In Bangkok you cannot escape the joys of unabashed, uncontrived fusion of tastes
The swirling green laser lights bounce off our shot glasses. Two DJs on gleaming Apple laptops play simultaneously. As they manipulate their giant video screen backdrop, running though slices of dance videos and movies, the beat moves through Thai, Hip Hop and Pop, all superimposed on addictive underground beats. Then, in the middle of an edgy Tribal pulse, Taylor Swift begins to play Why can't you see… You belong with me.
That's what makes Bangkok so fascinating. It's wholehearted acceptance, whether we're talking music, people or fashion. Or food. Everything gets adapted, changed and recreated till it blends into its new context. Since the city is so delightfully tolerant, it means that very little is categorised and separated. Hence Taylor Swift plays between electro-funk. Diminutive ladyboys date beefy Westerners. Tiny denim shorts are paired with vertigo-inducing Christian Louboutin gladiators. And food comes in many avatars — Thai, Chinese Thai, Indian Thai. We even spot a restaurant in Patpong advertising Italian-Thai.
We're on a mission: clubbing till dawn. Which brings us back to those crazy laser lights on RCA (Royal City Avenue), a street packed with nightclubs and flashy neon lights. At the huge Route 66 club, we dive into plates of stir fried chicken: steaming hot and jazzed up with Thailand's signature wicked red chillies, roasted peanuts and juicy chives. In true Bangkok fashion we team it with non sequiturs: crisp prawn crackers, fluffy popcorn and piles of skinny French fries.
We dance out at two in the morning — admittedly a tough time to find dinner. Fortunately this is Bangkok, and there's Pad Thai available at all hours — provided you know where to look. We're guided to a supermarket. Not really the most promising place for memorable meals? You'd be surprised. Foodworld, set in a basement next to dizzy Nana and Patpong, consists of a single long bar-style counter facing the cramped but busily efficient kitchen. You grab a high stool, order off the laminated menu and get served: all of ten minutes.
It's a colourful example of how food can be the greatest of levellers. A drag queen sits beside me, tucking her fabulous high heels behind her as she delicately spoons up rice and fragrant green curry. Ladyboys in skimpy, shimmering outfits come in with their drunken dates to eat stir fried shrimps, bustling with basil. Young Thai girls arrive with startlingly older expatriate men. Tour guides on a break, families finishing a late dinner, women in hijabs who taking a break from grocery shopping…
We eat noodles glistening with soy sauce, interspersed with scrambled eggs, spring onions and sweet fried garlic. There's rice of course, teamed with the green and red curries. And spicy chicken twanging with exotic spices and served in a tumble of snappy chillies, lush shallots and emerald green basil leaves. Open 24 hours, this counter's as popular for its Continental food as it is for its curries. They even have an all-day American breakfast with all the trimmings: toast, eggs, bacon, ham, sausages, orange juice and tea or coffee.
If it's Bangkok, you're expected to shop. Which brings us to the MBK mall, one of the city's most popular sources for shoes, clothes and — of course — food. Admittedly, the street hawkers probably sell some of the city's most interesting food. An ‘eating out' guide to Bangkok (www.bangkokpicture.com/) is endearingly enthusiastic about the delight of crunchy locusts flash fried in smoking hot palm oil. “If you do not wish to partake of this rural treat, then imagine the taste of potato crisps. Then you almost have the flavour of these tasty little fellows.” It goes on to list water beetles, “a flavour reminiscent of cottage cheese” and ants, which apparently have “the sour tang of cheddar.”
We're wimps. So we head to MBK's bewilderingly large food court instead. In classic Asian fashion, it's meticulously organised despite the apparent chaos. There's even boiling water at every stall to rinse your forks. We make our way thought bright vegetable stir fries, sweet caramelised pork, piles of tiny fried shrimp and steaming pots of spicy Tom Yum soup.
The dessert counter's an explosion of colour. After an agonising 10 minutes of decision-making we end up with luscious slices of ripe mango on a bed of sticky rice sweetened with thick coconut milk. Then come the Thai waffles: yeasty, sticky, chewy and interspersed with raisins. Finally crusty little pancakes, stuffed with shredded coconut. Ah, the joys of unabashed, uncontrived fusion!