Thai Cuisine - Top 10 Bangkok Street Food

It was very fortunate of me to grow up in Bangkok, where yumminess was basically everywhere to find. My grandmother was a profoundly skilled chef but not a very diligent one. She had her "low-energy" days, and street food vendors turned out to be decent substitute chefs. Bangkok street food was almost as dear to me as Grandma's home cooking. There were lengthy arrays of food carts stretching on both sides of our neighborhood canal. Some sellers even wheeled or pedaled their carts all the way to our alley and conveniently stopped right in front of our house. Without having to poke my head out of a window like a starving puppy and try to spot them, I knew exactly when those vendors were coming. I could differentiate each of them by their sound. Repeated bongs of a hand bell signified the presence of the Pad Thai vendor. The old man who sold noodle soups always announced his grand arrival by striking his wood blocks together. And the papapa-salad lady's approach was pretty blatant. She usually yelled from the top of her lungs "som tum ma laew ja!" meaning "Papaya salad has arrived."

I consider myself "an offspring of Bangkok" as much as the daughter of my parents. Below are some of the most delectable foods my mother city has fed me. Whenever you pay a visit to this marvelous city, don't waste your opportunity to taste these street foods.

Photo Courtesy of shinyai, Flickr.com
Photo Courtesy of shinyai, Flickr.com
A typical noodle vendor
A typical noodle vendor

Bangkok Street Food # 10 - BBQ-Pork Noodle Soup (Kuay Teow Moo Dang)

Whenever I eat this, I feel like I am a top chef, and the vendor is just my prep cook. The ultimate savoriness of my noodle soup is in my own hand. Most of the time, BBQ-pork-noodle vendors happen to be men since it is a profession that requires quite a bit of strength. The seller usually rides on a bicycle with a wheeled cart in the front. The cart contains a big pot of constantly boiling broth and a glass box displaying cooked BBQ pork and meatballs along with several types of noodles. It probably wouldn't be easy for a small woman to pedal such large vehicle with all that bunch of stuff and a propane tank under the broth pot.

There are usually four basic kinds of noodles you may choose from: sen yai (broad, flat rice noodles, similar to the Chinese chow fun), sen lek (thin rice noodles, also used in pad thai), sen mee (extra thin, wiry-looking rice noodles), and ba mee (yellow wheat noodles, similar to spaghetti). Once you request the type of noodles you fancy, Mr. noodleman will cook them in the broth with BBQ pork, meatballs and chopped Chinese broccoli. At this point, your noodle soup won't have much flavor in it yet, but you will get the "kruang prung" or "the four seasonings" to spice your own dish. These four seasonings usually include sugar, fish sauce, rice vinegar and chili powder. Some BBQ-pork-noodle vendors also provide crushed roasted peanuts and roasted chili oil for their customers to create a more adventurous taste.

Photo Courtesy of chooyutshing, flickr.com
Photo Courtesy of chooyutshing, flickr.com

Bangkok Street Food # 9 - Pork Satay (Moo Satay)

The original satay was certainly not made with pork because it was introduced to Thai people by Muslim-Malay hawkers who worked at seasonal carnivals in the south of Thailand. Instead it was probably prepared with either chicken or lamb. The Thais later adapted this dish to their own taste and came to the conclusion that pork was the way to go. What makes pork satay more special than other types of Thai BBQ is its curry marinade. It lends an herbal aroma to the dish as well as makes the pork turn the color of turmeric. The smell of satay on a charcoal grill often makes my stomach growl. Traditional satay sellers never put big chunks of meat on one skewer, but just a tiny curl. To eat it the Bangkok way, dunk the pork in a rich peanut sauce and put the whole piece into your mouth. Besides the peanut dip, Bangkokians also enjoy their satay with cucumber salad and lightly toasted bread.

Bangkok Street Food # 8 - Fish Cakes (Tod Mun)

Unlike western crab cakes, the texture of a Thai fish cake is not supposed to be soft, but dense and slightly chewy, almost like meatballs. Vatcharin Bhumichitr, a Thai restaurant owner in the UK and author of several Thai cookbooks, has compared the process of kneading a fish cake batter to the art of body massage. You've got to do it gently yet firmly, or else you won't achieve a desirable outcome. The main ingredients of Thai fish cakes include ground fish meat, red curry paste, eggs, chopped string beans and shredded kaffir lime leaves. To balance the robust taste of the fish and curry, they are usually served with a sweetish, refreshing sauce, made from vinegar, sugar, chopped shallots, chilies, fresh cucumber slices and crushed roasted peanuts. On the streets of Bangkok, you will see many vendors frying fish cakes along with meatballs and sausages. Try to find ones that sell fish cakes only. The specialists are always the best.

