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Less than impressed - Chote Chitr in Bangkok

My husband and I went to the Chote Chitr hole-in-the-wall restaurant for our first meal out in Bangkok. I had found it from a quick search on the CH boards, but I now understand that it has received a good deal of press from the New York Times, FT and several guidebooks.

Having gathered all of this international attention, and by default, foreign clients, I now think Chote Chitr is resting on its laurels and is not worth the trip.

Chote Chitr was within easy walking distance of our hotel, located just off of Tanao Road. Walking down this road, you pass several busy streetside restaurants and stalls. I understand part of the charm of Chote Chitr is that is a 'hidden gem' in an authentic non-touristy part of Bangkok.

However, it is hidden no more!

Every single one of the diners in the restaurant was a foreigner (all North Americans, in fact) which was a complete contrast to the other restaurants in the neighborhood filled with locals. I do not automatically subscribe to the idea that if a place attracts lots of tourists (or expats), it is necessarily bad, but it certainly detracted from the meal as we could have been anywhere back home in the States. It did not feel like we were in a foreign country at all.

I was really looking forward to the food, but I was somewhat disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I have had equally if not more delicious food in Thailand for MUCH less money. Bear in mind that the bill will be vastly cheaper than an equivalent meal anywhere in the US or Europe, but paying over the odds in Thailand is really unnecessary when there is such fantastic food to be had at very inexpensive prices (especially at an equivalent local hole-in-the-wall place).

Both of our curries were lukewarm, and the beef in my husband's curry was tough and chewy - he said it was simply spicy without being that tasty. Neither were particularly memorable. The banana leaf salad was the highlight of our meal. I did notice that the proprietor suggested the exact same dishes to all new customers who sat down - the shrimp 'sushi' curry and banana salad. Maybe they just make up huge batches of these dishes for the evening knowing that many new customers will simply go with these recommendations.

Ten minutes after leaving Chote Chitr, I attempted to make a purchase at a store down the street with the 500 baht bill which the Chote Chitr proprietor had given me as change for our bill. Upon looking at the bill, the store owner told me it was a counterfeit bill. He actually accompanied me back to Chote Chitr to inform the woman who had given me the bill that it was a fake. When confronted, the woman at Chote Chitr looked equally annoyed and sheepish, but promptly exchanged the counterfeit bill for a new (real) one.

I have no idea whether the Chote Chitr proprietor knew whether it was a fake bill or not, but the whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths.

I would not recommend Chote Chitr and will be looking for new places to eat in Bangkok, especially as I have realized the Dinso Road/Mahannop Road/Tanao Road is so rich in street eats.

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  1. Just as an eatery fill with tourists doesn't neccessarily mean bad food, a restaurant full of Thais doesn't always mean good food. Many sit down venues are popular for reasons other than the food. Make sure you see the patrons actually chowing down before you use that benchmark.

    Many places recieve rave reviews simply because they are the only places visited. Bangkok's eateries can be a bit daunting to someone unfamiliar. Foreign reviews opens the doors to the unitiated. I just hope they head a little further outside the comfort zone.

    1. really disappointing to hear since that's one of our favorite restaurants and it is/was a special place because of the history and the interesting dishes. thanon tanao has some other excellent eating spots, but mostly, in my experience, for lunch. hope we can find somewhere to replace chote chitr!

      1. i was there two years ago because of all the recommendations found here and i was also very disappointed.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rubyyao

          i have been there many times and i'll say i've never been disappointed with the food. there are some interesting things on the menu and even the "typical" dishes are more interesting and flavorful. and it's been the same proprietress and assistant every time i go. the proprietress can be a little grouchy at times though! next time i'm there i'll report back with my experience.

          ps - if you do decide to go, try to go for lunch since you can get the best sticky rice in bangkok around the corner (they close at 4 so it doesn't work for dinner).

        2. This place is terrible. I used to enjoy it, but I will never return. The owner/manager is brutal to her single staff member, the prices have climbed to way above what it's worth, the food has slipped a bit (still good, though nothing special for Thailand), and the whole place now smells like the dirty dogs they keep in the kitchen. Thoroughly unpleasant experience in a town with so many thousands of great places to eat -- skip it!

