EAT LIKE A LOCAL WITH OUR STREET FOOD GUIDE TO BANGKOK
From street food stalls that master a single dish for decades to Michelin star fine dining, this is our ultimate guide to the food scene in the best city for Thai food in the world
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Nomadic Julin
22 December 2020
For visitors the street food in Thailand can often seem overwhelming and nowhere else is this truer than it is for Bangkok. With the city's endless street vendors and stalls the exotic cuisine is filled with colours, scents and choice of dishes each one more intriguing than the last.
Over time Bangkok's street food has had a vivid influence by various nations and circumstances. For almost 300 years the Bangkok-based royal court has put a sophisticated spin on central Thai dishes. The 'royal' food that was once available only within the palace is now served in restaurants across the city.
Tip: if ever in Bangkok, try máh hór - a sweet-savoury dish made of orange, pineapple or mandarin and topped with pepper, coriander roots, sugar, peanuts, pork and chicken.
Chinese cuisine also plays a major role in modern-day Thai food. For centuries labourers from China have influenced the local dishes and are believed to have introduced some noodle recipes as well as the wok to the Thai kitchen.
Tip: for a taste of Chinese-influenced Thai cuisine try bà·mèe - a type of noodle made of egg and wheat that is commonly served with barbecued pork on the side.
Muslim influence is another layer of Thai food since the late 14th century when travellers from the Middle East and India settled in the region bringing along recipes of meat dishes with added flavour and aromatics of dried spices.
Tip: for such an authentic dish that has barely been modified at all throughout time, try the Islamic-world influenced fried bread known as roh·đee.
From sticky rice to a whole fish on a stick, fried bugs, banana leaves and traditional glossy marzipan the vast variety of choices can make you equally doubtful and excited to taste authentic Thai food. Here's a few of our best recommendations to get you started on roaming the street vendors in the capital.
Thai food is within its own universe of spicy. Even if you are a lover of hot food, some street dishes are so spicy, even the steam can make you tear up. Remember to always orded less heat and add any of the various spiced sauces later. Same goes for sweet. While the dessert and iced tea scene in the region may seem like a dream for travellers with a sweet tooth, some tastings can actually give you stomach ache. Yet, as long as you order less sweetness, you can always add more to taste. Another good aspect of Thai food is it's cheapness. American dollars are a common way to pay there and for no more than $1-2 you can eat a plateful. In Thailand is also customary to use your fingers when eating or use a fork to grab what you like, then transfer the bite onto a spoon before eating.
It is not a secret that the local dishes of central Thailand are very flavorful and creative. Savoury, tangry, herbal and sweet notes mix with coconut milk, pork and freshwater fish ingredients. Particularly popular in Bangkok is the wide range of seafood from the region's closeness to the Gulf of Thailand.
In recent decades Thai food gained international fame and Bangkok remains the best place to taste it. From contemporary dining influenced by immigration to Michelin star restaurants along the streets, the food scene in the city is varied and unmatched by any other place in the world.
Despite the popularity of the street food in Bangkok, since mid-2017 stalls and vendors slowly started to get closed from the city's streets. Media outlets reported on the new laws in the area and the appeals of locals and visitors quickly escalated to the involvement of The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although official statements claimed on reinforcing only existing regulations, many street food stalls were removed from key areas of the city including Th Suan Phlu, Th Sukhumvit and Soi 55 in orded to clear the footpaths and streets of Bangkok. There is an estimation of over 20,000 street vendors in the city, which destiny remains unclear. Yet, if you are ever in Thailand make sure to visit the incredible food scene in Bangkok before the streets potentially get cleaner and cleaner.
With a reputation that precedes expectations, the taste of the city is one to be remembered brighter than that of any other street cuisine in the world. From morning coffee to boxed lunch noodles to take in the office and stir-fry to enjoy at the metal tables and chairs in front the cluster of street vendors in Bangkok's suburbs, welcome to the most loved dining spots for Thais and travellers alike. Open-Front restaurants in the city, known as hôrng tăa·ou, have cooks that specialise in a single or limited variety of food options, which means they have mastered generations-old recipes of the same dish to perfection. Although slightly more expensive than street food, this dining is a bit more hygienic and offers the incredible opportunity to taste traditional food that has not been modified throughout history.
Alternatively, for a menu in English and a clean setting, you can visit Bangkok's shopping centre's famous food courts, which locals consider as a last option compared to street food stalls. If you are lucky enough to speak Thai, the made to order restaurants known as ráhn ah·hăhn đahm sàng are known for their display of raw ingredients such as meat, vegetables and fresh seafood. For a complete taste of the city make sure to also visit any of Bangkok's restaurants (ráhn ah·hăhn) or taste the pre-made dishes of rice and curry shops (ráhn kôw gaang). Fine dining with artistic spin is not uncommon in the city either. Upscale restaurants accommodate foreign palettes if you ever need a break from authentic Thai street dishes. Western-food is found in hotels where it does come at hefty prices, yet midrange venues across the city offer good and less expensive food, while international chains have spread across Bangkok where alongside exotic Thai dishes you can also find modern cafes with familiar menus.
3 OF THE BEST STREET FOOD VENDORS IN BANGKOK:
As most vendors specialise in a single traditional recipe, these hotspot street stands in the Thai capital are where some of our favourite dishes have been mastered to perfection.
1. Hea' Sa (best for on-the-go satay)
One of the area's most popular snack food is satay sticks. Tumeric and spice mix is used to marinate pieces of chicken, pork or beef, which are then skewered and cooked over a grill. If you are ever in Chinatown's market, keep your eyes peeled for Hea' Sa where alongside the various combinations of sticks, foodies get a salad of chillies and pickled cucumbers and a peanut dipping sauce to bring out the satay flavour. To make the most of the sauce and leftover juice, we recommend ordering a side of grilled white bread too.
2. Pad Thai Nana (best for the national Thai dish)
Mix dried sticky noodles with fresh rice and you can't go wrong. Cooking this national dish the Thai way means wok-frying it with large prawns and tamarind paste. Pad Thai Nana is said to have been around for the 80-some years since the existence of the traditional recipe. Today the vendor is run by two sisters and remains the best place to grab a plate for only £1. Backpacks love a drink at Khao San Road which happens to be a walking distance from this Pad Thai heaven.
3. Lim Lao San (best for fishball noodle soup)
If you've ever wanted to dine in a movie-set-like venue, this humble street food vendor is the place for you. For over 50 years the family run business has perfected every stage of cooking their fish bowls. Attention to detail here ensures quality and consistency of every aspect of the freshly handmade dish - from the stickiness of the rice to how chewy the egg hor fan tastes. Sit outdoor alongside wooden doorframes and exposed brick walls in a tiny alley where you can recharge and rest from the endless excitement and business of the city.
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