Photo Courtesy of Kat n Kim, Flickr.com
Photo Courtesy of Kat n Kim, Flickr.com

Bangkok Street Food # 7 - Fried Mussels with Bean Sprouts (Hoy Tod)

This street food is absolutely my DD (delicious decadence). It might be a bit high in calories, but it’s so divine I am willing to risk my slender shape for it. Originally, hoy tod was probably created in some fisherman provinces by the sea. Now no one can deny its ubiquity on Bangkok streets. It doesn't cost street vendors much time to prepare this dish or much money to start up a hoy tod business. The hoy tod batter is simply a mixture of flour, eggs and a pinch of salt. The topping sauce isn't a big mystery, either. It is a basic concoction of rice vinegar, sugar and chilies. What I love most about this street food is the interesting contrast in its texture. There's crispiness in the egg batter, chewiness in the mussels and delicacy in the fried bean sprouts. Combining them all together in one bite can produce a delightful gastronomical result.

Bangkok Street Food # 6 - Pad Thai

Pad thai is usually made with sen lek (thin rice noodles), but wun sen (clear bean noodles) has recently become a more popular choice among women on a diet. In Bangkok, there are quite a few versions of this dish, not based upon the chefs’ preferences but the customers' budgets. The most affordable type is cooked with tofu and tiny dried shrimp. If you have more baht to spend, you may ask the pad-thai lady to add some fresh shrimp in it. The most luxurious version of pad thai is prepared with fresh mixed seafood and wrapped in a golden net of extra thin omelet. Bangkokians believe seafood and pad thai are perfect soul mates; you would rarely hear anyone order it with pork or chicken there. Before enjoying this noodle dish, don’t forget to sprinkle some crushed roasted peanuts and fresh bean sprouts on top.

A street seller preparing pad thai

Photo Courtesy of Kenneth B. Moore, Flickr.com
Photo Courtesy of Kenneth B. Moore, Flickr.com

Bangkok Street Food # 5 - Spicy Basil Chicken (Gai Pad Kraprao)

Chow mein might be a staple food among the Chinese, but for us Thais, pad kraprao is one of our main chows. Most Thai people know how to cook it. Most street vendors and restaurants serve it. Even an inept Thai chef can probably prepare this dish with no difficulty. Bangkokians are used to eating spicy basil chicken with steamed rice, the same way most Americans might feel about hot dogs. I have ordered this dish at a few Thai restaurants here in California, and it always turns out to be a bit disappointing. To prepare it, Bangkok vendors stir-fry finely ground or thinly sliced chicken with chili sauce and fresh basil leaves. It doesn't take long to cook ground meat, thus the dish is ready to be served before the basil leaves start to wilt. But here, they tend to use thicker slices of meat, which prolongs the cooking time and accordingly "slaughters" the fragile basil leaves during the process. As a result, the aroma of basil is there, but the leaves appear overdone and completely dead. I usually advise my fellow Bangkokians not to order spicy basil chicken in California.

Bangkok Street Food # 4 - Chicken Rice (Kow Mun Gai)

It looks like plain boiled chicken with boring steamed rice, doesn't it? This street food might appear insipid, but the preparation of it is extremely meticulous. All the challenge of this dish is in the process of making rice. Kow mun gai literally means “oily rice with chicken.” Not very yummy-sounding, I know. The rice must be cooked in rich chicken broth that contains a large amount of fat from chicken skin. In other words, you have to boil a whole chicken for hours and hours to make the broth. If the broth is even a tiny bit too light, the rice might just come out wrong. Once the rice is done, the rest is simple. The sauce can be made in a just few minutes with fresh ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce and green chilies. A perfect dish of kow mun gai is usually accompanied by fresh cucumber slices and a little bowl of clear chicken soup. As for the origin of this dish, many culinary experts believe it is from Hunan, a southern province in China.