          16 Replies
          1. re: scottythebody

            You mean the little guys in my photo? The bad news is that the single staff member was also the one who cleaned up after them!

            Finally tried the Famous Chote Chitr. Totally agree with your summation.

            1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

              I ate here years ago and really enjoyed it. It is one of the few truly siamese old fashioned type restaurants around Bangkok. I am finding it really difficult to find this kind of food in Bangkok. Far more prevalent is Chinese-Thai food. If I recall, I think I had penang curry prepared the proper way with peanuts. It was perfectly balanced... sweet, salty, hot... enough kati - coconut milk, but not too much... the oil separating from the curry... delicious. The roasted eggplant salad was executed well and perfectly balanced. I seem to remember that there was nothing "special" about the meal, but just that nothing was wrong. It was good food, REAL Thai food... cooked the way I like to cook Thai food at home This should not be such a rarity, but it has become rare in Bangkok.

              Yeah, I remember the staff being crabby. For me it's better than artificial and insincere "niceness" coupled with poor service. That being said, they were initially REALLY crabby, but warmed up once I asserted myself.

              I am disappointed to hear that food quality has declined. I will make another visit, as my visits were so long ago, and report back.

              1. re: chrisdds

                I was there around 1 year ago, and went there twice. I really think it depends upon what you order. I had one meal that was just so-so, and one meal that was truly spectacular. I ordered the fresh prawns---they were truly fresh and cooked to perfection, in a delicate
                Thai basil sauce, that was unlike anything I've ever had in the States. I chatted, and the owner did warm up to me. She can be moody, but this doesn't have to take away from the fact that there is still some excellent food to be had there (in my opinion). Though, like so many places, there is also some mediocre food.

                1. re: EZM

                  Yes, as with most "full menu" eateries, there will be hits and misses. But, IMHO, there are so many other better options around. Besides its inconsistency, the filthiness and ridiculous prices turn me off Chote Chitr.

                  Not surprisingly, Bangkok is awash in down-and-dirty, traditional Thai eateries. It's just that most visitors don't stray far enough off the shiny path.

                  Many do hunt down Chote Chitr, simply because of its popularity in the western press. This makes it about as "local" as most will ever experience.

                  1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                    I wondered if it being feted by the Western press, and having many foreign visitors, resulted in rude, crabby service by the owner(s).

                    I'd never encountered rude service in Thailand before - back home here in Singapore, lots of time.

                    Bangkok has so many good, clean, family restaurants, even chains like See Fah, S&P, etc. - why would any visitor trudge all the way to a grimy spot like Chote Chir?!

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      My neighbors are constantly dragging us to grimy spots. Some of them produce the best food I have ever eaten, at prices a small fraction of the cost of the more modern, accessible franchises.

                      I would have liked to have experienced Chote Chitr before the New York Times "discovered" it. Something tells me that, at one time, the food was great. But now, with no local customers, only farang, the food has had to have changed.

                      I post a pic of one of my all time favorite shops. For the price of a featured dish at Chote Chitr, I could eat for a week at Khun Mai's Shop.

                      1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                        Sorry for the multiple posts (I am new to posting). Curt, where is Kun Mai's place located? Is it a khao-lad-k(g)ang place? I see the multiple pots in the picture.

                      2. re: klyeoh

                        I have followed a lot of your posts on Singapore and Hong Kong which have been invaluable to me in the past (along with Peech and FourSeasons). I am a long time voyeur of this site but posted only recently.

                        In Singapore and Hong Kong, you can go to clean and comfortable restaurants with exceptional food. In Bangkok, it is rare, in my opinion (for Thai food, that is... Western food is a different story). Some of the 'clean' places are OKAY, but simply can't compare to the hole-in-the wall type places as far as food. This echoes what Curt mentioned. For ME, I love the traditional places in spite of their grungy-ness... not because of it.

                        Still, I would be interested in hearing some of your good Bangkok experiences.

