Desi is a flexible umbrella term to identify the peoples and cultures of South Asia – namely those from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Desi culture, festivals, restaurants and events can be found all around Bangkok thanks to the city’s massive Indian community that has established itself here since the late 1800s.
The Pakistani community of Bangkok is also growing and contributing to the Desi lifestyle here although is a little younger than the Indian population.
For those coming to Bangkok for the first time and planning to live or stay in Sukhumvit – as most do – here’s a guide to how my wife and I have managed to keep a strong connection to our Desi roots over the years.
In Sukhumvit there are plenty of eateries, from high end luxury restaurants offering meals that were once fit for the royals to hole-in-the-wall rustic eateries serving delicious thalis, that can cure your fix for authentic Indian cuisine.
The high-end restaurants can be quite pricey but most are still good value for money when it comes to food quality and service.
A few of our favorites are The Great Kabab Factory, Charcoal, Rang Mahal and Indus, which are all located between Nana and Phrom Phong on Sukhumvit.
Cheaper places to try are Indian Hut, Indian Host and the plethora of other small Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi eateries found along the entire strip of Nana from Soi 3 all the way down to Asok BTS station.
For us and many other local Desis, going out to an Indian restaurant is considered a luxury or a special event as we can eat it whenever we like at home.
Nightlife? Desi weddings are where the real fun is at
Although Sukhumvit and wider Bangkok have a handful of decent Indian-themed bars, the scene is not what it used to be. It’s certainly nothing compared to what you can find back in India – not so much in Pakistan, since it is a Muslim country.
In the past, almost every weekend, we would be seen at Bombay Blues or Desi Beats, which are both located in the Opus building in Thonglor.
Hmm, talk about stiff competition.
Anyway, we stopped going to these places for a couple of reasons but mainly because they became overcrowded, which directly lead to reduced quality customer service and loyalty to true fans. The owners decided it was more important to make money and attract one-time big spenders rather than to keep loyal customers such as ourselves.
Both Bombay Blues and Desi Beats started attracting an increasingly HiSo, Thai hipster crowd.
To cater to them, the music went from Bollywood and Punjabi to international and even Thai. This was a bust and deal breaker for us. I mean there are so many other places we can – and do – go when we want that kind of music and local clientele.
That’s why we look forward to weddings instead – they’re where the real fun and party is at.
If you haven’t been to a Punjabi wedding yet, then oh wow: you don’t know the meaning of a crazy night.
It’s not just the vast amount of alcohol being consumed (and us Desis can really drink without getting totally sloshed) but rather the entire ambiance that is best experienced, not explained.
What’s a wedding without some amazing dance performances? Some of them are even good enough to make it to a low-budget Bollywood film!
Husbands and wives are dancing into the night, that Aunty you once thought was a saint is taking shots with the younger generations and, of course, there’s that Uncle who approaches you every 30 minutes with some irritating remark about how he knew you as a little kid.
These are just SOME of the antics you will encounter at a Desi wedding.
Oh and let’s not forget, this is the one time you can actually dress to the nines with a s*** load of jewelry and not worry about sweating your body weight off in Bangkok’s heat.
Festivals all year around
With a thriving community where various Desi groups mingle at every instance, it’s hard to miss out on traditional festivals.
Whether it is Diwali or Eid, Navrati and Ramadan or even Holi, the community always keeps us in check. Many restaurants across the city regularly throw open their doors for events and parties, which they advertise and promote through various online and offline channels.
There is even an established local Indian magazine here called Masala Magazine – the only one of its kind. They cover everything that exudes the Thai-Indian lifestyle including travel, dining, business, technology, fashion, events, and culture.
How do you live your Desi lifestyle on Sukhumvit? Any hidden gems we should know about?