My name is Allan Wilson, and below is me at my happiest, chowing down on all sorts of weird and wonderful foods on the streets of Bangkok. An obsession I have pursued
Beyond Pad Thai
My aim in this guide is to avoid the tired old list of Pad Thai and Banana Pancakes on Khaosarn
Where to Find Street Food?
There’s no way I would ever recommend taxiing to some obscure street food favourite on the opposite side of the city. Because Bangkok is massive, and there are likely hundreds of comparable street food options within a stone’s throw from everywhere. And really just what is fun, and rewarding, about street food is the adventure, the exploration, and ultimately navigating the experience yourself. And for those that actually worry that Bangkok Street Food is not safe? Research shows that ‘despite theoretical
The Evolution of Street Food
Bangkok Street Food is more diverse than ever now, to the extent where things like Taiwanese Bubble Teas, Japanese Tacoyaki, Sichuan’s Mala Kebabs, and even Korean Bingsu, are commonly found at Bangkok Street Food. As street food is continually changing and evolving. And while I have no plans in delving into these modern influences of street food in this post, it does help to explain influences from the past. Where many of Bangkok’s street food staples have obvious influences from other cultures, including cooking techniques, spices, noodles, dumplings, crepes, roti… although it is Chinese food that share the more obvious influences in Bangkok Street Food.
My favourite Bangkok Street Foods by far are found at the roadside barbecues that pop up on street corners mostly in the evenings and after working hours. Barbecues and grills that sell predominantly Isaan food, which are foods originating from the Northeastern region of Thailand, and
Som Tam (ส้มตำ): Probably the most common of Bangkok Street Food vendors and easily recognised by its large mortar and pestle and bright red tomatoes. Strips of green (unripe) papaya are crunched in a mortar and pestle with a handful of ingredients including palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, and chillies which combine to create the sweet, sour, salty and hot signature of many Thai dishes. Som Tam varieties are complex with different customers choosing their own preference. My standard order is “Som Tam Korat” using a northeastern style fish sauce (Pla Ra). Add “
Pla Pao (ปลาเผา): In the early evenings, roadside barbecues pop up across Bangkok’s busy streets. Locals congregate at seated Bangkok Street Food areas while vendors work their grills. Fish are gutted, stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemongrass and coated with flour and rock salt before grilling over charcoal. Grilled fish often come served with a variety of vegetables for wrapping, chilli sauce for heat and on occasions with rice noodles (
Kai Yang (ไก่ย่าง): Kai Yang is one of the most common street food staples in Thailand and its simplicity and availability make it an easy option for street food and eating on the go. While grilled chicken is no doubt delicious alone, it does come better with sides of chilli dips (
Spicy Pork Neck Salad
Nam Tok Moo (น้ำตกหมู): This is a bit like a fusion of two amazing street favourites. The first is Kor Moo Yang, a chewy barbecued cut of pork neck, which is often sold on its own with a side of sweet and sticky chilli sauce (Nam Jim Jaew). The second is laab, often known as the national dish of neighbouring Laos, which fuses a spicy pork salad with chillies, shallots, coriander and mint leaves. And a seasoning of salty fish sauce, and the sour of lime juice. Fun fact, the name Nam Tok translates as ‘Waterfall’ and it is said to be named this due to the running pork juice that fuse together the dish. Expect to pay around 60-70 Baht at Isaan barbecues.
Ahan Tam Sang อาหารตามสั่ง : Ahan Tam Sang would normally cover my lunchtime meal. and I would use them at least once a day, of every day. As most locals do. And their popularity is much to do with the wide range of different takeaway (or sit-in) meals on offer, although I almost always go with Pad Kaprao), and then
Stir Fried Holy Basil
Pad Kaprao (กระเพราหมูกรอบ): A personal favourite bringing together 2 unique ingredients; Thai holy basil and crispy pork belly is Kaprao Moo Grob. Thai holy basil (
Tom Yum Soup
Hot and Sour Soup (ต้มยำ): While more familiar with restaurant menus, Tom Yum can be easily found at shophouse restaurants and even at Bangkok Street Food. We buy
Kuey Teow (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว): Noodle soups typically comprise of three components; the meat, the noodles and the broth. And changing all three can create seemingly endless variations to this popular Bangkok street food staple. But mostly it will be the noodles to choose from; where there is a handful of popular options that include white rice noodles, such as Sen-Mee (Rice Vermicelli), Sen-Lek (Medium Rice Noodles), and Sen-Yai (Flat Rice Noodles). Then my personal favourite in Ba-Mee (yellow egg wheat noodles), that are more likely to be freshly prepared, and just give a bit more chew to the dish.