                      3. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                        I had never heard of this place until I came onto the boards here looking for eats in Bangkok. I went for a late lunch in the middle of the afternoon on the last day of my last trip to Thailand, back in 2008. I was by myself and ordered 2 dishes - prawn mee krob and eggplant salad. I thought the food was pretty decent. Not mind-blowingly good, but I was pleasantly surprised.

                    2. re: chrisdds

                      Whenever someone says "real" or "authentic" in relation to a cuisine, it starts me asking questions (the beer does not help either). What is your definition of "real" Thai food. What do you consider it's boundaries. You use curry as penang curry as an example, which based on it's origins would make it a relatively modern creation (18th century at the earliest - most likely 19th century). It is also most likely an adaptation of curry originating out of India (though definitely NOT Indian in taste). Basically, take the concept of the curry - then flavour it based on Thai flavours (paste made with lemongrass, galangal etc.), add in the chilies that the Portuguese brought to Thailand - also around the 18th century).... Often made using wok based cooking, which came to Thailand from China... also around 18th century.... so I am guessing your cutoff for influence might be around the 18th century. Then of course the definition of Thai food differs depending on the regions that this cuisine encompasses (4 regional cuisines + royal thai) so real thai could be limited to central plains + royal thai, or all of the regional Thai cuisines - including Laos/Isan.

                      1. re: cacruden

                        For me, as soon as the term "dumbed down" is used, the poster has lost all credibility.

                        There's plenty of stupid Thai food!

                        1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                          Cacruden, your knowledge of the history of this cuisine is impressive.

                          I most certainly enjoy the regional variations in cuisine throughout Thailand. Lanna style in the north (for example Chiang Rai), the Malay inspired dishes of the deep south (for example Narathiwat), the the "Southern Thai" food you find past Chumpon... in Ranong down through Hat Yai for example, Issan Food, and central Thai food (which I have termed Siamese, perhaps inaccurately, but really just referencing old fashioned central Thai cooking). There is Chinese influence as well... Yunan in the north, and the Thai citizens that have some ethnic Chinese background (Predominantly Chaozhou in Southern China? But other areas of China as well). It is interesting how the nature of the food changes gradually as you move geographically.

                          Of course there is a lot of crossover. Of course there is evolution and changes in the cuisines. The more modern society becomes, the more crossover there is. It is easier for people to move and travel, and for ideas to be exchanged physically and through other media and forms of communication. Ingredients become more accessible as well.

                          My point was not to say that certain regional variations of food in Thailand lack credibility. I do, however, feel that there are some restaurants in all areas and in all types of food in Thailand that do not respect proper cooking technique. Now I'm opening up a whole new can of worms with my terminology of what is "proper". I think there are variations and preferences in different geographical areas, or among different families, or among different cooks, and this is all well and good. However, sometimes variations are introduced that do nothing to enhance the dish or provide an alternate viewpoint... they only detract from the spirit of the dish. In many cases, it's not even a change in ingredients, but just poor (in my estimation) cooking technique.

                          Thai food generally has a lot of overlapping flavors, often intense flavors, and many of us do not like when the flavors are shifted to the bland end of the spectrum. There is something to be said for delicacy of spicing and balance of flavors (in a certain context). However, my (opinionated) view is that a lot of food is made to cater to a less sophisticated palate. However condescending it may sound, I don't know how else to put it. And I'm not talking only about chilis and "heat". I'm talking about all four classically described Thai tastes of sweet, sour, salty, hot (and I personally like to throw in bitter for certain dishes).

                          My comment about penang curry was only a mention of one of the dishes I ate at that restaurant that I happened to enjoy.

                          I was saying that there are many many Chinese-Thai restaurants around (which I very much enjoy). I was not suggesting they are not real Thai food, but that the central Thai cooking found at Chote Chitr has not been easy for me to find in Bangkok outside of people's homes. It seems to be somewhat easier in the central plains outside of Bangkok.

