High-end shopping, affordable eating in Bangkok's Central Embassy
Skip searching for the best street vendors in Bangkok, just head to Eathai at luxury mall Central Embassy
This is for those, like my foodie friend Johnson Teo, who make multiple trips to Bangkok every year to feast like a beast and chirp like a bird - cheap, cheap, cheap!
They are typical of those with a peculiar dilemma whenever they are away on holiday: Why, oh why, does the gut have space for only three, maybe five, meals each precious day?
So much to try, so little time.
That Bangkok is one big heavenly kitchen is a no-brainer. But it can also be an exasperating experience.
We find out, through word of mouth and research done online, where the best food can be found. To find it, however, is another matter.
First, there is the sheer frustration of searching in a city where even Google Maps leaves you lost in a maze of soi (Thai for side street).
Second, the traffic gridlock. Never mind the well-intentioned cabby, so eager, so bold, so blur.
Ask those like Mr Teo for the best hidden Bangkok street fare, and he can rattle off enough places to twist your tongue - and make it salivate.
Best sticky rice? Check. Best suckling pig? Check. Best chicken rice? Check. Best kway chap? Drool.
But where exactly? Near there, near this, near that. No landmarks nearby? Good luck.
(Note: The best kway chap, or guay jub nam kon, is near the Victory Monument roundabout, next to the popular Saxophone pub. Best suckling pig: Tang Jai Yoo near a 7-11 off Yaowarat Road - just follow the rats.)
There are few places that make a man more hungry than Bangkok. And there are few experiences that make a man more angry than when he is hungry - and lost.
So it was a stroke of brilliance - and convenience for time-starved tourists - that Thailand's Central Group came up with the idea of gathering all the most popular street hawkers under one quaint, comfortable and air-conditioned roof.
When former US first lady Michelle Obama uttered the now famous phrase, that "when they go low, we go high", it is likely she did not have the cavernous Central Embassy in mind.
Yet, the Embassy (1031, Ploenchit Road, Pathumwan) is really where you can shop "high" (as in high-end) and eat "low" (as in affordable hawker fare from all over Thailand).
Eathai, on the lower-ground level of Central Embassy, touts itself as having "the best and most comprehensive offering of Thai food in the world".
Created just over three years ago, it was recently expanded from 2,500 sq m to 3,550 sq m at a cost of 30 million baht (S$1.2 million).
Unlike most food courts at shopping malls, Eathai offers perhaps the widest variety of tastes, featuring food from the central, southern, northern and Isaan regions.
Take your pick from diabetes-inducing desserts, exotic dishes and street food from soi.
But the whole idea of a meal there is the convenience of choice from the most popular street vendors without travelling from points A to Arggh!
Vendors at the Moom Aroi zone are supposedly the best and are rotated every 15 days with new vendors.
Want the crispiest orh luak (oyster omelette) with the juiciest oysters? It's here.
Looking for the best stir-fried mango melinjo with eggs and dried shrimps? Or fried rice with shrimp paste relish, puffed catfish, glazed pork and fried vegetable? Find it here.
The best part of having a meal at Eathai is that there is something for every fussy person in the family or kaki party.
Indeed, it was at Eathai where I chanced upon what is probably the best fish soup after the one sold at Charoen Krung Road at the junction near Chatrium Riverside.
The soup was clear, clean, flavourful, yet not overpowering. The generous serving of saltwater grouper or red snapper was, as is most seafood in Thailand, fresh.
It was so good, a single bowl served merely to titillate the taste buds and tease the gut.
Alas, one has to move on - so much variety, so much authenticity but so little time.