Photo credit: mattmangum
Mexico has elotes, Vietnam has banh mi, and the Czech Republic has chimney cakes. But unlike many countries, it’s impossible to identify Thailand’s street food with a single dish. And if you’re on the hunt for the most iconic and diverse street foods in the Land of Smiles, there’s no better place to look than the global hub of Bangkok.
The moment you step off the Skytrain, you’ll see vendors chopping, frying, skewing, grilling and stirring up some of the most memorable flavors to ever hit your tastebuds. Whether you’re seeking luxury villas with private pools in Thailand or will be bunking in a hostel on Khao San Road, you’re bound to be lured to more than one streetside food stand when visiting Bangkok.
There’s no doubt you’ll want to dine in some of the city’s iconic restaurants too, so these are just five street foods you absolutely have to try on any visit to BKK.
Moo Bing (Grilled Pork Skewers)
I affectionately call this street food “meat on a stick,” and it’s one of the things I look most forward to eating when arriving in Thailand. The best way to identify a moo bing street vendor is by the wooden skewers used to cook these melt-in-your-mouth pieces of bit-sized meat. Every piece of meat on a stick in Bangkok is a little bit different from the last (you can also find chicken, fish and sometimes mysterious meats too). Most vendors use a marinade paste, typically including garlic, peppercorn and cilantro roots. Slightly spicy and prepared on the grill the moment you order — you’ll want to ask for at least two or three.
Pro tip: Be sure to take the chili dipping sauce whenever it’s offered.
Kao Pad (Thai-Style Fried Rice)
Kao pad, also known as Thai fried rice, is a Bangkok comfort food. I turn to it whenever I’m a little worn out on extremely spicy or ultra exotic Thai dishes. It’s somewhat similar to the fried rice you can have delivered to your door in America or Canada with chopsticks and a few packets of duck sauce, but much, much more flavorful.
Thai-style fried rice is made with fragrant Thai jasmine rice instead of the traditional long grain rice you’re used to ordering with your General Tso’s chicken. Salt, sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce are stirred into the rice with whichever other ingredients you choose, ranging from eggs and shrimp to carrots, onions and greens. I love that this street dish can be customized to the way my tastebuds are feeling any day of the week.
Pla Pao (Whole Fish)
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One of your more adventurous meals on the street should be reserved for pla pao. Stuffed with lemongrass, rubbed with rock salt and flour, perfectly barbecued, then served with a sweet and spicy chilli sauce, pla pao is a must-try way to taste authentic Thai seafood. The fish is typically a mild-flavored tilapia, snakehead fish or catfish, so you don’t have to fear that really “fishy” flavor, and the simple yet flavorful ingredients speak for themselves. I find it easiest to eat pla pao with my fingers — removing the skin, picking out the bones and digging in.
Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai (Thai Green Curry)
You haven’t truly tasted Thai street food until you’ve chugged an entire bottle water and wiped the sweat off your forehead because of an unbearably hot bite. That’s the chance you take when tasting gaeng kiew wan gai, but believe me, it’s worth the possible pain. In fact, many vendors know that travelers don’t want their street food “Thai hot,” so just be sure to clarify that you don’t want the tear-jerking heat, and they’ll most likely leave some chilis out of your portion.
Fear of hotness aside, Thai green curry is one of the most flavorful dishes served on the streets of Bangkok, and it’s one I order again and again. Ordering a hot soupy dish on a 95-degree day in Bangkok may seem crazy, but the unforgettable flavor combination of fresh green Thai chili paste, Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, coconut milk, chicken, vegetables and other spices will make you forget about the humidity for at least a moment. Pile this curry over rice, and you’re eating like a local.
Don’t Forget Dessert: Khao Niew Ma Muang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Arguably the most popular Thai dessert — and an ideal way to soothe your palate after a spicy bowl of gaeng kiew wan gai — mango sticky rice is the sweet street food every traveler has to try. The cook first soaks the rice in water overnight to create its sticky texture. The rice is then perfectly steamed and seasoned with coconut milk and a healthy dose of sugar to make it just the right amount of sweet. Topped with fresh local mangoes and drizzled with coconut syrup and mung beans, khao niew ma muang will end your day of Bangkok street eats with a touch of tropical sweetness.
Find the Best Street Food in the City
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You’ll find street food around nearly every corner in Bangkok, and there’s no definitive place you need to be to taste the best moo bing or kao pad. However, some corners and side streets (sois) throughout the city are known as street food hotspots. The following are a few places you should hang out if you’re looking to fill up on some of the city’s tastiest street eats without having to wander too far.
Step off the Skytrain at Saphan Taksin and walk down Charoen Krung Road. You’re guaranteed to leave with a stomach full of meat skewers, noodles, fresh fruit, dumplings and so much more. Some stalls offer tables and seating, so you can sit down to enjoy a curry or whole fsh.
Victory Monument is one of Bangkok’s major transportation hubs, which means there are a lot of people and a lot of street vendors. This is more of a daytime spot, so if you’re seeking street food for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner (until about 8 p.m.), just exit the BTS Skytrain at the Victory Monument station.
Silom Soi 20
Bangkok is a city that will have you waking up with street food on your mind. That’s perfect, because Silom Soi 20, in the heart of the Silom business district, is a street that’s lined with vendors on both sides. It’s most popular in the morning, and you’ll find everything from fresh fruits to takeaway curries, fried chicken and black sticky rice.
Ask any Bangkok local or expat where their favorite street foods can be found, and you’ll probably hear a different answer every time. My suggestion — try as many as you can.