Tom Yum Noodles
Kuey Teow Tom Yum (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวต้มยำ): These would be my go-to noodles these days, although the name can be confusing at time, where I have ordered Tom Yum Noodles to literally receive noodles in a Tom Yum Soup.
Kway Tiao Rua (ก๋วยเดี๋ยวเรือ): Originally sold between floating boats on river canals (
Khao Soi Curry
Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย): This iconic northern Thai curry is my favourite cheap eat
Easily identified by big chunks of meat strung behind glass window fronts, these staple rice dishes often join noodle soups in shophouses and at Bangkok street food stalls, and are really quite similar. Only the meat is served on a bed of rice, rather than a bed of noodles with broth. So they are kind of interchangeable at times, and there are a number of popular meats that can be mixed-and-matched between, such as; Roast Duck (Khao Ped Yang), Crispy Pork Belly (Moo Grob) and Moo Daeng (Charsiu Red Pork). However, the better rice dishes are exceptions to this rule, where specific dishes come served only along with rice, and with noodle option available.
Chicken on Rice
Khao Man Kai (ข้าวมันไก่): Thailand’s interpretation
Khao Mok Kai (ข้าวหมกไก่): Thai chicken and Yellow Rice, commonly known as the “Thai Biryani” or “rice with curry chicken”, is a more southern/Muslim interpretation of the common Khao Man Gai chicken rice street food in Bangkok. And while this dish does share some unique Indian influences with the fusing of spices, such as curry powder and turmeric, it is unmistakably Thai, where it comes served with a fiery Thai green chilli dip on the side. As a curry and spice
The Curry Buffet
Khao Rad Gaeng (ข้าวราดแกง): The curry buffet makes popular eating during rushed lunch hours with a mix of pre-prepared dishes set out and ready to feed traffic from nearby businesses and offices (not so different to familiar school and work canteens of the west). Curry buffets are found in food courts, shop houses and of course as Bangkok street food and dishes range from curries to stir fries with a diverse mix of cheap eat Thai cuisine on offer. For visitors, they also make an ideal introduction to local Thai cuisine with so many dishes to chose from and all at tiny prices. The best times to eat would be between 11am-12pm, just after the food has been prepared, yet before the hungry hoards take the best bits. Expect to pay 30-4o baht for 2 a choice of two dishes with rice. You will often find the popular curries at these stalls (Here for our Top 5 Thai Curries).
Stewed Pork Leg
Khao Kha Moo (ขาหมู): I bring personal sentiment with Stewed Pork Leg as this dish is famous (and arguably found at its best) in Fanfan’s hometown of Nang Rong. Here it is pride of the table at monk ceremonies and other special ceremony and occasions (pictured below left). As with many ‘on-rice’ dishes the Stewed Pork Leg is Chinese influenced, the pig leg braised in Chinese five spice (Pa Lo) broth until soft, fatty and perfect. As with most slow cooked dishes it is found best at Bangkok’s food courts, pre-prepared and served over rice. Served alongside are additions of pickled cabbage, and if lucky a boiled egg. Occasionally Stewed Pork Leg is found at Bangkok street food. Expect to pay around 40Baht.
