“One Please” – Eating on the Street in Bangkok

When traveling through Southeast Asia for the first time, one of most apparent aspects of the culture that will remain in your mind is the unavoidable presence of the street food vendors.  Whether they are small carts pulled by a motorbike, full-on trucks decks out with grills and burners, open-air shophouses with chairs thrown out on the sidewalk, or simply an old woman carrying a basket over her shoulder, the sheer volume of street food that is available in any given city — both in the number of vendors and the staggeringly vast array of culinary options — can be a bit overwhelming.  And no where does that sentiment ring more true than in Bangkok.  In a city of roughly 10 million people, there are an estimated 500,000 street food vendors trolling the streets — that’s one vendor for every 20 people.  Virtually every street corner, alleyway, nook, and cranny seems to be filled with vendors selling things that smell, look, or taste good (hopefully all three).

For us Americans, street food is still in its infancy,at least compared to this other side of the planet.  There are obviously pockets of activity dotting several major cities (Portland comes to mind, for example), but on a whole, it is something that, as a culture, we haven’t full embraced.  And we’re missing out.  Besides being some of the cheapest digs out there, most of the foodies here will also tell you it happens to be the only way to find some of the best food being offered anywhere within the city.  Sure, sitting down to a 10-course gustation menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant is a great experience, but nothing nearly as rewarding as trekking through the winding alleys of Chinatown or the smokey atmosphere of a night market with your sights set on a particular plate of noodles or a much-hyped soup vendor.

The Soi 38 Night Market just off Sukhumvit - my personal go-to in the city

The Soi 38 Night Market just off Sukhumvit – my personal go-to in the city

More than simply the food itself, it is the experience of street food that draws us in.  The sounds of radios blasting from passing tuks tuks, the harsh glare of the neon signs, the somewhat tacky feel of plastic tables and chairs, and the fact that you’re just as likely to be seated next to a businessman in a full suit as taxi-driver coming off a 12-hour shift.  Further complicating things, however, can be the fact that menus often aren’t written in English, the food is often undiscernable to a Western palate, and the vendors can sometimes take on the air of the “soup-nazi” when etiquette is broken.  So when I find myself in a pinch, much like I did at the Hawker Center in Singapore, I’d simply find the vendor with the longest line, queue up, and then point at the dish that everyone else is ordering and say “One Please.”

The Soi 10 Food Center of Silon Road

The street food in Bangkok does vary a bit, however, from what many would consider traditional Thai cuisine (i.e. – coconut milk curries, spicy papaya salads, seafood and tomato-based soups, etc.), but that will, again, have to wait until another post.  And further, as mentioned earlier, there are estimated to be over a half million different vendors within Bangkok alone — meaning any attempt to summarize what is available or to classify it all in a few shorts paragraphs would be a futile exercise.  So with that in mind, I’ll just skip to a few of my favorites from my time spent in the city:

Nam Thok (Beef Noodles with Blood-Thickened Broth) from Nai Soi

Oyster Omlette from Hoy Tod Chaolay

Fried Chicken with mounds of Fried Garlic piled on top (from Soi Pollo, a long-time favorite of the city)

Here goes: Jok Sai Krueang Nai Sai Kay (I think). Basically, it is rice porridge with pork, egg, and pig entrails. Mmmm…delicious pig entrails…

Duck with Egg Noodles

Isan Sausages and Sticky Rice, served with slices of ginger and small chilies

Guay Thiew Lod, a large noodle stuffed with seafood, pork, or veggies, and drizzled in a sweet sauce. You can’t go wrong ordering this pretty much anywhere in Chinatown

I never caught the name of this semi-sweet, rice snack, but it served as a great breakfast for me each morning

More noodles, this time encasing a veggie filling

Kha-nom Krok – little puffs of joy made from rice flower and coconut milk

The finished product

If you’re in a hurry, however, and don’t have time to pull up one of the sidewalk tables, another option is to take advantage of one of the many “fry-stations” that make up a large percentage of the vendors.  It’s easy to pick these guys out: just follow your nose to the huge vats of boiling oil, then just point at what you want dropped in, and voila, you’re on your way.

Pick your poison…

Bubbling vats of oil, an artery-clogging (and incredibly delicious) sight

Fried Bananas — see Mom, I’m eating my daily servings of fruit!

Patongko, or “Chinese Fried Dough”

Quail Eggs wrapped in wonton skins

Sorry for the slightly blurry image, but my primary camera broke a few weeks ago and is being repaired (leaving me with my not-so-good-with-low-light-shots backup). Given the food here, though, the lack of focus may be a good thing. Each tray pictured contains a different type of cockroach, worm, grub, insect, or plain and simple creepy-crawler, all fried up to crispy perfection

Don’t worry, even I (who has no problem scoffing down a lamb’s head or pig’s intestines) couldn’t quite amass the courage to sample the wares of the above vendor.  Instead, I stole away to sweeter pastures, and found some of the many drink and dessert carts that also troll the streets:

Coffee and Tea served in a bag. The next hot trend? Probably not…

Tapioca dumplings, taro, and corn in heated coconut milk with an egg

It’s tough to describe the texture of this Chao Guay, or Chinese Jelly Drink, but I’d liken it to drinking a dozen or so sweet and slippery worms with each sip

Kanom Beuang, small taco-like bites with a sweet and savory combo punch

Coconut Ice Cream served in a coconut shell — nice presentation!

And a classic to finish things off: Mango and Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk

I’ve still got another post dedicated to the culinary delights of the rest of Thailand, but until then, cheers from Bangkok!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

17 Responses to ““One Please” – Eating on the Street in Bangkok”

  1. Hi, I am Thai. Glad you like our food. The one you missed the name is ” Kha-nom-krok” – made with rice flour and coconut milk. Enjoy your stay.

  2. andrew your posts from Bangkok have been excellent and I have sent them to Bill Baus. I think he has been getting your blogs but I know he would be very interested in Bangkok. I am so impressed with your pictures and your writing. Never knew you were so good in those areas. Keep them coming and I am enjoying every one. talk to you soon. I have been trying to catch you on Skype but have not caught you yet. I will keep trying

    • Thanks! And as far as Sykpe, feel free to ring me whenever you see me on. Unfortunately, however, we’re exactly 12 hours apart, so it either has to be first thing in the morning or late at night for us to catch each other. Hopefully talk to you soon!

  3. Wow what a food adventure in Bangkok! You are right that street food is everywhere in this part of the world. I enjoyed street food in Bangkok, especially Pad Thai and those fresh fruits. 🙂

  4. These are as gorgeous as any other tourist spots. I’ll be in Asia in the next couple of months and I can’t wait to try street food again.

    Oh no, these are no-class food. No need to butter it. No way around it. Not just in America, I bet the folk there also consider them as such. But, you’re right! It’s 10 times the experience than sitting lamely at a fancy restaurant. 😉

  5. The stomach is the least adventurous part of me, which is why Asia is at the bottom of my travel wishlist.
    Respect for devouring these worms!

  6. Nancy Yamazaki Leavenworth Reply February 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I (former Woosterite) have been following your blog and I love your colorful photos, sensuous descriptions, and adventurous palate. Thanks!

  7. Nice representation of Bangkok, Andrew. Glad you tried some of the local favorites, entrails and all.

    • Thanks! It was a lot of fun eating my way around the city (one of the best to eat in in the world, in my opinion, or at least of those that I’ve visited so far)! Thanks for reading!an

  8. Great reading your blogg


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    […] the rest when it comes to eating on the street.  In the past, I’ve written about the many street vendors in Bangkok, the hawker centers in Singapore, and touched briefly on those edibles which can be acquired on […]

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