Sampling street food can be intimidating in any foreign country. You may not speak the local language, or even know what you’re about to eat! But Bangkok has some of the most famous street food in the world, and no visit to the Thai capital is complete without trying some. Although the city’s many street food stalls may seem overwhelming, it’s actually an exciting scene to navigate. With these simple tips, you can maximize your eating adventures in Bangkok while staying healthy (and full).
Start Off Slowly
It’s no secret that Bangkok’s Chinatown has some of the most authentic street food, but it may be a little intimidating for a first-timer. Ease in by stopping first at Silom Road, Charoen Krung Road or Soi 38 — those areas seem a little more manageable. Night markets, like JJ Green or the fancy Asiatique are also excellent spots to sample street food. Although they may be a little more touristy, vendors may speak more English and can help explain the dishes to you.
Do Your Homework
Most of the time, I don’t ask what’s in it, I just order it! But those with restricted diets may want to be aware of what they are eating. Some of the most famous and popular dishes to order beyond Pad Thai are:
- Ba Mee — Thai wonton noodles with pork
- Khao Man Gai — Thai chicken rice
- Tom Yum Goong — spicy jumbo prawn soup
- Gai Tod — fried chicken
- Moo Ping — grilled pork on a stick
- Khao Niao Mamuang — mango sticky rice
Search for photos and explanations of these dishes before heading out to eat, so you have an idea what to look for.
Do a Street Food Tour
Tours make street food seem infinity more approachable. In fact, it may be best to start with a tour so you can take everything you’ve learned and later venture out on your own to sample street food with your newfound foodie knowledge. For avid cyclist foodies, I recommend Follow Me’s Siam Chiva Bike and Street Food Tour, which includes cycling through hidden parts of the city with stops for street food, or a tour with Secret Food Tours, which ends at a unique, secret bar after a tour through Chinatown.
Stand In The Longest Line
While normally you’d want to avoid long lines, street food dictates the opposite. If you’re on your own, follow the herd. Usually, the food stall with the most locals (or tourists, or both) is the place to be — it’s generally worth the wait.
Try Michelin-Starred Street Cuisine
Yes, it’s true — you can eat street food with one Michelin star on plastic chairs under fluorescent lighting in Bangkok, likely one of the most low-brow Michelin star experiences in the world. Cheap compared to other Michelin-starred spots but expensive for street food, you can easily drop $30-$50 dining at Raan Jay Fai. The stall was started by grandmother Jay Fai 40 years back, who you may spot cooking — she (in)famously wears googles as she preps her stir fry. The most famous dishes to try are the drunken noodles with seafood (phad kee mao talay) or the crab omelet (khai jeaw poo), and plan to wait in line for awhile.
Use Common Sense
One of the biggest fears when trying street food is obviously hygiene. No one wants to get sick on vacation. But Bangkok authorities have cracked down on illegal street food vendors, and the ones that continually serve food do so because they have a strong following, meaning they aren’t making people ill. Still, it’s best to use your intuition. If something doesn’t look good, don’t try it. If something doesn’t taste right, stop eating it. Don’t force yourself to try fried scorpions or something you hate just to make a point. Eat carefully, but enjoy. Make sure to:
- Get fruit peeled or sliced in front of you
- Watch them cook the food fresh in front of you
- If you don’t want spicy, say, “Mai Ped”
Avoid The Following
- Tap water
- Ice that looks homemade (most ice served to tourists in Thailand comes from a factory in large, equally sized round cubes — you’ll be able to tell that this ice is safe)
- Anything that looks wilted, tired or like it’s been sitting out in the heat for hours
- Raw veggies or salad, which is often washed in tap water