The Top Street Foods to Try When in Thailand

One of the best parts of any getaway is savoring the local eats. Oftentimes, you don’t have to head off to the most posh restaurants to do this. The most authentic, most flavorful, and cheapest meals you’re gonna get is food that’s being sold in quaint little stalls along busy and slightly smelly streets. And let me tell you, some of the best street foods in the world can be found in Thailand.

steet food
Thai street food

Now, most people might be a bit hesitant to chow down in the street, mainly because of sanitation issues. Well, as a street food aficionado who has never been sick, and whose diet has comprised some sort of barbecued animal part at least twice a week for two decades, here are some helpful hints for once you decide to dive in and enjoy street cuisine:

  • Choose to eat at street food stalls that are located near a market or a shopping destination. As there are literally thousands of food stalls in Thailand, you might be tempted to try anything from the first stall you see. Don’t do it. Though you’re proud of being a nonconformist, when it comes to street food, it’s wise to be like a sheep and go where all the other sheep, uhm, people, go. This means that many people will eat there, and the higher the turnover rate of customers, the fresher the food is. A stall with almost no customers will mean that the food has been sitting there for a while. Of course, there are some out-of-the-way places that true street food fanatics might point out to you, so if lots of people recommend it, then you’re safe.
  • Know about the ways that the food is prepared. For instance, if a dish has the word pad in it, it means that the dish or certain elements of it were fried. On the other hand, a dish that has the word thom in it means it was boiled, so that’s applicable to soupy dishes.
  • Observe how the peddler or stall owner serves the sauce. Do customers have individual little bowls for dipping, or is it a free-for-all sauce situation in a big container? Unless you have a high tolerance for people who double dip (eww), make sure that separate bowls or containers for dip is provided. Also, check if the condiments on the table have their assigned spoons or tiny ladles.
  • Go for street food that has been cooked well. Now is not the time to flirt with danger and eat rare meat, so have the peddler cook it well done.

Ok, I’ve done my part being all big sister-y with you. Now let’s eat!

1.  Moo Dad Diew

steet food
Tender Moo Dad Diew

These are bite-sized, deep fried pieces of pork that are marinated in soy sauce, then deep fried again. The tender pieces of pork are served with chili sauce, or jim jao that’s redolent with chopped green onions. Eat this with sticky rice. The double frying can play havoc with your cholesterol levels, so go easy on other oily foods for the day and grab some fresh fruit to nibble on after eating this.

2. Yen Ta Fo Noodles

steet food
Delicious Yen Ta Fo Noodles

Lavishly topped with an assortment of ingredients, utterly filling, and with a broth tinged pink, it’s a dish to satisfy the senses. The pink coloring comes from the fermented soybean paste that’s added to the bowl, adding a slightly sweet, almost floral essence to the soup.

Rice noodles swimming in broth, topped with pork chunks, fish balls, squid, fried tofu, rectangles of coagulated blood (yes, blood. Oh, do stop being squeamish, it’s actually very nice), and a big crispy chip to top it all off. What more can you ask for? Hearty, savory, and actually good for you. Not bad for a bowl of noodles, eh?

3. Gai Yang

steet food
Grilled Gai Yang

You know how like in major cities, you can’t turn a corner without finding a Starbucks? Well, it’s the same with Gai Yang, or grilled chicken in Thailand. Every few meters or so, you will find the smell of grilled chicken wafting from lots of charcoal grills. If you’re not that adventurous with food, you could probably have this every other day and not get tired of it, as each peddler has his or her own variation of the basting sauce. The best Gai Yang can be had from mobile stands attached to pushcarts or bikes. Eat with some sticky rice and you’re all set.

4. Pad Thai

steet food
Yummy Pad Thai

Probably the most recognized among all Thai dishes, and one of the cheapest eats too. There are so many versions of Pad Thai, but there are two things that can be constantly found in this dish: dry rice noodles, and egg. If you’ve never had pad thai, imagine an omelette with the flavors turned up. Now we’re talking

One of the best versions of Pad Thai that I had was chock-full of jumbo prawns and perfectly cooked noodles all wrapped in a layer of egg, like a crepe, then garnished with cilantro and some pepper. You can add crushed peanuts, a bit of lime juice, and some chili flakes to it. Dig in with your chopsticks and eat. Heavenly, right? And at just about a dollar, this is one meal that you won’t mind repeating again and again.

5. Kao Mok Gai

steet food
Spicy Kao Mok Gai

Very similar to biryani rice, this is a Moslem dish of rice cooked in a chicken stock flavored with turmeric, saffron, cardamom, and bay leaves. The chicken is cooked with the rice so it gets that distinctive yellow color. It’s served with some fried onions and cilantro sprinkled on top of the rice, with some pickled cucumbers as garnish and a spicy dipping sauce. Aromatic, spicy, yet comforting at the same time, this dish is a sure-hit with anyone who has a hankering for biryani.

6. Plah Plow

What’s so great about grilled fish? Well, if the fish was stuffed with lemongrass and lime leaves, then rolled in a thick coat of salt before grilling, the result is a moist and tender fish meat that falls apart on your plate with just a gentle nudge with your spoon. It’s so flaky, juicy and soft, you almost don’t have to chew it. Plah Plow can be made with all types of fish, but my absolute favorite is tilapia.

7. Som Tam

steet food
Classy Som Tam

This is possibly Thailand’s most famous salad or side dish, whichever way you choose to eat it. It goes well with grilled chicken or any other grilled meat, so you might want to give this a try. This salad is made by pounding garlic and chilies to a paste, then adding some tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, tomatoes, lime juice, sugarcane paste, dried shrimp, string beans and some grated green papaya. All the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, resulting in a salad that’s sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy and utterly refreshing. I’m terribly addicted to this salad, I swear I could eat it every day.

8. Guay Teow Rhua

steet food
Delectable Guay Teow Rhua

Also known as boat noodles, because this dish used to be sold from boats. The base of this noodle dish is pork blood broth. Then, you get to choose your noodles. You can have the wide rice noodle, medium rice noodle, the delicate angel hair rice noodle or the glass noodles. A bit of beef, pork or liver is added, followed by sprigs of morning glory, a type of stem-y vegetable with very little leaves.

Each serving is small enough to be finished in three or five bites, and regulars usually eat many bowls of this dish, often in a silent competition with other diners to see who can stack their empty bowls the highest. The most I could do was eight bowls. I once saw a guy eat 20 bowls of this stuff, and that was just plain awesome.

All of these street foods can be found all over Thailand, particularly in the food stalls of Bangkok. Most stalls have a few tables and chairs where you can sit down to enjoy your meal. You can try asking the locals where the best ones are—expect a lively discussion and some strong opinions expressed, because everyone has his or her favorites. I’ve actually made lots of friends in Bangkok this way, and they were more than willing to point me towards the right direction, and some even treated me to dinner, which was very generous of them.

If you’re ever in Thailand, don’t forget to go on a gastronomic adventure and try the street food. Let me know how it goes, ok?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *