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.
- 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
2. Yen Ta Fo Noodles
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
4. Pad Thai
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
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
8. Guay Teow Rhua
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?