Join us on a Middle Eastern taste trek.
Join us on a Middle Eastern taste trek.
- By Kankanok Wichiantanon
- | Oct 24, 2018
Locally known as Soi Arab, Sukhumvit Soi 3/1 is an eclectic Middle Eastern hub bustling with energy. Strolling down the chaotic yet charming alleyway, you’ll be bombarded with alluring scents of freshly baked naan, spice-seasoned grilled meat and sweet shisha, spanning the manifold cuisines of the Arab diaspora.
Although this part of the city is commonly associated with its red light underbelly, there’s so much more to it if you take the time to explore. In times gone by, it was filled with shops specializing in oud (an Arabic incense made from agarwood), with a few restaurants dotted here and there, but as the number of Middle Eastern tourists increased, many visitors started taking up roots.
“I first visited here 12 years ago and fell in love with the place, so I came back, looked for jobs and bought into the restaurant business,” says Hossam Kedis, owner of Egyptian restaurant Arabesque. Others came here to flee from hardships in their home countries, as this Yemeni waiter (who didn’t wish to be identified) explains: “I left my city as the war felt like it had no foreseeable ending. My whole family is still there—they didn’t want to flee from the land they grew up in—and it was hard for me to leave them behind.”
Although the demographics are constantly shifting, Bangkok remains home to a strong and diverse presence of Middle Eastern communities. “I moved here eight years back, after I married my wife. The Turkish community was a lot bigger then but there are still maybe 400-500 of us here, mostly working in the jewelry business,” says Hanbey Metin, owner of Saman Turkish Restaurant.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand Middle East, over 616,000 people from the region visited Thailand last year, only serving to strengthen the already well-established Middle Eastern identities and cultures in Bangkok.
But it’s not only visitors that are drawn to this area’s gastronomy—the informal, communal dining culture coupled with simply prepared, scrumptious dishes has placed Middle Eastern restaurants firmly on the foodie map. So switch into feast mode and get down to Nana to check out these top spots.
Once the center of the Persian Empire and the ancient Silk Road, Iran has a complex food identity that draws heavily on native ingredients like nuts, saffron, lemon and pomegranate, with a focus on slow cooked stews, rice and kebabs.
At this restaurant which doubles as a guest house, you can enjoy the best of Iranian and Iraqi food together. Kebabs and barbecued meats are the stars of the show, including fish, lamb, chicken, ribs and prawns—try the Iraqi kebab (B160) or kebab with rice (B200).
8/17-18 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-655-5357, 02-251-8810. Open daily 9-3:30am.
This restaurant offers a cheaper introduction to Persian food in a clean, well-organized setting, far from Soi Nana. Mohsen makes superb hummus (B120) and Bakhtiyari kebabs (B220), showcasing excellently grilled meat that’s tender and never dry.
6 Soi Prachum, Silom Rd., 02-235-3970. Open daily 10am-9pm.
Formerly Taste of Persia, this restaurant on leafy Pan Road continues the legacy with a new, rich turquoise look, intimate interior and golden sculptures. Get the aghali polo (B120), a traditional Iranian rice dish that combines the delicate flavors of broad bean and dill, or the khoresht goosht (B470), a lamb stew with fall-off-the-bone meat.
48/2-3 Pan Rd., 02-635-2674. Open daily 11am-10pm.
Shahrazad BK Pick!
Claiming to be the oldest on a soi made up entirely of Middle Eastern restaurants, Shahrazad still stands out. Chicken is the only doner kebab option, but it is truly succulent, while the mezzes are also excellent (B300). Don’t leave without ordering the grilled leg of lamb (B300).
6/8 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-251-3666. Open daily 9am-3am.
Tucked behind a little coffee joint in chaotic Nana, this reliable late-night Persian eatery has stood its ground for 18 years. The tender and flavorful braised lamb shank (B400) comes in a tasty, thick and aromatic sauce that exudes turmeric and saffron— but the lusciously thick tahina (B120) is what’s really got us hooked.
75 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-655-6460. Open Mon-Sat 8-4am; Sun 8am-midnight.