                          This is becoming long winded. My point is, my definition of "real" Thai food does not exclude regions of Thailand. It excludes what I feel is watered down food. I suppose that's the same as "dumbed down"... so Curt, I hope I have not lost all credibility :)

                          I do not mean to sound overly negative. Discussion on this board is helpful for me in finding the 'gems' in Bangkok. I just feel that Bangkok has a lot of poor restaurants and street food with a small percentage of exceptional ones sprinkled about. Choosing a place at random outside of Bangkok has yielded much more positive results for me. I am not sure why this is and if anybody else has had the same experience.

                          So Caruden, you've opened up some interesting questions about the boundaries of "real" Thai food... geographically and time-frame. Could be some fun discussions that border on the philosophical. But my original post is far more simplistic. I say that that the food at Chote Chitr (however imperfect) and the food I cook at home will be more "real" than what I am likely to get at a backpacker guesthouse in central Chiang Mai (to use an extreme example).

                          1. re: chrisdds

                            Although I have never eaten at a Chiangmai guesthouse, most backpackers are going to eat far more "real" than most foodies. Often, what one will eat at a guesthouse will be whatever the cook whips up, kinda like what we eat at home, whipped up by the little misses, a "real" Thai person. It's also, for the most part, far more "real" than one will get from any of the celebrity chefs.

                            Chote Chitr's food, whether "dumbed down",or not, definitely seems, to me, catered to the foreigner. When one's entire clientele is foreigners, it's impossible not to cater.

                            But, for me, the biggest turn off is the total lack of any hygienic standards. Now, I eat in many place that would never be considered by tourists. But, when the owner's dogs use the sidewalk, the same sidewalk with a table and chairs, as a dog run, then the "waitress" cleans up after then, then continues waitressing, it's a bit over the top.

                            Then there is her "kitchen"!

                            1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                              Biggest problem when a Thai is catering to a foreigner.... is that they are not cooking the food they love. When you love something, you are more careful and respectful of what you are cooking. You taste it, make adjustments and you work towards getting it to 100% of the taste that you expect and want. If you cook food that you do not love, it is harder to appreciate if it is tasting "correctly" and thus is more likely to taste like crap (it would be like me cooking mashed potatoes - It would likely end up killing people who liked mashed potatoes). There are lots of foreigners in Bangkok (airport receives almost 20 million a year) and a majority of those (in Bangkok) are going to be close to the skytrain, and to a lesser extent the near the MRT. They will open their guidebooks and go to "cultural" must do things while here. Odds are higher that if you pick a place to eat around there -- at a place "comfortable" to eat at (English Menu's, AC) the food is going to be less enjoyable.... Foreigners are less comfortable (especially the Japanese) eating at street level vendors, so the odds are they are less likely going to "cater" to foreigners tastes. Find an older lady cooking food at street level -- who is busy serving food to locals -- and the odds are greater the food is going to be better tasting (not a guarantee, just playing the odds). Of course you might have to learn the Thai names for foods and adjectives if they cook to order. The "restaurant culture" (western) is rather new. If you leave the confines of Bangkok (which has grown rapidly over the last 40 years), and go into the countryside - the Thai Kitchens are outdoors, they eat outdoors (sheltered) - there don't tend to be fancy restaurants (except in hotels or other places frequented by foreigners), so it is not surprising you would not find the best Thai food in fancy restaurants (which would be cooked by people cooking food they really don't like - to serve a foreign pallet) :p I'll defer to Thais on what is or what is not Thai food (I'm a foreigner :o).

                              1. re: cacruden

                                Great summation!

                                I have found some of the best eateries are places that started out as a cart, then added some sidewalk tables, then pushed the cart in front of some indoor dining seating facilities, then pushed the cart inside.

                                As I have often said, these carts, and small shops, are great because they cook what they like/cook best and don't try to cater to anyone.

                            2. re: chrisdds

                              My knowledge of Thai cuisine/history is a fraction of 1%..... still lots to learn and not enough time. Still afraid to cook for Thais :o. Find someone that loves to cook, and cooks what they love (which for Thais is most likely Thai food) and the food is going to likely be more enjoyable. My suspicion is that the "crabby" person -- either is cooking what they don't love (food for foreigners), or doesn't love to cook anymore (could also be related to the food or people she is cooking for).