Thai Street Food
The awesome Thai street food found throughout the country must have been behind the phrase “Amazing Thailand”. As soon as you arrive in Bangkok, you immediately notice the high heat and humidity as well as the wonderful smells of all sorts of food being cooked everywhere you turn. This was one of the main things that I noticed on my first trip to Thailand over six years ago. There is food everywhere from the main roads in Bangkok, to the small villages in Northeastern Thailand, also known as Issan. Everyone eats food off of the street vendors! The food is excellent, it is healthy, it is fresh and it is inexpensive. Street food like this just does not exist in the United States. It is also available 24 hours a day in the larger cities.
Learn About Thai Street Food
Typically there are a three of variations of the delivery of street food in Thailand. The first is the small open air “restaurants”, which typically consist of a few plastic tables and chairs surrounding a vendor’s food cart. Whenever a section of public sidewalk is built, a open air restaurant is opened or a food cart takes up residence. They are found everywhere! The second is the mobile food cart that is typically based upon a 110cc motorbike with a sidecar converted into a mobile kitchen. The vendor will drive around and either sets up somewhere for a few hours or people will flag them down for a quick bite to eat. The third is the mobile push food cart. Typically these are set up in a semi permanent location or are pushed around by the vendor n an established circuit to various locations during the day. Food is either eaten on the spot or is placed in plastic bags to be taken home and eaten there.
The “menu” offered by the specific vendors are usually limited to one or two specialties. Just about anything that you could want is available, as well as a few things that you may not want to try as well, but more of that later!
One of the most popular dishes that you will see both Thai people, as well as “farangs”, which is what Thai people generally call foreigners, eating is one of several varieties of spicy noodle soup. One of my favorite soups is sold in front of the Tops Daily, which is a small grocery store chain in Thailand. This noodle soup is made with small noodles, pork, pork balls, various vegetables including lettuce and beans. The broth is made of water as well as pig’s blood, which may sound disgusting, but is actually delicious. The vendor either serves it on site or puts it in plastic bags for take away, which is usually what my wife and I do. You can make it as spicy as you desire as they will give you a small bag of chili as well as a small bag of sugar as well. Total cost is 35 Thai baht or approximately $1.00 U.S. Trust me it is a very filling meal and it as very fresh!
Thai people are like Americans as they like to barbecue, except they barbecue many more things than we do in the United States. Grilled chicken on a stick is very popular and is available for 10 Thai baht or approximately 30 cents. Grilled pork is popular as well, especially when it has been grilled with “nam chim”, which is a spicy sauce. It also costs 10 Thai baht or approximately 30 cents. Even hot dogs are grilled and are available.
Roasted chicken is also very popular as well. It is either slowly cooked in a large clay pot or cooked rotisserie style over a charcoal fed fire. It is amazing how juicy and tender the chicken is after cooking it this way. Also popular is fried chicken, which is done in a large vat of boiling oil, often too close to where you are sitting or walking.
In the beach areas, fresh seafood is also found on the street. One of the more popular items is a whole salted fish. Often sold with sticky rice, the fish is slowly cooked over a charcoal fire and is quite juicy and has a unique taste, especially when combined with the ever present “nam chim” to spice it up. Grilled squid is also very popular, although many may find it an acquired taste.
One of the more healthy foods being offered on the streets of Thailand is the great variety of fresh fruits including oranges, watermelon, papaya, bananas, grapes, apples, pineapple, mango and coconut. Thailand also has a number of local fruits that are typically not found in the west including “Gaou mung gon”, which is a white fruit with black specs and is very sweet and is encased in a red skin. Another Thai fruit is “Durian”, which is a large fruit with a unique smell and is quite tasty once you get past the smell. Often the vendor will slice them up while you wait and place them in a plastic bag along with a wood skewer. Do not be surprised if you see a Thai person putting crushed chili on their fruit!
Even deserts can be found on the streets of Thailand. Want to try something very tasty? Look for some homemade coconut ice cream! It is either served in either a traditional cone or in an empty coconut shell. Another great desert to try is this crepe like pancake with banana and egg inside. Fried bananas is a great treat and is equally tasty and easily found.
Often you will find carts on the street serving a variety of beverages including various beers and soft drinks. Look for the one offering either fruit smoothies or iced coffee. Smoothies are typically made with fresh fruit, with strawberry, pineapple and mango smoothies being the most popular. It is interesting to watch them being made as there will be dozens of bees swarming around due to the sugary water that is added to the mix. Like Vietnam, the coffee found in Thailand is excellent, especially iced coffee, which is the only way to drink coffee in the tropics. The vendors will grind the coffee beans on the spot and brew the coffee as you wait. The coffee is then mixed with condensed milk and served on ice. The condensed milk is the key ingredient and results in a thicker coffee that just outstanding. Best yet the cost is only 65 cents. Try to get that at a coffee shop in the United States.
One of the more interesting street foods that you will find in Thailand is a variety of insects. Popular insects include scorpions, beetles and grasshoppers. The vendor will re-fry the insects of your choice on the spot, which results in an interesting smell. Insects and other non-typical foods are eaten in the rural parts of Thailand, particularly in Northeastern Thailand. This part of Thailand is in general rural and the people are poor and have learned over generations to eat things that westerners would never dream of. Today, many of the insects found in street food are raised on insect farms, so there is no need to envision some poor family running around the fields in Issan with a net catching grasshoppers.
In some of the areas frequented by tourists, you will find street vendors offering a variety of western and other foods. One of my favorites is pizza, which has a thin crust and is cooked on the spot with your choice of meats such as pepperoni. I rarely eat western food here in Thailand and much prefer Thai food.
Many westerners are somewhat concerned about the apparent lack of cleanliness of some of the street food vendor’s carts and equipment. In addition, some will be uneasy about seeing food being prepped as well. In general, there is nothing to worry about, but realize that there are no health department inspections or anything like that on vendors serving street food. One of the things that you will find here in Thailand is that hot water is typically not used when washing dishes. In fact, a vast majority of kitchens found in homes in Thailand do not have hot water. The best way to determine if the food is safe to eat is to eat the street food that the Thais eat, as they seem to know if the food being prepared is safe or not. I eat street food daily here in Thailand and the only time I got food poisoning was from a American fast food chain.
If you are lucky enough to visit Thailand, be sure to experience real Thai food off of street vendors, as it is a part of the experience. It is hard to explain until you experience it, but eating in Thailand is almost a religious experience to Thai people. Try the Thai street food and you might be in heaven as well.