Dessert options are relatively rare on Thai restaurant menus, and often the choice will be closer to shaved ice desserts, ice-cream or maybe complimentary fresh fruit. On the
Otherwise, brightening up Bangkok’s busy streets will always be Thailand’s colourful array of exotic fruits (
Turian (ทุเรียน): There is an impressive variety of fresh fruits at Bangkok Street Food some familiar (watermelon, pineapple…) and some not so familiar (rambutan, dragon fruit…). However Bangkok throws an added curveball, a big, spiky, green curveball, better known as the durian. Often referred to as “the King of Fruit” the Durian is better known for its pungent smell than its taste (tastes like heaven, smells like hell). The yellow fruit inside has a creamy texture and sweet taste and rumours have it, if you like the smell you will love the taste. No doubt it is a fascinating fruit and it is obsessed over by many. Durian is hard to find outside Southeast Asia due to shelf life and short-lived ripeness but they can easily be found at Bangkok Street Food during ‘Durian Season’ as well as in malls and markets. Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road (pictured below) is a busy hub for the durian trade. Priced around 400 baht/kilo for this stinky fruit.
Mango Sticky Rice
Khao Niao Mamuang (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง): While fresh mango alone is delicious enough; when matched with coconut sticky rice, drizzles of coconut syrup and sprinkles of toasted mung beans, the Mango Sticky Rice is unstoppable. Sweet, slightly salty and all-around delicious. What perfects Mango Sticky Rice is the balance of salty where the sticky rice base has first been soaked in coconut milk, sugar and salt before steaming in pandan leaves. The freshly cut sweet mango, then placed on top before additions of coconut syrup and mung beans (or occasional sesame seeds). Mango Sticky Rice is best found in food courts and occasionally at Bangkok street food stalls. Expect to pay 40 Baht up.
Roti Kuay (ไทยเครป): An Indian roti-like pancake wrapped over banana and egg with the optional topping of sugar and condensed milk. While Banana Roti is my own guilty pleasure this tasty Thai Dessert does come with other fillings and more than not, with egg. Banana roti is somewhat iconic with the southern Thai islands, but in Bangkok is where I find it at its best. The Bangkok street food carts are generally manned by southern Thai Muslims who have moved up to the big city. Banana roti is popular in the evening hours and will often pop up at street corners unannounced. One banana roti (as below) costs roughly 25 baht per. Probably not suitable for diabetics.
Deep Fried Bananas
Kuay Tod or Kuay Kaek (กล้วยทอด). After deep frying, these Thai desserts arrive warm, tough and chewy. The Thai banana fritter makes use of local plantains which, for those who don’t know, are short fat bananas often used by tourists to feed elephants. The batter is flavoured using the flesh of
Kah-Feh Yen (กาแฟเย็น): One of
Yaa Dong (ยาดอง): Yaa dong is a herb infused liquor made from local Lao Khao (white spirit) and a number of health-enhancing herbs. The liquor ‘Lao Khao’ is favoured by the folk of rural Thailand and accounts for 2/3 Thailand’s alcohol consumption. When mixed to Yaa Dong this potent concoction was in fact used as a medicine and blood tonic and is rumoured to enhance libido and boost strength. You can find these roadside vendors in the evening hours setting up shop for local after work labourers. Take a seat and throw back a shot or two or take some to go in a reused liquor or energy drink bottle. Yaa Dong comes served with a salt, chilli and sugar dip (
Eats on the Go
You will find all sorts of weird and wonderful street food stalls on Bangkok’s streets, from converted motorbikes to mobile kitchens. Which just makes them easy to roll onto the street, and to move from location to location. And, I guess, this would be Bangkok Street Food at its purest form, where vendors can, and will, up and relocate at different times of the day. At the same time, they are less likely to haul around tables and chairs, so these street foods are generally snacks to eat on the go. Of course, this can be with pretty much any food again, with mobile Isaan barbecues, portable
Sai Krok Isaan (ไส้กรอกอีสาน): Found in puffs of smoke along Bangkok’s roadsides the barbecue grills are another of the city’s most common street vendors. A variety of meats are often sold at these Bangkok Street Food grills, however few are overly exciting, a lot of rubbery wieners and meats only made better by a hot chilli dipping sauce. There are exceptions however and one is the Isaan sausage which is named after the Northeastern region of Thailand in which it originated. The fermenting of this pork and sticky rice sausage gives it a unique sour taste. Accompanied by galam (cabbage), sliced ginger, and whole chillies for added heat (sometimes lime and peanuts). Roll them together and pop in your mouth for a unique Thai taste. Costs 10 baht per stick (as above) and sometimes comes shaped as rounded balls at Bangkok Street Food. (here for a list of various Isaan Sausages).