This cuisine was heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire, with Mediterranean-leaning staples including seafood, lamb, parsley, grains, olive oil, chickpeas and mild, aromatic spices.
For those of you that hold kebabs and shisha in equal regard, head to Bamboo. The restaurant’s interior may be neither dramatic nor sleek, yet its dark mood and tone make for an intimate space that really draws you in. What’s more is that they serve juicy grilled kebabs, tender shawarma and soft, airy naan bread baked fresh in a wood-fired oven.
Sukhumvit Soi 3 (opposite Grace Hotel), 02-655-5531. Open 24 hours.
It has been our Lebanese mainstay for years, and is one of the few solid options outside of Nana for affordable and authentic Lebanese-style doner kebabs (beef or chicken, B180), served with hummus. Despite the large menu selection, the food here is comforting and consistent.
B/F, Ploenchit Center, Sukhumvit Soi 2, 02-656-7377. Open daily 10am-10pm.
Sukhumvit Soi 39, 02-662-5574. Open daily 11am-11pm
Nestled in the heart of the Arab quarter, this spot is as old-school as they come. The slightly battered menu offers wonderfully creamy, zesty hummus (B80) which you can mop up with crisp yet airy Lebanese bread (B10) the size of a small bicycle wheel. The barbeque dishes are herby, moist and flavorful.
1/F, Schiller’s Inn, 77/1-3 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-255-8200/-3. Open daily 9am-midnight.
Nadimos BK Pick!
These Lebanese expats are committed to serving authentic dishes, like the kebab khashkhash (B210) which combines tender skewers of charcoal-grilled lamb with a wonderfully tasty tomato sauce. The Silom branch of the restaurant recently moved into a more refined setting on the ground floor of the Holiday Inn hotel.
99 Sukhumvit Soi 24, 02-261-9816. Open daily 11:30am-11:30pm.
The little eatery comes complete with a clay oven for baking naan and a menu that spans Lebanese, Arab and Yemeni dishes. The chicken curry (B150) is especially good while the lamb kebab (B130), barbecued lamb and lamb ribs (B150) are also popular.
75/4 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-655-5230, 02-254-9226/-7. Open daily 9am-3am.
Word has it that the chef here used to work at Nadimos before opening this little joint—two street-side tables under a red awning, and just a few indoor seats. Their shawarma wrap (B80) comes loaded with seasoned chicken, cabbage, onions and garlic cream in a warm pita.
Sukhumvit Soi 23, 092-820-2828. Open daily 11:30am-midnight.
This low-cost, no-frills spot puts food first with its mouth-watering meats and safiha (Lebanon’s answer to pizza, B170). Don’t miss the tender and juicy grilled chicken tawook.
95 Sukhumvit Soi 5, 02-655-0099. Open daily 11-2am.
Part Mediterranean, part Persian and part Balkan, Turkish cuisine reflects its country’s unique position, a bridge between Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Hidden towards the back of the nondescript Grand 5 Hotel, this Turkish jewel offers some next level kebabs (mixed B200 or beef doner B180)—juicy and nicely seasoned—atop perfect pillowy rice.
2/F, Grand 5 Hotel, 87 Sukhumvit Soi 3, 02-253-6466. Open daily 1pm-2am.
This place serves German-Turkish-style doner kebabs in Thonglor’s shisha-friendly Opus Building. Go for the bestselling Berliner (chicken, bell peppers, mint sauce, yogurt, garlic and feta cheese, B99) along with ayran (B55), a Turkish yogurt drink that comes in strawberry, mango or mixed berry.
1/F, Opus, 1139 Thonglor Soi 10, 02-714-9702. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-10pm.
Taking particular pride in its traditional shish-kebabs (B230), this place also serves the Turkish-style flatbread pizza, pide—try the kiymali pide topped with ground beef (B180). Finish off with some sweet, flaky baklava (B80) and a Turkish coffee (B40).
Baan Silom, 653 Silom Soi 19, 02-635-3688. Open daily 9am-midnight.
