Is there anywhere on the planet that has better street food than Bangkok? This is a foodie paradise with food, and people eating food, seemingly everywhere you look. I’m not sure the people of Bangkok ever stop eating. Whatever time of day or night you happen to be wandering around, there will be food stalls serving up a preposterous range of fish, meat, rice, noodles, fruit, vegetables and much more.
There’s nothing fancy about Thai street food stalls. If there’s anywhere to sit at all, it’s usually just a few plastic chairs and tables. The food choices though can be more varied and bewildering than any restaurant, especially if like me you haven’t done your Thai food homework. Bright colours abound, and although some of it looks off-putting, and some of it smells off-putting, it’s mostly very tasty…and it’s certainly affordable.
I was lucky with my timing in Bangkok. Not only was it durian season, the ‘King of Fruits’ which is also the world’s smelliest, it was mango season. This meant there was mango sticky rice, drizzled with coconut milk, on almost every corner. I could (and almost did) eat mango sticky rice until it came out of my ears.
As I wandered the streets I began to wonder whether people ever cooked at home. I assume they do since there are plenty of fresh food markets, but talking to a colleague who works in Bangkok it seems that people eat out an awful lot…and if they don’t eat out, they get street food to take away and eat it at home.
But really, why not? Although I feel a little overwhelmed by Bangkok street food, this is a city that does extraordinary food and has a culinary culture that invites exploration. Some Malaysian friends visit Bangkok regularly just for the food…well, the shopping as well, but mainly the food.
Thai food tends to be quite spicy – allegedly the spiciest food in the world after Mexican food, but this seems to be disputed by India. Regardless, for someone whose taste buds have been seasoned by Anglo-Indian food, spicy is good. Plus, if you believe the myth, chilly kills all the bugs that might make you sick; if in doubt, squeeze some lime on there as well.
There are thousands of street food stalls in Bangkok, some are definitely more hygienic than others; so it pays to choose a stall that is popular, preferably with Thais, where the food is moving quickly from grill to stomach without spending too much time hanging around in the open air.
Despite the offerings on the streets, I have to confess to popping into the occasional food court. This felt a bit like cheating, but the food can be good and comes with the added benefit of air conditioning and lower air pollution. When the temperature is hovering around the high 30s, and you’ve just arrived from a northern European winter, this is not something to take lightly.
Looking through my guidebook, I spotted a section about the market where much of Bangkok’s street food comes from. I decided Khlong Toei wet market was a must see; who, after all, doesn’t want to know where their food comes from? After a visit to Khlong Toei, I can now definitively answer that question…me.