Bangkok Street Food # 3 - Fried Noodles with Dark Soy Sauce (Pad See Ew)

This noodle dish might not sound very appetizing in English because of the word “ew.” Its taste is actually not "ew" at all, though. In Bangkok, it is always made with sen yai or large flat noodles. If you want it with sen mee or sen lek instead, you will have to make a special request. Never order it with wheat noodles or clear bean vermicelli; that is blasphemy! Okay, that's an overstatement; you could order it that way. There's really nothing wrong with it, but people might just think you're weird. A good analogy for cooking pad see ew with wheat noodles or bean vermicelli would be to top macaroni with peanut butter.

The preparation of pad see ew is pretty straightforward; just pan-frying noodles with meat, chopped Chinese broccoli, eggs, garlic, dark soy sauce and a few other seasonings. You may order it with any kind of meat or seafood, though pork and chicken seem to be the most popular choices among Bangkokians. Somehow this noodle dish means a lot to me personally. It is my comfort food. Sometimes when the whole world seems to be against me, a big bite of pad see ew will remind me to stop struggling for a minute and just appreciate this simple happiness on my plate before resuming the battle.

Photo Courtesy of nakedchefgun, Flickr.com
Photo Courtesy of nakedchefgun, Flickr.com

Bangkok Street Food # 2 - Boat Noodles (Kuay Teow Rhua)

I like calling this "an amphibian dish." Before it became a renowned Bangkok street food, it used to be sold on little boats in canals and rivers. It was born in the water and grew up strong on land, so to speak. This type of noodle soup is usually made with either beef or pork and chopped morning glory. Crispy pork rinds and fresh bean sprouts are the extras upon request. Unlike BBQ pork noodles, boat noodle soup is usually quite tasty in itself. The “four seasonings” are always provided by the vendors, nonetheless. If you order boat noodle soup made with beef, don’t be surprised to find your soup rather thick and strangely piquant; it probably contains a special ingredient. This might sound gruesome, but many vendors like to add cow blood in the broth. Have I tried a boat noodle soup with cow blood? Of course! I'm a real Bangkokian. It is cooked and thus should not be perilous. And don't worry, it tastes nothing like blood.

Photo Courtesy of Rheanna2, Flickr.co
Photo Courtesy of Rheanna2, Flickr.co

Bangkok Street Food # 1 - Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

Som tum is a northeastern dish, formerly considered to be "a poor people's food." Now it has become the most famous street food almost everybody cherishes. No one will assume you are poverty-stricken anymore when they see you gobble this salad. Even a royal member of Thailand, Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn, loves this dish so much she has composed a whole song about how to make it. Som tum is usually prepared with shredded green papaya. Some vendors also use shredded carrots, string beans or cucumbers, though green papaya has always remained the most popular key ingredient. There are many varieties of som tum. The two broadest categories would be “tum thai,” a milder and sweeter type spiced with roasted peanuts, and “tum lao," an intensely fiery version made with salty little crabs.

To make som tum, you can’t just toss the ingredients together in a bowl like other salads. You have to lightly pound the shredded papaya with garlic cloves, tomatoes, green chilies, lime wedges and all the seasonings in a mortar to make sure all the flavors are ingrained in every strand of papaya. That’s how this dish got its nickname “papaya pok pok”, which mimics the sound of the pestle hitting the mortar. In America, som tum might be categorized as a side salad or appetizer, but for many Thais, it is an entrée to be savored with grilled meat and sticky rice. No surprise, most som tum vendors also carry a little charcoal grill for barbecuing meat, as well as a large bamboo container called “kratip” to keep the sticky rice warm.

Which Bangkok street food sounds most appetizing to you?

  • Som Tum
  • Boat Noodles
  • Pad See Ew
  • Kow Mun Gai
  • Spicy Basil Chicken
  • Pad Thai
  • Hoy Tod
  • Fish Cakes
  • Pork Satay
  • BBQ Pork Noodles
See results without voting

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Comments 46 comments

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

but I like street foods Om and I wanna try Pad Thai my favorite again, good hub and thumbs up my dear, Maita


Junie 6 years ago

oh dear I will cook pad kaprao moo sub tomorrow, really love this hub. Bangkok street food rocks!!!


