Our featured blogger, Allan Wilson, has combed the streets of Bangkok to find the Thai capital's tastiest offerings
I am an absolute fiend for Bangkok street food. That's me, above, chowing down on spicy som tam, sticky rice, grilled chicken and a big bottle of Singha beer. Me at my happiest.
For 10 years now I have studied, eaten and cooked Thai food. Now living in Bangkok street food has become part of daily routine. Here are my recommended Top 10 Bangkok Street Food and Cheap Eats.
Probably the most common vendor on Bangkok’s streets 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 “phet phet” for extra chilli and “mai sai poo” to skip on the raw crabs. The beautiful lady pictured above served my Som Tam for the past year before moving 2 stalls down to sell noodles. Eat this extreme salad with sticky rice (khao niao) and pay around 35baht.
A personal favourite bringing together 2 unique ingredients; Thai holy basil and crispy pork belly.
Thai holy basil (kaprao) is unique to Thailand and due to its short lived shelf life is hard to find outside the Kingdom. It brings a fiery kick and holds few similarities to the better known Thai sweet basil (horapa). Crispy pork (moo grob) makes use of the pork belly and skin. It is first boiled in water then deep fried on a high heat (don’t try this at home). The result is layers of crispy, fatty and delicious meat.
Stir fried with garlic, chilli, oyster sauce and soy sauce. This fiery dish can be found at most roadside restaurants in Bangkok. Comes served on rice and often topped with fried egg (kai dao). Costs around 45 baht.
An impressive variety of fresh fruits can be found on Bangkok’s street corners and sidewalks, some familiar (watermelon, pineapple…) and some not so familiar (rambutan, dragon fruit…) Bangkok however throws an added curve ball – a big, spiky, green curve ball, 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 (taste like heaven, smell like hell). The yellow fruit inside has a creamy texture and sweet taste and rumour has it if you like the smell you will love the taste. This did not ring true with me however. I am not a durian fan. Nonetheless it is a fascinating fruit highly recommended by many.
Durian is hard to found outside Southeast Asia due to shelf life and short lived ripeness. They can be found dotted through Bangkok’s streets, malls and markets and are often sold from the back of noisy pickup trucks. Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road (pictured above) is a busy hub for the durian trade. Priced around 400 baht/kilo for this stinky fruit.
Originally sold between floating boatson river canals (khlongs) these cheap eats are now better found on dry land. This unique noodle dish consists of rice noodles in a thick brown soup made from a mix of stock and pigs blood. Beansprouts,morning glory, stewed pork or beef and serve it up. Often comes with pork rinds (kap moo) and sticky rice cakes as dessert (khanom thuay).
While this noodly treat is still found on the boats of Bangkok’s floating markets most are now sold from vendors surrounding canals. The best boat noodles are found at “boat noodles alley” an area of eateries lining the canals of Victory Monument (pictured). These restaurants have taken on an atmosphere of competitive eating as each table quickly builds their tower of empty noodle bowls. Costs 9 baht per bowl.
Found in puffs of smoke along Bangkok’s roadsides the barbecue grill is another of the city’s most common street vendors. A variety of meats are sold at these grills however not many overly exciting. A lot of rubbery wieners and basic meats only made better by a hot chilli dipping sauce.
There are exceptions however and one is the Isaan sausage 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 some 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.
In the early evenings roadside barbecues pop up across Bangkok’s busy streets. Locals congregate at seated street areas while vendors work their grills. Fish are gutted, stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemongrass and coated with flour and rock salt before being grilled over charcoal. Served with a fish sauce, lime and chilli dip. Eat the meat not the skin.
There are three common freshwater fish sold at these roadside barbecues; tilapia (Pla Nin), catfish (Pla DukDam), snakehead fish (Pla Duk Yan). A popular fish grill hangout (pictured) is near the front of Centralworld Mall on the walk towards Pratunam area.
Thailand isn’t best known for its delicious desserts. This is partly due to it not having many. There is one dessert which makes up for the lack of choice, the deliciously sweet mango and slightly salted sticky rice.
Sticky (glutinous) rice is flavoured with coconut milk, sugar and salt before being steamed in pandan leaves. Comes with fresh, ripe mango and sprinkles of toasted mungbeans. These days it can be found in Bangkok’s mall food courts before street vendors. The mango sticky rice pictured was bought in Ayutthaya and cost 40 baht. In Bangkok you can pay twice this.
Ya dong is a herb infused liquor made from local Lao Khao (white spirit) and a number of health enhancing herbs. This potent concoction was traditionally used as a medicine and blood tonic and is rumoured to enhance libido and boost strength. The Ya Dong liquor ‘Lao Khao’ is a cheap and nasty rice whiskey favoured by the folk of rural Thailand (accounts for 2/3 Thailand’s alcohol consumption).
You can find these roadside vendors in the evening hours when they set up shop for local labourers. Take a seat and throw back a shot or two or get some to go in a reused liquor or energy drink bottle. Served with a salt, chilli and sugar dip (prik glua) and sour, unripe mango (mamuang priew). I think of it as Thailand’s answer to the tequila shooter.
My Scottish and Northern Irish heritage brings a soft spot for hard liquor and it wasn’t long before Ya Dong was on my radar. The pictured Ya Dong stall sits opposite my condo and is run by a local lady-boy. It costs 30 baht for a small red bull bottle (150ml) filled with Ya Dong.
Familiar to many; Tom Yum blends a number of unique Thai ingredients to create the perfect combination of sweet, sour, salty and hot. Sweet – palm sugar (sometimes condensed milk). Sour – lime, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass. Salty– fish sauce. Hot – bird’s eye chillies and chilli paste. Tom Yum works as the perfect introduction to Thai cuisine.
Tom Yum is fairly well replicated in the west. In Thailand however it is guaranteed to be better. Tom Yum is found on every menu in Thailand, from street vendors to fine dining. The pictured Tom Yum Kai (chicken) was one of my own cooking and has added coconut milk to create a creamy texture. Prices at Bangkok street food start 30 baht.
For a quick and delicious street treat why not grab a quick bag of fish cakes. Unlike the chunky ‘Thai style’ fish cakes in the west, these thin and fiery snacks are deep fried at Bangkok’s roadsides by vendors working a giant wok. The fish cake is made from a mix of fish paste and red curry paste with added speckles of green bean and kaffir lime leaves.
Grab a bag to go. Comes with cucumber, sweet chilli and a wooden, skewer stick to pick at them. Cost around 20bt per bag.
Allan and Fanfan are living the dream life in Bangkok. "A bucket list is meaningless unless tasks are extra special," says Allan. "Life ambitions and life changing experiences, not bungee jumps or swimming with dolphins. This blog charts our Less Ordinary Bucket List."