Many travelers feel a little nervous and apprehensive about trying street food in foreign countries. This fear is entirely understandable because an upset stomach can make for a miserable few days when traveling. However, we think that if there is any place where trying the street food is a must, it's Thailand.
Walking through the streets of any major Thai city, you will see plenty of carts selling deliciously smelling treats and meals. Street stalls are quick, easy, and offer visitors an authentic Thai experience.
In this article, we will talk about some of our street food favorites and some tips for eating street food safely.
What Makes Thai Street Food Special?
Often served from a simple cart surrounded by plastic stools, Thai street stalls don't offer an elegant restaurant experience. However, what Thai street food vendors do offer is great food from a cook who has spent years mastering one dish for an incredibly cheap price.
There's a reason why you will see lines of locals and foreigners at certain stalls and that's due to the convenience and also the flavor that street food vendors are able to provide. They don't waste any energy or money on extra staff or the ambiance of their facility, thus allowing them to offer the lowest prices for quality food.
Because of the low prices and snack-sized options, grabbing street food for dinner gives travelers the opportunity to try many different dishes for an affordable price. It's the cheapest and most efficient way to try some classic Thai cuisine.
2. Pad See Ew (Flat Noodles Stir-Fried with Soy Sauce)
Made with wide rice noodles that are stir-fried with soy sauce, meat, and broccoli or cabbage, Pad See Eiw is a very hearty and delicious Thai comfort food. This dish is typically not served spicy, which is perfect for travelers who prefer milder cuisine. For people who like a little more of a kick, dried chili flakes or vinegar can be easily added.
3. Poh Pia Tod (Spring Rolls)
Spring rolls are always a reliable snack in Thailand and can be found pretty easily in most markets. Spring rolls can be made with a variety of fillings, including meat, vegetables, and rice noodles. They are often either deep fried or served fresh and covered in chili sauce.
Spring rolls are often served in a plastic bag and are super easy to eat on the go.
4. Kai Jeow (Thai Omelette)
Kai Jeow is a simple dish but it is a great way to get some energy in the morning before an early start to a tour. Kai Jeow is typically served over rice with some sweet chili sauce. You can also have vegetables added to your omelet by asking for Kai Jeow Pak.
5. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
This very popular and tasty Thai snack originates in northern Thailand but is now available all over the country. Usually, the dish contains a mixture of shredded green papaya with some tomatoes, carrots, peanuts, string beans, garlic, fish sauce, and chilies.
Som Tam is a must-try due to its delicious balance of sour and spicy. It's the perfect snack to get before or after any meal.
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6. Gai Tod (Thai Fried Chicken)
Although Gai Tod looks just like any ordinary fried chicken that can be bought in the west, many visitors are surprised by just how good it tastes. Dipped in a mixture of shallots and oil, Gai Tod has an incredible light and fluffy batter without any of the grease that is common in western fast food fried chicken. Gai Tod is a Thai street food fusion classic.
7. Guay Tiew (Noodle Soup)
This is a very popular dish amongst locals and can be any type of noodle soup. It is often made with chicken, beef, or pork and either rice noodles or egg noodles. Some vendors may even add meatballs or wontons to give it some extra flare. Like American mashed potatoes and gravy, Guay tiew is an everyday dish that is served in many homes.
8. Pad Kra Pao (Thai Basil Chicken/Pork)
Pad Kra Pao is usually made with minced chicken or pork that is stir-fried with basil and chilies. Then the mixture is served over white rice. While Pad Kra Pao is a popular Thai dish, the flavors of the dish are very strong. Thai basil has a harsh peppery flavor and this dish typically calls for a lot of chilis.
If you aren't sure that you will enjoy the strong flavors of this dish, you can always ask the vendor to make it only a little spicy.
9. Kluay Tod (Deep-Fried Bananas)
Kluay Tod are small deep-fried bananas which are deliciously crunchy on the outside but warm and creamy on the inside. They are easy to eat on the go and make a great quick snack or dessert. They are also quite popular with children.
10. Khao Neeo Mamuang (Mango Sticky Rice)
This is an authentic tasting Thai dessert. It is made of glutinous rice, fresh coconut milk, and a ripe mango. The flavors are incredibly tasty and fresh. If you arrive in Thailand during the peak mango season, which is from April to May, be sure to try one of these desserts from a street vendor - you won't regret it.
11. Thai Coconut Ice Cream
This is a refreshing street food and the best treat when you are walking at midday with the fierce sun above your head. Instead of being made from dairy ingredients, like Western ice creams are, the coconut ice cream in Thailand doesn't contain anything like that. The dish is made with full coconut milk, coconut water, palm sugar, and white sugar to provide an ice cream texture. Then the scooped ice cream balls are served in a coconut shell with roasted nuts on top.
