There’s no doubt that Bangkok is one of the most bustling and abundant cities in the world when it comes to street food. The smells of steaming noodle soups, simmering coconut curries, slow roasting chicken and frying fish cakes draws crowds from near and far into an around-the-clock eating frenzy. Street hawkers, scooters with sidecars, designated food markets, roadside restaurants, everyone seems to be selling food all of the time! While some sell precooked meals and others make it to order, each one specializing in one unique dish and a recipe that has been passed on for generations. The street food here is fresh, hygienic, and cheap.
Since many of the vendors sell the same foods, it can be daunting to find which ones are the best, so I decided to go around the historic district of Banglamphu (also known as Old Town Bangkok), escorted by a local guide. Chinnapatt Chongtong aka Chin, who runs a local food tour company called Chili Paste Tours, knows the area quite well, as she tours the markets every single day. All of the vendors know her as their “sister” and offer samples of their best dishes. Here are some of the things that we eat on the streets of Bangkok…
Rolled and Stuffed
At first I couldn’t tell the difference between all kinds of little rolled balls I saw on the streets. But after tasting, I realized each of them had a unique flavor ranging from savory to sweet, and sometimes both rolled into one.
Saku Sai Moo – These thin tapioca dumplings are stuffed with coarsely ground peanuts, and sometimes pork. There is also a variation made with butterfly pea flour that appear more white in color. The chewy bite-sized balls make for a great snack and is believed to be traditionally served to the Thai monarch.
Kaow Tom Mud – As I curiously observe the perfectly square banana leaves, one of the vendors starts unwrapping the leaf and offers me the mixture of sweet sticky rice it contained. Variations of this snack contain coconut, bananas and red beans. They are steamed inside the leaf for added flavor.
Kha Nom Krok – Sweets snacks are collectively known as khanom and mostly made with coconut, palm sugar, cassava, jellies, and fruits. These sweet coconut and spring onion pancakes are cooked in a cast iron mold and served hot off the griddle. They are golden brown on the inside and soft on the inside.
Kha Nom Tom – The colorful rice balls found on street cars are made with glutinous rice powder, coconut sugar and boiled in water. Some include gelatin and artificial coloring.
Fried and Grilled
Generally, these kinds of meats will be cooked right on the street carts and served as you order. The meats are seasoned for hours with lots of spices including soy sauce, sugar, chilies, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, basil, lime, etc.
Kai Jeow – The deep fried Thai omelet is eaten for breakfast and as a snack. It can be cooked with chicken, pork or cucumber and seasoned with soy sauce. Order it with rice and chili sauce to make it a meal. It is always made to order.
Tod Mun Pla – These fish cakes are made with ground white fish and red curry paste and kaffir lime. Small patties are deep fried to perfection and have a kick that would awaken the taste buds. Believe it or not, the locals eat this for breakfast!
Gai Yang – BBQ lovers will enjoy grilled chicken that is marinated slowly in a flavorful bath of cumin, turmeric, coriander, pepper, garlic, lemongrass and fruit juice. Half chickens are placed on bamboo sticks and grilled to perfection over mangrove tree charcoal for added authenticity.
Pla Pao – Some of the street vendors specialize in a dish of whole fish on the rotisseries. These are seasoned with sea salt and wheat flour, then chargrilled until the skin in dark. It is served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce made with bird eye chilies, sugar, and lime juice
Noodles and Salads
Made with egg or rice, noodles are an important part of Thai cuisine. On the streets of Bangkok find vermicelli noodles, thick glass noodles, flat rice noodles, fried noodles, Chinese rolled noodles, noodle soups, and much more.
Bami Haeng Pet – Juicy braised duck meat known as Ped Thun, served with egg noodles, makes for a perfect lunch. It can also be ordered over steamed rice and hot chili sauce.
Laab Plaa – My guide Chin walks behind one of the kiosks to mix her own fish salad. She debones a roasted catfish, removes the meat and mixes it with roasted rice, chili, green onions and kaffir lime to make a traditional dish from Isan region in northeastern Thailand.
Khao Gang – These are curry rice restaurants that offer a selection of curries of the day served with rice. There is no set menu and you can get whatever is available at the time of the visit. Many locals pick up an assortment of salads, rice, noodles and curries individually packed in plastic bags to take home for a complete meal.
Fruits and Drinks
Being a tropical country, Thailand enjoys a bountiful array of fruit that’s in season throughout the year. Street vendors sell sliced fresh pineapples, pomegranate, watermelon, papaya, mangoes and jackfruit… And all for only a few cents! Also, try the cold-pressed juices and fresh coconut water.
Khao Neeo Mamuang – It is impossible to pass up the ubiquitous Thai dessert, sticky rice with fresh mango. The rice is steamed in coconut milk in a bamboo hat and served with a creamy sauce of coconut milk, sugar and salt.
Cha Yen – Thai iced tea is a popular drink found at train stations and restaurants. It is a cold beverage made with brewed black tea, sugar, condensed milk, orange blossom water, star anise and tamarind. Additional flavors such as chocolate, coconut, strawberry, and tapioca may be added on order.
Of course there’s a lot more to be tasted on the streets of Bangkok. Do you have a favorite dish that you want to share? Post it in our comments section below!