After a full day of flights, transfers, and horrible airplane food, you’ve just arrived at Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok International Airport. First order of business? Time to eat some delicious Thailand street food!
That’s right: street food.
The best way to check out the city, and eventually the country, is to head out into the streets.
What may seem like a game of chance at home and in popular culture, is actually the way of life in Thailand. Some of the best food you will eat in South East Asia will undoubtedly be Thailand street food. Also, it’s incredibly cheap. So indulge to your heart’s content.
Pad Kee Mao Sen Yai: Drunken Noodles
Do you like Pad Thai and can handle your spice? Try Drunken Noodles, a spicy basil noodle dish that was initially made popular by Chinese immigrants in Thailand. Why are the noodles “drunk”, exactly? Maybe it’s because of their half-hazard and drunken-like appearance. Maybe it’s because they were created by a drunk man or they are so spicy you need to have a few beers to get them down. Either way, they are a favorite on the Thailand street food scene and a great step away from the safe and simple Pad Thai.
Khao Niao Mamuang: Mango and Sticky Rice
There is no better way to reward yourself after a long day of travel and battling Bangkok’s street scene than with Thailand’s favorite dessert: mango and sticky rice. In this dish, the sticky rice that grows in the Northeastern Province (it’s sticky after a long process that allows the natural sugars to escape) is mixed with coconut milk and sugar, a surprising combination that makes the starchiness of rice into an addictive dessert. Add fresh mango on the side and you’re in business.
Som Tum: Papaya Salad
Feeling bloated and need something light and green after a long, hot day? Spicy papaya salad is a popular dish that is often served with sticky rice. Primarily composed of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, string beans, lime juice, chilies and fish sauce, other popular versions also include the addition of peanuts or pickled crabs. This dish is actually most common in Thailand’s Northeastern province, often called Isaan, where the spice is most intense.
Poh Pia Tod: Spring Rolls
These fried spring rolls are pretty easy to find across South East Asia, but in Thailand they are mostly made with glass noodles, mung beans, and bean sprouts. Need a quick and cheap snack on the go? You can get five spring rolls for under the price of $1 USD. Go the busiest carts to assure that you are getting the freshest spring rolls. It’s usually best to avoid eating spring rolls that have been sitting out all day.
Geang Keow Wan Gai: Green Curry Chicken
You’re going to find all sorts of curries around Thailand, but the green curry chicken is our favorite way to start. Made from fresh green Thai chilies, basil, and coconut milk, this curry is commonly served with rice or noodles. It’s often referred to as “sweet green curry” but isn’t really that sweet, so feel free to indulge in this beloved Thai dish for dinner or as a late night snack.
Khao Pad Goong: Fried Rice with Shrimp
You can have Khao Pad Goong, which is friend rice with shrimp. Or you can have Khao Pad Moo or Gai, which is fried rice with pork or chicken. This might seem like a typical Asian dish, but street food in Thailand makes a special fried rice which includes Thai chilies, fish sauce and lime with the standard fare. This is an “anytime, anywhere” kind of a meal: the Thais eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so you are bound to try it sooner or later.
Khao Niaw Moo Yang: Grilled Pork Skewers
Nothing is considered more “street food” than eating meat on a stick. Enter Thailand’s quintessential contribution with barbecue pork skewers. Often marinated with soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil, this delicious meal is often served with sticky rice for lunch. You’re going to find a lot of this variety across South East Asia, but don’t miss out on trying it in Bangkok where it is famous for being “picnic food.” Pick up a few skewers before heading out to see the gardens, or while you are resting in a park.
Kuay Teow Moo Daeng: Red Pork Noodle Soup
If Thailand is just a pit-stop to somewhere else, don’t miss out on this delicious soup while you are in town. It’s only available in street food cards in Thailand, so you won’t be seeing this around Laos or Cambodia. It’s a bit on the spicy side, but the pork and onion broth is worth braving the chili peppers for. This is routinely featured in blog posts about Thai food for a reason: it is just that good. Don’t miss this on your trip to the capital!
Kai Jeow: Thai-style Omelet
Thai omelets can be made with meat or vegetables, and it also includes soy sauce. Otherwise, it is pretty similar to a normal breakfast omelette (if a lot more greasy!), but this favorite Thai street food is most often served at night to quell the drunken masses. While it may appear just to be a fried omelette, it’s flavor is made distinct by the addition of chilies and fish sauce, two Thai cooking staples.
Kuai Tiao Ruea: Boat Noodles
This is not a light soup. It has both pork and beef and its broth is mixed with pig’s blood and salt to give the soup its hearty flavor. Paprika, cinnamon, and morning glory are some of the spices used to make this soup truly one of a kind. It’s best eaten in the morning after a big night of drinking, or as the final call when you are ready to succumb to jet lag.
This is just a primer for street food in Thailand. There are literally thousands of different street food fares in Bangkok, let alone all of Thailand.
A word for the wise: if you are worried about food poisoning, rest assured that Thailand is one of the safest countries for indulging in road-side delicacies. Stick to stalls that locals are gathered around, and always try to get the freshest food you can!
Are you interested in experiencing Thailand for yourself? Read our Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in Thailand here, or check out our teaching opportunities.
Words by Dara Denney.