12. Ma Laeng Tod (Fried Insects)
We're sure you have heard of or watched videos, probably on YouTube, of fried insect street food. It's an adventurous experience to return home having done and that's not the only reason to be encouraged to do so. Give it a try! It actually tastes good. The insect choices are abundant, such as worms, grasshoppers, crickets, and scorpions. They are all grilled with salt, pepper, chilies, and some kaffir lime.
13. Banana Roti (Banana Pancake)
This is a hugely popular sweet street food in Thailand. It's a crispy fried pancake with banana slices inside it served with a condensed milk dressing on top. Just one bite will make you fall in love with this sweet, crispy, and crunchy street treat.
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14. Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake)
You can easily find fish cakes being sold in almost every snack street in Thailand. The fish cake is deep-fried and comprises fish mixed with lime leaves, Thai basil, and long beans. It is usually served with some spicy, savory, and sweet Thai dipping sauce.
15. Moo Ping (Grilled Pork Skewers)
Commonly seen in night markets and food streets, moo ping is an absolutely must-try street food in Thailand. You will not only see pork grilled at each vendor's stall but also many other types of grilled meat and protein, such as chicken, fish, and beef. Every vendor makes his/her marinade a little differently but they are all somewhat sweet, savory, and garlicky.
16. Sai Krok Isan (Isan Sour Sausage)
Sai krok Isan is a fermented sausage originating from the northeastern provinces in Thailand. Its meat filling is made from pork and rice. The street vendors usually grill and serve the sausages with bird's-eye chilies, raw cabbage, and sliced ginger.
17. Khanom Buang (Thai Crepes)
Basically, khanom buang is a crispy pancake with a sweet filling. The crispy crepe is made of rice flour mixed with mung bean flour and cocoa powder, which serves as a delicious crunchy case to contain the creamy filling. The cream is made of sugar and egg yolk, and the topping can be strands of egg, shrimp, or pork, giving it different flavors depending on whether it is sweet or savory.
18. Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausage)
Sai oua often looks like a long, curled piece of sausage meat on street vendors' stalls. It looks red-brown on the outside when it's grilled and, after you cut it into bite-sized pieces, you will see its light pinkish color inside. The filling is usually made of pork and a variety of intense fragrant spices and herbs, such as lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal.
19. Hoi Tod (Oyster Omelet)
An irresistible street food in Thailand, oyster omelet is made with crispy fried oysters dipped in rice flour and egg batter. Fried batter and egg are served alongside the dish. The texture is both very crispy and slightly soft, with a slithery component between the crisp edges, the eggs, and the oysters. With the added touch of fish sauce, the taste is unbelievably fantastic.
20. Pla Pao (Grilled Fish)
When you smell one of these grilled fish along any street in Thailand, you won't be able to walk away from it - that's how good they are. The fish is first stuffed with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and sometimes basil, and is then coated in a thick layer of salt to give flavor to the fish and also to protect it from being overcooked. When eating the fish, peel off the crusted skin and dig into the juicy meat, which is soaked in flagrant spicy flavors.
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Is Street Food Safe to Eat in Thailand?
Although in the eyes of many foreigners, roadside stalls with hanging meats can look like a bad idea, most street stalls in Thailand serve clean and safe food. Competition between street stalls is very high and vendors depend on returning customers and their good reputation.
Another comforting aspect of Thai street food is that in Thailand the vendor will cook the food right in front of you. Not only can you get a glimpse of the magic behind the food, but you also have the security of knowing that they aren't cutting corners in their cooking.
If you are still nervous about trying street food in Thailand, one of the best ways you can ensure the safety of your meal is to try the most popular and crowded stalls. The locals also like stalls that serve safe food with fresh ingredients.
Tips for Trying Street Food in Thailand
1. Markets are a great place to start looking for street food and to find some of the most popular stalls.
2. Go where the locals go because no one knows how to find better food than the people who live in the area.
3. To try and find the stalls that offer the safest food, it's a good idea to observe them make a few dishes for other customers to see their methods and to find out how they store their ingredients.
4. Street food meals are very inexpensive, so you should try and bring some small change in Thai Baht. Vendors are often unable to break large notes.
5. Street vendors usually have an English menu or a picture menu to help visitors order food. If you aren't sure what to get you can always ask to see it.
6. If you have food allergies, it is important to bring a food allergy card that says what you are allergic to in Thai and English.
7. Orders are customizable and if you ask the cook not to include something, they will happily take it out of your order.
Tour Thailand Your Way with Us
Do you want to try all the delicious street food Thailand has to offer, but need more advice on how to plan your trip? Contact us, and one of our Thailand travel experts will help you find what you're looking for!