Eating Out In Bangkok's Local Restaurants
A Guide to Eating in Bangkok Like a Local
Bangkok is a city jammed pack with the best Thai foods from all corners of the Thailand. To find the best tasting and the cheapest Thai dishes of khao man gai, som tom, pad kra pows and tom yum gung you have to go where the locals go. And they often don't head into air conditioned restaurants for lunch. You'll find them huddled together and sharing tables right in one of Bangkok's many street side restaurants.
Bangkok has it's fair share of western fast food chains and restaurants competing with locally run mom and pop restaurants. But if you're traveling on a budget on your visit to Bangkok go local and have a cheap meal at a street side restaurant instead. You can expect to pay around $1 USD to $2 USD per plate. And depending on the location it is possible to eat for less. Also since most budget hotels in Bangkok already include a free breakfast you can expect to stretch your hard earned dollars even further.
Thais are fickle eaters and their loyalty for their favorite street side restaurant is proof. It's not uncommon to see an empty restaurant selling the same style of food next to one that's filled to the rafters with customers.
For me Thai food is comfort food and now that I'm back in New York I get homesick for a home cooked Thai meal. And that's essentially what you're getting when you're eating from a street side restaurant in Thailand. And this hub is my effort to pay homage to the incredible Thai cuisine found throughout Bangkok
Moo Kata is a popular style of cooking method in Thailand. In Bangkok it takes many forms and different names so you might hear Mookrata or Mookatat. It is a buffet themed restaurant where even though Moo Kata in Thai translates to 'Skillet Pork' which is a misnomer because you'll find all sorts of meats, vegetables, prepared Thai dishes and desserts.
A meal at my recommended Moo Kata restaurant is cheap and perfect for budget travelers with a hearty appetite. It cost 109 baht for the basic buffet but for unlimited tiger prawns, clams, snow crab legs and squid you will have to pay another 100 baht extra.
What's the catch? All of the items are raw so you'll have to cook it yourself over a hot sizzling plate over rocket hot charcoals.
Tom Yum Soup Chicken Feet
Pad Kra Pow Moo - Spicy Stir Fried Pork with Thai Holy Basil
Pad kra pow moo is another popular Thai dish. In Thailand it is a utility meal as common as a ham sandwich back in the United States. But it taste so much better. If you can't eat pork you can ask for chicken by saying "pad kra pow gai"
One of these dishes in Bangkok cost around 25 baht. Add a runny fried egg and your total is 30 baht. Keep in mind these are side street restaurants prices. If you order pad kra pow in indoor restaurants with table linens and hotels you can expect to pay 3 to 4 times the price!
Careful this dish is spicy too so if you want a little heat say 'pet nit noi' and say 'pet mai ow' if you don't want chili at all.
You can find this dish in almost every restaurant in Thailand and
especially in side street restaurants. If you spot a restaurant that has a wok then pad kra pow is on their menu.
It's also one of the easiest dishes to find and order especially when your Thai language skills are severely deficient since pad kra pow is quite easily to pronounce and remember.
Eating in Bangkok's Side Street Restaurants
There's nothing better than eating al fresco in Bangkok. There may not be much of an ambiance or elegant décor and you might be put off by the bus spewing diesel fumes as it passes by. But to me food always taste better while a cook prepares your dish in front of your eyes while I'm seated on an old rickety plastic stool
Bangkok's sidewalks are loaded with talented cooks working long grueling hours, feeding loyal customers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Street side restaurants are everywhere and play an important role since a vast majority of apartments in Bangkok are not equipped with kitchens. And the masses do have to be fed and will often head down to their favorite place for a meal with friends and family.
A dish at a street side restaurant is cost as low as 25 baht and rarely exceed 200 baht for an extravagant dish. When I am eating with my girlfriend I typically spend about 210 baht for 5 dishes including a medium bowl of Tom Yum. It could cost less but I'm a big eater.
My Perfect Thai Meal
The Best Som Tom Restaurant in Bangkok
One dish Thailand is singularly known for is Som Tom (green papaya salad). Every Thai has their favorite restaurant serving Som Tom. But there's one particular shop I often hear rave reviews about. And judging from the lunch crowd that cram inside this restaurant resembling a small army mess hall their accolades are well deserved.
This restaurant is located directly opposite the Ratchada Carrefour shopping center. To get to there take a look at MRT Thailand Cultural Center station map. When you get to the station use exit #1 and walk north, the restaurant is located right on Ratchadapidesek road and Thiam Ruam Mit Intersection. They are so popular that hungry office workers as far as Silom and Sukhumvit pay an extra 100 baht to deliver their favorite Som Tom to their offices.
