A guide to Thai street food
Thai food has to be some of the best food on the planet. From banana pancakes to creamy curries, garlic noodles and sweet treats, Thailand has a delicious range of tasty treats. The best place to find authentic Thai food is often on the street stalls that are constantly cooking up a storm. Laura Zito shares what you should try and what you should definitely avoid on the streets of Thailand’s cities.
Part of Thailand’s history for centuries is Pad Thai and travellers have been feasting on this delicious noodle dish since the sixties. Street vendors with battered woks and a simple arsenal of ingredients can whip up a bowl of these traditional Thai noodles in an instant. They’re flash fried with bean sprouts, fish sauce, garlic and chilli, and an egg is cracked in just before serving. It’s a dry, light dish, worlds away from the soupy variations we get over here.
Pad Pak Boong
This veggie dish is make with green shoots that are fried with garlic and chilli for a quick, colourful and downright delicious snack. Just make sure if you’re a vegetarian the vendor doesn’t use oyster or fish sauce as mushroom sauce is the standard for this dish.
Banana roti (aka pancakes)
You’ll see signs for banana pancakes all over the place. They're usually made by skilled Thai women hauling a wok and cart down the street. These delicious beauties are made by frying thinly spread dough in butter for a few minutes, adding a choice of fillings (from egg, to banana, to Nutella, to anything you want really), folding into a parcel and drizzling with condensed milk. They are amazing.
In the night markets you’ll see all manner of unidentifiable meats being cooked over flaming grills. Sadly, the meats you can identify will include rabbit, frog and skinned dog. No, no, no. Although admittedly it smells delicious and you’ll see locals gathering to buy a bag to snack on throughout the night, don’t be tempted to join them! Westerners don’t quite have the stomach for meat that’s been left out all day. Try at your peril!
Fried baby crab
It exactly as it sounds. Baby crabs are dropped whole into oil and cooked until crispy. It’s similar to king prawns, except the shell is so soft you can eat it. The crabs are served with a chilli dipping sauce, and admittedly tastes lovely, IF you can get your head around the legs you’re eating…
Fried locusts, mealworm, spiders and other insects
There I was, minding my own business looking at a mini tuk-tuk made out of a tin can, when a plucky street food vendor parked his cart right next to me. On it was all manner of insects and scorpions ready to be eaten. Of course a crowd of tourists gathered and the brave/drunk/stupid among them dared each other to try the vendor’s offerings. One guy chose a scorpion - ‘Eurgh, its crispy skin’s caught in my tooth!’ - while another downed a handful of worms. If you can stomach the thought of creepy crawlies in your belly, this one’s all about experience over flavour.
A bonus non-street food I need to get more people eating: Larb / laab
A friend chanced upon this amazing salad on a diving trip, and we subsequently spent the remainder of our time in Thailand trying to figure out what it was. One helpful chef explained that it’s a Laotian dish which made its way over to Thailand. It’s refreshing and spicy, juicy and dry. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. In essence, larb is minced chicken, pepper, chilli, lime, onion, fish sauce and coriander fried together and served atop lettuce. It sounds weird, I know. But I’ve converted many people to the wonders of this delicious dish, and it’s time you gave it a go too.
Laura’s a creative copywriter and journalist living just outside London, although she’s very often found daydreaming about her travels in South East Asia. She’s also the editor of six out of ten, an online women’s lifestyle magazine, and can be found tweeting at @sixoutoftenmag.