slickened rice noodles and tender duck legs drenched in broth thickened slightly with blood. Budgeteers should steer clear of the stalls dishing out grilled prawn, crab and shellfish, which are pricey and irresistible once you get a whiff.
Or Tor Kor is also a good place to try Thai sweets, like khanom krok, which are little coconut milk puddings cooked in a hot griddle cup that leaves the outside crispy and caramelised and the interior smooth and satisfying. Palm sugar treats like khanom mo-kaeng (egg custard) and fai tong (decadently sweet orange bite-size candies) abound at Khanom Thai Khao Pee Nong, a rather famous stall with its own little island of air-con.
Unlike at mall food courts, diners at Or Tor Kor pay directly to each individual vendor rather than getting a ticket from a central counter. The tables often fill up around lunchtime, especially on weekends, and diners are quick to claim one by dropping off a sack of vegetables or some drinks while they peruse the stalls. Any open seat is fair game—don’t be afraid to ask if you can join a table with just one or two diners. You could also stroll across the car park on the north side of the market for a plate of phra ram long song at Cafe Boran Hat Yai.
To get here, take the MRT Subway to Kamphaeng Phet Station and leave through the exit marked “Marketing Association of Farmers”, and you’ll emerge at the northern side of the market. From Chatuchak Market you can exit to the west, cross the road and then cross Kamphaeng Phet Rd, and you’ll find Or Tor Kor a little further west on the south side of the road.
Address: Kamphaeng Phet Road (just west and across the road from Chatuchak Market)
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º32'53.44" E, 13º47'49.82" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Victory Monument