Flashing bright lights and calls from bar touts, luring you in with promises of free shots and cheap beer. The tantalising sounds and smells of hot woks and charcoal barbecues mixed with the offensive wafts of rotting garbage. A motorcyclist swerves erratically, swiping your shoulder and nearly knocking you over as he fangs past. Yep, you’ve arrived in big, bad, bustling Bangkok.
So where can you find the best local food without paying through the nose or for days after through every other orifice? You’ll find it in the busy little plastic-stool restaurants hidden down backstreets, or the more frequented street carts, selling everything from fresh salads to delicious sweets. These are the types of places that give Bangkok it’s legendary reputation as one of the best food destinations in Asia, or even the world.
The Street Food
A lot of travellers tend to steer clear of street food, worried they’ll be stricken down with food poisoning the moment that first piece of chicken hits their tongue. Although there’s always a risk you may become sick no matter where you eat, I assure you the risk isn’t any greater on the street than in a restaurant. In fact, I’d argue the risk is even smaller on the street as the food is prepared right there in front of you instead of behind closed doors.
In saying that, there are still some ways to minimise your risk. Using the below three rules, I ate off the street for six months without once falling ill.
- Eat where the locals eat – locals don’t have any more of a tolerance to salmonella or e.coli than you or I, so if you see a street vendor serving up a long line of locals there’s a very good chance it’s safe, not to mention popular.
- Turn the heat up – even if bacteria has had a chance to develop, a sizzling hot wok or burning orange charcoals are at a high enough heat to destroy anything anyway. You should definitely consider this when deciding between ordering from a hot wok or a lukewarm bain-marie.
- Ask for it fresh – ask the vendor to cook yours fresh or at the very least, re-heat it at a high temperature. Not only is this the best way to protect yourself, but everything tastes better fresh.
Armed with these tips and some basic common sense, you’re ready to hit the streets. These are among the top street dishes you should try while in Bangkok.
The green papaya salad is both light and fresh, with plenty of zest from the lime, sweetness from the palm sugar, and a significant amount of heat from the chilli. The som tum is usually offered with dried shrimp or salted crab. Either way, I insist you have it with crushed peanuts for some toasty crunch. Pick yourself up some gai yang (Thai bbq chicken) to pair and you’ll be one happy camper.
Pork skewer carts can be found scattered all through Bangkok. It’s so unbelievably hard to walk past without grabbing at least one or two to snack on, or just making the vendor uncomfortable by staring dreamily with a mouthful of drool. The meat is moist but can often feel like it’s missing something. Request a squirt of sweet chilli sauce to really kick things up a notch.
Pad Thai/Pad See Ew
I’m sure at least one of these dishes make it into your usual Thai delivery order back home, but I guarantee you it’s nowhere near as cheap. The searing hot wok almost burns the noodles, adding it’s own wonderful charred flavour to these delicious dishes.
The Pad Thai consists of flat rice noodles tossed in a hot work with eggs, chopped tofu and your choice of meat, although chicken seems to reign champion. It’s then served with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts for crunch, some chives for colour and freshness, and a wedge of lime for some zesty kick.
The Pad See Ew is another legendary stir-fry and a staple dish among many. It’s deliciously sweet and salty sauce makes the rice noodles ultra-moist, not to mention ultra-tasty. Combined with the leafy Chinese broccoli, egg and your choice of meat, it’s a dish that’ll keep you coming back for more.
Khanom Wan Thai
The perfect fix for those sugar cravings, Thailand’s desserts are always sweet but generally not too rich. I love the grainy texture of their jellies, while the warm, sweet sticky rice feels like a comforting hug from grandma.
The khao neow ma muang (fresh mango with sticky rice) is easily one of my favourites. The rice is warm and gooey, while the fresh mango helps cut through the richness of it all. The dessert is also doused in a coconut cream syrup, adding another sinfully sweet layer to the dish.
You’re always spoilt for choice when it comes to Thai jellies, although I always seem to pick up at least one pandan and coconut. These are easy to identify as they’re made up of layers of green and white, but I encourage you to grab a variety to experience the many flavours and textures available and find your own favourite.
Of course you don’t only have to eat off the streets to experience great, authentic Thai food. There are so many little restaurants tucked away down dimly lit streets which may not look that flash at first glance, but produce some of the best tasting dishes in Bangkok.
I heard there was a place that served up a legendary tom yum soup and just had to check it out. After a few unsure turns down some crowded backstreets, we finally arrived at P’Aor. The restaurant was packed with locals, a sure sign of things to come. After ordering and taking that first delicious slurp, it instantly lived up to it’s reputation. The soup was rich with flavour and had the perfect amount of heat from the chilli. It was also served with a whopping big king prawn, which almost looked like it was taking pleasure bathing in my soup.
Although the tom yum comes with noodles it may be a little light for some, so treat yourself to an appetiser or two beforehand.
68/51, Soi Phetchaburi 5, Thung Phaya Thai, Khet Ratchathewi, Bangkok
Who would think that something as simple as chicken and rice would be so damn delicious? The Thais have a way of taking something so seemingly simple and taking it to the next level, and Go Ang’s khao mun gai is a perfect example of this.
The chicken is moist and the rice is nice, but the accompanying chilli soy sauce and broth are what really tie this meal together. Joined with a few slices of cucumber to freshen things up, the khao mun gai is the perfect cheap, affordable and comparatively healthy Thai meal.
960-962 Phetchaburi Rd. (at Soi 30), Bangkok
Tired of wandering the streets and aren’t that keen on being boxed up in a restaurant? Visit one of Bangkok’s many markets for a typically Thai experience, not to mention exceptional food.
Taling Chan Floating Markets
The floating markets were by far my favourite markets in Bangkok. Although a little far out from the city centre, it ensures you a truly local experience without the hoards of tourists. There’s a whole heap of fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables as well as other bits and pieces to see, but the best food can be found aboard the floating restaurants at the end of the market strip.
I ordered the kuai tiao ruea or pork boat noodles, but couldn’t resist also grabbing a handful of chicken satay skewers. After ordering, all there is left to do is find a table, pull up a stool, and enjoy your delicious meal while looking out across the beautifully calm river.
Khlong Bangkok Noi, Thonburi
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak market is the biggest in Bangkok, and actually one of the biggest weekend markets in the world. There’s plenty of delicious options available to you but probably none as popular as the coconut ice cream stand. The ice cream is served in a hollowed out coconut shell with a few shaves of fresh coconut and toasted peanuts, but it’s the other accompaniments on offer that really bring this ice cream to life. You can’t miss it; just look for the long line of eager customers.
587/10 Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd, Khwaeng Chatuchak, Khet Chatuchak, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon
What bites of Bangkok are your favourites? Comment below.