Twenty One Days 6 years ago

i so need to go to Thailand. My good friend just came back and loved the street food! Great hub. -James


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

@Maita - I love pad thai, too! Pad thai in the U.S. isn't quite as good as Bangkok pad thai, isn't it?

@Dearest Junie - Ahem....Are you going to share some of your pad kraprao with me? ;-)

@James - Yep, you really should visit Bangkok. You won't have to spend much money to enjoy great food. For example, a big plate of kow mun gai costs just about $1! :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

Om, I proud to tell u that I've eaten all your top ten in the friendly city of Bangkok. You're right on. I wonder if you're a Teochew Thai?The people are was warm as the weather and the food is so delightful, I can eat like that for the rest of my life. I make pad kraprao and sum tom on a regular basis because I simply love the combination of tastes. Another great hub and thumbs up.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

You've tried all of them? Nice! Yeah, I'm a Teochew Thai. How did you know that? By the way, try eating som tum with pad see ew. I know it sounds kind of strange but believe me it's a good combination! :)


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Oh my, I'm so hungry now. It was hard to pick just one item; would like to try each one. Thanks for sharing a part of your childhood. Felt as though I was there peeping in the window with you, waiting on the vendor to bring something yummy. :)

And shame on the noisy neighbor! I have a friend from Vietnam and she still eats mostly her heritage food as well. Rating up for you! :)


Bora Bora 6 years ago

Larb

Nam Tok

Khao Neaw Moo Pink

Sai Kok E-Sarn...Saaaabbb e Lee

hahaha just try to seduce you to come back :)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

@MG - Sounds like you enjoyed peeping in my window! lol You can order some of those at Thai restaurants in America. Certain things like hoy tod, kow mun gai and boat noodle soup are pretty hard to find here, though. So to try all of them, you've got to go to Bangkok!

@Bo - Ahhh saab ee lee jing jing! BUT I'm not going back yet. Try harder to convince me! :P


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

Om, congrats on your nomination--well-deserved. How did I know you're a Teochew? I'm one myself. Teochews love the broad white noodles, we call it kway tiow and by your selection of foods, I guess as much. Anyway, good luck!


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hello Om, thank you for sharing this information on Thai food with us! Great information and pictures. Ocean


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Another great hub! The fish cakes look yum. Congrats on your nomination!


Loren's Gem profile image

Loren's Gem 6 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

I didn't know that Thai street foods can be as sumptuous as these! So there seems to be a lot of selections to eat if someone's going to be out and about on the streets in Thailand. Wonderful - both the hub and the food! Congrats on the nomination as well! Rated this up! :-)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

@anglnwu - Thanks! You're also a Teochew, huh? hehehe Maybe your ancesters and mine were friends!

@ocean - Thanks for stopping by. It was my pleasure to write about my beloved city.

@habee - Yeah, the fish cakes look, taste and smell YUM! You've got to try them. :)

@Loren - Yes, many people enjoy being out and about on the streets of Bangkok. Thanks for commenting and rating it up! :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Congratulations on your nomination! I would love to try each and every dish!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

Really? Okay then let's go to Bangkok, Peggy! lol


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi Om, send me pad thai again and congrats for being nominated, you deserve it, And yes the pad thai is different here in the US, Maita


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Woo hoo! I had a feeling when I first read this one that it would be picked for this week's contest. Congrats and good luck my friend. And thanks for the reply to my earlier comments,will definitely have to seek out some of the foods and give them a try. :)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

Thanks for coming back, Maita and MG. I'm making pad see ew for dinner today. Too bad you guys won't be here to join me :P


floating mind profile image

floating mind 6 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Great hub.

I want to try both "Som Tum" and "Boat Noodles". I'll try to find them here in the Chicago area.

Thanks for the info. Have a great day!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

Hi Floating Mind! I've heard there're quite a few good Thai restaurants in Chicago. I'm sure they serve som tum. I don't know about the boat noodles, though. Thanks for dropping by. :)


Regina 6 years ago

Wow, thanks for this great list with some delicious photos and wonderful vids! I think my favorite is the spicy basil chicken. I work with the Thai Trade Center, an organization that promotes Thai products (inc. food) in the US, and we've recently created our own blog. One of our blog entries talks about Thai food--we'd love for you to check it out at http://www.thaitradeusa.com/home/?cat=143. Please feel free to leave a comment and/or contact us with any suggestions or questions! Thanks!


