This may make me sound a bit extreme, but I’ll say it anyway: failure to include Or Tor Kor Market (ตลาด อ.ต.ก.) in your plan is nothing short of a cardinal sin if you’re a foodie visitor to Bangkok.
It’s true. I can’t think of anywhere else where you can get this wide variety of local goodies in a clean and organized environment. Sure, you can visit a local market, such as Bang Kapi market (ตลาดบางกะปิ) or its ilk, but that involves jostling with people, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and being forced off the sidewalks due to the overcrowding of street hawkers in some areas. If that’s your cup of tea, then please disregard my recommendation. But if you like to stroll leisurely up and down the aisles admiring and sampling beautiful and delicious foods with a roof over you and no motorbikes behind you, then Or Tor Kor is the place to be.
The upscale market is organized by the Marketing Organization for Farmers (องค์การตลาดเพื่อเกษตรกร), whose initials in Thai อ.ต.ก. have led to the odd name Or Tor Kor* – the kind of romanization that stabs in the hearts of all linguists like a poisoned dagger. It boasts a vast array of prepared foods, fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of agricultural goods.
The market has been around for, oh, I don’t know, a long time. When I was young, I often spent weekends at the house of one of my aunts who insisted on taking her kids, against their will, to Or Tor Kor market every Saturday. Of course, I got put in the car along with my cousins and we would sulk and whine all the way to the market and back.
Back then, a market — any market — was just a market. As a kid, I didn’t really get what the big deal was about Or Tor Kor market and why my aunt liked it so much she thought a trip there was worth schlepping a bunch of whiny, ungrateful kids across town with her.
Fresh durian ทุเรียน – If you plan on taking the subway home, be informed that durian is not allowed on the train. Don’t think that you can sneak the sucker past the guard at the checkpoint; you won’t be able to.
That was a long time before all the expressways were built and it took almost an hour by car from their house to the market. An hour-long ride to a zoo or an amusement park would have been tolerable; an hour-long drive to something as pointless as a market was downright torturous.
But I remember how my cousins and I would promptly shut our whiny mouths once we got out of the car and started tailing after my aunt and uncle up and down the market aisles. We sampled this and that along the way, and everything was so delicious. The best part was the meat, or whatever it was, on sticks. No sane kids I know can ever say no to stuff on sticks.
I can’t speak for my cousins, but for me, it didn’t take long for Or Tor Kor market to start growing on me. I went from dreading a trip to the market to really looking forward to spending a weekend at my aunt’s. I was even willing to put up with her oldest son, one of my cousins, who could be really obnoxious when he was a kid. A weekend with him was worth delicious stuff on sticks.
It’s been such a long time and I don’t remember the details of what I saw. I do, however, remember that there were so many colors and aromas. I remember back then how my mind conjured up the old Thai saying describing the abundance of our land: ในน้ำมีปลา ในนามีข้าว nai naam mii plaa, nai naa mii khao, meaning “There are fish in the rivers; there is rice in the fields. Not that famine or starvation was ever an issue in our household, but I remember feeling comforted — just being surrounded by tangible proof of what the fertile Siamese land can bestow upon her inhabitants.
Abundance of food choices aside, the place was cleaner and more organized than most wet markets in Bangkok. I had nothing against wet markets in general. But when you’re just a little kid, seeing live fish being smacked on the head with a steel mullet, gutted, and scaled can be pretty traumatic. And there was a lot of that going on at most wet markets. None of that happened at Or Tor Kor.
As an adult, I still yearn for this market. Sometimes, on a cold, snowy night in Chicago, I would close my eyes and visualize, in the manner of the Little Match Girl, myself walking up and down the aisles of Or Tor Kor market. I don’t know what it is about being surrounded by fresh tropical produce, but it seems to have an effect on me. Needless to say, I come to the market every time I visit Bangkok. I can skip a lot of places in the city, but Or Tor Kor is a must.
that is more and more difficult to find these days.
Fresh produce and prepared foods here are of very high quality. This also means they are not cheap. The prices are still very reasonable, however. I’d rather pay more for a kilo of mangosteens each and every single one of which is sweet, fresh, and bug-free.
another old-fashioned snack.
Fortunately, getting to Or Tor Kor is very quick and easy these days regardless of where in Bangkok you’re coming from. The market is right on the subway route. In fact, if you get off at Kamphaeng Phet station (กำแพงเพชร), by taking the Or Tor Kor exit (marked the Marketing Organization for Farmers) you will walk right into the market.
There is an area where you sit down and enjoy the foods which you have purchased. What I usually do is bring a few people with me to the market. Then we turn into a bunch of hunter-gatherers who reconvene 15 minutes later at the dining area to enjoy the fruits of our collective labor. Once our stomachs are full, we walk around the market once more and buy everything in sight to take home to enjoy the rest of the week.
Or Tor Kor market is located in the same area as Jatujak (or Chatuchak) weekend market (ตลาดจตุจักร). So if you visit Jatujak, which you should, you might as well stop by Or Tor Kor.
The market is open daily from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm. From my observation, though foods and produce are available in abundance everyday, both the market and its offerings seem more lively on weekends.
*Pronounced aw-taw-gaw. All three syllables exactly rhyme with “raw.” Completely disregard the presence of the letter “R” at the end of each syllable.