There’s little to complain about in Bangkok’s food scene. The city’s street vendors serve up tasty and cheap soups, rice and noodle dishes, among other Thai standards. Numerous eateries provide a range of well-regarded global cuisine, whether it’s crème brûlée, carbonara or ceviche.
But what about one of the most humble of Western food staples: bread? Until recently, residents had to make due with low-quality local loaves or standard, mass-produced fare sold at grocery stores.
Two recently opened shops, however, have Bangkok’s carb-loving residents rejoicing.
BKK Bagel Bakery
BKK Bagel Bakery sells homemade, New York-style bagels (plain, salt, whole wheat, poppy seed, sesame and ‘everything’), as well as sandwiches, lox and cream cheese.
The bagels have the right texture and consistency ─ crucial qualities for bagel connoisseurs ─ because the dough is boiled, says co-founder Eric Seldin, a Washington, D.C., native. He teamed up with a Thai partner, Tri Kanchanadul, to open the cafe in March. Both men found Bangkok bagels lacking, so they set out to do them correctly.
Mr. Seldin reckons they now offer the only proper New York-style bagels in Southeast Asia, if not East Asia, as well. ‘Others import dough,’ he says, and don’t make their products from scratch.
In assembling the menu, he says he focused on ‘the things I liked as a kid: tuna melts, roast beef, lox.’ One of the café’s most popular bagel sandwiches is the ‘Show Stopper’: turkey, havarti cheese, bacon, avocado and mustard. Another sandwich, ‘Moishe’s Lunch,’ consists of corned beef and sauerkraut.
BKK sees a steady steam of customers, especially at lunchtime, and has attracted attention among local bloggers. Its bagels recently became available in Bangkok’s first Dean and Deluca, as well as in a café at the U.S. Embassy.
518/3 Maneeya Center, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330
Urban Pantry is run by 36-year-old Arkansas native Benjamin Lord. A financial-services adviser by day, he began baking gourmet bread at home for fun last year, after a friend gave him the book ‘Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.’
Mr. Lord started baking six to eight loaves a week and selling them to acquaintances, but he now churns out as many as 120 loaves a week for a customer base that includes Americans, Australians, Europeans and Thais.
The delivery-only business has no commercial front and no standalone website but has gained popularity through word of mouth and social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Popular items include fire-roasted chili and cheddar whole-wheat bread, sun-dried-tomato-and-garlic sourdough, and New York-deli-style rye. Urban Pantry also sells biscotti, zucchini pickles, coleslaw and garlic-marinated sweet red peppers.
‘The concept is to stock your pantry with things you can’t get or that you miss from home,’ Mr. Lord says.
The dishes reflect his background: He graduated from New York University and lived in the city for a year before moving to Ho Chi Minh City. He lived there for four years and worked in the import-export industry. He has been in Bangkok for nearly 10 years.
Urban Pantry’s carrot-miso-ginger dressing was inspired, Mr. Lord says, by his days in New York, when he encountered such sauces in East Village restaurants. His Southern roots are reflected in quirky comfort foods like the occasionally available ‘kitchen-sink potato salad,’ whose recipe changes based on what’s on hand.
He also uses his sales and marketing skills, he says, to provide his customers with personalized services, soliciting their feedback and suggesting products to order based on their family size and eating habits.
‘Thai breads can be too sweet,’ says Eric Forbes, an American based in Bangkok who orders frequently from Urban Pantry. He’s become a fan of Urban Pantry’s sourdough loaves and likes that the rye ‘tastes different each week,’ he says.
Mr. Lord says he hasn’t made many concessions to local tastes, and he hasn’t aimed to fill a void for products that weren’t previously available. He says he uses all-natural ingredients, buying organic when he can and even preparing the sun-dried tomatoes himself.
One product is created strictly the way it’s made in the South: his coleslaw. ‘I use only Kraft mayonnaise,’ he says.
Mr. Lord will soon be opening a dedicated baking facility in Bangkok but plans to continue his delivery-only model for now.
‘I have no food and beverage experience,’ he says, adding that his love of food is his driving force. ‘That’s basically it,’ he says. ‘I like to eat good.’
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