Saman BK Pick!
This spot nails the magic combination of tasty food and pocket-friendly prices. Try the ibo karisik meze (B280), a plate of intriguing appetizers that includes standards like hummus and vine leaves alongside lesser known treats like soslu patlican (aubergine in tomato sauce, B120) and ezme (B120), a spicy salad of crushed tomatoes, chili and parsley.
Sun Square Silom, 1043/5 Silom Soi 21-23, 02-237-4144. Open daily 11am-10:30pm.
Egyptian cuisine shares a lot with the Eastern Mediterranean region—it doesn’t rely on heavily on spices, and instead spotlights legumes and vegetables.
Arabesque BK Pick!
Dimly lit and covered in arabesque patterns, this spot serves everything from tagines and Egyptian barbecue fish (B400) to classic fattah mozzah (B280)—layers of crunchy bread and rice topped with tender cubes of lamb and a well-balanced vinegar and garlic sauce.
68/1 Sukhumvit Soi 2, 02-656-9440. Open daily 11am-11pm.
This 24-hour restaurant serves some excellent dips and salads—but most come to smoke shisha to their heart’s content.
4/8 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, 02-655-3043. Open 24 hours.
Where to sample these rarely-found cuisines
The famed purveyor of the world’s biggest naan also serves an array of dishes in which to dunk it, all in large portions at reasonable prices.
3/1 Sukhumvit Rd. Open daily 11am-2am.
Hadramaut Al Yemen Halal Restaurant
It may not look like much decor-wise, but the kitchen serves up one mean mandi rice with mutton.
75/3 Sukhumvit Rd., 02-252-7960. Open daily 9-3am.
After a couple years downtime, this atmospheric den just reopened in a new spot. The wat (stew) is served on a plate of injera, a fermented bread that can be used to eat the dish. Here’s hoping for the same retro vibes, hookah smoke haze and blaring Ethiopian music.
3/5, Royal Tailer Bldg., Sukhumvit Soi 3, 089-988-6208. Open 24 hours (food till 10pm).
This entirely Ethiopian-run operation does exactly what it says on the tin—classic Ethiopian dishes, like the popular doro wat platter that comes with stew, vegetables and flatbread. Eclectic crowds converse in multiple languages before moving on to next door’s rowdy African pub.
Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Nana), 084-930-3250. Open daily 11am-10pm.
Surrounded by Middle Eastern restaurants, this spot serves Thai by day and pan-African dishes by night. Go for the sosatie (grilled lamb), or the Ghanaian fufu (dough-like ball) served with a peanut and fish stew, plus a meat of your choice.
Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Nana), 02-253-4741. Open daily 12pm-midnight.
The restaurant focuses on the food of Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. Both the Nigerian egussi (thick chicken stew with ground seeds) and the Ethiopian doro wat (chicken stew) come with plantain and sides of rice or bread.
20, Charoenkrung Soi 46, 083-438-5075. Open daily 6pm-midnight.
The best streets in Bangkok for Middle Eastern food adventures
Sukhumvit Soi 3/1
This street and its rabbit warren of side-alleys—colloquially known as “Soi Arab”—are the stuff of Middle Eastern food dreams: from Lebanese to Egyptian to Iranian. Chaotic, noisy, full of touts, but not without a certain grungy charm, this area doesn’t feel much like Bangkok at all.
BTS Sala Daeng is the jumping off point for a wealth of Middle Eastern eateries. Beirut flies the flag for Lebanese food near the red-light district, but Upper Silom is where the real gems are. Silom Soi 23’s dense population of Turks are ably serviced by Saman and Ottoman, while you’ll also find the newly-relocated Nadimos and Persian House in the vicinity.
Sukhumvit Soi 23, 24 and 39
The residential back streets of Sukhumvit host well-known Lebanese restaurants like Nadimos (Sukhumvit Soi 24) and Beirut (Sukhumvit Soi 39). Lesser known, but just as worth your while, is teeny-tiny Rawabina (Sukhumvit Soi 23), notable for its juicy kebab rotisserie out front.