2besure profile image

2besure 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I am from New York, and I love all types of food. When I went to Beijing in 2000 I had a wonderful time tasting all the wonder food and pretending to know how to use chop sticks! I even picked out my own fish and watched the cook kill it. Street vendors were everywhere.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

Sounds like fun! I've never been to Beijing myself but will surely go there some day. Thanks for stopping by. :)


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

My dad loves Thai food and still remembers fondly the time he spent there. It is all he talks about sometimes really. I also have enjoyed the Thai food I have tried, but I have never been to Thailand.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago Author

Hi, Sweetiepie! You should visit Bangkok some time. Thai food in California is pretty good, but the selection is rather small. Glad to know your dad has some nice memories about Thailand. Thanks for dropping by. :)


akiko 5 years ago

sawadeeka, I m from Malaysia, going to Bangkok in December, is there anyone can tell me where can i get "mien kaam" ? (it's one kind of appetizer wrap in leaf)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Hi Akiko, you can find mien kaam pretty much anywhere; street vendors, supermarkets, restaurants, etc. But usually I got it at a farmers market (that big one near Jatujak or JJ market). That was years ago, though. Not sure if it's still there anymore. Have a nice trip. :)


PaperNotes profile image

PaperNotes 5 years ago

These foods looks very delicious! There is something about street foods that make them so appealing. One can't help but try, eat and enjoy them despite some people claiming that they are not healthy or good.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Very well-said, papernotes! :)


Ashley Anne profile image

Ashley Anne 5 years ago from Virginia

Your hub is making me hungry. So many great foods! I love Thai food, but I am sure it is much different and better in Thailand. Would love to go there one day! Thanks for giving me a glimpse:)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

hehehe Hope you have a chance to visit Thailand and try all these street foods some day. Thanks so much for dropping by, Ashley. :)


johncimble profile image

johncimble 5 years ago from Bangkok

I live in Thailand and I eat Bahmee moo dang and the moo satay a lot. Really awesome food and i've never been ill from it. Definitely try it out if you ever visit Thailand.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Agree! Bahmee moo dang and moo satay are awesome and won't make anyone sick.


Rachel 5 years ago

I don't know how ANY Thai could live in America :) I'm not even Thai, but could never leave Bangkok. The food is just tooooo good :)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

hehehe :)


sweetie1 profile image

sweetie1 5 years ago from India

wow om very nice hub.. amazing street food you got in thailand.. mouth watering


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Sweetie. Give Bangkok a visit sometime. You won't be disappointed. :)


Cassidella profile image

Cassidella 5 years ago

Om this is a fantastic hub on Thai food, which I love. Don't get it as often as I would like, but the best I ever had was at Siam Square in Bronx NY. This Bangkok street food looks so good! Might try making a Thai meal sometime. Thanks for sharing some of your cultural dishes here:)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Hi, Cassidella. Glad you enjoyed this hub. I'll try to write more hubs about Thai food and share more recipes. Thanks so much for dropping by. :)


Mary Hassall 5 years ago

How do I cook main course Thai food in a microwave!! Please I don't want to miss out.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Hmmmm.....what Thai main courses would you like to cook in a microwave? I guess I might write an article about that. :)


Esan 5 years ago

Where did you get informations from somtum is poor people salads please do your home works.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago Author

Please go back and read what I wrote more carefully. I didn't say "it is." I said it WAS "formerly considered" to be sort of like poor people's food, which implies nobody thinks so anymore. Now lots of people, both rich and poor, enjoy som tum. Even some five-star restaurants serve this dish. I know that. I don't need to do any homework. Thanks for stopping by.


Annie Miller profile image

Annie Miller 3 years ago from Wichita Falls, Texas

I love Pad Thai and am anxious to try some of the other dishes you describe. Unfortunately, I live in Texas and there are very few Thai restaurants here - as opposed to the West coast.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 3 years ago Author

@Annie Miller - Ah, bummer. I hope those few restaurants you can find are good, though. Most Thai restaurants here in California offer almost all these dishes, except # 4 and 7. Not sure why Khao mun gai and hoy tod are so hard to find. They're actually pretty easy to make.

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