Be careful, this street side eatery is particularly liberal with Thai chili in their dishes, especially in the way they prepare their Som Toms. Sorry to say it won't taste the same without the heat so I don't recommend eating it without chili because it would be too sour. What you can do is say "Nung prik kee nuu" 1 chili or "Song prik kee nuu" 2 chili. A dish of their som tom start at 40 baht.
The Best Gai Yaang - Thai BBQ Chicken
Thai's have taken barbecuing into an art form and there's no better example then Gai Yaang. You can find this style of barbecuing in Isaan restaurants. There are many forms of Gai Yaang so depending on the restaurant you can find just wings, thighs and legs or butterflied on sticks.
My particular favorite Gai Yaang is in a popular Isaan restaurant near the Aw Taw Gaw Market (also called Marketing Organization for Farmers). It is near the Kamphaeng Phet MRT station. Take exit #3 and walk to the northwest end of the market and you'll find my favorite place for Gai Yaang. The restaurant is busy during lunch and weekends. They open around 10 or 11am and close at 5pm. I recommend getting there before opening because their gai yaang is sold out fast.
Their chickens are not prepared nor cooked in the traditional Isaan style. They rub the chicken with garlic and roast it on a rotisserie spit. The result is a moist chicken with succulent garlicky meat with a crispy skin. It only cost 60 baht for a thigh and leg and absolutely worth it.
Street Side Noodle Restaurant Near Grand Palace
Khao Man Gai - Chicken Rice
When you're walking down the streets of Bangkok you will inevitably come across a street side restaurant with a boiled chicken hanging by it's neck. You've just found a shopping serving Khao Man Gai.
Khao man gais are another source of cheap eats in Bangkok where plate including a bowl of chicken soup cost around 35 baht. Add some fried chicken (gai tod) and it'll cost 15 baht extra. To me a properly prepared dish is one where the rice has infused with the broth that is the result of the boiled chicken. Some street side restaurants skimp out by diluting the broth with water used to cook the rice.
Fortunately there are many shops that cook the dish properly and there are many all over Bangkok so it is every easy to find one. So if you see a lot of locals in a shop serving khao man gai and you're hungry go ahead and give it a try.
Mixed Seafood With Glass Noodle
Bangkok's Food Courts
Most westerners scoff at the thought of eating in a food court because they think the food is substandard. In Bangkok, food courts are a culinary gold mine. Now some are better than others of course. But it's safe to say the food courts in Bangkok's best malls and markets are a great place to start delving and experimenting with Thai foods.
Thai food courts are filled with a dozens of stalls offering items that you would normally see on the street restaurants. Since most food courts have English menus and signboards ordering what you want is as easy as pie.
The Entrance of Emporium Food Court
Stewed Chicken Noodle
Stewed chicken and noodle is the Asian version of chicken noodle soup. The only difference is the broth is infused with herbs and dark sauces. Another big difference is you can order it with chicken feet. Yes, chicken feet. Don't be horrified because I can't explain it's not as bad as you'd think it taste.
Anyway if the thought of eating chicken feet is grotesque you have a choice of chicken wings too. But do give the chicken feet a try.
For the noodles you can choose flat rice noodles or thin rice noodles and my personal favorite egg noodles.
Now that I'm in New York during winter I wish I had a place that served stewed chicken and noodle just like the restaurant near my condo in Bangkok.
My favorite restaurant serving this dish is too far for the average tourist for me to recommend. However there is a popular street side restaurant in Patpong's Nightlife District famous for their stewed chicken and noodles. It can be found in front of the Wall Street Building on Surawong road. A meal there cost about 35 baht so you'll have plenty of leftover cash to get a traditional Thai massage from the multitude of parlors nearby.
Food Safety Concerns
For many tourist just observing where a street side restaurant washes their dishes can make them turn around and head straight for an indoor restaurant. Or even worse a McDonald. Some are lucky enough to have a water hose connected with cold water port their own in large jugs. Plus add in the oppressive heat and foreigners begin to wonder just how well meats and fish hold up in a cheap container with ice cubes.
Personally of all the years eating in Bangkok's cheap street side restaurants and anywhere else throughout Thailand I have never had food poisoning. The only one time that I have ever gotten sick was from one of the top fancy Japanese buffet restaurants that cost 2000 baht to dine there.
But I can totally understand how someone would feel apprehensive about eating in such an environment. My only suggestion is if you're prone to intestinal problems than consider staying away. If you don't have health concerns and plan on eating your way through Bangkok's street side restaurants then get your hepatitis vaccinations in order. Eat only in places where there's lots of people which indicates a fast turnover rate and simply enjoy.
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