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Thai Street Food

Kasma Loha-unchit, September 25th, 2010

Thai street food is definitely one of the highlights of a trip to Thailand.

Grilling Fish

Grilling fish at Nong Khai market

Every winter for the past sixteen years, I have been taking small groups of Americans traveling around my homeland. A tour guide I am not, but a friend in food I am, and we literally feast our way around the country. There are only so many times one can visit historical parks, museums and temples before losing interest, but I never tire of taking people on market walks and introducing them to the exceptional delicacies that are only available from street and market stalls.

Chive Dumplings

Chive Dumplings at Don Wai Market

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

On one trip comprised mainly of foodies, every time we made a stop, whether to visit an art gallery or a temple, a number of people in the group quickly disappeared as soon as they got out of the van. I know where to round them up, as they would invariably be found among street stalls, either watching food being cooked or sampling food. You’d think that I don’t feed them enough, but that’s in addition to the three big meals and countless snacks I provide every day. Some of them weren’t even very discrete, causing me worries of them getting sick. But courage they had and plenty of trust in the local herbal pills to overcome stomach problems.

Prepared Food To Go

Prepared street food

Because of the Thai penchant to please, many western tourists miss out on the finest of the country’s cuisine when they limit their food intake to restaurants. Establishments frequented by tourists automatically water down the Thai dishes served to fair-skinned Caucasians. Enough of them through the years have demonstrated that they cannot take the full range of exciting flavors Thais enjoy. Many restaurants translate only those dishes on their menus that they think foreigners like – those sweet, rich foods with little spice.

Roast Duck

Roast duck in Chinatown market

Without a good command of the language to communicate your desires, you can assure yourself of getting real Thai food by dining off the streets, where you are, more frequently than not, treated like everyone else. In the huge metropolis of Bangkok where traffic is horrendous, most working Thais have little time to cook. They purchase ready-made food from sidewalk vendors on their way to work and on their way home from work. Many of these sidewalk operations offer a wide selection of curries, soups, salads and desserts in huge pots and trays. From them, you may be able to get some fine, home-cooked food untempered for tourists.

Street Food Sweets

Street food sweets at Chatuchak

Note from Michael: Although many westerners claim the best food in Thailand is street food and although you can get fantastic food on the street, Kasma does maintain that the very best Thai food is to be had in excellent restaurants, if you know how to order. Two of our particular favorites are Reun Mai (in Krabi) and My Choice (in Bangkok). However, as Kasma mentions, there are some foods  found almost exclusively at street food (such as the chive dumplings in the second picture, above).

Check out information on Kasma’s trips to Thailand.

We have many more posts on street food:


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2010.

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