Bangkok is a tantalizing proposition – a vibrant, multi–tiered web of humans, vehicles, cosmopolitan malls, ancient temples and street–food stalls. The capital city has also embraced sustainable living: It has pledged to expand its green spaces in order to meet 2030 Paris Agreement greenhouse–gas–emission goals, while many businesses have adopted no–waste and local–sourcing initiatives. Based on a Bangkok tour with NYU Food Studies grad Dharath “Tot” (as in “tater tot”) Hoonchamlong, here are our favourite ways to experience the city’s sustainable side.
Get to know the city’s sustainable side at these must–try coffee shops, organic markets, plant–based eateries and more.
Grab a flash–chilled iced coffee at the airy, concrete–clad Roots Coffee in the sprawling Central World shopping plaza. Roots has built a sustainable supply chain that supports everyone from smallholder coffee farmers in northern Thailand to processors, roasters and baristas.
Stroll east to nearby Café Jardin in the Sivatel Hotel, a self–described “green” establishment furnished with renewable materials and which eschews plastic in favour of refillable glass bottles. The organic, no–waste café’s menu includes profiles of its farmer suppliers along with a map of its nationwide small–farmer network. A highlight is whatever seasonal kaprao dish is available: organic jasmine rice topped with fried organic egg and stir–fried fish with mango and basil, for example.
Lemon Farm is just a 10–minute walk away, across the major artery Phloen Chit Road. “In parts of Thailand, organic supply chain difficulties persist because of food policy barriers, underdeveloped logistics, and climate change challenges,” Tot explains. But today, social media has transmitted farmers’ faces and dialects across the country, while stores like Lemon Farm – filled with everything from grass–fed milk to coffee–blossom honey – have helped bridge the farmer–consumer divide.
When it’s time for lunch, jump in a cab and head to Or Tor Kor farmers’ market, which features more than 600 food stalls and a large food court. Colourful mounds of dried fish and spice mixes, grilled meats, rambutan, mangosteen and rose apples line the aisles. In the food court, order dishes like stir–fried jute leaves, deep–fried gourami fish, bitter gourd with pork ribs, pickled cabbage and egg, all offset by soothing bowls of congee.
A quick ride on the BTS Sky Train takes you back to the central area of Sukhumvit, where very old Japanese establishments rub shoulders with newer import chains and brands. Sustaina is an organic shop and restaurant that has been catering to Japanese patrons for 25 years and is connected to the owners’ northern Thailand organic farm, Harmony Life. Fresh produce, prepared Japanese foods, meats, and packaged and bakery goods line the shelves, along with two unusual Harmony Life products: green Moroheiya noodles, made with cooked brown rice and organic moroheiya, a type of vitamin– and mineral–rich jute plant; and an organic enzyme drink filled with 32 different fruits, vegetables, herbs and antioxidants.
If you’re feeling peckish, make your way over to Broccoli Revolution, which combines a global plant–based menu (broccoli and quinoa charcoal burger, Myanmar tea leaves salad) with cold–pressed juice, smoothies and a line of no–waste merchandise made from recycled materials. In addition to three locations in Bangkok, company co–founder and social entrepreneur Sakson Rouypirom has created an ecosystem of non–profits and social enterprises active in health care, education and the arts.
From there, it’s just a short walk to Ringo and Friends, which combines a design–forward sensibility with refillable, earth–friendly and hypoallergenic home products and a selection of artisanal foods (the amber–coloured, glass–bottled fish sauce is the Thai equivalent of top–grade Canadian maple syrup).
The Food Trust is the latest incarnation of chefs Dylan Jones and Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava’s evolving food universe. Though they were flying high on the international fine–dining scene with their Michelin–starred Bo.lan, they took a pandemic break while continuing to support their farmers and producers through take–away, a CSA (community–supported agriculture) program and their expanded line of organic groceries. Located on the grounds of a beautiful Thai home and permaculture garden, the Trust includes a no–waste café, an expertly curated selection of foodstuffs and handcrafts. Tot and his partners rented space on the Bo.Lan grounds during the pandemic to launch the no–waste bar Wasteland. Though the physical space is now closed, the drinks collective lives on.
Painted bright pink, Homeland Café and Grocer offers a menu that highlights the fresh products of local farmers, featuring Western dishes inflected with Thai flavours: The idea is to create a shorter supply chain and a more equitable food system.
Make a stop at the four–level The Commons Market in the Thonglor neighbourhood, the kind of vibrant communal space that Bangkok seems to excel at. This effort to build community, from the same people behind Roots coffee, is like a much more sustainably minded (recycling drop–off stations, water stations for bottle refills) version of New York’s Chelsea Market, with the addition of live music, gyms and a family play space that welcomes neurodivergent children.
After a long day on our feet, it’s time for dinner. Sit down at ERR (Urban Rustic Thai), chefs Jones and Songvisava’s casual restaurant. It’s a more rustic version of Bo.lan, covering the cuisine of all five regions of Thailand, and with the same organic sourcing. Super–sour pickled garlic, daikon and mustard greens arrive on small skewers, next to shelled and spiced white watermelon seeds. There is Phuket red braised pork, delicious tranches of deep–fried egg and a plate of complex, sour Isaan–style sausages. To drink: a crisp Whale Pale Ale from The Brewing Project.
Midlife Crisis, a hidden cocktail bar whose cheeky name is complemented by a compact, acrylic–bound cocktail menu that brings to mind a motel key chain. The perfect nightcap is the smooth and mildly herbal #easylover: umeshu, tomato, cabbage, fig leaves and sweet basil, chilled by a perfect sphere of clear ice and garnished with a red cabbage leaf.
Although it’s not yet on Bangkok menus, see if you can source some of Thailand’s first sake brand, a sustainable small–batch series from northern Thailand called Seii, created by chefs Phanuphol Bulsuwan and Anothai Pichaiyuth of Blackkitch Artisan Kitchen in Chiang Mai.