Tod Mun Pla Krai (ทอดมันปลากราย): For a quick and delicious Bangkok Street Food treat why not grab a quick bag of fish cakes to go. Unlike the chunky ‘Thai style’ fish cakes I find in the west, the authentic Thai fish cakes are thin and fiery snacks found deep fried at Bangkok Street Food by vendors working giant woks. The fish cakes are made from a mix of fish paste and red curry paste with added speckles of green bean (not green chilli) and kaffir lime leaves. Easy to grab a bag on the go. Fish cakes come with cucumber, sweet chilli and a wooden skewer stick to pick at
Grilled Pork Skewers
Moo Ping (หมูปิ้ง): A popular Thai breakfast and a personal favourite for early morning snacking at Bangkok Street Food. These tasty treats can be found at smokey roadside grills which occupy Bangkok’s streets in the morning hours. Delicious bite-sized cuts of pork meat are marinated, skewered then barbecued on the Bangkok Street Food grills. The marinade consists of oyster sauce, dark soy, coconut milk, garlic and palm sugar. The early morning vendors grill and sizzle these sticks over fiery charcoals until the meat starts to caramelise. Moo ping is so delicious we even named our cat after it. At Bangkok Street Food expect to pay up to 10 baht per stick and 5 baht for a small bag of sticky rice.
Pad Thai Noodles
Pad Thai (ผัดไทย): Bangkok’s famous Pad Thai noodle stalls are often the starting point for visitors to Bangkok street food (please go further). The basic Pad Thai comes as stir fried egg noodles with beansprouts, egg and other Thai flavourings such as dry shrimp. The dish is simple, flavorsome but a little bit boring… for added sour and hot of Thai signature flavours squeeze over lime or sprinkle some chili flakes. Ground peanuts also give it some added crunch. A popular place to find Pad Thai is Khaosan Road (backpacker area) where vendors offer mixed varieties of noodles and toppings. Pad Thai is also sold side-by-side with oyster pancakes (Hoi Tod) at many Bangkok street food stalls.
Hoy Tod (หอยทอด): Offering an alternative to Pad Thai. Hoi Tod is often found alongside at Pad Thai stalls where both dishes come stir-fried side-by-side with similar ingredients of egg mix, beansprouts, and sides of chilli. And Hoi Tod is a mix between a pancake and an omelette this delicious seafood dish is better found in seaside towns than Thailand’s capital and Bangkok street food. While the most common sold would be the mussel omelettes (40 baht) you do occasionally find the fancier option of oyster pancakes (60 baht). If you fail to find at Bangkok street food try the local food court.
Khanom Jeeb (ขนมจีบ): These minced prawns and pork wrapped dumplings are often found steam cooking at Bangkok Street food vendors. With obvious Chinese influences, the Kanom Jeeb was inspired by the popular Chinese Siu Mai dumplings (Dim Sum). The Thai version however comes served with a dark soy and vinegar sauce (Nam Jim Kanom Jeeb) and sprinkles of toasted garlic. Often served in bags with a wooden skewer stick to pick at them. Khanom Jeeb costly roughly 5 baht per dumpling at Bangkok street food. The perfect snack to eat on the go.
Poh Pia Tod (ปอเปี๊ยะทอด): Thailand’s interpretation of the iconic Asian spring roll. While ingredients can vary in Thai spring rolls the basic recipe the basic ingredients of glass (mung bean) noodles, bean sprouts, wood ear mushrooms and shredded carrot. Ingredients are mixed together then tightly wrapped in thin pastry skins before deep frying. Thai spring rolls come as vegetarian, or non-veg, chicken being the popular meat of choice. They are best found at Bangkok street food, deep fried at roadsides in giants woks. They are then chopped to bits and served in plastic bags with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce and a skewer stick to pick at them. Expect to pay 30 Baht a bag.
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